The complete works of Ralph Waldo Emerson: Letters and social aims [Vol. 8]
Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 1803-1882., Emerson, Edward Waldo, 1844-1930.


This essay seems to be almost identical with the second lecture, given in December, 1864, of a course on American Life read before the Parker Fraternity. It was preceded by "Education" and followed by "Resources." A portion of Page  374 a lecture called "Table-Talk," which was largely drawn upon later for the essay on Clubs, appears in this, and probably also some sheets from the lecture on Manners in the same course.

Page 79, note 1. In his first volume of Poems, published in 1846, Mr. Emerson included some verses which he did not care to keep in later editions. The subject and title was Tact, and one or two verses, as to the purpose here, may be given.

What boots it, thy virtue,
What profit thy parts,
While one thing thou lackest,—
The art of all arts?
This clinches the bargain;
Sails out of the bay;
Gets the vote of the senate,
Spite of Webster and Clay.
Has for genius no mercy,
For speeches no heed;
It lurks in the eye-beam,
It leaps to its deed.
Church, market and tavern,
Bed, board, it will sway.
It has no to-morrow;
It ends with to-day.

Page 80, note 1. This quality he saw with admiration in his brother Edward,—the "brother of the brief but blazing star,"—and the words about the supplicating eye recall a passage in the poem "In Memoriam E. B. E.":—

Page  375
All inborn power that could
Consist with homage to the good
Flamed from his martial eye;
His from youth the leader's look
Gave the law which others took,
And never poor beseeching glance
Shamed that sculptured countenance.

Page 82, note 1. "Infancy conforms to nobody; all conform to it; so that one babe commonly makes four or five out of the adults who prattle and play with it. So God has armed youth and puberty and manhood no less with its own piquancy and charm, and made it enviable and gracious and its claims not to be put by, if it will stand by itself."—"Self-Reliance," Essays, First Series.

Page 82, note 2. One morning Mr. Emerson watched from the window the departure of a little guest perhaps nine years old, her farewell, her graceful seating herself in the sleigh, signing to the driver that she was ready, and her charming parting salute and smiles as she moved away. He was delighted with the natural manners, but said pityingly words to this effect: "Look at that child; see her perfect aplomb. How easy it is to her to be a queen!" then, indicating another little guest in the next room, "And this poor little thing is destined to be a creep-mouse all her days."

Page 83, note 1.

If Thought unlock her mysteries,
If Friendship on me smile,
I walk in marble galleries,
I talk with kings the while.

"Walden," Poems, Appendix.

Page  376

Page 84, note 1. There is an interesting quotation to this purpose from Balzac's Théorie de la démarche, in "Behavior," Conduct of Life.

Page 84, note 2. There is in the essay "The Conservative," in Nature, Addresses and Lectures, a statement, from the conservative's point of view of the beneficence of "this institution of credit, which is as universal as honesty and promise in the human countenance".

Page 85, note 1. "We must be as courteous to a man as we are to a picture, which we are willing to give the advantage of a good light."—"Behavior," Conduct of Life.

Page 88, note 1.

"In clothes, cheap handsomenesse doth bear the bell.
Wisdome's a trimmer thing than shop e'er gave.
Say not then, This with that lace will do well;
But, This with my discretion will be brave.
Much curiousnesse is a perpetual wooing,
Nothing with labour, folly long a-doing."

George Herbert, "The Church Porch."

Page 90, note 1. See in Essays, First Series, the chapter on Friendship and its motto, whence come these lines:—

All things through thee take nobler form
And look beyond the earth,
The mill-round of our fate appears
A sun-path in thy worth.

Page 90, note 2. In one of the sheets remaining from the old lecture is this passage: "Conversation too has its ethics of prudence and morals. It requires a quiet but firm self-control. You shall not be leaky. There are people to whom nothing can be confided, because their vanity to tell what they know has all the effect of treachery. You shall not be leaky nor ridden, and you shall not be opinionative."

Page  377

Page 91, note 1. A passage from the lecture carries this thought a little farther:—

"God forbid I should complain of being excluded by this or that man or circle, from this or that privilege. On the contrary, the most absolute submission on my part attends it. For do I not know, that those parties are all eager to invite high merit to this privilege, and that, on the instant when that merit is demonstrated by me or by any, they will fly to greet it, will open every door to it, and bear it on their arms with joy unfeigned?"

Page 91, note 2. In the lecture, written not long after Mr. Emerson's visit to Washington during the war, this sentence here followed: "I was made sensible of this at Washington, if I had not already suspected it." When we remember Mr. Emerson's poem "The Visit," a lesson on this subject from sad experiences, the modesty of his statement is apparent.

Page 92, note 1. Mr. Emerson's practice was to surprise and lift people by "taking them by their best handle."

Page 93, note 1. Mr. Emerson wrote in his note-book (date uncertain) of woman: "She is not to write, or fight, or build, or compose scores; she does all by inspiring man to do all. The poet finds her eyes anticipating all his ode; the sculptor, his god; the architect, his house. She looks it. She is the requiring genius."

Page 95, note 1. The thirst for other people's facts to interpret their higher meaning was one of Mr. Emerson's strong traits. This fragment, perhaps from "Clubs" or "Table-Talk," is kindred to the subject:—

"Do you not see that we all can count our incomes and our family expenses, but very few of us have a head for analytic geometry? All of us know the melody of speech, Page  378 but few have a fine musical ear. All of us understand justice, but few have a taste for theology. Theology is the rhetoric or the technical distribution of Conscience."

His faith, from his experience of life, that success can always be drawn out of failures, appears in the end of the paragraph in the text.

Page 96, note 1. Mr. Emerson, writing to his friend John Sterling, tells of the pleasure his letter gave as a whole, rather than in the things said: "These were opinions, but the tone was the man."

"The eyes of men converse as much as their tongues, with the advantage that the ocular dialect needs no dictionary, but is understood all the world over."—"Behavior," Conduct of Life.

Page 97, note 1. In this sentence Mr. Emerson refers to his friend Thoreau, but what follows only expresses the feeling of disappointment sometimes felt in their intercourse in later days, not always, and not in Thoreau's youth. Mr. Emerson hated argument, dialectic. Thoreau's Scotch ancestry on his mother's side (Dunbar) asserted itself in love of fence for itself, as a game when he met a foeman worthy of his steel. So they came to enjoy each other's writings more than society, yet they always honored and esteemed each other, in spite of this temperamental bar to full enjoyment of each other's company indoors. But Mr. Emerson delighted to be led, as if by Pan himself, to the groves and glades in their best days, and to have their secrets shown.

Page 98, note 1.

"Laugh not too much, the wittie man laughs least:
For wit is newes only to ignorance."

Herbert, "The Church Porch."

In the notes to the essay on The Comic will be found Page  379 an extract from Mr. Emerson's journal when abroad in 1848, an outcry of weariness at the boisterous laughter and heavy joking that he had heard in England.

Page 98, note 2. His own view was that it was better not to apologize in words, not to soil the new day with "sour remnants of yesterday," but to make amends for yesterday's fault by increased kindness or service.

Page 99, note 1. The counsel for keeping the family meetings at table sweet, and keeping silence as to your ailments and griefs is even better given in the last paragraphs of "Behavior" in Conduct of Life. An absolutely forbidden subject was the expense, and even the compounding, of food.

The following sentences on Beauty, written in 1866, are appropriate to the subject of home life:—

"It is peremptory for good living in houses in a cultivated age, that the beautiful should never be out of thought. It is not more important that you should provide bread for the table, than that it should be put there and used in a comely manner. You have often a right to be angry with servants, but you must carry your anger, and chide without offence to beauty. Else, you have quarrelled with yourself as well as with them."

Page 99, note 2. In "Works and Days," in Society and Solitude, is advice against standing on tiptoe or mounting on stilts.

Page 101, note 1. The question of Wealth is broadly discussed in Conduct of Life, and that of an Aristocracy of Nature, not inheritance, in the respective essays on these subjects, in Lectures and Biographical Sketches.

The verses in the second poem "Woodnotes" tell of the natural rotation of lord and peasant in city and country.

This stray passage from the lecture manuscript may well Page  380 end the paragraph: "The way to wealth of every kind is plainly along the upper road, and not by State Street. Convert yourself into wealth, and you shall buy kings. Sordid calculations convert you into punk and abhorrence."

Page 102, note 1. This is the beginning of a passage from the journal of November, 1863, telling of Mr. Emerson's pride in the admirable management of a difficult town-meeting held for the purpose of considering the filling out of Concord's quota of soldiers. The rest of the passage is printed early in the next essay, "Eloquence."

Page 103, note 1. It is pleasant to be able to give, in connection with this praise of a good American, the expressions that preceded and followed it in Mr. Emerson's journal. "October 12th, 1864. Returned from Naushon, whither I went on Saturday, 8th, with Professor  [ gap: 1 word ]  of Oxford University [and three other guests]. Mr. Forbes at Naushon is the only 'Squire' in Massachusetts, and no nobleman ever understood or performed his duties better. I divided my admiration between the landscape of Naushon and him. He is an American to be proud of. I said, Never was such force, [here follows the passage in the text of the essay as far as "opened the eyes of the person he talked with without contradicting him;" it then proceeds,] I have been proud of my countrymen, but I think this is a good country that can breed such a creature as John M. Forbes. There was something dramatic in the conversation on Monday night between Professor  [ gap: 1 word ] , Forbes and  [ gap: 1 word ]  chiefly; the Englishman being evidently alarmed at the near prospect of America's standing in the identical position soon in which England now and lately has stood to us, and playing the same part towards her. Forbes, a year ago, was in Liverpool and London entreating them to respect their own neutrality, and disallow the piracy and the blockade-running, Page  381 and hard measure to us in their colonial ports, etc. And now, so soon, the parts were entirely reversed, and Professor  [ gap: 1 word ]  was showing us the power and irritability of England, and the certainly that war would follow if we should build and arm a ship in one of our ports, send her out to sea, and at sea sell her to their enemy, which would be a proceeding strictly in accordance with her present proclaimed law of nations.… When the American Government urged England to make a new treaty to adjust and correct this anomalous rule, the English Government refused, and 't is only ignorance that has prevented the Rebel Confederacy from availing themselves of it. I came away saying to myself of J. M. F.,—How little this man suspects with his sympathy for men and his respect for literary and scientific people, that he is not likely ever to meet a man who is superior to himself."

It should be here recorded of this Boston merchant so little given to publicity, that until he was an old man his name was almost never seen in the papers, nor did he appear prominent on public occasions; that while carrying on his great business interests, he was always a wise and active citizen of America. He did his best to make North and South understand each other before the war. When it came, he did invaluable service to his country. He provided vessels with trusty captains to carry the troops quickly southward; he did much to recruit, organize and equip white, and, later, black regiments; he gave important and valued counsel to the secretaries of State, of the Navy, and of the Treasury; he strengthened the hands of his friend Governor Andrew, and eased his burdens in every possible way. In the darkest days of the war he was sent by President Lincoln with Mr. Aspinwall to England, on four days' notice, to place an American loan, and to do what was possible to excite proper sympathy for the United States at Page  382 that important crisis, but especially to have the cruisers, which were then being built for the Confederacy to prey on our commerce, prevented from sailing.

Page 104, note 1. The following passage probably belonged here in the lecture. "This democratic opening of all avenues to all is a wonderful purger of the atmosphere, a solvent of conceit. The illusions in which the English aristocracy live amount to insanity. The comedy of Beaumarchais does not exaggerate the pretensions which these people actually make in perfect good faith. Lord Bristol plainly believes that it is very kind of him to exist, and that the Government owes him unceasing thanks. He does nothing for it. And that is the humor of them all. That immensity of Condescension in a fat old fribble does not appear at Washington except in men very long distinguished."

Page 105, note 1. Mr. Emerson's love for the positive degree in life and literature appears in the essay on the Superlative in Lectures and Biographical Sketches.

Page 106, note 1. The quotation is from Ernest Renan.

Page 107, note 1. Perhaps this fragment from the manuscript may properly come here: "The few stout and sincere persons whom each one of us knows, recommend the country and the planet to us. 'T is not a bad world this, we say, as long as we know twenty shining creatures who are walking about in it. Is it the thirty millions of America or is it your own ten or twelve friends that encourage your heart from day to day?."