A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Monday, 10 March 2008

The Sacred Integrity Of The Mind

From the Introduction to my Ward Lock edition of Emerson's Complete Prose Works: He [Emerson] was a moral and intellectual preacher for a free platform. His soul, imbibing the lessons of the ages, in communion with the springs of Nature, fervently sympathising with the aspirations of his fellow men, spoke with electric effect to his hearers as they hung on his utterances. The trammels of ecclesiastical systems, the crystallisations of formal creeds, the limitations of outward observances, of time honoured expressions he threw off, and sought truths in which all men can unite. It was not because he lacked firm convictions, or thought one sect or party as good as another, but because he felt that truth was beyond party or church, that he spoke in favour of unity of heart among men of all religions. The utter foe of slavery, white and black, the simplifier of religious ideas, the awakener and quickener of intellectual and moral life among young men, the idealist in a world continually dragged down by the material, Emerson was an inspiring seer of the highest value to his time and country. His legacy to the world is not a system, not a creed, not an observance, but a stimulus, an impulse to a perfect life.

An egalitarian, he believed that every one had a store of riches within: The walls of rude minds are scrawled all over with facts, with thoughts. They shall one day bring a lantern and read the inscriptions.

And that the genius and the ordinary person are connected far more closely than any deferential, class-bound, hierarchical society would have us think: In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.

Finally - and taken from his essay Self-Reliance once again - Emerson champions independent thought and nonconformity: Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs. Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world.


Loren said...

Emerson seems somewhat out of style here in America at the moment, and he's often regarded as little more than Thoreau's mentor, but I would have to say that he's certainly my favorite American philosopher, and perhaps my favorite philosopher of all.

The Solitary Walker said...

He's definitely my kind of thinker (Thoreau too for that matter). Similarly in England Emerson is generally shunned in favour of Thoreau. It's difficult to imagine these days how his books used to sell like hot cakes, how people used to hang on his every word, what a great influence he was. Oh, well, as Dylan said, 'Things have changed'. Perhaps his time will come again?

Anonymous said...

Love these quotes. I've not really read any Emerson, so I must. I got out my old copy of 'Walden & Civil Disobedience' the other day...proving your point about Thoreau.