Correspondence: Emerson In Europe
By F.B. Sanborn
The Atlantic Monthly, June 1892
CONCORD, January 12, 1848.It is hard to believe that England is so near as from your letters it appears; and that this identical piece of paper has lately come all the way from there hither, begrimed with the English dust which made you hesitate to use it; from England, which is only historical fairy-land to me, to America, which I have put my spade into, and about which there is no doubt.
I thought that you needed to be informed of Hugh’s progress. He has moved his house, as I told you, and dug his cellar, and purchased stone of Sol Wetherbee for the last, though he has not hauled it; all which has cost sixteen dollars, which I have paid. He has also, as next in order, run away from Concord without a penny in his pocket, “crying” by the way, — having had another long difference with strong beer, and a first one, I suppose, with his wife, who seems to have complained that he sought other society; the one difference leading to the other, perhaps, but I don’t know which was the leader. He writes back to his wife from Sterling, near Worcester, where he is chopping wood, his distantly kind reproaches to her, which I read straight through to her (not to bottle, which he has with him, and no doubt addresses orally). He says that he will go on to the South in the spring, and will never return to Concord. Perhaps he will not. Life is not tragic enough for him, and he must try to cook up a more highly seasoned dish for himself. Towns which keep a bar-room and a gun-house and a reading-room should also keep a steep precipice where off impatient soldiers may jump. His sun went down, to me, bright and steady enough in the west, but it never came up in the east. Night intervened. He departed, as when a man dies suddenly; and haps wisely, if lie was to go, without settling his affairs. They knew that that was a thin soil and not well for pears. Nature is rare and sensitive on the score of nurseries. You may cut down orchards and grow forests at your pleasure. Sand watered with strong beer, though stirred with industry, will not produce grapes. He dug his cellar for the new part too near the old house, Irish like, though I warned him, and it has caved and let one end of the house down. Such is the state of his domestic affairs. I laugh with the Parcæ only. He had got the upland and the orchard and a part of the meadow ploughed by Warren, at an expense of eight dollars, still unpaid, which of course is no affair of yours.
I think that if an honest and small-familied man, who has no affinity for moisture in him, but who has an affinity for sand, can be found, it would be safe to rent him the shanty as it is, and the land; or you can very easily and simply let nature keep them still, without great loss. It may be so managed, perhaps, as to be a home for somebody, who shall in return serve you as fencing stuff, and to fix and locate your lot, as we plant a tree in the sand or on the edge of a stream; without expense to you in the mean while, and without disturbing its possible future value.
I read a part of the story of my excursion to Ktadn to quite a large audience of men and boys, the other night, whom it interested. It contains many facts and some poetry. I have also written what will do for a lecture on Friendship.
I think that the article on you in Blackwood’s is a good deal to get from the reviewers, — the first purely literary notice, as I remember. The writer is far enough off, in every sense, to speak with a certain authority. It is a better judgment of posterity than the public had. It is singular how sure he is to be mystified by any uncommon sense. But it was generous to put Plato into the list of mystics. His confessions on this subject suggest several thoughts, which I have not room to express here. The old word seer, — I wonder what the reviewer thinks that means; whether that he was a man who could see more than himself.
I was struck by Ellen’s asking me, yesterday, while I was talking with Mrs. Brown, if I did not use “colored words.” She said that she could tell the color of a great many words, and amused the children at school by so doing. Eddy climbed up the sofa, the other day, of his own accord, and kissed the picture of his father, — “right on his shirt, I did.”
I had a good talk with Alcott this afternoon. He is certainly the youngest man of his age we have seen, — just on the threshold of life. When I looked at his gray hairs, his conversation sounded pathetic; but I looked again, and they reminded me of the gray dawn. He is getting better acquainted with Channing, though he says that, if they were to live in the same house, they would soon sit with their hacks to each other.
You must excuse me if I do not write with sufficient directness to yourself, who are a far-off traveler. It is a little like shooting on the wing, I confess.
Farewell. HENRY THOREAU
2 Fenny Street, Higher Broughton,DEAR HENRY, — One roll of letters has gone to-day to Concord and to New York, and perhaps I shall still have time to get this into the leathern bag before it is carted to the wharf. I have to thank you for your letter, which was a true refreshment. Let who or what pass, there stands the dear Henry, — if indeed anybody had a right to call him so, — erect, serene, and undeceivable. So let it ever be! I should quite subside into idolatry of one of my friends, if I were not every now and then apprised that the world is wiser than any one of its boys, and penetrates us with its sense, to the disparagement of the subtleties of private gentlemen.
MANCHESTER, 28 January, 1848.
Last night, as I believe I have already told Lidian, I heard the best man in England make perhaps his best speech, — Cobden, who is the cor cordis, the object of honor and belief, to risen and rising England: a man of great discretion, who never overstates nor states prematurely, nor has a particle of unnecessary genius or hope to mislead him, nor of wasted strength; but calm, sure of his fact, simple and nervous in stating it as a boy in laying down the rules of the game of football which have been violated, — above all, educated by his dogma of Free Trade, led on by it to new lights and correlative liberalities, as our abolitionists have been, by their principle, to so many reforms. Then this man has made no mistake. He has dedicated himself to his work of convincing this kingdom of the impolicy of corn-laws, lectured in every town where they would hear him, and at last carried his point against immense odds, and yet has never accepted any compromise or stipulation from the government. He might have been in the ministry. He will never go there except with empire for his principle, which cannot yet be awarded. He had neglected and abandoned his prosperous calico printing to his partners. And the triumphant League have subscribed between sixty and eighty thousand pounds as the Cobden Fund, whereby he is made independent.
It was quite beautiful, even sublime, last night,
to notice the moral radiations which this Free Trade dogma seemed to throw
out, all unlooked for, to the great audience, who instantly and delightedly
adopted them. Such contrasts of sentiment to the vulgar hatred and fear
of France and jealousy of America that pervade the newspapers! Cobden himself
looked thoughtful and surprised, as if he saw a new future. Old Colonel
Perronet Thompson — the Father of Free Trade, whose catechism on the corn-laws
set all these Brights and Cobdens first on cracking this nut — was present,
and spoke in a very vigorous, rasp-like tone. [Mimer] Gibson, a member
of the British government, a great Suffolk squire, and a convert to these
opinions, made a very satisfactory speech; and our old abolition friend,
George Thompson, brought up the rear, though he, whom I now heard for the
first time, is merely a piece of rhetoric, and not a man of facts and figures
and English solidity, like the rest. The audience play no inactive part,
but the most acute and sympathizing, and the agreeable result was the demonstration
of the arithmetical as well as the moral optimism of peace and generosity.
Your friend, R. W. E.
In the next letter, “Frank” is the son of Mrs. Brown, and the older cousin of Edward Emerson.
CONCORD, February 23, 1848.DEAR WALDO, — For I think I have heard that that is your name, — my letter which was put last into the leathern bag arrived first. Whatever I may call you, I know you better than I know your name, and what becomes of the fittest name if in any sense you are here with him who calls, and not there simply to be called?
I believe I never thanked you for your lectures, one and all, which I heard formerly read here in Concord. I know I never have. There was some excellent reason each time why I did not; but it will never be too late. I have had that advantage, at least, over you in my education.
Lidian is too unwell to write to you, and so I must tell you what I can about the children and herself. I am afraid she has not told you how unwell she is, or to-day perhaps we may say, has been. She has been confined to her chamber four or five weeks, and three or four weeks, at least, to her bed, with the jaundice. The doctor, who comes once a day, does not let her read (nor can she now) nor hear much reading. She has written her letters to you, till recently, sitting up in bed, but he said he would not come again if she did so. She has Abby and Almira to take care of her, and Mrs. Brown to read to her; and I also, occasionally, have something to read or to say. The doctor says must not expect to “take any comfort of her life” for a week or two yet. She wishes me to say that she has written two long and full letters to you about the household economies, etc., which she hopes have not been delayed. The children are quite well and full of spirits, and are going through a regular course of picture-seeing, with commentary by me, every evening, for Eddy’s behoof. All the Annuals and “Diadems” are in requisition, and Eddy is forward to exclaim, when the hour arrives, “Now for the demdems!” I overheard this dialogue when Frank [Brown] came down to breakfast, the other morning.
Eddy. “Why, Frank, I am astonished that you should leave your boots in the dining-room
Frank. “I guess you mean surprised, don’t you?”
Eddy. “No, Boots!”
“If Waldo were here,” said he, the other night, at bedtime, “we‘d be four going upstairs.” Would he like to tell papa anything? No, not anything; but finally, yes, he would, — that one of the white horses in his new barouche is broken! Ellen arid Edith will perhaps speak for themselves, as I hear something about letters to be written by them.
Mr. Alcott seems to be reading well this winter: Plato, Montaigne, Ben Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, Sir Thomas Browne, etc., etc. “I believe I have read them all now, or nearly all,” — those English authors. He is rallying for another foray with his pen, in his latter years, not discouraged by the past, into that crowd of unexpressed ideas of his, that undisciplined Parthian army, which, as soon as a Roman soldier would face, retreats on all hands, occasionally firing backwards; easily routed, not easily subdued, hovering on the skirts of society. Another summer shall not be devoted to the raising of vegetables (Arbors?) which rot in the cellar for want of consumers; but perchance to the arrangement of the material, the brain-crop which the winter has furnished. I have good talks with him. His respect for Carlyle has been steadily increasing for some time. He has read him with new sympathy and appreciation.
I see Channing often. He also goes often to Alcott’s, and confesses that he has made a discovery in him, and gives vent to his admiration or his confusion in characteristic exaggeration; but between this extreme and that you may get a fair report, and draw an inference if you can. Sometimes he will ride a broomstick still, though there is nothing to keep him, or it, up but a certain centrifugal force of whim, which is soon spent, and there lies your stick, not worth picking up to sweep an oven now. His accustomed path is strewn with them. But then again, and perhaps for the most part, he sits on Cliffs amid the lichens, or flits past on noiseless pinion, like the barred owl in the daytime, as wise and unobserved. He brought me a poem the other day, for me, on Walden Hermitage: not remarkable.
Lectures begin to multiply on my desk. I have one
on Friendship which is new, and the materials of some others. I read one
last week to the Lyceum, on The Rights and Duties of the Individual in
Relation to Government, much to Mr. Alcott’s satisfaction.
The newspapers say that they have printed a pirated edition of your Essays in England. Is it as bad as they say, and undisguised and unmitigated piracy? I thought that the printed scrap would entertain Carlyle, notwithstanding its history. If this generation will see out of its hind-head, wily then you may turn your back on its forehead. Will you forward it to him for me?
This stands written in your day-book: “September 3d. Received of Boston Savings Bank, on account of Charles Lane, his deposit with interest, $131.33. 16th. Received of Joseph Palmer, on account of Charles Lane, three hundred twenty-three 36/100 dollars, being the balance of a note on demand for four hundred dollars, with interest, $323.36.”
If you have any directions to give about the trees, you must not forget that spring will soon be upon us.
Farewell. From your friend,
CONCORD, March 8, 1848.DEAR SIR, — Mr. Emerson’s address is as yet, “R. W. Emerson, care of Alexander Ireland, Esq., Examiner Office, Manchester, England.” We had a letter from him on Monday, dated at Manchester, February 10, and he was then preparing to go to Edinburgh the next day, where he was to lecture. He thought that he should get through his northern journeying by the 25th of February, and go to London to spend March and April, and if he did not go to Paris in May, then come home. He has been eminently successful, though the papers this side of the water have been so silent about his adventures.
My book, fortunately, did not find a publisher ready to undertake it, and you can imagine the effect of delay on an author’s estimate of his own work. However, I like it well enough to mend it, and shall look at it again directly when I have dispatched some other things. I have been writing lectures for our own Lyceum this winter, mainly for my own pleasure and advantage. I esteem it a rare happiness to be able to write anything, but there (if I ever get there) my concern for it is apt to end. Time & Co. are, after all, the only quite honest and trustworthy publishers that we know. I can sympathize, perhaps, with the barberry bush, whose business it is solely to ripen its fruit (though that may not be to sweeten it) and to protect it with thorns, so that it holds on all winter, even, unless some hungry crows come to pluck it. But I see that I must get a few dollars together presently to manure my roots. Is your journal able to pay anything, provided it likes an article well enough? I do hot promise one. At any rate, I mean always to spend only words enough to purchase silence with; and I have found that this, which is so valuable, though many writers do not prize it, does not cost much, after all. I have not obtained any more of the mice which I told you were so numerous in my cellar, as my house was removed immediately after I saw you, and I have been living in the village since.
CONCORD, March 23, 1848.DEAR FRIEND, — Lidian says I must write a sentence about the children. Eddy says he cannot sing, — “not till mother is a-going to be well.” We shall hear his voice very soon, in that case, I trust. Ellen is already thinking what will be done when you come home; but then she thinks it will be some loss that I shall go away. Edith says that I shall come and see them, and always at teatime, so that I can play with her. Ellen thinks she likes father best because he jumps her sometimes. This is the latest news from
Yours, etc., HENRY.
This letter was addressed, “R. Waldo Emerson, care of Alexander Ireland, Esq., Manchester, England, via New York and Steamer Cambria March 25.” It was mailed in Boston March 24, and received in Manchester April 19.