The complete works of Ralph Waldo Emerson: Miscellanies [Vol. 11]
Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 1803-1882., Emerson, Edward Waldo, 1844-1930.


It is pleasant to be able to let Dr. Holmes, who was present at the Burns Festival, speak for himself and Lowell and Judge Hoar of Mr. Emerson's speech on that day. I have heard the Judge tell the story of his friend's success with the same delight.

"On the 25th of January, 1859, Emerson attended the Burns Festival, held at the Parker House in Boston, on the Centennial Anniversary of the poet's birth. He spoke, after the dinner, to the great audience with such beauty and eloquence that all who listened to him have remembered it as one of the most delightful addresses they ever heard. Among his hearers was Mr. Lowell, who says of it that 'every word seemed to have just dropped down to him from the clouds.' Judge Hoar, who was another of his hearers, says that, though he has heard many of the chief orators of his time, he never witnessed such an effect of speech upon men. I was myself present on that occasion, and underwent the same fascination that these gentlemen and the varied audience before the speaker experienced. His words had a passion in them not usual in the calm, pure flow most natural to his uttered thoughts; white-hot iron we are familiar with, but white-hot silver is Page  632 what we do not often look upon, and his inspiring address glowed like silver fresh from the cupel."

The strange part of all the accounts given by the hearers is that Mr. Emerson seemed to speak extempore, which can hardly have been so.

No account of the Festival, or Mr. Emerson's part therein, appears in the journals, except a short page of praise of the felicitous anecdotes introduced by other after-dinner speakers.

Page 440, note 1. Here comes out that respect for labor which affected all Mr. Emerson's relations to the humblest people he met. In the Appendix to the Poems it appears in the verses beginning,—

Said Saadi, When I stood before
Hassan the camel-driver's door.

Page 441, note 1. Thomas Carlyle.

Page 441, note 2. Mr. Emerson here recalls his childhood and that of his brothers, as in the passage in "Domestic Life," in Society and Solitude, that has been often referred to in these notes.

Page 443, note 1. Among some stray lecture-sheets was the following on the scholar or poet:—

"Given the insight, and he will find as many beauties and heroes and strokes of genius close by him as Dante or Shakspeare beheld. It was in a cold moor farm, in a dingy country inn, that Burns found his fancy so sprightly. You find the times and places mean. Stretch a few threads over an AEolian harp, and put it in the window and listen to what it says of the times and of the heart of Nature. You shall not believe the miracle of Nature is less, the chemical power worn out. Watch the breaking morning, or the enchantments of the sunset."