Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/433

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415
The Lyceum: Emerson

participated in this adult form of education, and much of the most important literary expression of the period was originally published through this channel. De Witt Clinton, Edward Everett, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Wendell Phillips, William Lloyd Garrison, Bronson Alcott, George William Curtis, William Cullen Bryant, Henry David Thoreau, James Russell Lowell, Edward Everett Hale; such political leaders as Sumner, Douglas, Greeley; women leaders, as Julia Ward Howe, Susan B. Anthony, Emma Willard; foreign visitors; and almost every man of literary prominence made contributions to this form of literature, more or less permanent, and more or less educational in character.

The most important contributor to the lyceum type of education and its chief adornment was Emerson,[1] an essayist because he was a lecturer, rather than a lecturer because he was an essayist. His livelihood for a considerable period depended upon his professional activity upon the platform. Though the remuneration of these lecturers seems absurdly small when compared with the extravagant earnings of Chautauqua favourites, yet they were sufficient for the simple life of that period. The lecture had to be adapted to a mixed audience; it had to be limited to an hour's time; it had to be varied and stimulating; and it had to conform to certain literary or technical forms. Nevertheless there was a freedom in this literature given for the occasion and the people which bespeaks the educational character. Emerson himself said: "I preach in the lecture room, and there it tells, for there is no prescription. You may laugh, weep, reason, sing, sneer, or pray, according to your genius." The stimulating and illuminating idealism of Emerson's essays is an indication of the high purpose, if not an index of the normal attainment, of the adult educational endeavour of this generation. For his Self Reliance, Compensation, Prudence, Intellect, The Over-Soul not so much moulded the beliefs of his generation as expressed the unformulated thought and the highest aspiration of the New England Puritanism of his day.

Of literature presided over by the muses, there is little which relates to education. In this group Irving's Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1819) undoubtedly takes first place. If the delineation of Ichabod Crane is a caricature, that of the school is not, nor

  1. See Book II, Chap. IX.