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did not like to place bimself where no step can be taken.” This shows that Emerson insisted on the discussion of the question, like a man who has doubts and seeks help, or at least sympathy, from any quarter ; wbile Carlyle, having tried that bog on his own legs and found it mere shifting quicksand, would fain keep off it. Both were convinced that no step can be taken in this question. One would be glad of fuller notes of that memorable parley—would willingly know what convictions and what perplexities each brought to the conversation, and how each was affected by the other. We know from other sources that Carlyle had rejected the faith of his fathers some time prior to Emerson's visit. Hence there is reason to think the former gave the mind of his confiding and admiring friend a powerful impulse towards religious unbelief. Emerson was not then directly acquainted with German neological literature. It is true, he somewhere speaks of the destructive criticism of Germany as rendering intelligent Christian faith impossible. Still, he does not hint any early, nor show any late, acquaintance with it, nor any marked effect from it upon his way of thinking.
Why should we look so far away for the sources of his scepticism ? Among the few hints of his interior history in these early years is the following:
A single odd volume of the Essays [Montaigne's] remained to me from my father's library when a boy. It lay long neglected until, after many years, when I was newly escaped from college, I read the book and procured the remaining volumes. I remember the delight and wonder in which I lived with it. It seemed to me as if I had myself written the book in some former life, so sincerely it spoke to my thought and experience.
This avowal is precious. Emerson himself has taken Montaigne as the type of the sceptic in bis “ Representative Men." True, Emerson does not deem Montaigne the absolute sceptic Pascal takes him for, but rather a man who sets himself with care to see things as they are in entire contempt of consequences. Montaigne's emblematic scales, and bis motto, Que scais jes, meant, as Emerson thinks, Though thrones, altars and governments totter and go down under honest scrutiny, I will scrutinize them all. But Pascal points out that the old Gascon attempted to discredit the very axioms of mathematics, and grew indifferent to certain vices, and that his virtues had no root in strong conviction. Pascal was surely more just in his judgment of Montaigne than Emerson. In a later essay Emerson confesses that his love for the old sceptic had cooled. In the “History of Port Royal” Sainte Beuve aptly defines Montaigne as the type of the old man, that unregenerate humanity, upon which no transforming influence has descended from the cross. Here, too, he has affinity with Emerson. There was not a word in Emerson's writings to show that he ever
had any true conception, not to say experience, of the Divine energy which has made the Church the mother of the saints. Christ was never understood till Emerson came, if we may trust the testimony of one who shows that he never understood him, a conclusion which would make the grandest life ever lived on earth the most stupendous failure in history !
What then could have been looked for when Emerson, unregenerate and sceptical, was put to the study and estimation of Unitarianism as the highest form of Christianity? What but the rejection of the entire system as insufficient for the religious needs of mankind. The founders of New England Unitarianism had been at work upon the Christian system, with the utmost zeal, to show that, since one cannot be three, a trinity in unity is not possible; that, since Christ is not divine, the worship of the Church is mainly idolatry; that the Old Testament is largely unreliable and mythical, and that hnman reason is arbiter in all articles of faith. They had thus contrived a system nearly as dry and artificial as themselves, in which they hoped all good, respectable young men would rest satisfied. A large proportion of the abler and nobler men who bave entered the ministry of that communion have deeply felt its weekness as a religious scheme. The men who have been reasonably content with it have not been it princes in intellect. Ware, Francis, Noyes, Lampson, Greenwood, Hill, Gannett, and Walker, belong to this class; excellent and able as they are, they are all alike stamped with a peculiar narrowness. An abler set, like Norton, Hedge, and Bartal, has remained in the denomination, but has made no account of its restraints. Everett, Parker, Huntingdon, took each his own road out of that fold. The atmosphere of the sect was charged with doubt to such a degree that a natural sceptic like Emerson, as he grew up in it, was coaxed and urged to ask all manner of questions. Then there was nothing in its doctrines to appeal to and satisfy certain other dispositions in Emerson. No sceptic is a pure sceptic. It often happens that minds which lie most open to unbelief also lie open on other sides to the enticements of faith and the raptures of mysticism. John Henry Newman had an early tendency to liberal opinions in religion, and has ended in the most complete subjection to ecclesiastical authority. Emerson, under other conditions, might have come to a similar position. He is religious even to mysticism. Where he sees cause to accept and abide by a wonder, the most enormous obstacles are no hinderance. No man in our generation has made so light of hard questions, when he supposed he had some good interior basis of conviction, as he. To this side of his nature Socinianism made no appeal. It was a Christianity without Christ, a worship without mystery or spiritual elevation, a dry drill in barren moralities, a chilly and polar suggestion of summer instead of the tropical glow of faith and love.
It was inevitable that Emerson should fall out with pure and simple
The first distinct notice Emerson gave the world of the quality of his new views was contained in his essay on “Nature," published in 1836. Here the first words are significant:“Our age is retrospective. It built the sepulchers of the fathers.
The foregoing generation beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an origiral relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosphy of insight, and not of tradition; and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs ?
This language betrays clearly enough the conviction of Mr. Emerson as to the chief evils under which we suffer, and his hope as to their removal. He deems the history and the institutions of the past so oppressive as to stifle our proper life, and hinder our spontaneous spiritual development. To thwart this tendency be would have each man interpret the facts of the universe for himself. Only so can man enjoy an original relation to nature. The philosophical basis of this scheme is simple. Nature includes whatever is not the soul, the body, other souls, the material universe, and the over-soul, or what we call God.
Emerson perceives that something must be put in place of the Church, the Bible, and Christian creeds. He involuntarily asks himself, What should it be? The only good answer he can hit on is, The soul. Emerson holds that the progress of the soul is from within outward, from the consciousness of self to the consciousness of things external to self; hence from self-knowledge to knowledge of things remotest from the soul. The soul is in close and essential relations with the Universal, the Eternal, and Absolute. Hence it is oracular, and yields the wise listener the best attainable knowledge on all topics. This thought is so fundamental and so dominating in Emerson's writings that we exhibit it in several citations. He writes :
Meantime, while the doors of the temple stand open night and day, it , is guarded by one stern condition : this, namely, it is an intuition. Truly speaking, it is not instruction, but provocation, that I can receive *from another soul. What he announces I must find true in me or
wholly reject; and on his word and as his second, be he who he may, I can accept nothing. . . . Once man was all; now is he an appendage, a nuisance. And because the indwelling supreme spirit cannot wholly be got rid of, the doctrine of it suffers this perversion, that the divine nature is attributed to one or two persons, and denied of the rest, and denied with fury. The doctrine of inspiration is lost. . . . Miracles, prophecy, poetry, the ideal life, the holy life, exists as ancient history merely.
Here the individual soul is, with the most deliberate purpose, declared to be of divine nature, and of paramount authority within its own domain over all other souls, and over all truth. This stout affirmation of the pre-eminence of each soul is grounded on Emerson's conception of its nature :
There is a deeper fact in the soul than compensation, to wit, its own nature. The soul is not a compensation, but a life. The soul is. Under all this running sea of circumstance, whose waters ebb and flow with perfect balance, lies the aboriginal abyss of real being. Essence, or God, is not a relation, or a part, but the whole. Being is the vast affirmative excluding negation, self-balanced, swallowing up all relations, parts, and times within itself.
While this passage would require no little comment, some things are clear. If the soul be of divine nature, oracular, and in communion with the infinite and eternal All, it needs not go
abroad for truth. The few pregnant sentences on this subject, in “ Nature, are the following:
Undoubtedly we have no questions to ask which are unanswerable. We must trust the perfection of the universe so far as to believe, that whatever curiosity the order of things has awakened in our minds the order of things can satisfy. The intellect searches out the absolute order of things as they stand in the mind of God. While we behold unvailed the nature of justice and truth, we learn the difference between the absolute and the conditional, or relative. We apprehend the absolute. ... Man is conscious of a universal soul within or behind his individual life, wherein, as in a firmament, the natures of justice, truth, love, freedom arise and shine. This universal soul he calls Reason. The visible world and the relation of its parts is the dial-plate of the invisible. Idealism sees the world in God. It bebolds the whole circle of persons and things, of actions, and events, of country and religion, not as painfully accumulated, atom after atom, act after act, in an aged, creeping Past, but as one vast picture which God paints on the instant eternity for the contemplation of man.
It is not easy to imagine the perplexity which these passages, and others like them, stirred up in the readers of Emerson's book. In certain pages there was a distinct and positive elevation of the individual mind, or soul, to the seats of authority which, in Christian lands, had been long conceded to the Bible and the
Church. But, as there was no direct and formal rejection of their claims, room was left for hope that he still held the ordinary opinions. The essay, too, though'really pervaded by a very earnest didactic purpose, was so remarkable in its form, so enticing in its poetic beauty, that many were too much occupied with its charms to give critical heed to its teachings. Others would naturally hope that the writer bad indulged in a license of expression for literary effect, for which he would not care to be held to a very rigid responsibility. But when we recall the subsequent career of Emerson, there seems no reason to doubt that he had taken up his ground with extreme care, so as to act in the most direct and powerful way upon public opinion. When he spoke the next year at Cambridge, before the Phi Beta Kappa, he had no chance to hide his real drift under poetic forms and licenses. He did not develop his strange thoughts, save in one or two instances, beyond what he had done in "Nature." He spurned bibliolatry, but left it to be inferred that he deemed the current reverence for the Bible bibliolatry. He indirectly repudiated the Christian system by telling his hearers that all the duties of the scholar are comprehended in self-trust. In urging this duty, he showed apprehension that he might not carry his listeners on to his own conclusion, yet he ventured to hint that the primary reason is that it is one soul which animates all men. Here there is an apparent unwillingness to speak out, as though some uncertainty lingered in his own mind, or he disliked to wound the feelings of others. Meantime, much private discussion and agitation of the new views arose. In the fall of 1836, a company of advanced Unitarians began to meet to discuss these and other questions. That the interest of their debates sprang mainly from this theme appears in the fact that the club was called
The Transcendental Club.” This name was meant to indicate the general conviction of its members as to the pre-eminence of the soul over books and Churches and written revelations as a source of truth. We have no precise information as to its leading members, or the character of its usual proceedings; but it is plain, from many indications, that Emerson soon became its master-spirit. Such a company naturally stimulated the development of the new opinions. Its members acted on each other through encouragement and sympathy, and thus prepared the way for a wider and more public anouncement of these revolutionary doctrines. A general curiosity went abroad to learn more about the new and radical ideas. On all sides it was foreseen that a hot controversy would rise. Hence, when it was known that the senior class of the Divinity College at Cambridge had invited Emerson to deliver, in 1838, the customary annual sermon, expectation was on tiptoe. The occasion, and the challenge to speak out his inmost thought, were such as would not be likely to occur again ; and, though