January-July 1842

The Collected Letters, Volume 14


TC TO THOMAS STORY SPEDDING ; 31 July 1842; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18420731-TC-TSS-01; CL 14: 246-248


Chelsea, 31 july, 1842—

Dear Spedding

I here inclose for your behoof certain fragments of New-England Philosophy, in the shape of Reports, by a Yankee Editor, of some late Lectures of friend Emerson's.1 I know not if you are at all acquainted with friend Emerson: I do not recommend him to you as a great man, who has new illumination for this benighted Universe; but as a notable man, at least as a noticeable man, not without a kind of illumination for himself and a few others. The New-Englanders are a rustic people, of simple conditions compared with ours: these Emersonians, I find, having got to see that man in very truth has a soul, and even a religion independent of Socinianism and the Shovel-hat, are forthwith threatening to constitute themselves into some melancholy crotchet of a Sect, with all the poor perversions of a Sect; the chief tenet, as I understand, being that man ought to live on vegetables, earn therefore his food by three hours daily labour, and live simple and be beautiful under the sky! Emerson, I hear, still hovers on the edge; but several of his disciples have already gone in, and welter there neck and heels. A man named Alcot is come over in these very days for proselytes;2 has already parted in downright wrath with me, because I defended myself with quizzing; and is on the whole one of the strangest Potatoe Quixotes I ever fell in with. An elderly long thin man, with small irritable chin, with grey worn temples, mild sorrowful intelligent eyes, and the completest faith in man's salvation by vegetables; loveable, yet on the whole a frightful bore. The young Socinian Ministry, he tells me, are all quitting their pulpits in New England; taking to the fields and farms;—as indeed they may well do, Socinianism being now palpably a ghost. We live generally “in the twelfth hour of the night.”—

You are surely correct in what you say of Stomach-Philosophy, That the great mass of men have in all times guided themselves forward by it and by little else. Nay even the chosen few, if not in a state of spasmodic antagonism, an undesirable state, have always had to mind it very constantly withal—to admit the entirely undeniable fact that they had bodies, &c, and that the great majority of neighbours had nothing else! This is true; and yet when the great majority becomes as it were the entire mass of society, to which in highest Cathedrals or elsewhere you shall vainly look for an exception, we have frightful times of it. These same few have ever been as the salt of the earth; and if the salt have lost its savour, if there be no more salt—? No society that I ever heard of, Roman, Arab, Christian, Chinese, could subsist on Cant and Benthamism, never so cunningly blended; but had either to get new ways of believing, the initiatory of new ways of acting, or else to rush down into nameless wreck and putrefaction. The Englishman believes that he has done with his fellow creature, when he has paid him his money wages; he asks Cain-like, Am I my brother's keeper? and thinks it much if he subscribe to some soup-kitchen. Nimrod Apperton (if that is his name) writes and prints lately in Fraser's Magazine3 his full assurance of faith that he will get to a thing he calls “Heaven” because he never maltreated horses in fox-hunting, &c., and was the means of abolishing the bearing-rein! This predatory biped seemed actually serious; he has attended Rugby, Oxford, knows some Greek still, and even is not without considerable intelligence. We are an unexampled people. A man speaks of “Hell” &c: but what is the actual thing he is infinitely afraid of, and struggles with the whole soul of him to avoid? It is what he calls “not succeeding,” which, being interpreted, means—what we know.4 I say in brief, and God knows what volumes, controversies and confused battles the said brevity may turn out to include: This is verily not the fact of God's universe; God did not make his universe so, but far otherwise than so; and what nation or what man soever pleases to go on the hypothesis that it is so made, such man or notion is incessantly tending towards the land's-end, the end of reality and fact, and, after the more or fewer steps, will (unless he wisely recoil first) step into the air, and find Chaos and the Devil perfectly ready for him!— Is not this a dainty prospect? I believe in the continued vitality of the Devil; and therefore have no fear that what I call God can ever be abolished, or hidden long. But in the meanwhile our prospects are but frightful in this country, I think. So frightful that I oftenest turn my eyes away from them;—and will not speak another word on the subject at present, for one thing.

Alas, there is no hope of me in the North this year: I must doom myself to silence, to solitude,—for which there is no place that I know of properer than London in these coming months. I deserve no better doom.

The Legation Secretary has hardly ever written to me; but I hear by the Newspapers that he is fast approaching; and already pride myself in the meeting.— My poor Wife continues very sad and weak, inconsolable for the loss of her Mother. I am getting her persuaded into Suffolk for a5

P.S. You may send these Lectures over to the Elder Mr. Marshall,6—or to whom you will