« AnteriorContinuar »
much ; suffice it that he has neither tail por cloven foot, has indeed nothing very remarkable or peculiar about him, but is simply a mild and intelligent gentleman, with whom you might be hours and days in company, without suspecting him to be a philosopher or a poet. His manners are those of one who has studied the graces in the woods, unwittingly learned his bow from the bend of the pine, and his air and attitudes from those into which the serviceable wind adjusts the forest trees, as it sweeps across them. His conversation is at times a sweet rich dropping, like honey from the rock. He is a great man, gracefully disguised under sincere modesty and simplicity of character; is totally free from those go-ahead crotchets and cants which disgust you in many Americans; and it is impossible for the most prejudiced to be in his society, and not be impressed with respect for the innocence of his life, and regard for the unaffected sincerity of his manners. Plain and homely he may be as a wooden bowl, but not the less rich and ethereal is the nectar of thought by which he is filled. A lecturer, in the common sense of the term, he is not; call him rather a public monologist, talking rather to himself than to his audience--and what a quiet, calm, commanding conversation it is ! It is not the seraph, or burning one that you see in the midst of his wings of fire—it is the naked cherubic reason thinking aloud before you. He reads his lectures without excitement, without energy, scarcely even with emphasis, as if to try what can be effected by the pure, unaided momentum of thought. It is soul totally unsheathed that you have to do with ; and you ask, is this a spirit's tongue that is sounding on its way? so solitary and severe seems its harmony. There is no betrayal of emotion, except now and then when a slight tremble in his voice proclaims that he has arrived at some spot of thought to him peculiarly sacred or dear, even as our fellow-traveller along a road sometimes starts and looks round, arrived at some landmark of passion and memory, which to us has no interest; or as an earthly steed might be conceived to shiver under the advent of a supernal horseman—so his voice must falter here and there below the glorious burden it has to bear. There is no em phasis, often, but what is given by the eye, and this is felt only by those who see him on the side view; neither stand
ing behind nor before can we form any conception of the rapt living flash which breaks forth athwart the spectator. His eloquence is thus of that highest kind which produces great effects at small expenditure of means, and without any effort or turbulence; still and strong as gravitation, it fixes, subdues, and turns us around. To be more popular than it is, it requires only two elements—first, a more artistic accommodation to the tastes and understandings of the audience; and, secondly, greater power of personal passion, in which Emerson's head as well as his nature seems deficient. Could but some fiery breath of political zeal or religious enthusiasm be let loose upon him, to create a more rapid and energetic movement in his style and manner, he would stir and inflame the world.
His lectures, as to their substance, are very comprehensive. In small compass, masses of thought, results of long processes, lie compact and firm; as 240 pence are calmly inclosed in one bright round sovereign, so do volumes manifold go to compose some of Emerson's short and Sibyline sentences. In his lecture on Napoleon, as we have already seen, he reduces him and the history of his empire to a strong jelly. Eloquence, that ample theme, in like manner he condenses into the hollow of one lecture—a lecture for once which proved as popular as it was profound. His intellectual tactics somewhat resemble those of Napoleon. As he aimed at, and broke the heart of opposing armies, Emerson loves to grasp and tear out the trembling core of a subject, and show it to his hearers. In both of these lectures we admired his selection of instances and anecdotes; each stood for a distinct part of the subject, and rendered it at once intelligible and memorable. An anecdote thus severely selected answers the end of a bone in the hand of an anatomical lecturer: it appeals to sense as well as soul. We liked, too, his reading of a passage from the “ Odyssey," descriptive of the eloquence of Ulysses. It was translated into prose-the prose of his better essays—by bimself, and was read with a calm classical power and dignity, which made a thousand hearts still as the grave. For five minutes there seemed but two things in the world—the silence, and the voice which was passing through it.
If men, we have often exclaimed, would but listen as attentively to sermons, as they do to the intimations at the end! Emerson generally commands such attention; especially, we are told, that during his first lecture in Edinburgh on Natural Aristocracy it was fine to see him, by his very bashfulness, driven not out of, but into himself, and speaking as if in the forest alone with God and his own soul. This was true self-possession. The audience, too, were made to feel themselves as much alone as their orator. To give a curdling sense of solitude in society, is a much higher achievement than to give a sense of society in solitude It is among the mightiest acts of spiritual power, thus to insulate the imagination or the conscience of man, and suggests afar off the proceedings of that tremendous day, when in the company of a universe each man will feel himself alone.
In the three lectures we heard from Mr. Emerson there did not occur a single objectionable sentence. But there was unquestionably a blank in all, most melancholy to contemplate. We have no sympathy with the attempts which have been made to poison the popular mind, and to rouse the popular passions against this gentleman, whether by misrepresenting his opinions or by blackening his motives. He does not believe himself—whatever an ignorant and conceited scribbler in the “ United Presbyterian Magazine " may say—to be God. He is the least in the world of a proselytiser. He visited this country solely as a literary man, invited to give literary lectures. Whatever be his creed, he has not, in Scotland at least, protruded it; and even if he had, it would have done little harm ; for as easily transfer and circulate Emerson's brain as his belief. But, when we think of such a mind owning a faith seemingly so cold, and vague, and shadowy; and when, in his lectures, we find moral and spiritual truths of such importance robbed of their awful sanctions, separated like rays cut off from the sun-from their parent system and source-swung from off their moorings upon the Rock of ages—the Infinite and the Eternaland supported upon his own authority alone-when, in short, the Moon of genius comes between us and the Sun of God, we feel a dreariness and desolation of spirit inexpressible; and, much as we admire the author and love the man, we are tempted to regret the hour when he first landed upon our shores. Our best wishes, and those of thousands, went
with him on his homeward way; but coupled with a strong desire that a better, clearer, and more definite light might dawn upon his soul, and create around him a true “forest sanctuary." Long has he been, like Jacob, dreaming in the desert: surely the ladder cannot be far off.
The office of an interpreter, if not of the highest order, is certainly very useful, honorable, and, at certain periods, particularly necessary. There are times when the angle at which the highest minds of the age stand to the middle and lower classes is exceedingly awkward and uncertain. Their names and their pretensions are well known; even a glimmer of their doctrine has got abroad; some even of their books are read with a maximum of avidity, and a minimum of understanding ; but a fuller reflection of their merits and their views—a farther circulation of their spirit, and a more complete discharge of their electric influences, are still needed. For these purposes, unless the men will condescend to interpret themselves, we must have a separate class for the purpose. Indeed, such a class will be created by the circumstances. As each morning we see a grand process of interpretation, when the living light leaps downwards from heaven to the mountain summits, and from these to the lowlying hills, and from these to the deep glens—each mountain and hill taking up in turn its part in the great translation, till the landscape is one volume of glory-so mind after mind, in succession, and in the order of their intellectual stature, must catch and reflect the empyrean fire of truth.
Chief among the interpreters of our time stands Thomas Carlyle. He has not added any new truth to the world's stock, nor any artistic work to the world's literature, nor is he now likely to do so; but he has stood between the Br tish mind and the great German orbs, and flung down on · their light, with a kind of contemptuous profusion, color too, undoubtedly, by the strange rugged idiosyncrasy
which it has been reflected. This light, however, has fallen short of the middle class, not to speak of the masses of the community. This translation must itself be translated. -For some time it might have been advertised in the newspapers—“Wanted, an intrepreter for Sartor Resartus." Without the inducement of any such advertisement, but as a volunteer, has Mr. George Dawson stepped forward, and has now for two years been plying his profession with much energy and very considerable success.
It were not praise—it were not even flattery—it were simply insult and irony, to speak of Mr. Dawson in any other light than as a clever, a very clever translator, or, if he will, interpreter, of a greater translator and interpreter than himself. In all the lectures we have either heard or read of, his every thought and shade of thought was Carlyle's. The matter of the feast was, first course, Carlyle; second, do.; dessert, do.; toujours, Carlyle: the dishes, dressing, and sauce only, were his own.
Nor do we at all quarrel with him for this. Since the public are so highly satisfied, and since Carlyle himself is making no complaint, and instituting no hue and cry, it is all very well. It is really, too, a delightful hachis he does cook, full of pepper and spice, and highly palatable to the majority. Our only proper ground of quarrel would be, if he were claiming any independent merit in the thought, apart from the illustrations, the wit, and the easy vigorous talk of the exhibition. We have again and again been on the point of exclaiming, when compelled to contrast description with reality. We shall henceforth believe nothing till we have seen it with our eyes, and heard it with our ears. The most of the pictures we see drawn of celebrated people seem, after we have met with the originals, to have been painted by the blind. So very many determinedly praise a man for qualities which he has not—if a man is tall, they make him short; if dark, they give him fair hair ; if his brow be moderate in dimensions, they call it a great mass of placid marble ; if he be an easy, Auent speaker, they dignify him with the name of orator; if is
eye kindle with the progress of his theme, they tell us at his face gets phosphorescent, and as the face of an agel. Hence the mortifying disappointments which are so oumon-disappointments produced less by the inferiority