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Gospels of Anarchy and Other Contemporary Studies . Lee, Vernon, 1856–1935.
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IN the following notes upon Emerson no attempt has been made to assign him his place in the kingdom of thought and expression, either by tracing his spiritual generations and kinships, or by comparing him quality by quality—so much more or less of intuition, logic, synthesis and analysis—with the thinkers who seem measurable in the same scales. Still less, to account for the peculiarities of the work by the peculiarities of the man, of his nation and times.

The relation I should wish to set forth is that between Emerson’s writings, and one of their readers—myself. For the relation between writer and reader, where such really exists, implies the originating of ideas and states of feeling such as did not exist in either reader or writer taken singly, the latent peculiarities of the one being vitalised and altered by the fruitful contact of the other. The thought, the feeling thus generated may be far from uncommon, and may be shortlived and comparatively barren; but it is an organic particle of that vast, fluctuating mass of spiritual life whence all thought and all feeling arise, and with‐ page: 44 out which the most creative minds could not create, or, could they create, would be creative to no purpose.

This action and reaction, give and take, between reader and writer is worthy of attention quite apart from the value of the ideas which it may have brought forth. It would afford another demonstration of the relativeness of all judgment, of the incompleteness of all definite views, and it would constitute an additional lesson, very wholesome for our conceit and impatience, on the poverty and faultiness of each individual’s contribution to truth, as compared with the excellence of the unindividual mass of thought made up of such contributions.

As regards Emerson, I am aware of his exceptional influence in maturing my thought. And it is my impression that in return for the partial change he has thus effected—since only partial changes are valuable, implying by their partiality the presence of some original tendencies—I have been able to alter some of his main ideas in a way such as to render them more fruitful: clearing them of certain sterilising excrescences, and grafting them on to the living thought of our days. My reader, in his turn, will alter and prune and graft my alterations, or cast them aside as useless, or useless at least to himself.

But be this as it may, my notes will be valuable in showing one of the ways in which reader and writer unite to form a something new. For it will be visible in them that Emerson helped me first by arousing considerable antagonism, and that the reaction against his antagonistic peculiarities so helped to clear my own ideas, that I grew eventually able to approach him page: 45 with impartiality, to separate deliberately what disfigured him in my eyes; and, having put aside these disfiguring portions, to enter his presence in a mood worthy of making me receive the inestimable gifts of his soul.


Emerson, like Ruskin, like Tolstoi, belongs to the category, once numerous, now daily diminishing in number, of mystics and symbolists. Their method is innate in him, if we may call method that which implies the absence rather than the presence of intellectual discipline: truth is perceived by flashes, in luminous points amid the darkness, without any attempt to work it out, to shed the light of one opinion upon the neighbouring opinion, to obtain a continuity of solid, illuminated ground.

He openly deprecates any attempts at consecutiveness, he warns mankind against wanting to do that which cannot be done without the wanting, against wishing to be or to have what they are not or have not already. He is the apostle of spontaneity; in his consuming passion for reality he confounds the deliberate with the artificial, and the artificial with the futile. The benefit of Emerson’s advice on this head depends on the recognition that there are some things we can never do, some things we can never have or be—namely, all those of whose nature there is not in ourselves already a germ, a possibility. The danger of Emerson’s advice consists in making us believe that the actual is the potential, that what we are not we cannot become, that page: 46 what we have not yet got we may never obtain. There will be a distinct gain in spontaneity, which spontaneity means success, and a diminution of the kind of effort which means only failure, despair, or, worst of all, the wasting, the spoiling of what is valuable. There will be a much smaller number of shams, and a greater proportion of satisfactory products; which means an increase of happiness and what conduces thereto. But, on the other hand, there will be a waste of potentialities, of the things that might have been; and therewith a great loss in completeness, thoroughness, balance, and in all things intellectual, of lucidity and efficacy for application to practice. The world will not be in thorough working order, since working order implies co‐ordination, co‐operation, compromise. Things will be comparatively spasmodic, and, in a measure, sterile. This absence of lucidity, this sporadic, sterile tendency, is visible in Emerson himself; it is the drawback of his doctrine, of his practice of spontaneity.

Yet it is doubtful whether it is not better thus—better that the exaggerations and shortcomings should be corrected by Emerson’s readers than forestalled by Emerson himself. It is possible that with men of this mystic‐symbolical temper the greater lucidity and practical applicability (since practice is based on reality, and reality can be attained only by being lucid) might fail to compensate for the diminution in suggestiveness and directness. The prophetically enounced thought works its way deeper, perhaps, into the mind of the hearer, when it is such as does not graze off the surface. It sets the mind a‐thinking (when itself thinkable) page: 47 more than the carefully argued thesis. So it is well worth while to let the prophet babble occasional nonsense, talk, like the earliest Christians and the Irvingites, in gibberish tongues, for the sake of the great words of inspiration which drop, ever and anon, from his superhuman lips.

But connection in our ideas, the quality of being thought out, is valuable for more than itself. The act of bringing our ideas into mutual dependence shows us also which of them are worthless: the union of a fallacy with a truth, even if it produce no immediate jar, can produce but a vicious consequence. We begin to doubt of our premiss on seeing its untenable conclusions or side‐issues. Here, then, comes in the danger of the intellectual methods of Emerson, of all prophetic, clairvoyant, as distinguished from prosaically logical, thinkers. These men can throw out a falsehood or mere faulty approximation to truth, without being warned of what they are doing. Nay, worse, they can hit upon a truth without that truth destroying its corresponding error. In this system (or absence thereof) of isolating ideas, everything is safe—the good and the bad can rest at peace; the good does not inconvenience the bad, nor the bad inconvenience the good. The thinker is never called upon to make a choice among his thoughts, he may keep them all. Hence it is that these clairvoyant thinkers give us so much of truth swimming in so much of falsehood, or vice versâ. Hence, worst of all, that they will be so serenely unconscious of the practical dangers of their teachings. The metaphysical Schoolmen of the Middle Ages kept up the standard page: 48 of thinking and living; while the mystics, their superiors in mind and in feeling, very frequently debased it exceedingly.

And, moreover, this resting satisfied with one’s spontaneous intentions, as distinguished from all attempts to connect and correct them, this habit of never comparing one’s conceptions of things with each other must result in a virtual refusal to examine either facts or other men’s views. No sense of intellectual responsibility can be generated by modes of thought so casual and disconnected. The thinker keeps his ideas apart, so they never clash; he keeps them separate also from their own consequences, from the thought of others, from the inconvenient testimony of reality. He clears all around him; and soon comes to be the only mind, the only thought in the universe: the universe becomes the image of his views of it; and all save the intellect ceases to exist.

It is most curious to observe how Emerson, whose exquisite moral and æsthetic sensibility is revealed in a thousand fragmentary utterances, uproots all human sympathies and preferences in laying out his stony garden of the intellect, but leaves them everywhere about, to bloom delightfully—little unnoticed heaps of earth’s weeds in those fine concentric paths and beds of intellectual spar and gravel. Thus, in the famous essay on “Friendship,” that most extraordinary revelation of a passionate personality, he affects to consider the friend as a mere intellectual excitement (all is over, he tells us, once curiosity is satisfied); and even in placing his austere bounds to such intellectual voluptuousness, he speaks only of his own self‐respect, page: 49 his own spiritual temperance, and the results of indulgence, or refraining upon his own soul, with never a reference to the feelings, the poor soft heart of the other party. Learn to check your fancies in friendship, to refrain from your friend, to do without; learn to expect no reciprocity. Why? Lest in your hurry you may engage another’s permanent affection where you cannot give your own?—lest in your habit of constant spiritual union you become selfish, exacting, or, in your desire for reciprocation, you grow unable to give save where you receive? For not one of these reasons. No; merely because of the risk to your intellectual independence, your intellectual integrity and security. One would think, were it not for the evidence of a hundred scattered utterances of most delicate lovingkindness, that Emerson was a fierce intellectual egoist like Abelard, writing just such letters to Heloise, answering her prayer for one gentle word with chapters of theology, in the suppressed savageness of a mediæval ascetic, who sees with disgust something that has once inflamed his senses but never touched his heart.

And similarly he mentions pain, not as a horror whose existence all around we must for ever struggle against—a horror the thought of which, as existing in others, is almost as bad as its reality in ourselves—but as a possible factor in producing the man of pure intellect—the justum et tenacem propositi virum.

For Emerson is perpetually repeating that all life is in the intellect—nay, all reality. Hence a possibility of interest only in cause and effect—in the why things are, not the how things should be. Hence all matters page: 50 being referable only to Intellect, Intellect—or rather, an intellect corresponding to his own—is evidently God. And hence a perpetual worship, sometimes slightly savouring of Moloch’s, of a Godhead which, in its apparent indifference to evil and suffering, is indeed but the mist‐magnified shadow of Emerson’s own Olympian mind.

All things, therefore, are the symbol of Divinity, the forms in which the Creative force chooses, Proteus‐like, to mask. And for this reason nature, all that is and can be, is noble.

But Emerson is meanwhile the sport of a delusion: he conceives that what is taking place within himself is happening also without. He is watching his own mind, shadowed on the outer world, passing from object to object; and he fancies that this vague and magnified himself must be God. Thus the divinity—for Emerson the divinity passing into and through all things—is not the power by virtue of which things are, but in reality the power by virtue of which he perceives their existence. For Emerson, though often insisting on the part played by the perceiving mind in all matters of perception, refuses to consider that in the same way as the structure of the eye, which makes a straight stick seem crooked in the water, so also the quality and condition of the mind which perceives nature, is a fact inside nature, and not outside it. If Emerson had any habits of systematic thought, he could not avoid taking notice of this fact; he would be obliged, once having suspected their nature, to examine methodically his own mental operations. But being unhampered by any system, he can afford to look page: 51 away from any fact which might disturb him; and so, at the convenient moment, when it would have become clear that thought cannot—any more than the senses can—handle absolute reality, he looks away from himself, and looks in the direction of what he calls God. Here, by no metaphysical sleight of hand, but by merely dropping the subject and picking it up elsewhere, he has momentarily got rid of the identity between the universal mind and his own. This intellect, self‐created and all‐creating, is now no longer the mind of Emerson, moulding matter into so many disguises for itself: it is the mind of the world. And who could deny that the mind of the world, in so far as mind of the world, might sport with matter, or call it up as a mere phantom out of nothingness? The purely intellectual man, impatient of all that is not intellect, revolting from the thought that anything save intellect can have reality, does thus attribute his own temper to the Godhead—the Godhead with whom he fancies that, in following any chain of cause and effect, he must be united and identified.

Therefore [attempting to systematise what Emerson has thrown out in separate statements] the divinity, inasmuch as the mere magnified reflexion of the individual intellect, is necessarily what that individual interest happens to be: that which makes or perceives all cause and effect. And so it comes to pass that cause and effect, being made by the mind identical with God, and hence by God Himself, become the Godlike; and the Godlike, Emerson has been accustomed to think, is the same as the holy, the virtuous. In short, all that is is right, not as Pope imagined, because it was page: 52 necessarily made to be right, but merely because to be right is the same as to be, because something else has been before and conditioned it. “It is dislocation and detachment from the life of God,” we read in the Essay on the poet, “that makes things ugly; and the poet who reattaches things to nature and the whole—reattaching even artificial things and revelations of nature to nature by a deeper insight—disposes very easily of disagreeable facts.” This, extended into less pithy language, means merely that all is right so long as it is understood; and that the scientific thinker, whom Emerson misnames Poet, being able to demonstrate that even such things as most shock our constitution are yet the inevitable results of certain other things, can give us the satisfaction of seeing cause and effect and thereby set our minds at rest about such “disagreeable facts” as it foolishly feels annoyed at. Whatever is, being cause and effect, is an emanation of the divinity, who is also cause and effect. And, as Emerson has been brought up to connect morality with what other men call God (meaning thereby any of a variety of things, but not cause and effect), Emerson perceives that cause and effect must be moral. “Since everything in nature,” he says, “answers to a moral power, if any phenomenon remains brute and dark, it is because the corresponding faculty in the observer is not yet active”—that is to say that the “brute and dark” phenomenon is not yet disposed of as cause and effect. Thus to the connecting, reasoning mind, cause and effect having become divine, came actually to mean morality. The evil fact is comfortably settled once we have recognised its origin, and pain and death, disease page: 53 and degradation, may link hands with whatever is fair and noble here below, and revolve mystically round the Divinity and the divine human being in a rhythm of causation and logic, making soul‐music of is and was!

Nay, further—for it is easier sometimes for the intellect to endure evil than that which, being the reverse of intellect, is more antagonistic to it—Emerson formulates what has been blunderingly put into practice by Whitman, and condenses into a few mystical words what Whitman extends into grotesque rhapsodies of mixed beauty and dirt. “All the facts of the animal economy,” says Emerson, “sex, nutriment, gestation, birth, growth, are symbols of the passage of the world into the soul of man.”

But the soul of man, not being, as Emerson takes for granted, exclusively devoted to logic, will not receive into itself with equanimity some of the symbolical items. The soul of man protests against the contact of foulness and baseness, injustice and pain, however much legitimated by logic. The soul will not be satisfied with a divinity that governs mere cause and effect—it requires a moral, an æsthetic rule.

In this fashion does the most cunning reader of the mind’s strange palimpsest forget for the time being some of the mind’s most striking rubrics. This delicate expert in exquisite nature leaves out of his reckoning some of nature’s most essential qualities. He overlooks in his main philosophy what is the burden of all his detail teaching—namely, that we require for our spiritual satisfaction much more than the mere page: 54 apprehension of cause and effect; that, besides the wish to understand why things are, there is in us the more imperious want to make things as they should be. He puts aside what elsewhere he perpetually postulates, that, even as we have physical senses which are disgusted by certain tastes and smells, despite all explanations of their chemical reasons, so likewise we have spiritual instincts which, despite all possible explanations of how and why, will always be revolted by whatever is unjust, cruel, ugly, or gross. There is in us the logical faculty which reduces all things to cause and effect, making them all equally important or unimportant, according as the mind which perceives is keen or languid. But there are also the æsthetic and moral faculties which are essentially selecting, preferring, and which arrange all things in a long scale whose bottom means abhorrence or contempt, and whose top the fervidest love and admiration. These and these only are qualifying activities; the mere logical intellect can only recognise and connect, it cannot judge. It is not, thanks to the intellect, that anything, that “sex, gestation, nutriment,” &c., can be made high or low according as it is, or is not, viewed in connection with the scheme of creation; since the intellect knows neither high nor low. If a subject can seem now gross and now pure, now trivial and now dignified, it is because our qualifying functions, moral or æsthetic, recognise the superior desirableness or rareness of the intellectual perception as distinguished from the bodily one; because they have decided that if there is enough and too much of the contemplation of some matters by the brute, there is not enough of this page: 55 contemplation by the scientific man or the moralist. And who tells us that the man of science or the moralist is nobler than the brute? Not the instinct of mere causal relation, but the instinct which says: “I want more of this, less of that”; the instinct which brings things into relation, not with what Emerson worships as God, but with what Emerson is for ever overlooking—Man.

The fact is that Emerson, in his process of forgetting everything that is not mind, has forgotten human nature; in his supposed union with God he has left Man in the lurch. His grave optimism is founded on a disregard for man’s existence; when he is talking about man, with the marvellous intuition so oddly at variance with his theoretic onesidedness, he is often pessimistic enough.

Having perceived that all things proceed with logical correctness, and having identified his own perception of cause and effect with the creative act, Emerson has judged that all that is, is right. Thus in the universe where God and Emerson—strange mystic dualism!—sit alone, willing and understanding, understanding and willing. But introduce into this universe man, and the aspect of matters changes. Those things which affect Emerson and God as right—that is to say, as being—affect man sometimes as agreeable, sometimes as disagreeable; sometimes as beautiful, sometimes as atrocious. The current of intelligent approbation between the Universal Mind and the Mind of Emerson is interrupted now and then by a sudden movement of this new agent, man, standing, as it were, half‐way—movements meaning page: 56 joy, admiration, pain, horror, despair. Why so? Simply because this new agent, man, perceives things according to a new standard, the standard of his own preservation and happiness. Right and wrong mean no longer intelligible and unintelligible; they mean that which makes for man’s interests or against them. An æsthetic and ethical standard evolves, by which it is quite impossible to continue considering all things as equal, merely because they are equally willed by God; that is to say, speaking objectively and without mystical metaphor, because they can be equally understood by Emerson. Instead of the cause, man asks after the effect; and that things are and must be merely results, in certain cases, in rendering things more odious in his eyes. Hence, with the appearance of man, the scheme of pure optimism falls to the ground; and Emerson, systematic in one matter, and obeying an unerring instinct, does all he can to keep man out of the way; Man, be it understood, in so far as he is more than a mere fragment of the Universal Mind, a mere molecule of causal perception. We hear, therefore, of pain and sorrow only as we might hear of hot or cold; and of justice and injustice rather as intellectual questions—virtually openness, or the reverse, to conviction. Attempts at reform—that is to say, at diminishing or equalising the human burden of woes—are treated as intellectual experiments, movements interesting in their symmetrical equilibrium with other movements. All is quite regular and lucid, hence right and noble; and thus a great lid of intellectual optimism descends to silence the unrest and dissatisfaction of man.

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The Nemesis comes. Its name is Unreality, and this should have been the title, and not Experience, of Emerson’s most wonderful essay. The punishment, or rather (since I do not, like Emerson, believe in a neatly adjusting Providence) the inevitable result of reducing all things to their merely intellectual aspect, is that, ever and anon, the man who has so reduced them will awake to the sense of reduction to nothingness. For intellectual relations exist only in our thought. This is merely a mode of grouping, which we apply to them without affecting their actual existence; and hence it is that the man who shall have viewed things merely in such relations must, sooner or later, feel the lack of reality. For Emerson, when Emerson dogmatises, the individual is nothing, the type everything; and similarly, the separate, sensible moment, yesterday, to‐morrow, to‐day, is nothing, and the balance struck between them is the important. Thus optimism is saved; injustice and pain are lost to sight in a disproportionate abstraction. But reality recoups itself; for in reality there happens to exist only the individual, the moment existing independent and outside ourselves. And so, in the intervals of speculation, when the man re‐becomes a man and compares his emotions with those of his neighbours, Emerson discovers that in his search for reality in thought he has lost it in fact. A passage in that essay on Experience reads curiously like the confession of some great neoplatonician thaumaturge returning to page: 58 earth after making himself an abstract creature, and finding that all things elude his clutch:

“What opium is instilled into all disaster! It shows formidable as we approach it, but there is at last no rough and rasping friction, but the most slippery, sliding surfaces. We fall soft on a thought.... There are moods in which we court suffering, in the hope that there, at least, we shall find reality, strange peaks and edges of truth. But it turns out to be scene‐painting and counterfeit. The only thing grief has taught me is to know how shallow it is. That, like all the rest, plays about the surface, and never introduces me into the reality, for contact with which we would even pay the costly price of sons and lovers.”

Such a sense of unreality must come to all of us at certain times of our spiritual life, particularly during the years when we slowly replace with the experience of ourselves the borrowed or ready‐made notions of life which had to do duty in our youth. But it is a phase; and in learning that all things are evanescent, a healthy human being learns also that this condition of soul is the most evanescent itself: a state of trance from which the least rough shock or warm breath will rouse us. But Emerson would have us think that this condition of semi‐paralysis in all save the logical faculty is the normal and permanent matter; probably because he is taking for granted the possibility of extirpating from our natures everything besides this merely logical perception. It is grotesque, and in a measure pathetic, to read after this Emerson’s denunciation of the fatalism involved in a materialistic explanation of the mind’s page: 59 peculiarities—” given such an embryo, such a history must follow. On this platform one lives in a sty of sensualism and would soon come to suicide.” Yet what suicide could be compared to the courting of pain and loss of the beloved for the sake of the rough and rasping friction of reality? And in another passage we are led to question whether, as in the case of Quietism, the transcendental platform might not easily be transformed into a sty of sensualism as bad as any which Emerson could attribute to materialistic influence. “Saints are sad, because they behold sin (even when they speculate) from the point of view of the conscience, and not of the intellect—a confusion of thought. Sin, seen from the thought, is a diminution or loss; seen from the conscience or will, it is pravity or bad. The intellect names it shade, absence of light, and no essence. The conscience must feel it as essence, essential evil ....” For whence should come conscience, this odd Puritan interloper, in a world which is full, every nook and cranny, of the universal creative essence, of the Supreme Cause and Effect, knowing neither good nor evil—in a world full of what Emerson calls God, and void, utterly void, of the sentient and suffering individual, concrete man? But Emerson is, fortunately, no real systematic thinker, and is, essentially, a Puritan, full of the sound morality of Mosaic law, and morality formulating as God’s will the practical interests of man. So we hear no more about the reasons which allow philosophers to differ from saints in not looking sadly at evil. And, on the contrary, among all the qualities metamorphosed into essences, and all the adjectives transfigured and enthroned page: 60 as metaphysical entities, each with its crown of stars or of city walls, its attributes in hand and under foot—we find, foremost truthfulness, chastity and justice. Nay, by one of those bold but adorable contradictions which save the soul of transcendentalists and mystics from the hell of indifference—we are especially informed, in the curious essay called the Over Soul, that the soul of man, that inlet of the universal mind, is filled with the tide of the universe’s divine life more particularly when it perceives justice or conceives heroism.

This mysticism, this determination to reduce all things to intellect, this violent clutching at the cause behind phenomena, gives Emerson, like Ruskin, a certain mediæval character, not usually to be met nowadays, save among theological writers: he is related to the Abbot Joachim, to Abelard, to the compilers of herbals and bestiaries; he has a quaint look, quaint and delightful, of being a belated brother of Sir Thomas Browne or Burton of the Anatomy. Montaigne (the man he so ardently admires) might as well never have existed for him; and the other masters of inductive thought—Locke, Voltaire, Hume, the eighteenth century with its strong level vision, its materialisation of Nature, its enthroning of man—have passed without affecting him. Modern science he distinctly turns away from; he has a hankering after visionaries and allegorical expounders, even the trashiest. The names of Jacob Boehm and of Swedenborg are perpetually returning to him; he believes Jesus to have been a mortal man, but he might easily grant some transcendant quality to Apollonius of Tyana. He tends to find a symbol in everything, a page: 61 mysterious “Open, sesame!” He cannot be satisfied with a thing meaning only its poor self, serving its obvious purpose. Every analogy is to him an actual causal connection, every metaphor which his fancy perceives a sort of sign‐manual of God. He has, to the highest degree, the symbolic superstition. For him the world exists by virtue of certain formulas, which are not so much shorthand generalisations of man as actual creative spells of God: system, dualism, the principle of opposites and compensation, and sex. There must be a mysterious equilibrium everywhere—an evil for every good, a good for every evil, an answer for every question, a satisfaction for every craving, a loss for every gain, a bitter for every sweet, a female for every male. And do what you will you cannot alter things, since, by such a mysterious law, as matter displaced on one side must reappear on the other, so also the happiness given to Tom must be taken from Harry. That the nature of one thing or case being different from that of another there will be a corresponding difference of rule and action, never occurs to Emerson. He strips all things into a sort of unqualified, non‐existent nakedness, and then calls it unity and identity.

And yet, despite all this, Emerson remains one of the thinkers who can do most for us moderns; whose teachings, if put into practice, could carry us through the greatest number of temptations and dangers. It is with Emerson’s writings as with the sacred books of ancient times: we must separate what is due to imperfect knowledge, to superstitious habits of mind, and consequently mischievous, or worthless and deci‐ page: 62 duous, from that which is due to some great intuition of truth, some special energy of soul, such as is given to exceptional races, or moments or individuals—immortal gifts whose usefulness will never suffer a change. And, as we find in all such writings, bibles of all nations, sacred and profane, so also in Emerson this worthless, changing, deciduous part has received its excessive importance from the very vital and immortal part which it has served to deface; thus in Plato and St. Paul, the “Imitation of Christ;” and, among the prophets of to‐day, in Ruskin and Tolstoi.

The vital, vitalising intuition in Emerson is a dualism, closely connected: the intuition of the worthlessness of unreality for our happiness and progress; and the intuition of the supreme power, for our happiness and progress, of that portion which we call soul. Such intuitions are rarely new. Antiquity knew these of Emerson, as India knew those of Christ and his mediæval followers; but they are born afresh, as it were, with new vigour and efficacy, in a new mind; and, at each new incarnation they are obliged, alas, to assume the foolish costume and habits—nay, the very maladies—which belong to thought at the moment of the new birth. In the case of Emerson, the intuition of the supreme value of reality, and of the soul’s most marvellous powers of expansion and adaptation, of its unique capacity for embracing all things in the acts of comprehension, imagination, and sympathy—these vital thoughts were defined, hampered and compressed, by a cheap transcendentalism: the metaphysics of Germany adulterated by the shoddy science, the cheap mysticism of America. And page: 63 the divine strength of his mind may seem, at first sight, to have been employed merely in carrying the weight, in filling up the forms, of the threadbare garments of Dr. Faust, and the tinsel garments of some less philosophic wizard. Let us strip them off; and we shall see the Titan beneath.

We have seen how Emerson has got himself a pocket religion by making the human soul consubstantial and co‐extensive with God, and the life of the soul identical with the perception of cause and effect, so that, while Jehovah says, “I Am,” Emerson fulfils his spiritual duties by repeating, in various forms of words, “Thou art.” Also, how, in his dread of materialism and hedonism, he has attempted to measure phenomena of sensation, emotion, and æsthetic perception by a mechanism for registering cause and effect which is as unfit to register their quality as a pair of scales is unfit to measure the degree of heat, or a barometer the intensity of the colour blue. Similarly, we shall find that the same spiritualistic bias has led Emerson to repeat, very often, the stale Stoical sayings of the self‐sufficingness of the mind, the unimportance of circumstance, the indifference to momentary pain and pleasure.

The soul, indeed, can be trained to considerable indifference: it can be rendered obtuse to pain and pleasure, to impressions and affections; religious asceticism has always boasted, in the words of Molière’s Orgon: “Et je verrais mourir frère, enfans, mère et femme, que je m’en soucierais tout comme de cela!”

But such indifference means, not uniting ourself closer with Nature and the Infinite, but cutting loose page: 64 from them on one whole side. The human creature, no longer enjoying, no longer sympathising, no longer loving, would hold on to the universe only by his reason. The wind would blow, trees rustle, waters murmur, hills be blue and fields green, and people around be beautiful, brilliant or kind, sorrowing or clinging, without his being any the wiser. Nay, the wiser, if it be wisdom merely to know the necessities and sequences of things without knowing the things themselves; but neither the happier nor the more conducive to others’ happiness. It would be good practice for dying, as, indeed, Roman Stoicism was the school where men learned to escape from tyranny by suicide of body and soul. Such Stoicism is the folly of philosophers, the cowardice of heroes, the blasphemy of those who, believing in gods, reject their good gifts for fear of their bad; it is afraid of the universe, and tries to look at it, as Perseus at the head of Medusa, only in the reflected image. This excess of intellectualism, thinking to limit all wants to those of the logical intellect, would defeat its own end; for what should the intellect contemplate and discuss, if all were reduced to abstractions, if things existed only as ideas, if the moment, the individual, the sensation, the emotion, ceased to be?


Such dogmas as these cannot form the basis of Emerson’s teachings, much as he tries to deduce the one from the other, any more than the dogmas of celestial caprice and barbarity, of the Fall, the bloody page: 65 Atonement and eternal Hell could be the rational foundation for the religion of mercy and love of Francis of Assisi. There is, fortunately for the world, a higher logic, guessing at the relations between dogmas and facts, which works divine havoc in the smaller logic connecting one theory with another; the soul frees itself from the tyranny of lies by stealthy self‐contradiction. The logical consequences of Emerson’s intellectual pantheism would be to deny (what man, according to the Hebrews, never learned from the great I Am) the distinction of good and evil; to accept only the bare fact of existence, of emanation from the All‐powerful. Why, therefore, preach heroism and the search for truth? Why struggle against unreality, hypocrisy, appearances? Why denounce the waste of effort, the dealing in words, supineness, vanity, and all the tissues of wine and of dreams?

In reality because, however unconsciously to himself, Emerson was judging them worthless by the purely human instinct of affinity for certain qualities, and repulsion for certain others, by the purely utilitarian intuition of what is desirable or undesirable for man and man’s race. And because the main energy of his mind, his originality and inspiration, consisted in an instinctive craving, despite the mere intellectual satisfaction in cause and effect, after a life more large, more varied, more transferable from object to object, from mind to mind: a true life of the soul, which includes the life of the sensations and emotions, which is based on realities, and which implies happiness.

For it is this which renders Emerson’s writings so efficacious in one’s life, so charged with vital principle; page: 66 this which, entering into our torpid thought, fertilises it, makes it expand, alter, and bear fruit. No writer can have a greater influence in certain lives, yet no writer, surely, was ever more chary of criticisms and rules of conduct, of what, in most cases, makes the moralist. Indeed you might sometimes think he had never lived, never felt, made choice, acted, nay existed among real individuals (for all the passionate hints of the chapters on love and on friendship) but only among such abstractions of mankind as his own representative men; among ideals of human beings not to be touched, but to be criticised. The human efficacy of Emerson’s teachings lies in his constant insistence upon the necessity of widening existence by increased contact with reality on all sides, and of such reality being apprehended by the mind, the sympathies, the imagination, as well as by the senses. For the narrowest life is the one into which there enter the fewest ideas—the animal’s, the child’s, the savage’s life of the mere sensation, the mere moment; and the next narrowest is the base man’s life of the mere ego, the appetites of to‐day projected into to‐morrow, the appetites of others employed to gratify his own. Unselfishness is a widening of ourselves by giving equal rank to the pleasures and rights of others—that is to say, to what is after all an intellectual conception, an idea to us, not a thing we can taste or touch. Justice, mercy, truth‐those great abstractions covering the greater happiness of the greater number, and to which nobler men and women must sacrifice good for themselves and their neighbours—justice, mercy, truth, are more than ever intellectual existences, transcending our sensation and page: 67 experience. And the logical, the æsthetic appreciations which unite us to the world beyond man, which add to our own the life we understand in all phenomena, the life which we love in some of them, are still more obviously an enlarging of ourselves through the enlarging of our mind. For the mind embraces all, while the body can hold but little. Hence a constant regard for our possibilities from the intellectual standpoint, a constant preference of the life of the soul, life in all times and places, over the life, limited by moment and place, of the body; an insistence upon the life which unites us to all things instead of enclosing us within ourselves. Such a view of existence must be to the highest degree vitalising and fruitful. This would not be the case were Emerson the mere ordinary intellectual man, submitting to the intellect only the things which are obviously of the intellect, and leaving to the appetites, to the emotions, to the vanities all the rest. For Emerson gives unto Cæsar only the copper penny, and claims for God the kingdom of the earth. Emerson asks not what the mind can make of books, art, and its other notorious belongings; but what the mind can make of life as a whole: of love, friendship, practical efforts, political struggles, domestic arrangements—of everything. To him the real life is that of the soul: the life, so to speak, at headquarters, to which all other subordinate lives do but bring their necessary tribute of well‐being, of experience, of sensation, of facts. He knows that there is in the noblest creatures a sort of uppermost consciousness to which all lower ones lead; which is as homogeneous as they are heterogeneous, as persistent as they are fleet‐ page: 68 ing; in which our sensations, actions, affections are multiplied tenfold by those of other men, of other times and places; and where, in an endless chain of pattern, everything is connected with something else, everything transmuted into something different. Therefore all the things which constitute our ordinary daily consciousness, Emerson examines; asking of what use they may be in this great uppermost consciousness or existence; accepting and rejecting in accordance with this standard. Hence he is characterised and takes rank of nobility, mainly by a constant scrutinising, unflinching elimination of unrealities, of activities and habits which bring only wear and tear and produce neither truth nor good nor beauty. A great part of his philosophy consists in the separation of futile efforts from fruitful; another, in showing how much more we may gain by letting things act for us than by squirming our souls out in unnecessary action. He teaches that it is not by the books which we read, the men whom we speak to, the stones and tree‐trunks which we pull about, that we are increasing our life, still less by the money we amass or the complications we establish; but only by as much of the books as we understand, of the men as we love, of the talk as we wisely consider, of the materialities we combine to give us health, more peace, and more power of being realities. In fact, it is only by as much as is vital and fertilised in our life that our life is improved. This great purveyor of realities wherewith to nourish our highest life is for ever warning us against the adulteration of things intellectual and moral, teaching us to separate the stones from the bread, to page: 69 throw away the husks and the rind. He is no hater of tradition, even of convention; because he recognises that both of them may contain a portion of life. But once that life has left the tradition and convention he has no patience but sweeps them away, be they called by the solemnest names of virtue and honour. Hence his deep sympathy, idealist and transcendentalist as he is, despiser of the gross and lover of the spiritual, with the terre à terre scepticism of Montaigne; for that scepticism is one of the most potent agents for the removal of rubbishy spurious fact and spurious thought. Hence his admiration also for the coarse practicality of Napoleon, because that also means reality, real energy, sweeping away the unreal, the inert.

Those who should deliberately follow Emerson’s counsels, omitting from their lives not merely what he directly advises should be omitted, but also what his whole system logically leads us to reject, would be surprised to find how much space they had left themselves, how much energy for the real life, the life of enjoyment and utility. For half of our life is spent, if not in struggling with trash, with the unreality others have burdened us with, as education, so called, religion, sociabilities, false necessities and ideals; then in actually doing the unreal: reading books we do not understand, seeing people we do not like, doing acts which lead to nothing, or to the reverse of their intention. All great teaching, of the sort which is, so to say, prophetic and sacred, helps us to a wider life in other men, other fields and times. Half of it helps us to do so by trying to understand and love others; the other half, and Emerson’s teaching is among it, by page: 70 bidding us understand and reduce to reasonableness ourselves. This vital energy in Emerson’s teaching is, I think, given free play only if we liberate it from notions which belonged not to Emerson’s mind, but to his intellectual surroundings. His transcendentalism, horrified at science and despising utility, arises, in great measure, from the old metaphysical and theological habit of regarding the soul as a ready‐made, separate entity, come, Heaven knows whence, utterly unconnected with the things among which it alights, and struggling perpetually to be rid of them and return somehow to its unknown place of origin. Had Emerson suspected, as we have reason to suspect, that the soul is born of the soil, its fibre the fibre of every plant and animal, its breath the breath of every wind, its shape the space left vacant by other shapes, he would not have been obliged to arrange a purely intellectual transcendental habitation for this supposed exile from another sphere. And his intuition of a possible universal life would have been strengthened, not damaged, by the knowledge that our soul is moulded into its form—nay, takes its very quality, from surrounding circumstances; and the probability, therefore, that between the soul and its surroundings there will be a growing relation and harmony, as of product and producer, concave and convex.