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F Carlyle was the prophet who spoke in words which compelled attention, and Ma
caulay was the orator who won attention by his eloquence, Emerson was the lecturer who gained and held the attention of those who chanced to read him by the simple interest of what he had to say. While he was devoted to the philosophy which he tried to illustrate, deeply devoted, still he did not conceive it to be a gospel which he was to preach at all hazards, and his motives were too impersonal to make him inclined to use the persuasive arts of the orator. He was a seer who realized that he saw more deeply into the essential truths of life than his fellows, and he wished as far as he could to enable all men to see as he saw. Still he had such confidence in the power of truth, and especially of the truth he had to state, that he was never inclined to force or press his point. He merely offered what he had, and those who cared might take it.
Emerson called himself a Transcendentalist. He had in reality come to perceive the essential points of the philosophy of Kant, Comte, Hegel, and their fellows, which taught in effect that man, matter, and God are not three separate entities, but merely manifestations of one and the same substance. Hence both man and matter are seen to be divine in substance, the words "human" and “material” merely indicating limitation. Therefore the laws of nature are also the laws of God, and in our own hearts we have a bit of the divine which we may study at first hand if we will. Emerson knew that to state this philosophy baldly would make it mean nothing in the ordinary man's mental economy; so he proceeded to give it as practically applied to the various simple problems of life. The reader's intuition would show him the truth of each application; and when he has applied the general principle in a few hundred or thousand special instances and illustrations, he becomes unconsciously imbued with the general principle itself, though he may not be able to state it in general terms, or even understand that he is possessed of anything he has not always had.
Once possessed of the philosophic key, the lecturer himself easily perceives each particular application; but making it clear to the reader is a serious problem. A plain statement will not do, for there is no language in which the fundamental ideas can be expressed which the ordinary reader will comprehend. The mere philosopher proceeds to create a technical language of his own; the lecturer for a popular audience cannot do that, but must make himself understood through images and combinations of common notions. A language of figures and parables must be created instead of a technical one. The problem is at once the simplest and the most difficult which the creative writer has to face.
As Emerson's object is to give his reader the general point of view, with all its revelations, and as he sets out to do this by a succession of concrete illustrations, one illustration may be as effective as another, and we get the whole of the Emersonian philosophy in every paragraph, almost in every sentence. Each sentence or each paragraph is essentially complete in itself, and we may begin reading at any point and continue to any point, yet cover our subject completely as far as we go. The essay on “ Self-Reliance" has
. been selected because the general subject is so practical and so personal; and when Emerson felt that he was making himself useful to his hearers he was at his best.
Emerson uses very short sentences that seem more or less abrupt. This is due apparently to his habit of thought and his desire to express himself in the simplest possible way. Certainly he makes no such rhetorical use of the short sentence as the later “epigrammatic writers ”; e. g., Stephen Crane in “ The Red Badge of Courage.”
“Ne te quæsiveris extra."
“MAN is his own star; and the soul that can
Render an honest and a perfect man,
Our fatal shadows that walk by us still."
Cast the bantling on the rocks,
eminent painter which were original and not conventional. The soul always hears an admonition in such lines, let the subject be what it may. The sentiment they instil is of more value than any thought they may contain. To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost, - and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment. Familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato, and Milton is, that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men, but what they thought. A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.,
There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried. Not for nothing one face, one character, one fact, makes much impression on him, and another none. This sculpture in the memory is not without pre-established harmony. The eye was placed where one ray should fall, that it might testify of that particular ray. We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents. It may be safely trusted as proportionate and of good issues, so it be faithfully imparted, but God will not have his work made manifest by cowards. A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done