Page:The Harvard Classics Vol. 51; Lectures.djvu/171

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Yet elsewhere Emerson has more than once urged us not to be "too much acquainted"[1] : all our participation in the life of our fellows, though rich with courtesy and sympathy, must be free from bending and copying. We must use the fellowship of Society to freshen, and never to obscure, "the recollection of the grandeur of our destiny."[2]


Such, in some attempt at an organization, are a few of Emerson's favorite ideas, which occur over and over again, no matter what may be the subject of the essay. Though Emerson was to some degree identified, in his own time, with various movements which have had little or no permanent effect, yet as we read him now we find extraordinarily little that suggests the limitations of his time and locality. Often there are whole paragraphs which if we had read them in Greek would have seemed Greek. The good sense which kept him clear of Brook Farm because he thought Fourier "had skipped no fact but one, namely life," kept him clear from many similar departures into matters which the twenty-first century will probably not remember. This is as it should be in the essay, which by custom draws the subjects for its "dispersed meditations" from the permanent things of this world, such as Friendship, Truth, Superstition, and Honor. One of Emerson's sources of strength, therefore, is his universality.


Another source of Emerson's strength is his extraordinary compactness of style and his range and unexpectedness of illustration. His gift for epigram is, indeed, such as to make us long for an occasional stretch of leisurely commonplace. But Emerson always keeps us up—not less by his memorable terseness than by his startling habit of illustration. He loves to dart from the present to the remotest past, to join names not usually associated, to link pagan with Christian, or human with divine, in single rapid sentences, such as that[3] about "Scipio, and the Cid, and Sir Philip Sidney, and Washington, and every pure and valiant heart, who worshiped Beauty by word or by deed."

  1. H. C., v, 208.
  2. H. C., v, 209.
  3. H. C., v, 213.