« PreviousContinue »
RALPH WALDO EMERSON.
TO many readers the name of Emerson is that of
a philosophical prose writer, hard to be understood; in time to come it will perhaps be wondered at that the introduction of his name in a volume of American Poems should seem to require an explanation or shadow of an apology; it is likely even that his philosophy will be read and welcomed chiefly for those elements which it has in common with his poetry. His life may be called uneventful as regards external change or adventure. It was passed mainly in Boston and Concord, Massachusetts. He was born in Boston, May 25, 1803. His father, his grandfather, and his great-grandfather, were all ministers, and, indeed, on both his father's and mother's side he belongs to a continuous line of ministerial descent from the seventeenth century. At the time of his birth, his father, the Rev. William Emerson, was minister of the First Church congregation, but on his death a few years afterward, Ralph Waldo Emerson, a boy of seven, wen. to live in the old manse at Concord, where his grand father had lived when the Concord fight occurred
The old manse was afterward the home at one time of Hawthorne, who wrote there the stories which he gathered into the volumes, Mosses from an Old Manse.
Emerson was graduated at Harvard in 1821, and after teaching a year or two gave himself to the study of divinity. From 1827 to 1832 he preached in Unitarian churches and was for four years a colleague pastor in the Second Church in Boston. He then left the ministry and afterward devoted himself to literature. He travelled abroad in 1833, in 1847, and again in 1872, making friends among the leading thinkers during his first journey, and confirming the friendships when again in Europe; with the exception of these three journeys and occasional lecturing tours in the United States, he lived quietly at Concord until his death, April 27,
He had delivered several special addresses, and in his early manhood was an important lecturer in the Lyceum courses which were so popular, especially in New England, forty years ago, but his first published book was Nature, in 1839. Subsequent prose writings were his Essays, under that title, and in several volumes with specific titles, Representative Men and English Traits, which last embodies the results of his first two visits to England.
He wrote poems when in college, but his first publication was through The Dial, a magazine established in 1840, and the representative of a knot of men and women of whom Emerson was the acknowledged or unacknowledged leader. The first
volume of his poems was published in 1847, and included those by which he is best known, as The Problem, The Sphinx, The Rhodora, The Humble Bee, Hymn Sung at the Completion of the Concord Monument. After the establishment of the Atlantic Monthly in 1857 he contributed to it both prose and poetry, and verses published in the early numbers, mere enigmas to some, profound revelations to others, were fruitful of discussion and thought; his second volume of poems, May Day and other Pieces, was not issued until 1867. Since then a volume of his collected poetry has appeared, containing most of those published in the two volumes, and a few in addition. We are told, however, that the published writings of Emerson bear but small proportion to the unpublished. Many lectures have been delivered, but not printed; many poems written, and a few read, which have never been published. The inference from this, borne out by the marks upon what has been published, is that Mr. Emerson set a high value upon literature, and was jealous of the prerogative of the poet. He is frequently called a seer, and this old word, indicating etymologically its original intention, is applied well to a poet who saw into nature and human life with a spiritual power which made him a marked man in his own time, and one destined to an unrivalled place in literature. He fulfilled Wordsworth's lines,
"With an eye made quiet by the power Of harmony, and the deep power of joy, We see into the life of things."
Thence, in strong country carts, rode up the forks
The Adirondac lakes. At Martin's Beach 5 We chose our boats; each man a boat and guide, Ten men, ten guides, our company all told.
Next morn, we swept with oars the Saranac, With skies of benediction, to Round Lake, Where all the sacred mountains drew around us, 10 Taháwus, Seward, MacIntyre, Baldhead,
And other Titans without muse or name.
Pleased with these grand companions, we glide
Instead of flowers, crowned with a wreath of
And made our distance wider, boat from boat,
15 As each would hear the oracle alone.
By the bright morn the gay flotilla slid
Through scented banks of lilies white and gold, 20 Where the deer feeds at night, the teal by day, On through the Upper Saranac, and up
Père Raquette stream, to a small tortuous pass
Two creeping miles of rushes, pads, and sponge, 25 To Follansbee Water and the Lake of Loons.
Northward the length of Follansbee we rowed, Under low mountains, whose unbroken ridge Ponderous with beechen forest sloped the shore. A pause and council: then, where near the head 30 On the east a bay makes inward to the land Between two rocky arms, we climb the bank, And in the twilight of the forest noon Wield the first axe these echoes ever heard, We cut young trees to make our poles and thwarts, 35 Barked the white spruce to weatherfend the roof, Then struck a light, and kindled the camp-fire.
The wood was sovran with centennial trees
40 Three conifers, white, pitch, and Norway pine, Five-leaved, three-leaved, and two-leaved, grew thereby.
Our patron pine was fifteen feet in girth,
37. Milton frequently employed the form sovran for sovereign, although in many editions the spelling has been changed to the longer form.