"The Gospel of Emerson"
by Newton Dillaway
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This volume may be seen as a digest of Emerson's spiritual gospel. It is not easy to detect this gospel, for it is hidden in a hundred essays, letters, poems, notes; and in many entries of the journals. After years of study and thought, and consultation with other students of Emerson, the gospel herein presented has gradually emerged from some twenty-five volumes of the seer's writings. The main objectives were to bring out the cardinal points of the subject under consideration, and to arrange the quotations in some semblance of order and progression. But even these objectives were subordinated to the aspiration to give something that would really open up the inner life of the sensitive reader.
Virtually all of the text is direct quotation from the essays, journals, poems, letters and manuscript notes of Ralph Waldo Emerson. The small amount of thought in italics is my own, unless otherwise designated. All the rest is quotation from Emerson.
The general tenor of Emerson's philosophy seemed to me to indicate the advisability of keeping even the seer himself in the background. "The soul knows no persons."
The great majority of the quotations are from the Centenary Edition of Emerson's works. These are reprinted by permission of, and by arrangement with, Houghton Mifflin Company. The final selection in the chapter on the soul is from A Letter of Emerson (The Beacon Press) and is reprinted by permission of Mr. Willard Reed, the editor of the volume. I am indebted to Dr. Arthur P. Moor and to my wife, Hope Dillaway, for assistance in preparing the original text. I wish to thank Mr. Edward "W. Forbes, Mrs. Raymond Emerson, Mrs. Alexander Golitzen and Vida Reed Stone for their interest and help.
The Coming of the Spirit
In those days there arose a Prophet—A Prophet of the New World.
Earlier the Light was not up, But one day the Creative Spirit spoke to the young man and commissioned him as follows:
Thou shalt not profess that which thou dost not believe.
Thou shalt not heed the voice of man when it agrees not with the voice of God in thine own soul.
Thou shalt study and obey the laws of the Universe, and they will be thy fellow servants.
Nature shall be to thee as a symbol. The life of the soul in conscious union with the Infinite shall be for thee the only real existence.
Teach men that each generation begins the world afresh, in perfect freedom; that the present is not the prisoner of the past, but that today holds captive all the yesterdays, to judge, to accept, to reject their teachings, as they are shown by its own morning sun.
To thy fellow countrymen thou shalt preach the gospel of the New World, that here, here in America, is the home of man, that here is the promise of a new and more excellent social state than history has recorded.
Earlier the Light was not always clear. Should he serve Tradition or the Presence? Should he serve traditional religion or the religion of the seers? And what is religion?
Pondering these problems, the young man retired to the mountains to meditate.
Here, among the mountains, the pinions of thought should be strong, and one should see the errors of men from a calmer height of love and wisdom. What is the message that is given me to communicate next Sunday? Religion in the mind is not credulity, and in the practice is not form. It is a life. It is the order and soundness of a man. It is not something else to be got, to be added, but is a new life of those faculties you have. It is to do right. It is to love, it is to serve, it is to think, it is to be humble.
Having turned to the practice of the seen, it was perhaps inevitable that the young man should be led to the Way of the seers. He broke with Tradition and chose the Way of Insight.
Having been untuned by Fate, the young man went to the Old World to seek equilibrium in new surroundings and from new minds. The result was an awakening that gave him fresh confidence in himself. The minds of the Old World did not move him to any great extent.
I thank the Great God who has led me through this European scene, this last schoolroom in which he has pleased to instruct me, from Malta's isle, through Sicily, through Italy, through Switzerland, through France, through England, through Scotland, in safety and pleasure, and has now brought me to the shore and the ship that steers westward. He has shown me the men I wished to see,—Landor, Coleridge, Carlyle, Wordsworth; he has thereby comforted and confirmed me in my convictions. Many things I owe to the sight of these men. I shall judge more justly, less timidly, of wise men for-evermore. To be sure not one of these is a mind of the very first class, but what the intercourse with each of these suggests is true of intercourse with better men, that they never fill the ear—fill the mind—no, it is an idealized portrait which always we draw of them. Upon an intelligent man, wholly a stranger to their names, they would make in conversation no deep impression, none of a world-filling fame,—they would be remembered as sensible, well-read, earnest men, not more. Especially are they all deficient, all these four,—in different degrees, but all deficient,—in insight into religious truth. They have no idea of that species of moral truth which I call the first philosophy. . . .
As the young man returned to the New World, the Creative Spirit spoke again.
Let us hear this new thing. It is very old. It is the old revelation, that perfect beauty is perfect goodness, it is the development of the wonderful congruities of the moral law of human nature. Let me enumerate a few of the remarkable properties of that nature. A man contains all that is needful to his government within himself. He is made a law unto himself. All real good or evil that can befall him must be from himself. . . . The purpose of life seems to be to acquaint a man with himself. He is not to live to the future as described to him, but to live to the real future by living to the real present. The highest revelation is that God is in every man.
With the coming of this oracle, the young man rose into the Creative Consciousness and began to speak as a Prophet. He was henceforth to serve as a vehicle for Insight in moulding a gospel of the New World.