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Chapter 10

1863-1868. AET. 60-65.

"Boston Hymn."--"Voluntaries."--Other Poems.--"May-Day and other Pieces."--"Remarks at the Funeral Services of Abraham Lincoln."--Essay on Persian Poetry.--Address at a Meeting of the Free Religious Association.--"Progress of Culture." Address before the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Harvard University.--Course of Lectures in Philadelphia.--The Degree of LL.D. conferred upon Emerson by Harvard University.--"Terminus."

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The "Boston Hymn" was read by Emerson in the Music Hall, on the first day of January, 1863. It is a rough piece of verse, but noble from beginning to end. One verse of it, beginning "Pay ransom to the owner," has been already quoted; these are the three that precede it:--

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  "I cause from every creature
    His proper good to flow:
  As much as he is and doeth
    So much shall he bestow.

"But laying hands on another To coin his labor and sweat, He goes in pawn to his victim For eternal years in debt.

"To-day unbind the captive, So only are ye unbound: Lift up a people from the dust, Trump of their rescue, sound!"

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"Voluntaries," published in the same year in the "Atlantic Monthly," is more dithyrambic in its measure and of a more Pindaric elevation than the plain song of the "Boston Hymn."

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"But best befriended of the God He who, in evil times, Warned by an inward voice, Heeds not the darkness and the dread, Biding by his rule and choice, Feeling only the fiery thread Leading over heroic ground, Walled with mortal terror round, To the aim which him allures, And the sweet heaven his deed secures. Peril around, all else appalling, Cannon in front and leaden rain Him duly through the clarion calling To the van called not in vain."

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It is in this poem that we find the lines which, a moment after they were written, seemed as if they had been carved on marble for a thousand years:--

  "So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
  So near is God to man,
  When Duty whispers low, Thou must,
  The youth replies, I can."

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"Saadi" was published in the "Atlantic Monthly" in 1864, "My Garden" in 1866, "Terminus" in 1867. In the same year these last poems with many others were collected in a small volume, entitled "May-Day, and Other Pieces." The general headings of these poems are as follows: May-Day.--The Adirondacs.--Occasional and Miscellaneous Pieces.--Nature and Life.--Elements.--Quatrains.--Translations.--Some of these poems, which were written at long intervals, have been referred to in previous pages. "The Adirondacs" is a pleasant narrative, but not to be compared for its poetical character with "May-Day," one passage from which, beginning,

  "I saw the bud-crowned Spring go forth,"
is surpassingly imaginative and beautiful. In this volume will be found "Brahma," "Days," and others which are well known to all readers of poetry.

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Emerson's delineations of character are remarkable for high-relief and sharp-cut lines. In his Remarks at the Funeral Services for Abraham Lincoln, held in Concord, April 19, 1865, he drew the portrait of the homespun-robed chief of the Republic with equal breadth and delicacy:--

"Here was place for no holiday magistrate, no fair weather sailor; the new pilot was hurried to the helm in a tornado. In four years,--four years of battle-days,--his endurance, his fertility of resources, his magnanimity, were sorely tried and never found wanting. There, by his courage, his justice, his even temper, his fertile counsel, his humanity, he stood a heroic figure in the centre of a heroic epoch. He is the true history of the American people in his time. Step by step he walked before them; slow with their slowness, quickening his march by theirs, the true representative of this continent; an entirely public man; father of his country; the pulse of twenty millions throbbing in his heart, the thought of their minds articulated by his tongue."

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In his "Remarks at the Organization of the Free Religious Association," Emerson stated his leading thought about religion in a very succinct and sufficiently "transcendental" way: intelligibly for those who wish to understand him; mystically to those who do not accept or wish to accept the doctrine shadowed forth in his poem, "The Sphinx."

--"As soon as every man is apprised of the Divine Presence within his own mind,--is apprised that the perfect law of duty corresponds with the laws of chemistry, of vegetation, of astronomy, as face to face in a glass; that the basis of duty, the order of society, the power of character, the wealth of culture, the perfection of taste, all draw their essence from this moral sentiment; then we have a religion that exalts, that commands all the social and all the private action."

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Nothing could be more wholesome in a meeting of creed-killers than the suggestive remark,--

--"What I expected to find here was, some practical suggestions by which we were to reanimate and reorganize for ourselves the true Church, the pure worship. Pure doctrine always bears fruit in pure benefits. It is only by good works, it is only on the basis of active duty, that worship finds expression.--The interests that grow out of a meeting like this, should bind us with new strength to the old eternal duties."

In a later address before the same association, Emerson says:-- "I object, of course, to the claim of miraculous dispensation,--certainly not to the doctrine of Christianity.--If you are childish and exhibit your saint as a worker of wonders, a thaumaturgist, I am repelled. That claim takes his teachings out of nature, and permits official and arbitrary senses to be grafted on the teachings."

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The "Progress of Culture" was delivered as a Phi Beta Kappa oration just thirty years after his first address before the same society. It is very instructive to compare the two orations written at the interval of a whole generation: one in 1837, at the age of thirty-four; the other in 1867, at the age of sixty-four. Both are hopeful, but the second is more sanguine than the first. He recounts what he considers the recent gains of the reforming movement:--

"Observe the marked ethical quality of the innovations urged or adopted. The new claim of woman to a political status is itself an honorable testimony to the civilization which has given her a civil status new in history. Now that by the increased humanity of law she controls her property, she inevitably takes the next step to her share in power."

He enumerates many other gains, from the war or from the growth of intelligence,--"All, one may say, in a high degree revolutionary, teaching nations the taking of governments into their own hands, and superseding kings."

He repeats some of his fundamental formulae.

"The foundation of culture, as of character, is at last the moral sentiment.

"Great men are they who see that spiritual is stronger than any material force, that thoughts rule the world.

"Periodicity, reaction, are laws of mind as well as of matter."

And most encouraging it is to read in 1884 what was written in 1867,--especially in the view of future possibilities. "Bad kings and governors help us, if only they are bad enough."Non tali auxilio, we exclaim, with a shudder of remembrance, and are very glad to read these concluding words: "I read the promise of better times and of greater men."

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In the year 1866, Emerson reached the age which used to be spoken of as the "grand climacteric." In that year Harvard University conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws, the highest honor in its gift.

In that same year, having left home on one of his last lecturing trips, he met his son, Dr. Edward Waldo Emerson, at the Brevoort House, in New York. Then, and in that place, he read to his son the poem afterwards published in the "Atlantic Monthly," and in his second volume, under the title "Terminus." This was the first time that Dr. Emerson recognized the fact that his father felt himself growing old. The thought, which must have been long shaping itself in the father's mind, had been so far from betraying itself that it was a shock to the son to hear it plainly avowed. The poem is one of his noblest; he could not fold his robes about him with more of serene dignity than in these solemn lines. The reader may remember that one passage from it has been quoted for a particular purpose, but here is the whole poem:--

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TERMINUS.

It is time to be old, To take in sail:-- The god of bounds, Who sets to seas a shore, Came to me in his fatal rounds, And said: "No more! No farther shoot Thy broad ambitious branches, and thy root. Fancy departs: no more invent; Contract thy firmament To compass of a tent. There's not enough for this and that, Make thy option which of two; Economize the failing river, Not the less revere the Giver, Leave the many and hold the few, Timely wise accept the terms, Soften the fall with wary foot; A little while Still plan and smile, And,--fault of novel germs,-- Mature the unfallen fruit. Curse, if thou wilt, thy sires, Bad husbands of their fires, Who when they gave thee breath, Failed to bequeath The needful sinew stark as once, The baresark marrow to thy bones, But left a legacy of ebbing veins, Inconstant heat and nerveless reins,-- Amid the Muses, left thee deaf and dumb, Amid the gladiators, halt and numb.

"As the bird trims her to the gale I trim myself to the storm of time, I man the rudder, reef the sail, Obey the voice at eve obeyed at prime: 'Lowly faithful, banish fear, Right onward drive unharmed; The port, well worth the cruise, is near, And every wave is charmed.'"

Oliver Wendell Holmes

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