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or Modern essayist, describes to each reader his own idea, describes his unattained but attainable self; ... he hears the commendation, not of himself, but, more sweet, of that character he seeks, in every word that is said concerning character, yea further, in every fact and circumstance — in the running river and the rustling corn.” This purified man, — he named him Osman, — an organ of the Universal Spirit, yet with his own temperament and subject to his experiences, often appears in the Journals :
1841. “When I wish, it is permitted me to say, These hands, this body, this history of Waldo Emerson are profane and wearisome, but I, I descend not to mix myself with that or with any man. Above his life, above all creatures, I flow down forever a sea of benefit into races of individuals. Nor can the stream ever roll backa ward or the sin or death of a man taint the immutable energy which distributes itself into men, as the sun into rays, or the sea into drops.”
In the notes to this edition of Emerson's Works, the correspondence between the passages and his own traits and experiences will be often shown. But a sketch of his personal history must here be briefly given.
He was born in Boston, May 25, 1803, the son of William Emerson, pastor of the Second Church, and Ruth Haskins, his wife. His father, son of the patriotic young minister of Concord at the outbreak of the Revolution, was a preacher, liberal for his day, social and a man of letters; his mother, a lady of serene sweetness and courage.
She was left a widow in 1811 with her family of five little boys, and helped by kind friends, brought them up in straitened circumstances, wisely and well. The Emerson ancestry, almost all ministers, after Thomas, who came to Ipswich in 1638, were men who, living frugally and prayerfully in the clearings of wild New England, had striven to keep before the minds of their people “The invisible things of God, before things seen and known.”
They were humble and earnest scholars. Mr. Emerson told that, in his childhood, “Dr. Frothingham one day found me in his parlor, and coming close and looking at the form of my head, said, “If you are good, it is no thanks to you.'” These Emerson boys, “ born to be educated,” as their Aunt Mary Emerson,' the
· An account of her is given by her nephew in Lectures and Biographical Sketches.
strange sibyl and inspirer of their youth, said of them, helped the matter on by their eager reading, especially of poetry, their ventures in writing, and declamation to one another of fine passages in which they delighted. There were almost no children's books then, and they soon were versed in the best authors. Mr. Emerson, in the essay “ Domestic Life” in the volume Society and Solitude, gives a touching and true picture of the life of these brothers in their childhood, and speaking of their air castles says, “Woe to them if their wishes were crowned. The angels that dwell with them and are weaving laurels of life for their youthful brows are Toil and Want, Truth and Mutual Faith.”
Rev. Ezra Ripley, the successor of their grandfather in the church of Concord, and married to his widow, welcomed the boys to the Old Manse in the holidays. So, long before he settled there, Mr. Emerson had loving memories of Concord woods and meadows.
Emerson entered Harvard College at the age of fourteen; he graduated with his class in 1821. Like a great part of the students of his day, he helped himself through his course by various services, either to the college or by teaching. Though his instincts drove him much to
solitude, he found enjoyment too in the social life of the small classes of his day, and was a member of the Pythologian, a convivio-literary club for which he furnished the songs. Alluding to himself in his Journal, he writes of “ the youth who has no faculty for mathematics and weeps over the impossible analytical geometry, to console his defeats with Chaucer and Montaigne, with Plutarch and Plato at night.” These were to him the living professors, and became his friends for life. He loved Latin and Greek — not for their syntax—and every paragraph of his English shows the value of these now neglected studies : the Elizabethan authors too, and the ancient philosophers, though the modern metaphysicians did not interest him. He was only in the upper half of his class, yet he won prizes for declamation and dissertations. “Even in college I was already content to be screwed'in the recitation room if on my return I could accurately paint the fact in my journal.”
From boyhood to old age he kept a journal, not of events, but wherein to note the thoughts that were given him, his trials at versifying, a
1 Two of his prize dissertations are printed in Dr. Edward Everett Hale's Ralph Waldo Emerson. Boston: Brown & Co., 1899.
quotation that charmed, or an anecdote that pleased him. In an early lecture, and often through life, he gave to scholars these two maxims, 1. “Sit alone : in your arrangements for residence see you have a chamber to yourself, though you sell your coat and wear a blanket. 2. Keep a journal: pay so much honor to the visits of Truth to your mind as to record them.”
In the Journal for 1837 he wrote: “ This book is my savings-bank. I grow richer because I have somewhere to deposit my earnings, and fractions are worth more to me because corresponding fractions are waiting here that shall be made integers by their addition.”
Neglecting the college text-books and incurring admonition for so doing, he joyfully pastured in the library, not reading serially or thoroughly, but with the sure instinct for what was for him in a book, — " reading for lustres,” as he called it. Looking backward, he said, “I wiil trust my instincts . . . I was the true philosopher in college, and Mr. Farrar and Mr. Hedge and Dr. Ware the false. Yet what seemed then to me less probable?”
Four of the Emerson boys went through college, and each had by teaching to help the others; the younger ones, when their turn to