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Flies In Amber
by [?]

As to continuity, some of his essays have much more of it than others. In his “Nature” the theme is unfolded, there is growth and evolution; and his first and second series of Essays likewise show it. The essays on “Character,” on “Self-Reliance,” on the “Over-Soul,” meet the requirements of sound prose. And if there is any sounder prose than can be found in his “Nature,” or in his “English Traits,” or in his historical and biographical addresses, I do not know where to find it. How flat and commonplace seem the works of some of the masters of prose to whom Arnold alludes–Cicero, Voltaire, Addison, Swift–compared with those of Emerson! A difference like that between the prismatic hues of raindrops suspended from a twig or a trellis in the sunlight and the water in the spring or the brook.

But in Emerson’s later work there is, as geologists say, nonconformity between the strata which make up his paragraphs. There is only juxtaposition. Among his later papers the one on “Wealth” flows along much more than the one on “Fate.” Emerson believed in wealth. Poverty did not attract him. It was not suited to his cast of mind. Poverty was humiliating. Emerson accumulated a fortune, and it added to his self-respect. Thoreau’s pride in his poverty must have made Emerson shiver.

Although Arnold refused to see in Emerson a great writer, he did admit that he was eminent as the “friend and aider of those who would live in the spirit”; but Arnold apparently overlooked the fact that, devoid of the merit of good literature, no man’s writings could have high spiritual value. Strip the Bible of its excellence as literature, and you have let out its life-blood. Literature is not a varnish or a polish. It is not a wardrobe. It is the result of a vital, imaginative relation of the man to his subject. And Emerson’s subject-matter at its best always partakes of the texture of his own mind. It is admitted that there are times when his writing lacks organization,–the vital ties,–when his rhetoric is more like a rocking-horse or a merry-go-round than like the real thing. But there are few writers who do not mark time now and then, and Emerson is no exception; and I contend that at his best his work has the sequence and evolution of all great prose. And yet, let me say that if Emerson’s power and influence depended upon his logic, he would be easily disposed of. Fortunately they do not. They depend, let me repeat, upon his spiritual power and insight, and the minor defects I am pointing out are only like flies in amber.

He thought in images more strictly than any other contemporary writer, and was often desperately hard-put to it to make his thought wed his image. He confessed that he did not know how to argue, and that he could only say what he saw. But he had spiritual vision; we cannot deny this, though we do deny him logical penetration. I doubt if there ever was a writer of such wide and lasting influence as Emerson, in whom the logical sense was so feeble and shadowy. He had in this respect a feminine instead of a masculine mind, an intuitional instead of a reasoning one. It made up in audacious, often extravagant, affirmations what it lacked in syllogistic strength. The logical mind, with its sense of fitness and proportion, does not strain or over-strain the thread that knits the parts together. It does not jump to conclusions, but reaches them step by step. The flesh and blood of feeling and sentiment may clothe the obscure framework of logic, but the logic is there all the same. Emerson’s mind was as devoid of logical sense as are our remembered dreams, or as Christian Science is of science. He said that truth ceased to be such when polemically stated. Occasionally he amplifies and unfolds an idea, as in the essays already mentioned, but generally his argument is a rope of sand. Its strength is the strength of the separate particles. He is perpetually hooking things together that do not go together. It is like putting an apple on a pumpkin vine, or an acorn on a hickory. “A club foot and a club wit.” “Why should we fear,” he says, “to be crushed by the same elements–we who are made up of the same elements?” But were we void of fear, we should be crushed much oftener than we are. The electricity in our bodies does not prevent us from being struck by lightning, nor the fluids in our bodies prevent the waters from drowning us, nor the carbon in our bodies prevent carbon dioxide from poisoning us.