Man is the game we hunt. Man is the mystery we unveil. Part III

Emerson’s mantra of the Universal Mind as the source of all things human is constantly repeated throughout this lecture series, equally so in “Religion”, the lecture he delivered on 19 January. Every religious sentiment and thus every religion is “based on the intuitive revelation implanted in every individual” (Hurth 486). This is why religious practices are “only varying forms of that shudder of awe and delight with which the individual soul always mingles with the Universal Soul” (POH 92). The problem with every religion, even though they all originated in truth, is that they stagnate and lose substance. Thought needs to be in motion, needs to be continually revised, as does religion:

It [thought] will be sour if kept; and tomorrow must be gathered anew. Perpetually must we east ourselves or we get into irrecoverable error starting from the plainest truths, and keeping, as we think, the straightest road of logic. (POH 93)

Every aging church will eventually lead to “man’s alienation from wisdom” and turn out to be nothing but “flat idolatry” (see POH 94,96); this then will create an era of unbelief. Fortunately, “[u]nbelief never lasts long” (POH 97) due to the fact that it works against a basic human need:

It always proceeds out of the deepest Belief. Man was made to love and to act. […] The names and books of devout ages become venerable and beautiful again. Here and there devout men make the old churches respectable, or the new churches more warm and attractive. (POH 97)

The lecture on “Society” was delivered on 26 January 1837 and this one is quite unique due to the fact that it was scarcely reused in later essays.[1] Man’s access to the universal mind is again emphasised as the door to timeless truth. Despite the fact “that all men are partakers of one mind” (POH 98), they are “differenced both in person and in nature” (POH 100); this diversity facilitates man’s proclivity to keeping company. Charla White-Major in her essay “The Dominion of the Orator: ‘The Philosophy of History’ and Emerson’s Heroic Exemplar” gets to the heart of Emerson’s statement in this lecture by arguing that

The life experience that designate a man as a part of the One Mind concurrently distinguish him as an individual apart from it; inasmuch as each person’s thoughts and actions represent particular aspects of the human totality, his perspective and place remain unique by virtue of the physical limitations of space and time. (43)

Emerson further elaborates on the reasons for man’s need for company. For example, it is man’s “delight of receiving again from another [his] own thoughts and feelings, of thus seeing them out of [him], and judging of them as of something foreign to [him]” (POH 100). Emerson goes on in his lecture by listing and characterising the various forms of society:

[…] the society of marriage [the most natural (see 102)]; of friendship [the highest and most stimulating form [see 105)]; of power (the State) [needed for protection, a seldom perfect form (105)]; of philanthropy [quite fruitless (106-107)]; of opinion (sect or party) [eventually a violation of the soul (107-108)]; of bodies (mobs) [churlish, shameful and dangerous (109)]; of minds (eloquence) [society in perfection (109-111)]. (POH 102, interpretation in square brackets mine)

A most interesting statement in regard to this thesis’ research question is Emerson’s own description of the aim of his lecture series at the beginning of his lecture on society:

Those who have honored with their attention the preceding lectures of the Course will have perceived that our interest has been drawn not primarily to facts but to Ideas which create and order facts, that our endeavor has not been to write History in the order of time but in the order of the mind; which sort of History has this advantage, when successful, that it is not true in one particular case but must be true in all possible cases. (POH 98)

The editorial note to the manuscript of the lecture on “Trades and Professions” claims that “it is perhaps Emerson’s fullest statement on the doctrine of work and vocation with which Carlyle’s mind was so occupied at this time” (Wicher, Stiler 113). Emerson states in this lecture that though all human actions including labour derive from the two most basic human needs of “wanting” and “having” (see POH 114), a man’s desire to work is more than a means to get a reward; it is his teacher – his teacher of knowledge and of virtue. The author firstly builds up his argument on the interconnection between various professions; in the next step he uses an account on Italian stereotypes by Johann Jacob Volkmann to highlight that those actions, which a lot of people would define as idleness, are indeed labour (see POH 119-123). As “all forms of labor follow the wants of human nature” and “every man’s labor is his education” (POH 126), every form of labour is equal to one another: an “illustration of the perfect compensation of the Universe” (POH 127). The labour of the farmer, the merchant, the preacher and the poet are all “watched over by the same pitiless laws” (127). This is why, every man should be free in his choice of profession: “it is almost of no importance how a man serves the world […] but only the fidelity of his service” (POH 125). According to White-Major, Emerson’s examples in this lecture “once again allude to the disparity of human needs and the ability of each individual to contribute to the well-being of the Universal One” (45), and as touched on before “Emerson emphazises his point that all professions share equal value within the greater context of the common need” (White-Major 45). She quotes in this passage of her essay Bercovitch’s “twofold concept of calling”[2] to indicated that Emerson’s understanding of work as vocation is rooted in his Protestant upbringing; it is an understanding of work that reminds the reader of Carlyle’s ideas.

The main argument or theme underlying Emerson’s lecture “Manners”[3], which he specifies in his essay “History”, is that of correspondence (see POH 135). Hence, it is hardly surprising that the author recycled many passages and parables of this lecture in the aforementioned essay. Due to the fact that “[h]istory is the record of what men are, is the record of the character of the human race” and “Manners may be defined (as) the silent and mediate expression of character” (POH 129), the study of a man’s manners is of “value to the historian and philosopher” as a department of history because “they are the unconscious account” man gives of himself (POH 131). Emerson claims that “Manners are affected by climate, religion, occupation, commerce, age” and can be scientifically analysed. From Emerson’s point of view, manners can be roughly divided into two categories: (1) the childlike, natural manners we admire when we read ancient history and which we define as heroic (see POH 133-137), and (2) “the manners of a strong will” which are most impressive when “coupled with external mildness and sweetness” (POH 138) and which we associate with leaders like Bonnie Dundee or Napoleon; the manners of a “sleeping lion” (138) in a gentleman’s disguise (see POH 137-142).

[1] See editorian note on page 98.

[2] Bercovitch, Sacvan. The Puritan Origins of the American Self. New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 1975. p.6 as quoted in Charla White-Major’s essay on page 45.

[3] Delivered on 9 February 1837.

Content mine: D.P.P, ““- anything but history.” – Emerson and Carlyle on Meaning, Relevance and (Ab)Use of History”, D 2015.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Philosophy of History; The Early Lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson Vol. II 1836-1838. Eds. Stephen Whicher and Robert Spiller. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1964. 7-900. Print.

Hurth, Elisabeth.  “Between Faith and Unbelief: Ralph Waldo Emerson on Man and God”; American Studies, Vol. 48, No. 4. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2003. 483-495. Print.

Major-White, Charla. “The Dominion of the Orator: ‘The Philosophy of History’ and Emerson’s Heroic Exemplar”; Tennesse Philological Bulletin Vol. 45. Chattanooga: Tennessee Philological Association at the University of Tennessee, 2008. 41-50. Print.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Megan says:

    Whoa, move over Franz Boas! Looks like Emerson is the real father of American anthropology. The scope of his writing is astounding. Btw, did you make it to Ecclefechan today?

    Liked by 1 person

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