CHAPTER FOURTEEN. LEXINGTON AND CONCORD
Hawthorne's estimate of Emerson was far more just and penetrating; he described him very correctly as "a great original thinker" whose "mind acted upon other minds of a certain constitution with wonderful magnetism, and drew many men upon long pilgrimages to speak with him face to face. Young visionaries - to whom just so much of insight had been imparted as to make life all a labyrinth around them - came to seek the clew that should guide them out of their self-involved bewilderment. Gray-headed theorists - whose systems, at first air, had finally imprisoned them in an iron framework - travelled painfully to his door, not to ask deliverance, but to invite the free spirit into their own thraldom. People that had lighted on a new thought, or a thought that they fancied new, came to Emerson, as the finder of a glittering gem hastens to a lapidary to ascertain its quality and value. Uncertain, troubled, earnest wanderers through the midnight of the moral world beheld his intellectual face as a beacon burning on a hill-top, and, climbing the difficult ascent, looked forth into the surrounding obscurity more hopefully than hitherto. For myself, there had been epochs in my life when I, too, might have asked of this prophet the master word that should solve me the riddle of the universe, but, now, being happy, I feel as if there were no question to be put, and therefore admired Emerson as a poet of deep and austere beauty, but sought nothing from him as a philosopher. It was good nevertheless to meet him in the wood-paths, or sometimes in our avenue, with that pure, intellectual gleam diffused about his presence like the garment of a shining one; and he, so quiet, so simple, so without pretension, encountering each man alive as if expecting to receive more than he could impart."
It was fortunate for Hawthorne, doubly fortunate for us who read him, that he could withstand the influence of Emerson, and go on writing in his own way; his dreams and fancies were undisturbed by the clear vision which sought so earnestly to distract him from his realm of the imagination.
On first impressions Emerson rated Alcott very high. "He has more of the godlike than any man I have ever seen, and his presence rebukes, and threatens, and raises. He is a teacher." "Yesterday Alcott left us after a three days' visit. The most extraordinary man, and the highest genius of his time." This was in 1835. Seven years later Emerson records this impression. "He looks at everything in larger angles than any other, and, by good right, should be the greatest man. But here comes in another trait; it is found, though his angles are of so generous contents, the lines do not meet; the apex is not quite defined. We must allow for the refraction of the lens, but it is the best instrument I have ever met with."
Alcott visited Concord first in October, 1835, and found that he and Emerson had many things in common, but he entered in his diary, "Mr. Emerson's fine literary taste is sometimes in the way of a clear and hearty acceptance of the spiritual." Again, he naively congratulates himself that he has found a man who could appreciate his theories. "Emerson sees me, knows me, and, more than all others, helps me, - not by noisy praise, not by low appeals to interest and passion, but by turning the eye of others to my stand in reason and the nature of things. Only men of like vision can apprehend and counsel each other."
With the exception of Hawthorne, there was among the men of Concord a tendency to over-estimate one another. For the most part, they took themselves and each other very seriously; even Emerson's subtle sense of humor did not save him from yielding to this tendency, which is illustrated in the following page from Hawthorne's journal:
"About nine o'clock (Sunday) Hilliard and I set out on a walk to Walden Pond, calling by the way at Mr. Emerson's to obtain his guidance or directions. He, from a scruple of his eternal conscience, detained us until after the people had got into church, and then he accompanied us in his own illustrious person. We turned aside a little from our way to visit Mr. Hosmer, a yeoman, of whose homely and self-acquired wisdom Mr. Emerson has a very high opinion." "He had a fine flow of talk, and not much diffidence about his own opinions. I was not impressed with any remarkable originality in his views, but they were sensible and characteristic. Methought, however, the good yeoman was not quite so natural as he may have been at an earlier period. The simplicity of his character has probably suffered by his detecting the impression he makes on those around him. There is a circle, I suppose, who look up to him as an oracle, and so he inevitably assumes the oracular manner, and speaks as if truth and wisdom were attiring themselves by his voice. Mr. Emerson has risked the doing him much mischief by putting him in print, - a trial few persons can sustain without losing their unconsciousness. But, after all, a man gifted with thought and expression, whatever his rank in life and his mode of uttering himself, whether by pen or tongue, cannot be expected to go through the world without finding himself out; and, as all such discoveries are partial and imperfect, they do more harm than good to the character. Mr. Hosmer is more natural than ninety-nine men out of a hundred, and is certainly a man of intellectual and moral substance. It would be amusing to draw a parallel between him and his admirer, - Mr. Emerson, the mystic, stretching his hand out of cloudland in vain search for something real; and the man of sturdy sense, all whose ideas seem to be dug out of his mind, hard and substantial, as he digs his potatoes, carrots, beets, and turnips out of the earth. Mr. Emerson is a great searcher for facts, but they seem to melt away and become unsubstantial in his grasp."