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Of Syrian peace, immortal leisure,
Aught unsavory, or unclean,
Wiser far than human seer,
This quotation, somewhat too long for our plan, we really had not the heart to shorten. It is a fine collection of images, admirably strung together, appealing too much certainly to
the fancy ; but, nevertheless, this will always be considered a gem of delightful composition.
We must now turn from Mr. Emerson's poetry to his prose, if we may use such a word, for the peculiarity of his mind is almost always to be poetical. Many of his critics contend that his finest thoughts are in his essays, and that the tone of his mind is essentially rhapsodical. If we concede this, we must bargain for our definition of a rhapsody. Many persons class Pindar's odes in that category, but Coleridge and others have declared that they only appear so to feeble and illogical minds. It is granted that the links of connexion from thought to thonght are at longer intervals, just as giants take greater strides than dwarfs, but the sequence is as regular as the pace of a tortoise. It is very usual to hear common-place men accuse loftier intellects of being flighty and disconnected ; but it would be as absurd for the snail to charge the race-horse with irregularity in its steps, because its bounds are too wide for its microscropic vision. The connecting relations are also so subtle, in many arguments, that the gross-sighted mass of readers cannot see them; and, under the blinding influence of their defective vision, they deny the existence of the chain.
We remember Coleridge once illustrated this very happily by the first Olympiad, and established the point to the satisfaction of several distinguished critics.
When another accuses a man of being unintelligible, it generally only means that he does not understand him. So far from being a reproach to the poet, it is a confession of ignorance on the part of the critic. Were it not so,
the mysteries of the Trinity might be turned against itself; the secret of existence would be considered as conclusive evidence against vitality, and all the spiritual creation ignored at a blow.
Judging Emerson by this standard, we feel bound to say that we consider him a consistent and logical writer. That his style is somewhat involved we readily admit, but there is a force and condensation about it that fixes it on the mind. To be sure, we cannot run and read it as we run, but it was not intended for a novel or a book of gossip. It is a serious attempt to pass his knowledge into the masses ; to give to the million who do not and will not think, the result of labors of the one who does. We must not look for flippancy of style, any more than frivolity of thought. Philosophy is a solemnity, not a jest; and Emerson has very little of Rabelais or Democritus in his composition.
Mr. Emerson's first speech to the public was volume called “Nature,” which he, in setting out, defines as, “ All which philosophy distinguishes as the 'NOT ME; that is, both nature and art, all other men, and my own body.” He defines a lover of nature as one whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other, who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood."
The following description of his own feelings in the presence of Nature is very
characteristic. "In good health, the air is a cordial of incredible virtue. Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence
of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration ; almost I fear to think how glad I am."
As a companion to this moral of self-revelation, we give :
“ Nature always wears the colors of the spirit. To a man laboring under calamity, the heat of his own fire hath sadness in it; then there is a kind of contempt of the landscape felt by him who has just lost by death a dear friend : the sky is less grand as it shuts down over less worth in the population."
The last line is a specimen of Emerson's prose " concetti” (to use the Italian word, instead of the English word conceit), which has a conventional sound we do not like to apply to so true a man as our author. We doubt if any human being under the affliction predicated ever had his feelings modified by that thought. The root of grief is in the heart, , and not in the mind. We use the mind as distinct from intellect, which we consider as the union of brain and heart, thought and feeling. It was in this manner that Coleridge always insisted upon the incorporation of goodness into greatness : he never would allow any man to be great without he was good; he might have mind, but not intellect. These terms have been so often confounded that they are often mistaken as synonymous; but we have a great faith in the economy of nature. Not even a word is wasted, and the fact of two words shows they are different things. No two men out of the whole human race have ever been precisely alike, however much they might have resembled each other ; there are shades of difference which rendered them as distinct as Hercules and Hecuba. And in like manner, no two words
mean precisely the same thing : a perfect synonym is an impossibility, and therefore, as a facetious philosopher once said, “ very rarely comes to pass
“ For what's impossible can never be,
And therefore very rarely comes to pass."
But it is needless to argue the point: every human being has had the affliction of losing some one dear to him; we therefore appeal to that unerring test for a confirmation of our opinion.
We must not, however, stop to criticise Mr. Emerson's peculiarities of thought and expression in detail, otherwise we should weary our readers ; we shall, therefore, only allude to them once for all and say, that it forms to many the chief charm, and to others the great stumbling-block of their admiration and study.
Let us take another thought from his first volume :
“ The misery of man appears like children's petulance, when we explore the steady and prodigal provision that has been made for his support and delight on this green ball which floats him through the heavens. What angels invented these splendid ornaments, these rich conveniences, this ocean of air above, this ocean of water beneath, this firmament of earth between? This zodiac of lights—this tent of dropping clouds—this striped coat of cli. mates this fourfold year of beasts, fire, water, stones, and corn, serve him : the field is at once his floor-his work-yard-his playground—his garden
and his bed."
We know of few books more full of suggestions than