Abbildungen der Seite


LITTELL'S LIVING AGE.-No. 320.-6 JULY, 1850.

[ocr errors]

From the British Quarterly Review.

of Great Men; Plato, or the Philosopher ;

Swedenborg, or the Mystic; Montaigne, or the
Representative Men. Seven Lectures. By R. W.
Emerson. London: J. Chapman. 1850.

Sceptic; Shakspeare, or the Poet ; Napoleon, or

the Man of the World ; Goethe, or the Writer. It is not necessary to inform our readers that The title, the names selected, and a certain tone, Mr. Emerson is an American. He became known both of thought and phraseology, remind one of in England, a few years ago, as the writer of the “ Hero-worship" of Carlyle. We take such

Essays”—his second volume under that title things as they come, doing our best to sift them; being introduced by commendatory observations using the good as we have opportunity, and calling from Mr. Carlyle. We remember reading the the false, the bad, and the pernicious, when we Essays, and also some Orations, and a volume of find them, by their right names, according to our Poems, by the same author. We have had but sober way of thinking. one opportunity of seeing and hearing him. It We are tempted at the outset to say to this was the year before last, when he was delivering, brother in letters—how came you not to have seen, in England, the lectures which are printed in the with the first glance, that one use of great men volume before us. He is too remarkable a man is to teach little men to be modest and unaffected, to be altogether forgotten, or remembered without and particularly to talk, or write, or act, in a way interest. He has not attained the kind of celebrity which shows what they mean? The great men he enjoys without labor; and we have inquired, of the past, or of the day which now is, strike us not unnaturally, who he is, and what sort of work greatly by the simplicity, the oneness, the perspihe has been doing in this world. All that we cuity, and the earnestness of their character. know of his outward life is soon said ; he was Their greatness is not darkness ; not the multiplieducated, at (New) Cambridge, for the church cation of pieces of Mosaic put together with infinite among the Unitarians, and was, we cannot say for labor ; nor a monstrous exaggeration of some nat how long a time, the minister of a congregation at ural thought or propensity; and so, worthy friend, Boston. His preaching was not in any way re- if you wish to teach us the “uses of great men,' markable. His reputation was that of a worthy do not mislead us in the act of looking at them, and exemplary citizen. Some private opinions, by making us think of the painter and his palette, affecting one of the sacraments, induced him to instead of the grand original he professes to pre abandon the clerical profession, and employ him- sent. But the wide Atlantic rolls between us, self in farming. His Orations and Addresses and we are, moreover, not on those terms which indicate a respectable, if not an official, connection would warrant us in taking such a liberty with with Divinity College, Cambridge, with Dartmouth Mr. Emerson, who, we suppose, would not be College, and with Waterville College, Maine. more surprised than other men of genius at finding We infer from his writings that he knows, by ex- his own name enrolled among the great; therefore perience, the relations of brother, husband, and we resist the temptation, which we confess is not father.

weak, to hold an imaginary dialogue with him The lectures here published, attracted some concerning these Representative Men, and we pass attention in England, as well as in the chief on to the less lively duty of putting down the cities in Scotland. Most of his other writings we thoughts which we have had within ourselves, have met with in several cheap forms, and we while we have been reading what he has written. believe they are read somewhat extensively, espe- Stripped of the mannerism and the embellishments, cially by young men, who are great admirers of of which we say nothing at present, the first lecthat freshness of mind which breathes, as they ture amounts to thus much : Mankind are ever in think, through his compositions, and who can pursuit of great men. Religions, Christianity in hardly fail to be taken by the beautiful thoughts cluded, are the deifications of great men. Every and the rich words which they often present. We man seeks a great man who is as different as pos may say of these lectures, they are worthy of the sible from himself. Great men mind their own author-that is, they are as good as anything he business, find their proper place, and each occupies has written, better in some respects, though less the rank to which he belongs. Their service to elaborate and less brilliant. As we wish to pro- other men is not direct, but indirect ; and they nounce a judgment on the writer, as a whole, and, represent, first, things, and, secondly, ideas. indeed, on the entire class of writers to whom we Great men represent things by having a secret conceive that he belongs, we may have an oppor- liking for them, and by being, in fact, identified tunity of gathering illustrations of our meaning with them. Huber was a great bee; Euclid' a from several of his productions as well as from great line ; Newton a great fluxion ; Gilbert a the last. Our principal concern, however, is with great magnet; Sir Humphry Davy a great gas. the last. Here are seven lectures On the Uses Then, we sympathize with these great men ; and,


[ocr errors]




by the excitement of our intellect and of our affec- Swedenborg, or Oersted, before the general mind tions, by the biographies of the dead, and by the can come to entertain its powers! ** The gases example of the living, we are benefited by them. gather to the solid firmament; the chemic lump The tendency to overrate great men is checked by ruped, and waiks; arrives at man, and thinks.

arrives at the plant, and grows; arrives at the quadthe individualisms of genius, by a species of rota- But also the constituency determines the vote of the tion in the laws of nature, but, most of all, by the representative. He is not merely representative, power of the idea itself, which the great have but participant. Like can only be known by like. obeyed as well as represented. Mr. Emerson The reason why he knows about them is, that he is of sees in the power of great men something which them; he has just come out of nature from being a wears the appearance of injustice to the many. part of that thing. Animated chlorine know's of

Their The compensation for this inequality he finds in chlorine, and incarnate zinc knows of zinc. the belief that every man's turn will come—soine- lish their virtues because they compose him. Man

quality makes his career, and he can variously pubwhere, in the notion that each shares in the great- made of the dust of the world does not forget his ness of the greatest, and especially in what he origin, and all that is yet inanimate will one day calls “ the central identity of all the individuals," speak and reason. Unpublished nature will have who

are made of the substance which ordaineth its whole secret told. Shall we say that quartz and doeth,” whatever that may mean. It seems

mountains will pulverize into innumerable Werners,

Von Buchs, and Beaumonts, and the labyrinth of to mean a good deal ; for it is the key to all the the atmosphere hold in solution I know not what enigmas both in the prose and the poetry of this Berzeliuses and Davys ? author ; it is the "genius of humanity”—the

Were we not afraid of appearing to attach more “ exponent of a vaster mind and will’_" the qualities which abide, when the men who have importance to this jargon than we really do, we expressed them have now, more or less, passed might make a pretty business here by a little away”—the “ destiny of organized nature" —the analysis and a little analogy, and by asking this

lecturer and his admirers one or two plain quesover soul."

tions. But, at present, we forbear. The lecture In the expression of opinions about great men,

on “ Plato, or the Philosopher,” is disfigured by we have not discovered any comprehensive views of human nature—any depth of insight, subtle pretension, exaggeration, and bad taste ; it is, also,

extremely shallow. Those who have never studied analysis, or force of thought; on the contrary, the famous Greek in his own language, will gather everything is common-place, except the want of that clear method, and that distinct enunciation, his excellences or his defects from this New Cam

but a feeble and inaccurate impression of either which we have been accustomed to regard as quali

bridge expounder. His representation may be ties of some value in the instructions given by a

expressed in a few sentences. Plato, according public teacher. The chief peculiarities we observe

to Mr. Emerson, is the original from which all in Mr. Emerson's manner are, we must say, open other books are drawn, and contains them all. He to various objections ; some of them are worthy absorded the learning of his own times, and blended of grave rebuke, and they will be severely con- the elements of Asia with those of Europe. Unity demned by moral and religious minds. scarcely be without some significance that he speaks The conception of the fundamental unity abounds

and variety are the cardinal facts of philosophy. Christianity” and “ Judaisrn,” along with

in the religious writings of the East; this he calls “ Buddhisin” and “ Mahomedanism," as the neces

" the gravitation of mind.” But activity of mind, sary structural action of the human mind. If he which is “ the power of nature,” leads backwards does not intend us to understand that Christianity is to diversity. The East has its fate and ils caste, inerely the effect of this “structural action,” it is the West its culture, freedom, and trade ; Plato a pity that he should have said so ; if he does

" the balanced soul" that united those oppo intend us to understand it thus, he must know that site poles of humanity by his perfect synthesis. this is untrue that it is impossible ; and that 10 This power of synthesis he used with a palatial hint so monstrous a misrepresentation is to tamper air," with earnestness, piety, probity, reverence with the highest interests of humanity-ay, with for justice, and a tender humanity, with a vast interests which are too sacred to be approached by sweep of imagination, and always with the fit word, any man without trembling reverence. When he

with wit of every kind, with wondrous moderation, classes prophecy” with “magical power” as

and with “agreeable to the early belief of men," the un- all other sciences is taught by Dialectics.

a great common sense.” The use of

Plato worthy insinuation is too gross and palpable to delighted in intellectual culture, yet relied on No escape the most superficial reader. Of the same

ture and adored the Divine. He reduced all the character is the misrepresentation implied in the

operations of the soul to conjecture, faith, undergratuitous innuendo—“ Churches believe in im

standing, reason. Beauty is most lovely, but puted merit.” We are not disposed to yield our

wisdom is more beautiful than beauty. God alone understanding, or our judgment, to a writer whose

can teach wisdom; and virtue is not a lesson, but complacency is gratified by putting into print such

an inspiration. sentences as the following

Socrates is described, not unhappily, as “ the In the history of discovery, the ripe and latent organ through which every considered opinion Truth seems to have fashioned a brain for itself. A shall be announced, (enounced,)” and the master magnet must be made man, in some Gilbert or ) and the "robed scholar” are spoken of as “ making

It can

of "


[ocr errors]

each other immortal in their mutual faculty.” The short homily, of which Mr. Emerson shall supply
faults which Mr. Emerson finds in Plato are two the text: “ Calvinism is in his Phædo, Christiani-
--his writings have not the vital authority which ty is in it.”—p. 28.
" the screams of prophets, and the sermons of un- This brief sentence imports that the writer
lettered Arabs and Jews possess ;” and he has not wishes us to consider him as one well acquainted
a system : his theory of the universe is not com- with three things, of one of which he affirms that
plete, not consistent, and no one can tell what the other two are in it. We need not go higher
Platonism is : notwithstanding, Plato is “truliest in the context than to observe that the author has
seen when seen with most respect."

been making a parade of showing that Plato is Under the head of "New Readings,” Mr. Em- philosophy, and that philosophy is Plato, and that erson enlarges his meditations on Plato, for which the thinkers of all nations are his posterity, and he takes occasion from “ the excellent translations are tinged with his mind ; in proof of which he of Plato” in Mr. Bohn's serial library. Whether mentions—first, the Alexandrians ; secondly, the the lecturer was now for the first time made farni)- Elizabethans, including, so we take it, nine worthy iar with the reading of the Republic or not, we Englishmen, of whom one lived before Elizabeth, cannot tell, and it is not our business to insinuate and all the others flourished in a later period of suspicions; but how this new translation of a book, English letters ; thirdly," the illustrious Marcilius which has been familiar to scholars, both in the Ficinius," and Picus (whom he ought to have original and in Latin translations, time out of mind, called Pico) of Mirandola; and, fourthly, in addicould have suggested “ New Readings,” is a lion to this catalogue of ill-considered names, he matter which our vulgar English scholarship must says, in the text, “Calvinism is in his Phædo, leave among dark things.

Christianity is in it.The writer may suppose, Our learned brother has met with some other for aught that appears, that his word is enough for books, which have done him much more service this; or that it is so true, and so well known to than Carey's translations of Plato, and which, be true, that he needs only mention it; or, that, perchance, he may have studied nearly as much as whether it be true or not true, it is so smart a he has studied Plato, though there was no apparent thing to say, and hits both Calvin, and another necessity for telling his audience how much he has writer, whose name we do not like to repeat in borrowed from them—we mean, the very superfi- this connection, so hard and so well deserved a cial, fanciful, and mischievous class of books rep- blow, that it is better to strike the blow than not to resented by “ Vestiges of the Natural History of strike it. Well, then, What is Calvinism? What Creation." By aid of a philosophy which is op- is Christianity? What is Plato's Phædo? This posed to the sound principles and acknowledged lecturer does not say what either of the three is ; facts of natural history, especially of palæontology, but what he does say, it would not become so wise this profound lecturer on the Greek philosopher a man to say, if he did not know very well what thinks he can explain the natural history of Plato they all are. Now we can only deal with the in the “ fatal and beautiful succession of men, so text itself, and, to our best understanding, its that he does not" (like the worthies whom minerals, meaning is—that there is nothing in Calvinism magnets, bees, lichens, pears, atomic forms, lines, which is not in the Phædo, and there is nothing and fluxions, chose as their representatives, some in Christianity which is not in the Phædo ; from what out of time, by two or three thousand years, which we infer that, as Christianity began to be or so) “ represent anything less than the intellectual taught more than three hundred years after Plato privilege of carrying up every fact to successive died, the teachers of Christianity were indebted to platforms.” The moral conclusions of Plato are the Phædo for their peculiar doctrines—or Chrisgiven in a dry, imperfect manner; and his account tianity; and that Calvin, who began to teach some of Plato's definition of ideas, proves that he has fifteen hundred years later still, was indebted for never studied that essential principle of Plato's whatever he laught, which is not Christianity, to philosophy, and almost proves that it belongs to a the same source, as well as for the Christianity department of study with which he has no sympathy which he taught, if he taught Christianity at all. nor familiarity, and in which, to speak plainly, he Both these things must be true, if the text be true. is altogether out of his element, or beyond his Assuming that the text is true, we should be glad depth. His strongest reprobation of what he can- to have it in our power to tell you, honored reader, not approve in Plato, is expressed in words which by what remarkable process the wise man, who are given à la Carlyle: I am sorry to see him, is here teaching us, came to the knowledge of the after such superiorities, permitting the lie to gov- curious fact that “the unlettered Jews,” and “ the

Plato plays Providence ! a little, with good Jesus," (of whom the “ perhaps not badthe baser sort, as people allow themselves with hearted Voltaire” said "I pray you let me never their dogs and their cats.” How sagacious! How hear that man's name again,”)— were students of elegant! How moral! How reverential ! the Greek philosopher ; or that some kind rabbi

As an example of Mr. Emerson's acquaintance (like Mr. Carey and his predecessors in Germany, with Plato, if not with other things of which he France, and England) had “ done into” Aramaic, speaks with the wonted superciliousness of men or into Latin, this fountain of the Gospel, and that who set up in these days for great thinkers, we it was the theme of lectures on the margin of Genmust ask our readers to let us try our hand on a nesareth, on the heights of Tabor, or amid the


gardens of Olivet ; but that the Nazarene and his and in morals, for which Plato is so highly lauded, well drilled pupils never deemed it prudent to tell thus amply illustrated by a modern admirer ; and the simple men who heard them, whence their it does one good to see that the tendency to exwisdom caine. Unless something of this kind be aggeration which we Europeans had been so apt supposed, we do not understand in what way it was to ascribe to our friends over the water is so possible that Christianity should be in the Phædo. charmingly corrected by philosophy! Weighty It can scarcely be necessary to prove to any stu- words are these from a prophet who never screams, dent of the Christian writings that there is not the from a preacher who is neither an unlettered Arab, shadow of evidence in the documents themselves, nor an unlettered Jew, but a civilized and polished that they are the productions of an artificer so en- descendant of the good old pilgrim fathers :tirely at variance with the simplicity, integrity, Christianity is in the Phædo ;" weighty words ! and straightforward manliness of the first teachers. — which we have hitherto assumed to be true—as Equally unnecessary, would it be to prove to the most of the readers probably will take that for scholar who is conversant with the literature of the granted, and as, certainly, the lecturer himself exHebrews of that age, that the doctrines of the pects us all to do. Phædo-supposing them to be identical with those But we, British Quarterly Reviewers, having of Christianity—had in any other way reached some objections against taking any saying for the mind of Jesus and his disciples, so as insen- granted that is capable of being tested, are waysibly to mould them. If Christianity be in the ward enough to question the text itself, and to Phædo, Christianity must be derived from the ask, is it so ? Does the Phædo contain ChristianPhædo, directly or indirectly ; but there is no evi- ity? Not being acquainted with any other test dence, either literary or historical, that such was than the very obvious one, somewhat antique inthe fact ; on the contrary, the evidence of the deed, yet much respected by philosophers, and not whole case is in proof that it was not, and that it less by practical men, of bringing the two things could not be. The lecturer, however, may mean, together, we have done this, and behold the upshot not that Christianity is drawn from the Phædo, of our comparison :-Christianity is not in the but that it was anticipated by it; that its doctrines Phado. The worthy lecturer has either mistaken were taught by Socrates and Plato in Athens, what Christianity is, or what the Phædo is, orthree hundred years before they were taught by which is the judgment to which the examination Jesus in Judea, and by John in Asia Minor. Let of the matter has conducted us—he intentionally us take it so. If this is what is meant, then is it depreciates the one, for the purpose of unduly exalso meant that Christianity was not original, not alting the other. Our meaning is, this writertaught for the first time by Jesus ; that it was not from whatever motives— has done that which, had a divine revelation, but the fruit of human reason- we done ourselves, we should boldly avow as an ing; that if Jesus had never lived, or taught, all intended lowering of Christianity in the presence that is in Christianity would have been known ; of the great philosopher of Athens. Assuredly, and, by consequence, that the reader of the Phædo if he or any other man, having clear intellect, and has no occasion for the Gospels. One exception, sufficient information, believes that he is serving we presume, even Mr. Emerson would make-or truth by enunciating such conclusions, it is neither rather, has made namely, that the Christianity our province nor our wish to impute to him any of Plato wanted the “ vital authority," which he motive which an honorable mind would disavow ; says “ the screams of prophets and the sermons of at the same time we cannot serve truth according unlettered Arabs and Jews possess." What the to our conscience without protesting, as men and value of that authority may be, however, in this as scholars, against the entire method in which gentleman's estimation, our readers may gather if conclusions of such far-reaching import are scatthey can from the choice diction with which he tered over the pages of such authors as the one has described it—it is the “ vital authority," not of with whose words we are now dealing. It is not wisdom, goodness, or inspiration, but of "screams,” the open, honest, self-relying method of either a or of the illiteracy which was common to Arabs truth-seeker or a truth-holder, to avoid analysis, and Jews in their sermons.

argument, discussion, the history of systems and This style of referring to prophets—Isaiah, Mi- the collations of writings, and, instead of these cah, and Daniel, for example, and to sermons— acknowledged methods of ascertaining and prothe sermon on the Mount and those at Mecca pounding what is true, resorting to startling paraapparently classed together—is an average sample dox, rash assertion, sly innuendo, ambiguous inof this writer's discrimination and learning, and sinuations, ill-considered analogies, incoherent an equally fair specimen of his reverence for scraps from contradictory theories, juggling feats the true, the good, and the divine. It is very of blending things and persons as similar which satisfactory, truly, to be told that an oak is are wide as the poles asunder,” quietly stinging not an orange.' Indeed ! of course this explains the vital powers of humanity, and distilling what the difference between Plato and the screaming may be poison, through the ear, into the very soul prophets and unlettered Jews; and of course it of the unsuspecting. Such a method is not magexplains how it came to pass that the orange is in culine. It is not the method of the “great” masthe oak—Christianity in the Phædo! It is really ters in any art, in any science, or in any walk of pleasant to find the discipline in logic, in taste, learning. It is a method which has a closer

[ocr errors]
« ZurückWeiter »