« PreviousContinue »
is too practical, and they are of too sturdy, too robust a make to find anything satisfactory in so refined a spiritualism. Their daily habits and pursuits demand a solid earth on which to work, a providence to protect them, a sovereign to rule over them, a real God to curb their headstrong violence, and to reduce them to order and peace, to chastise them for their errors, and to solace them in their afflictions. The practical tendencies of our countrymen will save them from all danger they would be likely to incur from speculative refinements like those we have pointed out ; and we are not sure but Mr. Emerson's strong statements are needed to rectify their over-attachment to the material order.
As it concerns the ethical doctrines implied rather than set forth in these Essays, we have nothing to add to the remarks we have heretofore made on the same subject.* Mr. Emerson's moral philosophy, reduced to its systematic element, belongs to the egoistical school; but we presume, after all, that he means little more by those expressions which imply it, and which have given so much offence, than that just self-reliance, that fidelity to one's own nature and conscience, without which it is impossible to reach or maintain a true manly worth. In this view of the case, his Essay on Self-Reliance is a noble and unexceptionable performance, and inculcates a lesson, which it were well for us all to learn and practise, - a lesson which is perhaps more appropriate to the American people than to any other Christian nation, for no other Christian nation is so timid in its speculations, so afraid of solving for itself, independently, the problem of the destiny of man and society. We regard it as decidedly one of the best Essays in the collection.
We did intend to quote largely from the book itself, in order to justify our criticisms, but it is not a book from which quotations can be made with much satis
Boston Quarterly Review, No. iv. Oct. 1838. Article, Emerson's Address. VOL. IV. NO. III.
faction. We could not select a paragraph that would not at once confirm and refute our general criticisms. We content ourselves, therefore, with speaking merely of its dominant tendency, as it appears to us. The book cannot be judged of without being read, and the best way to read it, will be to forget its metaphysics, and to take it up as we would a collection of poems, or of proverbs.
Of the Essays we cannot speak particularly. The one on Heroism is inferior to what we expected from its author, and falls far below the general average of the book. Those on Love and Friendship are beautiful and often true, but their truth and beauty proceed from the intellect and imagination rather than the heart and soul. They read not like the confessions of a lover or a friend. There are depths in the affections, into which the author does not descend, deeper experiences than any he discloses. The Essays we have liked the best are those on the Over-Soul, Self-Reliance, and History.
These Essays are, to a certain extent, democratic ; they condemn all ordinary aristocracies, and breathe much respect for labor and the laborer ; but it is evident, at a single glance, that the author is at best only an amateur workingman, one who has never himself wielded spade or mattock to any great extent, and who has viewed labor with the eye of a poet, rather than with the feelings of an actual laborer. His book, though apparently radical, contains nothing more likely to give offence to the capitalist than to the proletary.
One of the most serious objections, we have to urge against these Essays, is the little importance they assign to the state, and the low rank they allow to patriotism as a virtue. This is an error of our transcendental school generally, and results, we suppose, chiefly from the fact, that its principal masters are or have been churchmen, and, therefore, not over and above acquainted with practical life. Their studies lead them to rely on preaching, persuasion, advice, appeals to the reason and conscience. Their habits and position remove them
from the actual world, and its necessities, and keep them ignorant of no small part of the actual developments of human nature. Clergymen are usually able to give wholesome advice, at least, advice which will generally be regarded as canonical; but they are rarely gifted with much practical skill or sagacity. A deliberative assembly, composed entirely of clergymen, is usually a very disorderly body, and ill adapted to the speedy despatch of business. The members are all so enlightened, so wise, so good, so meek, and so conscientious, that ordinary parliamentary rules are rarely thought to be necessary; and the result is not seldom confusion, angry, disorderly debate, and no little ill feeling and ill speaking. This anti-political tendency of our transcendentalists is, therefore, easily accounted for. Nevertheless, it is a false tendency. Man, as we have endeavored to prove in a foregoing article, is to be perfected in society, and society is to be perfected by government. More, than even politicians themselves usually imagine, depends on the right organization of the commonwealth. The science of politics, when rightly viewed, is a grand and an essential science, and needs always to be held in honor. Much is lost by not making it a subject of more serious study. Everybody talks about politics, and yet there is scarcely a man among us acquainted with the simplest principles of politics, regarded as a science. The proper organization of the state, the true exposition of the constitution, and the proper administration, so as to secure the true end of government, are matters with which we, as a people, rarely trouble ourselves; and scarcely a man can be found, who can speak on them five minutes in succession, without betraying gross ignorance, both theoretical and practical. In this state of political science, our scholars are doing us great disservice by sneering at politics and the state.
As mere literary productions, these Essays must take rank with the best in the language. There is now and then an affectation of quaintness, a puerile conceit, not precisely to our taste, but it detracts not much from
their general beauty. In compactness of style, in the felicitous choice of words, in variety, aptness, and wealth of illustration, they are unrivalled. They have a freshness, a vigor, a freedom from old hacknied forms of speech, and from the conventionalisms of the schools, worthy of the highest praise, and which cannot fail to exert a salutary influence on our growing literature. They often remind us of Montaigne, especially in the little personal allusions, which the author introduces with inimitable grace, delicacy, and effect.
In conclusion, we will simply add, that notwithstanding the metaphysical errors to which we have referred, the Essays make up a volume unique in its character, and which all competent judges will agree in regarding as among the most creditable productions of the American
press. It must secure to the author a distinguished rank among the more distinguished writers of the age. We feel ourselves deeply indebted for his present. We receive his utterances with thankfulness and reverence, and shall wait impatiently till he permits us to hear from him again. It is not often, that in our profession as a critic, we meet with a work of fewer faults, nor one that can better bear to have its faults pointed out; for it is rare that we meet with one with its positive excellencies. It is no ephemeral production; it will survive the day; for it is full of sincerity, truth, beauty. Whoso pores over its pages will find his soul quickened, his vision enlarged, his heart warmed, and his life made better.
Art. III. The Secret of the Lord is with them that
fear him. A Discourse. By the EDITOR. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will show unto them his covenant." -- Psalm xxv. 14.
Solomon, reputed wisest of men, assures us, that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom ;” but this, in the ordinary meaning of the word, is not true. Fear is an apprehension of danger, a dread of evil, or a want of courage. In either of these senses, no wise man fears the Lord. For what danger have we to apprehend, what evil to dread, from God, who is the father of lights, from whom cometh every good and every perfect gift, and whose tender mercies are over all the works of his hands ?
By fear of the Lord, most people, I apprehend, understand a sense of their accountability to God, and of the certainty that he will punish them if they disobey him. If they will analyze the sense, in which they ordinarily use the phrase, they will find, that by fear of the Lord they mean fear of punishment. Hence, even pious men tell us, that they would take their fill of sin, did they not fear the consequences in the world hereafter. But fear of punishment is a low motive of action. No wise or good man tolerates it, much less enjoins it. It cannot make one a better man, or afford any general security that he will be, in his intercourse with his fellow-men, what he ought to be. It is the motive of a slave, not of a free man, and may aid in nurturing a race of cowards, but not of high-minded men, who feel and dare assert their own personal rights and dignity. It doubtless has its place, and its uses in the
economy of providence ; but it is by no means the most proper feeling for us to indulge towards our heavenly Father. The truly religious man can always say,
“God, I would fear thee though I feared not hell,
And love thee though I had no hopes of heaven.” I do not understand fear, then, as used in my text, in its ordinary acceptation. In the scriptural sense of the word, he who fears the Lord is one who stands in awe of his majesty, reverences his wisdom, loves his goodness, and has an abiding sense of his obligation to do his will. He feels in his soul, that God is, and is his Maker and Sovereign, his Father and Benefactor, and that it is his duty to give himself up to God, to live and labor for God.