« PreviousContinue »
by the literary standard set up in the introduction. The title is the theme, as already observed; and not the objective form of the theme, as in the other selections. There is something of the lyric element in it, however, as the reader is directly appealed to. Is it because this selection appeals so directly to the intuitions that the reader experiences the theme ideally without having it realized before him in an objective form? It lays hold upon the reader directly. There is plenty of imagery in detail; each separate thought is fully mirrored. And since each separate thought presented contains the truth of the whole, the series of figures may be all that the manner of thought permits. Emerson strikes blow upon blow on the same point, but from different directions. Each thought striking at the centre, nothing can be done but to image variously.
While one feels tempted to drop this selection from the category of literature, he cannot persuade himself that it is didactic discourse. It does not move by the ordinary discourse process of description, narration, exposition, or argumentation. There is no connection of parts by thought processes. Logical cohesion is wholly wanting. Shall we call Carlyle and Emerson philosophers or poets? or philosophical poets, or poetic philosophers? Certainly their general spirit and purpose is idealistic, and therefore poetic. That their method is unique comes from the work they attempt to do; namely, to turn the mind inward "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." Really, Emerson is not engaged in presenting abstract truth, but in clothing truth in flesh and blood. Lowell says that though he writes in prose he is essentially a poet. His purpose ever is to hold the ideal above the turmoil of the lower life.
As noted above, while there is no general embodiment, the style is strikingly concrete and figurative; and with this should be put the close grasping of the thought in the manner of Tennyson as noted in the preceding analysis, but not with such intensity. "Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string." Note how closely the thought is packed and pictured in this: "Good heaven! it is he! It is that very lump of bashfulness and phlegm which for weeks has done nothing but eat when you were by, that now rolls out those words like bell-strokes." And again: "But why should you keep your head over your shoulder? Why drag "An about this corpse of your memory?" Also in these : institution is the lengthened shadow of one man." nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure.' "All the sallies of his will are rounded in by the law of his being, as the inequalities of Andes and Himmaleh are insignificant in the curve of the sphere."
Emerson, like Tennyson, uses the most condensed form of figure, the metaphorical and the allegorical; also largely the figures of association, especially that in which the part is put for the whole, as the species for the genus. By this means he secures brevity and picturesque concreteness. “I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples." Here is an enumeration of specific acts, instead of saying simply that he made the trip to Naples; and the effect is good. 'He has a fine Geneva watch, but he fails of the skill to tell the hour by the sun." So far as the fact is concerned it matters not what kind of a watch he has, but rhetorically there is a vast difference. He speaks of "the well-clad, reading, writing, thinking American, with a watch, a pencil, and a bill of exchange in his pocket." It would have been just as true to the thought to have said the civilized man, but there would have been great loss in imagery and power.
In this matter of the imagery, clothing the thought and making it visible and real to the eye, Emerson is poetic. In relation to this feature the student should study this selection in detail. The most characteristic thing, however, is the terse, pithy, and pungent phrase. Emerson's sentences fall like bell-strokes, borrowing his own phrase. His style is apothegmatic.
A chief quality, also, is that of keeping the style in the background. "He values the solid meaning of thought above the subtler meaning of style." He makes a direct effort to say the thing. There is no mark of insincerity in the style; that is, it seems to exist wholly for the thought. If Tennyson sometimes suggests that his is conscious and labored elegance, Emerson suggests nothing one way or the other. Again the theme and the man form the style. "For us the whole life of the man is distilled in the clear drop of every sentence, and behind each word we divine the force of a noble character, the weight of a large capital of thinking and being." We might expect Emerson, when treating of Self-reliance, to value the solid meaning of thought above the subtler meaning of style; and hence, while being poetic, not to rise to the poetic height, but to some other. Hence one cares little for his style; the matter wholly engages him. This is the highest compliment, however, that one could pay to the style born of such a theme and purpose. The style is direct and self-reliant. The first sentence strikes the theme squarely, without apology or circumlocution. And thus to the end, as if each chance were the last. The style has the virility of the man. It consists in no one thing in particular, but its power and character as a whole are clearly defined.
"Search for his eloquence in his books and you will perchance miss it, but meanwhile you will find that it has kindled all your thoughts. For choice and pith of language he belongs to a better age than ours, and might rub shoulders with Fuller and Browne, though he does use that
abominable word reliable. His eye for a fine, telling phrase that will carry true is like that of a backwoodsman for a rifle; and he will dredge you up a choice word from the mud of Cotton Mather himself. A diction at once so rich and so homely as his I know not where to match in these days of writing by the page; it is like homespun cloth-ofgold. The many cannot miss his meaning, and only the few can find it. It is the open secret of all true genius. It is wholesome to angle in those profound pools, though one be rewarded with nothing more than the leap of a fish that flashes his freckled side in the sun and as suddenly absconds in the dark and dreamy waters again. There is keen excitement, though there be no ponderable acquisition. If we carry nothing home in our baskets, there is ample gain in dilated lungs and stimulated blood." 1