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columns whether I thought new books ing after the old unapproachable models or old books better worth the reading of our forefathers. The originality which It was the kind of question which an dispenses so blithely with the past is ordinary lifetime spent in hard study powerless to give us a correct estimate would barely enable one to answer; but of anything that we enjoy in the present. I found, on examining some back num- It is but a short step from the offhand bers of the journal, that it had been an- opinions of scientific or literary men to swered a great many times already, and the offhand opinions of the crowd. When apparently without the smallest hesita- the novelists had finished telling us, in the tion. Correspondents had come forward newspapers and magazines, what they to overturn our ancient idols, with no thought about one another, and especially sense of insecurity or misgiving. One
One what they thought about themselves, it breezy reformer from Nebraska sturdily then became the turn of novel-readers to maintained that Mrs. Hodgson Burnett tell us what they thought about fiction. wrote much better stories than did Jane This sudden invasion of the Vandals left Austen ; while another intrepid person
to the novelists but one resource, but one - a Virginian — pronounced The Vicar undisputed privilege. They could permit of Wakefield “dull and namby-pam- us to know just how they came to write by,” declaring that “one, half the read- their books ; in what moments of inspiraing world would agree with him if they tion, under what benign influences, they dared.” Perhaps they would, — who gave to the world those priceless pages. knows? but it is the privilege of that “Sing, God of Love, and tell me in what half of the reading world to be silent on the subject. Simple preference is a
Thrice-gifted Snevellicci came on earth!” good and sufficient motive in determining After which, unless the unsilenced public one's own choice of books, but it does comes forward to say just how and when not warrant a reader in conferring his and where they read the volumes, they impressions upon the world. Even the must acknowledge themselves routed involuntary humor of such disclosures from the field. cannot win them forgiveness ; for the La vie de parade has reached its uttendency to permit the individual spirit most license when a Prime Minister of to run amuck through criticism is result- England is asked to tell the world — ing in a lower standard of correctness. after the manner of old Father William “ The true value of souls,” says Mr. - how he has kept so hale ; when the Pater, “is in proportion to what they Prince of Wales is requested to furcan admire;” and the popular notion nish a list of readable books; when an that everything is a matter of opinion, eminent clergyman is bidden to reveal and that one opinion is pretty nearly as to us why he has never been ill; when good as another, is immeasurably hurt- the wife of the President of the United ful to that higher law by which we seek States is questioned as to how she cooks to rise steadily to an appreciation of her Thanksgiving dinner ; when marwhatever is best in the world. Nor can ried women in private life draw aside we acquit our modern critics of fostering the domestic veil to tell us how they this self-assertive ignorance, when they have brought up their daughters, and so lightly ignore those indestructible unmarried women betray to us the sestandards by which alone we are able to cret of their social success. Add to these measure the difference between big and sources of information the opinions of little things. It seems a clever and a poets upon education, and of educators daring feat to set up models of our own ; upon poetry; of churchmen upon polibut it is in reality much easier than toil. tics, and of politicians upon the church;
of journalists upon art, and of artists once made a head which talked. That upon journalism ; and we must in all was an exceedingly clever thing for him sincerity acknowledge that this is an en- to do. But the head was so delighted lightened age. “ The voice of the great with its accomplishment that it talked multitude,” to quote from a popular all the time. Whereupon, tradition holds, agitator, “rings in our startled ears ; St. Thomas Aquinas grew impatient, and and its eloquence is many-sided and dis- broke it into pieces. St. Thomas was a cursive. Albertus Magnus, it is said, scholar, a philosopher, and a saint.
“An odd thought strikes me,” ex- material from which a correct view of claimed Madame de Staël : we shall re- Mr. Alcott is to be gathered, and their ceive no letters in the grave !” Nor, it work is done with much literary skill is to be presumed, do they read books in and with a becoming modesty on their
, the grave. But if it were otherwise, if own part; but nevertheless it is not easy there were only some kind of celestial to discover what manner of man Mr. Al or infernal express by which one could cott was, nor to explain the glaring concommunicate with the departed, it would tradiction between Mr. Alcott as he apbe a great pleasure to transmit two neat- peared to the select few and Mr. Alcott ly printed volumes 1 to that quiet corner as he appeared to the many, more espein what, we trust, is another and better cially as it is the latter appearance which world, where Mr. Alcott tries the pa- seems to be confirmed by his published tience of Plato, or buttonholes his espe- works. It is well known how highly Mr. cial favorite, Jamblichus. It was the Emerson valued him. Alcott might be ambition of Mr. Alcott's life to be taken described as the one, the single subject seriously, and his two biographers, both upon which Emerson permitted himof whom were his disciples while he was self to be extravagant. Thus he wrote on earth, have taken him very serious- to Carlyle : “Alcott gives me the same ly and at considerable length. There glad astonishment that he should exist is even a hint (it would be invidious which the world does.” And on other to call it a threat) of a possible more occasions he said or wrote of Mr. Alcott: to come, for in the preface it is said, “The most extraordinary man and the “There is ample material remaining in highest genius of the time. He is a great the possession of the editors of this book man, - the god with the herdsmen of for a more detailed history of the Con- Admetus.” “ His conversation is sublime. cord School of Philosophy and Mr. Al. He is pure intellect.” Professor Harris cott's connection therewith.” "But,” it speaks of Mr. Alcott as his "spiritual is added, and wisely, “ these pages pre- father.” But neither in the Orphic Saysent all that now seems to be needed ings, nor in the Tablets, nor elsewhere to portray our friend as he lived, in in what the sage left behind him, can youth, in middle life, and in serene old this greatness of intellect be discovered.
Moreover, we have a singular and weighty The editors do indeed present the raw piece of testimony concerning the slight
1 A. Bronson Alcott. His Life and Philoso- HARRIS. In two volumes. Boston: Roberts phy. By F. B. SANBORN and William T. Brothers.
ness of the contribution made by Mr. truth came to have mingled with them Alcott to the world of ideas. In the spectres which he perceived to be due year 1858 he was at St. Louis, by invita- to physical exhaustion.” tion of Professor Harris, whom he then But what nonsense is this ! “ The inand there selected as his future biogra- sights which he had at the time of his pher; and with this end in view he dic- illumination”! Does Professor Harris tated to Professor Harris, and afterward believe that Mr. Alcott was inspired ? signed, the following document, called The doctrine of the spine, Professor "an inventory of his spiritual real es- Harris concludes, was directly connecttate," meaning an inventory of his con- ed with his studies of Swedenborg ;” tributions to thought :
“and we have his doctrines of Sweden“(1.) Some thoughts on Swedenborg borg and the archetypal spine only in which Emerson has embodied in his their results, namely, in the third and Representative Men.
fifth items of his inventory, - the idea (2.) Some ideas on the spine, of the development of the Natural from about its being the type of all nature. the Absolute by means of persons, and
(3.) The idea of the development of the Pantheon of the Mind,' called elsethe Natural from the Absolute by means where the hierarchy of gifts ' (Tablets, of persons.
7, 79)." “ (4.) The thought with reference to This relegates into mist No. 5. As temptations in the Orphic Sayings. [No. to items 3 and 4, Professor Harris well 12. “Greater is he who is above temp says: “The third item in his inventory is tation than he who, being tempted, over- the genesis of Nature through the lapse comes,” etc.]
of personal being from holiness. The “ (5.) The Pantheon of the Mind. fourth item, concerning temptation, like[Spirit — God. Will — Laws. Love wise is a sort of corollary to the doctrine Persons. Conscience - Right. Imagi- of lapse. Any one who can be tempted nation — Ideas, etc.]”
is already fallen, for he must possess Even under Professor Harris's own lusts of the flesh; if unfallen, or if ascendanalysis this inventory shrinks into small ed above evil desires (as the Christian space. As to No. 1, Professor Harris doctrine of regeneration teaches), he is does not question Emerson's originality, above temptation.” although, as he says, it may be that Mr. And now we are upon solid ground, Alcott suggested something to Emerson for here we touch upon two real ideas, in regard to that doctrine of correspon- - the only ideas which Mr. Alcott ever dence between the physical and the moral had. It is barely possible that he thought world which Swedenborg invented, and them out for himself, but it is certain which Emerson carried further. It is ex- that other men, Plato and Joseph Glanemplified in this sentence, for instance: vill in especial, gave them to the world “Justice is the rhyme of things." As to considerably in advance of Mr. Alcott. No. 2, Professor Harris says: “With But at all events Mr. Alcott got hold regard to the second head of the inven- of them early in life; he clung to them tory, the ideas about the spine as the through thick and thin; he fashioned his type of all nature, I think Mr. Alcott conduct upon them, and went to his grave has not preserved in written form the believing them as firmly as ever. These insights which he had at the time of his ideas were, first, the Platonic notion that illumination. As he intimated to me, knowledge is mainly reminiscence; and that period was one of such long-contin- secondly, the related idea (of " lapse"), ued exaltation that his bodily strength expressed in Wordsworth's Intimations gave way under it, and his visions of of Immortality, that man is a being who
existed in some anterior state of perfec- depended upon his absolute, unsuspect
Hence Mr. Alcott's really original ing, every-day adherence to a few great notions about the treatment and instruc- ideas as to the history and nature of tion of children. He dealt with them as man and the government of the universe. if they were reasonable creatures, lately “ Alcott,” Emerson wrote in his diary, fallen from a higher state of existence, “has the great merit of being a believer with the dew of innocence still moisten in the soul. I think he has more faith in ing their brows. And so he made his the ideal than any man I have known.” schoolroom attractive, ornamented it with After all, it is not so easy as we somepictures and busts, punished himself in- times think to believe in the soul, or stead of the scholars if they were naughty, even in any abstract idea, with the same and drew out the children's minds by absoluteness and simplicity with which skillful questioning, after the manner of we believe that the sun is warm or that Socrates. In this system everything was food is good, and with the same readinew, and very much was valuable ; but, ness to act upon our belief. Perhaps unfortunately, that touch of the unprac. Emerson's faith was as strong as Alcott's, tical and the absurd which followed Mr. but it was cold and intellectual, whereAlcott through life, and vitiated his men- as Alcott had a fervor in his belief at tal operations, always, sooner or later, which Emerson warmed himself as a halfturned his schooling into a farce, alienat- frozen man might warm himself at a fire. ed the parents of his pupils, and finally There seems to have been another set the poor man adrift again upon a sea reason, also, why Emerson was attracted of pecuniary troubles.
to Mr. Alcott. Mr. Alcott served him as Margaret Fuller very soon discovered a kind of intellectual dummy, whom he the paucity — we do not say the poverty could interrogate with almost the same -of Mr. Alcott's ideas. She is the “wise certainty that he could interrogate himwoman" whom Mr. Emerson quotes in self, so well had Mr. Alcott absorbed his diary as saying that Mr. Alcott “has his ideas. Thus Emerson writes in his few thoughts, too few; she could count journal : " In the Alcott fluid men of a them all.” “Well,” Mr. Emerson adds, certain nature can expand and swim at “ books, conversation, discipline, will give large, such as elsewhere find themselves him more.” For theology, in the ordinary confined. Of course Alcott seems to such sense of the word, Mr. Alcott cared little. the only great and wise man.
He gives He was brought up an Episcopalian, but them nothing but themselves. But when he soon renounced the Episcopal creed, they meet critics and practical men, and and he seems to have been, as Mr. San- are asked concerning his wisdom, they born says, one of the first Unitarians, or have no books to show, no dogmas to imTheists, in New England. Toward the part, no sentences or sayings to repeat, end of his life, we believe, though Mr. and they find it quite impossible to comSanborn nowhere states the fact, he re- municate to these their good opinion. Me turned to the creed of his fathers. But, he has served now these twelve years in whatever his mutations as regards Chris- that way. He was the reasonable creatianity, Mr. Alcott did have a wonderful, ture to speak to that I wanted.” childlike faith in the omnipotence and There is a little of the Emersonian omnipresence of good, in “a stream of coldness about this, and it recalls a retendency not ourselves, that makes for mark of Mr. Henry James (the senior) righteousness.” To him it was never to the effect that Mr. Emerson treated doubtful whether a good or a bad spirit his friends like lemons, — he sucked rules this world. It would seem, then, them dry of what information they had, that Mr. Alcott's attraction for Emerson and then put them aside. But Emerson
was very loyal and very generous to Mr. Moreover, there is abundant proof that Alcott, giving him not only sympathy on subjects which he understood Mr. Al.
. and moral support, but also money and cott could write extremely well. What material comforts. It is obvious, too, could be better than this passage in his that Emerson's good nature led him to diary for the year 1837, concerning Emexaggerate Mr. Alcott's capacities as he erson and his lectures, then first given in did those of other men. Of a certain Boston ? “ Emerson's influence will not Heraud, for instance, an Englishman, soon be felt on the age. Its diffusion Mr. Sanborn says that “ Emerson, and will be subtle and slow. It will act on especially Alcott, had a regard for him, the few simple natures which custom and and did not call him a 'cockney wind- convention have spared us, and these will bag,' a as Carlyle did.” But it appears
But it appears circulate it in fit time. Many will be from the evidence that Heraud really pleased by his elegances of manner and was a “cockney windbag;" and there. grace of diction, and through these will fore Carlyle was right in stating that be led to the contemplation of the divine fact for the benefit of unsophisticated form of beauty that he delights in. persons like Mr. Alcott. There is no
riosity will be excited to learn the secret credit in having a regard for those who of his agency; and ere the superficial and do not deserve it; on the contrary, such pedantic are aware, he will steal upon over “good nature” leads to a lowering them unperceived." of ideals, to a permanent confusion be- It must be remembered that when this tween what is first rate and what is second was written Emerson had no following. or third rate. It is clear, as we have Mr. Alcott sagaciously predicts both his intimated, that Emerson wronged Mr. future fame and the way in which it Alcott by his exaggeration of the latter's would be acquired, and the manner in capacity. Indeed, when Mr. Alcott's which Mr. Alcott does this is not devoid
orphic utterances came to be read of literary art. over in cold manuscript or in colder print, It appears, then, that Mr. Alcott could even Emerson failed to find in them write with admirable conciseness and what he thought was there. He explained clearness. But when, as usually hapthe discrepancy by saying that the sage pened, he got upon“ orphic” subjects, he could not write so well as he talked ; wrote very ill, and for the same reaand Mr. Alcott himself, adopting this son that the Harvard Freshmen, whose theory, used to declare, “ We are not translations were held up to universal happy with the pen.” But Professor execration a few months ago, wrote ill. Harris says: “ Although Mr. Emerson Their English was bad, because, being could not admit that the writings of Al- ignorant of their Greek and Latin, they cott were equal to his conversation, I had no clear, definite ideas to express ; have the impression that the words actu- and Mr. Alcott experienced a similar ally uttered in speech are the same that difficulty. The truth is that Mr. Alcott are found in his writings (Orphic Sayings spent his life groping in regions where and Tablets). The impassioned manner, it was impossible for him — where perthe high disdain, the air of divine sorrow haps it would be impossible for any man and reproof, the fiery flashing of the eye, – to arrive at results. He sought the the earnestness of the seer, - all these unknowable, the one, the origin of all effected what types and ink cannot con- things. For such a task he was poorly vey again.” And Emerson himself said: qualified ; his mind was untrained. He “ He has more of the godlike than any had never learned to discriminate ; he man I have ever seen, and his presence mistook vague reverie for thought; he rebukes and threatens and raises." had no sense of proportion; his reading