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He shall aye climb

For his rhyme.

'Pass in, pass in,' the angels say,

'In to the upper doors,

Nor count compartments of the floors,

But mount to paradise

By the stairway of surprise.'


We have seen that Emerson had no ear for music. It is also plain that he never grappled with metrical problems, or realized that the laws of harmony are laws of God. He can make such imperfect rhymes as worm and form, pans and romance, feeble and people, abroad and Lord, sodden and forgotten, hear and are, shrine and within. There is a jerkiness and dissonance about many of his verses which reveal a fundamental artistic defect, as well as a careless audacity. We must credit him with the substance of, poetry, but must deny that he has mastered its form. He is a stranger to the melody of Shelley; and, though Goethe was one of his demigods, that supreme literary artist did not influence him to follow his example. The result is an obscure and disjointed verse, with occasional bursts of trumpetlike and thrilling beauty, while the real power of his writing is to be found mainly in his prose. I cannot assent to Stedman's characterization of him as "our most typical and inspiring poet. Theodore Parker called Emerson "a poet lacking the accomplishment of verse "-which means that his gift was that of poetical prose. Matthew Arnold said well that Emerson's is the most important work of the nineteenth century in prose, as Wordsworth's is the

15 46 'Merlin."

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most important work of that same century in poetry; and to that estimate we may well subscribe.

When I seek to illustrate Emerson's theological ideas by citations from his verse, I am met with the ever-outstanding fact that all his poetry is an endless reiteration of one great truth, together with an ignoring of the other truth which prevents it from having all the effect of error. There is a pendulum swing in human thought. Divinity and humanity, fate and freedom, each has its rights. Woe be to the age that builds its system of thought upon either one to the exclusion of the other! The pendulum will certainly swing to the opposite extreme. New England had become Arminian and sterile; the fountains of the great deep needed to be broken up; Emerson showed us an open heaven and a present God. In this he did a service to his generation. "Unlovely, nay, frightful," he says, "is the solitude of the soul without God." But this recognition passes immediately into identification. The soul that recognizes God becomes itself God, and God himself becomes another name for our human life and activity:

This is Jove, who, deaf to prayers,
Floods with blessings unawares.

Draw, if thou canst, the mystic line
Severing rightly his from thine,
Which is human, which divine.

What God is this, who cannot or will not hear the prayers of his worshipers and who is indistinguishable from ourselves? This is indeed the Roman Jove; it is not our Father who is in heaven. The pagan God is not God at all, but only an idol of the human imagi



nation, a creation of our human selfishness and sin. The blessings with which he floods us unawares come from no mind of justice or heart of love. No communion with him is possible; he is simply the impersonal spirit of the universe, the nature-god of pantheism, a god who has no eye to pity and no arm to save in the stern emergencies of men's need.


What was Emerson's doctrine of prayer? He certainly did not believe in petition for specific gifts or blessings. That, to his mind, would be impudence, and insult to law and Lawgiver. 'Prayer that craves a particular commodity, anything less than all good, is vicious." "Men's prayers are a disease of the will, as their creeds are a disease of the intellect." Yet prayer is natural to man; it may lift him into harmony with the divine will; it may give him new insight and courage. It will be sheer perversion to expect any alteration in things external to ourselves.) Emerson gave up public prayer, as he gave up the Lord's Supper, because he regarded it as encouraging superstition:

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When success exalts thy lot,

God for thy virtue lays a plot:
And all thy life is for thine own,
Then for mankind's instruction shown;
/And though thy knees were never bent,
To Heaven thy hourly prayers are sent,
And whether formed for good or ill,
Are registered and answered still.10

O, when I am safe in my sylvan home,
I tread on the pride of Greece and Rome;
For what are they all, in their high conceit,
When man in the bush with God may meet? 17


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In the name of Godhead, I

The morrow front, and can defy;

Though I am weak, yet God, when prayed,
Cannot withhold his conquering aid.1

But God's "conquering aid " is really nothing but the new determination of the human soul, and God is but a figure of speech:

Around the man who seeks a noble end,

Not angels but divinities attend.1o

Emerson scoffs at the "pistareen Providence" of George Müller and his Orphan Houses. Piety, he thinks, is here "pulled down to the pantry and the shoe-closet, till we are distressed for fresh air, God coming precisely as he is called for, to the hour and minute." Yet Jesus said, "Ask, and ye shall receive "; and Paul urges us, "in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving," to let our "requests be made known unto God." Emerson's God does not hear and cannot answer prayer.

He spoke of " the burdensome doctrine of a Deity." But he meant only to clear himself of definitions, and to accept whatever impressions came to him, mutually contradictory though they might be. This gives an appearance of fairness to his writings, though it really shows that he had no settled belief with regard to the most serious questions that vex the soul. "Cannot I trust the Goodness that has uplifted to uphold me?" he says. "I cannot find in the world, without or within, any antidote, any bulwark, against this fear,

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like this: the frank acknowledgment of unbounded dependence. Let into the heart that is filled with prosperity the idea of God, and it smooths the giddy precipices of human pride to a substantial level." He can even acknowledge "the wholesomeness of Calvinism for thousands and thousands. I would not discourage their scrupulous religious observances." Calvinism, he holds, "is an imperfect version of the moral law. Unitarianism is another." "It is well for "It is well for my Protestantism that there is no Cathedral in Concord. Unitarians for

get that men are poets. . . I have very good grounds for being a Unitarian, and for being a Trinitarian too. . . The highest revelation is that God is in every man.) Our reason is not to be distinguished from the divine essence; and all forms of doctrine are but shadows and symbols of invisible reality."

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Oh what is Heaven but the fellowship
Of minds that each can stand against the

By its own meek and incorruptible will?"

On this theory, truth is simply what men "trow," and things are what men "think." All reality is subjective.

20" Life."

21 Self-reliance," lines added in 1833.

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