The Greatest Writer of the 19th Century » Brownson's Writings » Ralph Waldo Emerson's Prose

Ralph Waldo Emerson's Prose

                                                             Emerson’s Prose Works
            Mr. Emerson’s literary reputation is established, and placed beyond the reach of criticism. No living writer surpasses him in his mastery of pure and classic English, or equals him in the exquisite delicacy and finish of his chiseled sentences, or the metallic ring of his style. It is only as a thinker and a teacher that we can venture any inquiry into his merits; and as such we cannot suffer ourselves to be imposed upon by his oracular manner, nor by the apparent originality either of his views or his expressions.
            Mr. Emerson has had a swarm both of admirers and of detractors. With many he is a philosopher and sage, almost a god; while with others he is regarded as an unintelligible mystic, babbing nonsense just fitted to captivate beardless young men and silly maidens with pretty curls, who constituted years ago the great body of his hearers and worshipers. We rank ourselves in neither class, though we regard him as no ordinary man, and as one of the deepest thinkers, as well as one of the first poets, of our country. We know him as a polished gentleman, a genial companion, and a warmhearted friend, whose kindness does not pass over individuals and waste itself in a vague philanthropy. So much, at least, we can say of the man, and from former personal acquaintance as well as from the study of his writings.
            Mr. Emerson is no theorist, and is rather of a practical than of a speculative turn of mind. What he has sought all his life, and perhaps is still seeking, is the real, the universal, and the permanent in the events of life and the objects of experience. The son of a Protestant minister, brought up in a Protestant community, and himself for some years a Protestant minister, he early learned that the real, the universal, and permanent are not to be found in Protestantism; and assuming the Protestantism, in some or all its forms, is the truest exponent of the Christian religion, he very naturally came to the conclusion that they are not to be found in Christianity. He saw that Protestantism is narrow, hollow, unreal, a sham, a humbug, and, ignorant of the Catholic church and her teaching, he is considered that she must have less of reality, be even more of a sham or humbug, than Protestantism itself. He passed then naturally revealed religion to the conclusion that all pretensions to a supernaturally revealed religion are founded only in ignorance or craft, and rejected all of all religions, except what may be found in them that accords with the soul or the natural reason of all men. This may be gathered from his brief essay, entitled Nature, first published in 1836. We quote a few paragraphs from the introduction:
            “Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchers of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we through their eyes. Why should not we enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and a philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not a history of theirs? … The sun shines to-day also. There is more wool and flax in the fields. There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works, and laws, and worship.
            “Undoubtedly we have no questions to ask which are unanswerable. We must trust the perfection of creation so far as to believe that whatever curiosity the order of things has awakened in our minds, the order of things can satisfy. Every man’s condition is a solution in hieroglyphic to those inquiries he would put. He acts it as life before he apprehends it as truth. In like manner, nature is already, in its forms and tendencies, describing its own design. Let us interrogate the great apparition that shines so peacefully around us. Let us inquire, To what end is nature?
            “All science has one aim, to find a theory of nature. We have theories of races of functions, but scarcely yet a remote approach to an idea of creation. We are now so far from the road to truth that religious teachers dispute and hate each other, and speculative men are deemed unsound and frivolous. But to a sound judgment, the most abstract truth is the most practical. Whenever a true theory appears, it will be its own evidence. Its test is, that it will explain all phenomena. Now many are thought not only unexplained, but inexplicable – as language, sleep, madness, dreams, beasts, sex.” (Vol. i. pp. 5, 6.)
            These extracts give us the key to Mr. Emerson’s thought, which runs through all his writings, whether in the prose or poetry; though more fully mastered and better defined in his later productions, essays, and lectures, than it was his earliest production from which we have quoted. In studying these volumes, we are convinced that what the writer is after is reality, which this outward visible universe, both as a whole an in all its parts, symbolizes. He seeks life, not death; the living present, not the corpse of the past. Under this visible world, one, identical, universal, and immutable, which it copies, mimics, or symbolizes. He agrees with Plato that the real thing is in the methexis, not the in the mimesis; that is, in the idea, not in the individual and the sensible, the variable and the perishable. He wants unity and catholicity, and the science that does not attain to them is no real science at all. But as the mimesis, in his language the hieroglyphic, copies or imitates the methexic, we can, by studying it, arrive at the methexic, the reality copied or imitated.
            We do not pretend to understand Plato throughout, nor to reconcile him always with himself; but as far as we do understand him, the reality, what must be known in order to have real science, is the idea, and it is only by ideas that real science is attained. Ideas are, then, both the object and the medium of knowledge. As the medium of knowledge, the idea may be regarded as the image it impresses on the mimetic, or the individual and the sensible, as the seal on the wax. This image or impression is an exact fac-simile of the idea as object. Hence by studying it we arrive at the exact knowledge of the idea, or what is real, invariable, universal, and permanent in the object we would know. The lower copies and reveals the next higher, and thus we may rise, step by step, from the lowest to the highest, to “the first good and the first fair,” to the good, the beautiful, or Being that is being in itself. Thus is it in science. But the soul has two wings on which it soars to the empyrean, intelligence and love. The lowest form of or stage of love is that of the sexes, a love of the senses only; but this lowest love symbolizes a higher or ideal love, rising stage by stage to the pure ideal, or the love of absolute beauty, the beautiful in itself, the love to which the sage aspires, and only love in which he can rest or find repose.
            We do not say that Mr. Emerson follows Plato in all respects; for he occasionally deviates from him, sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse; but no one not tolerably well versed in the Platonic philosophy can understand him. In his two essays on Plato, in his second volume, he calls him the Philosopher, and asserts that all who talk philosophy talk Plato. He also maintains that Plato represented all the ages that went before him, possessed all the science of his contemporaries, and that none who have come after him have been able to add any thing new to what he taught. He includes Christianity, Judaism, and Mohammedanism in Plato, who is far broader and more comprehensive than them all. Plato of all men born of woman stood nearest the truth of things, and in his intellectual and moral doctrines surpassed all who went before or have come after him.
            We find many things in Plato that we like, and we entirely agree with him that the ideal is real; but we do not agree with Mr. Emerson, that nothing in science has been added to the Platonic doctrine. We think Aristotle made an important addition in his doctrine of entelechia; Leibnitz, in his definition of substance, making it a visactive, and thus exploding the notion of passive or inert substances; and finally, Gioberti, by his doctrine of creation as a doctrine, or rather principle, of science. Plato had no conception of the creative act asserted by Moses in the first verse of Genesis. Plato never rose above the conception of the production of existences by way of formation, or the operation of the plastic force on a preexisting and often intractable matter. He never conceived of the creation of existences from nothing by the sole energy or power of the creator. He held to the external existence of spirit and matter, and we owe to him principally the dualism and antagonism that have originated the false asceticism which may attribute to Christian teaching; but which Christianity rejects, as is evident from its doctrine of the Incarnation and that of the resurrection of the flesh. Gioberti has shown, that creation is no less a scientific principle than a Christian dogma. He has shown that the creative act is the nexus between being and existences, and that it enters as the copula into the primumphilosophicum, without which there could be no human mind, and consequently no human science. There are various other instances we might adduce in which people talk very good sense, even profound philosophical and theological truth, and yet do not talk Plato. We hardly think Mr. Emerson himself will accept all the moral doctrines of Plato’s Republic, especially those relating to marriage and the promiscuous intercourse of the sexes; for Plato goes a little beyond what our free-lovers have yet proposed.
            Aristotle gives us, undoubtedly, a philosophy, such as it is, and a philosophy that enters largely into modern modes of thought and expression; but we can hardly say as much of Plato. He has profound thoughts, no doubt, and many glimpses of a high – if you will, the highest order of truth; but only when he avowedly follows tradition, and speaks according to the wisdom of the ancients. He seems to us to give us a method rather than a philosophy, and very little of our modern philosophical language is derived from him. Several of the Greek fathers, and St. Augustine among the Latins, incline to Platonism; but none of them, so far as we are acquainted with them, followed him throughout. The medieval doctors, though not ignorant of Plato, almost without an exception prefer Aristotle. The revival of Platonism in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries brought with it a revival of heathenism; and Plato has since been held in much higher esteem with the heterodox and makers of fanciful systems than with the orthodox and simple believers. We trace his influence in what the romancers call chivalry, which is of pagan origin, though some people are ill-informed enough to accredit it to the church; and we trace to his doctrine of love, so attractive to many writers not in other respects without fusion of charity with philanthropy, and the immoral doctrines of free love, which strike at Christian marriage and the Christian family. The “heart,” in the language of the Holy Scriptures, means the affections of the will, and the love they enjoin as the fulfillment of the law, and the bond of perfection is charity, a supernatural virtue, in which both the will and the understanding are operative, not a simple, natural sentiment, or affection of the sensibility, or the love of the beautiful, dependent on the imagination.
            Mr. Emerson is right enough in making the sensible copy or imitate the intelligible, what there is true in Swedenborg’s mimetic purely phenomenal, unreal, a mere sense-show. The mimetic, the mimesis, by which Plato means the individual and the sensible, the variable and the transitory, is not the only real, nor the highest real, as sensists and maternalists hold; but is as real in its order and degree as the methexic or ideal. Hence, St. Thomas is able to maintain that the sensible species, or accidents, as he calls them, can subsist without their subjects, or, as we would say, the sensible body without the intelligible body; and therefore, that the doctrine of transubstantiation involves no contradiction; for it is not pretended that the sensible body undergoes any change, or that the sensible body of our Lord is present in the blessed Eucharist. So St. Augustine distinguishes the visible-the sensible-body and the spiritual-intelligible-body, and holds both to be real.  The individual is as real as the species-the socratitas, in the language of the schoolmen, as humanitas-for neither is possible without the other.  The sort of idealism, as it is called, that resolves the individual into the species, or the sensible into the individual and the intelligible into the sensible.  Even Plato, the supposed father of idealism, does not make the mimesis absolutely unreal.  For, to say nothing of the preexistent matter, the image, picture, which is the exact copy of its ideal prototype, is a real image, picture, or copy. 
But Mr. Emerson, if he recognizes the methexis at all, either confounds it with real and necessary being, or makes it purely phenomenal, and therefore unreal, as distinguished from real and necessary being.  Methexis is a greek word, and means, etymologically and as used by Plato, participation.  Plato’s doctrine is, that all inferior existences exist by participation of the higher, through the medium of what he calls the plastic soul, whence the Demiourgos of the Gnostics. This error was in making the plastic soul, instead of the creative act of God, the medium of the participation.  Still, Plato made it the participation of ideas or the ideal, and, in the last analysis, of him who is being in himself. Hence, he made a distinction, if not the proper distinction, between the methexis and God, or being by participation and the absolute underived being, or being in itself.
Mr. Emerson recognizes no real participation, and either excludes the methhexis or identifies it with God, or absolute being. He thus reduces the categories, as does Cousin, to being and phenomenon, or, in the only barbarism in language he permits himself, the ME-le moi- and NOT-ME – le non moi – the root-error, so to speak, of Fitche. He takes himself as the central force, and holds it to be the reality expressed in the NOT-ME. The NOT-ME being purely phenomenal, only the ME is real. By the ME he, of course, does not mean his own personality, but the reality which underlies and expresses itself in it. The absolute Ich, or ego, of Fitche is identical in all men, is the real man, the “one man,” as Emerson says; and this “one man” is the reality, the being, the substance, the force of the whole phenomenal universe. There is, then, no methexis imitated, copied, or mimicked by the mimesis, or the individual and sensible universe. The mimesis copies not a participated or created intelligible, but, however it may be diversified by degrees, it copies directly God himself, the one real being and only substance of all things. If we regard ourselves as phenomenal, we are unreal, and therefore nothing; if as real, as substantive, as force, we do not participate, mediante the creative act, of real being, but are identically it, or identical with it; which makes the author not only a pantheist, but a more unmitigated pantheist than Plato himself.
Neither Plato nor Mr. Emerson recognizes any causative force in the mimesis. Plato recognizes causative force only in ideas, though he concedes a power of resistance to the preexistence matter, and finds in its intractableness the cause of evil; Mr. Emerson recognizes causative or productive force only in the absolute, and therefore denies the existence of second causes, as he does all distinction between first cause and final cause; which is the very essence of pantheism, which Gioberti rightly terms the “supreme sophism.”
We have used the Greek terms methexis and mimesis after Plato, as Gioberti has done in his posthumous works, but not precisely in Gioberti’s sense. Gioberti identifies the methexis with the plastic soul asserted by Plato, and revived by old Ralph Cudworth, an Anglican divine of the seventeenth century; but though we make the methexis causative in the order of the second causes, we do not make it productive of the mimesis. It means what are called genera and species; but even in the order of second causes, genera are generative or productive only as specificated, and species only as individuated. God must have created the genius specificated and the species individuated before either could be active or productive as second cause. The genus does not and cannot exist without specification, nor the species without individuation, any more than the individual can exist without the species, or the species without the genus. For instance, man is the species, according to the schoolmen, the genus is animal, the differentia is reason, and hence man is defined a rational animal. But the genus animal, though necessary to its existence, cannot generate the species man, any more than it could have generated itself. The species can exist only as immediately individuated by the first cause, and hence the pretence of some scientists- more properly sciolists,- that new species are formed either by development or by natural selection, is simply absurd, as has been well shown by the Duke of Argyll. God creates the species as well as the genera; and it is fairly inferred from the Scriptures that he creates all things in their genera and species “after their kind.” Furthermore, if God had not created the human species individuated in Adam, male and female, there could have been no men by natural generation, any more than if there had been no human species at all.
This, as we understand it, excludes alike the plastic soul of the Platonists and the Demiourgos of the Gnostics, and teaches that the mimesis is as directly created by God himself as the methexis. Mr. Emerson, indeed, uses neither of these Platonic terms, though if he had, he would, with his knowledge of the Christian doctrine of creation, have detected the error of Plato, and most likely have escaped his own. The term methexis- participation- excludes the old error that God generates the universe, which is rather favored by the terms genera and species. We use the term mimesis because it serves to us to express the fact that the lower copies or imitates the higher, and therefore the doctrine of St. Thomas, that Deus est similitude rerum omnium, or that God is himself the type or model after which the universe is created, and which each and every existence in its own order and degree strives to copy or represent. The error of Plato is, that he makes the methexis an emanation rather than a creature, and the plastic power that produces the mimesis; the error of Mr. Emerson, as we view the matter, is, that he makes the mimetic purely phenomenal, therefore unreal, sinks it in the methexic, and the methexis itself in god, as the one only being or substance, the natura naturans of Spinoza.
With Plato, the mimesis is the product of the methexic, but is itself passive, and the sooner the soul is emancipated from it the better; though what is the soul in his system of ideas we understand not. With Mr. Emerson, it is neither active nor passive, for it is purely phenomenal, therefore nothing. With us it is real, and, like all real existences, it is active, and is not a simple image or copy of the methexic or the ideal, but it is in its order and degree a vis activa, and copies or imitates actively the divine type or idea exemplaris in the divine mind, after which it is created.
            Mr. Emerson says, in the introduction to his essay on Nature, “Philosophically considered, the universe is composed of nature and soul.” But all activity is in the soul, and what is distinguishable from the soul is purely phenomenal, and, if we may take his essay on the Over-soul, not republished in these volumes, is but the soul’s own projection of itself. The soul alone is active, productive, and it is one’s self, one’s own ego; not indeed in its personal limitations and feebleness, but in its absoluteness, as the absolute or impersonal Ich of  Fitche, and identically God, who is the great, the absolute I AM.
The error is obvious. It consists in the denial or in the overlookings of the fact that God creates substances, and every substance is, as Leibnitz defines it, a force, a vis activa, acting always from its own centre outward. Whatever actually exists is active, and there is and can be no passivity in nature. Hence, Aristotle and the schoolmen after him call God, who is being and being in its plenitude, actus purissimus, or most pure act, in whom there are no possibilities to be actualized. Mr. Emerson errs in his first principles, in not recognizing the fact that God creates substances, and that in every substance is in activity, therefore causative either ad intra or ad extra, and that every created substance is causative in the order of second causes.  What we maintain in opposition both to him and Plato is, that these created substances are at once methexic and mimetic in their activity.
It were an easy task to show that whatever errors there may be, or may be supposed to be, in Mr. Emerson’s works grow out of the two fundamental errors we have indicated – the identification of soul, freed from its personal limitations, as in Adam, John, and Richard, with God, or the real being, substance, force, or activity, and the assumption that whatever is distinguishable from God is purely phenomenal, an apparition, a sense-show, a mere bubble on the surface of the ocean of being, as we pointed out in our comments on the proceedings of the Free Religionists, to which we beg leave to refer our readers.
Yet, though we have known Mr. Emerson personally ever since 1836, have held more than one conversation with him, listened to several courses of lectures from him, and read and even studied the greatest part, if not all of his works, as they issued from the press, we must confess that, in reperusing them preparatory to writing this brief notice, we have been struck, as we never were before, with the depth and breadth of his thought, as well as with the singular force and beauty of his expression. We appreciate him much higher both as a thinker and as an observer, and we give him credit for a depth of feeling, an honest of purpose, an earnest seeking after truth, we had not previously awarded him in so great a degree, either publicly or privately. We are also struck with his near approach to the truth as one can who is so unhappy as to miss it.
We consider it as Mr. Emerson’s great misfortune, that his early Protestant training ked him to regard the Catholic question as res adjugicata, and take Protestantism, in some one or all of its forms, as the truest and best exponent of Christianity. Protestantism is narrow, superficial, unintellectual, vague, indefinite, sectarian, and it was easy for a mind like his to pierce through its hollow pretensions, to discover its unspiritual character, its want of life, its formality, and its emptiness. It was not difficult to comprehend that it was only a dead corse, and a mutilated corse at that. The Christian mysteries it professed to retain, as it held them, were lifeless dogmas, with no practical bearing on life, and no reason in the world for believing them. Such a system, having no relation with the living and moving world, and no reason in the nature or constitution of things, could not satisfy a living and thinking man, in downright earnest for a truth at least as broad and as living as his own soul. It was too little, too insignificant, too mesquine, too much of a dead and putrefying body to satisfy either his intellect or his heart. If that is the true exponent of Christianity, and the most enlightened portion of mankind say it is, why shall he belie his own understanding, his own better nature, by professing to believe and reverence it? No; let him be a man, be true to himself, to his own reason and instincts, not a miserable time-server or a contemptible hypocrite. If Mr. Emerson had not been led to regard the Catholic question as closed, except to the dwellers among tombs, and to the ignorant and superstitious, and had studied the church with half the diligence he has Plato, Mohammed, or Swedenborg, it is possible that he would have found in Christianity the life and truth, the reality, unity, and catholicity he has so long and so earnestly sought elsewhere and found not. Certain it is, that whatever affirmative truth he holds is held and taught by the church in its proper place, its real relations, and in its integrity. The church does not live in the past nor dwell only among tombs; she is an ever-present and ever-living church, and presents to us not a dead historical Christ, but the ever-living and ever-present Christ, as really and truly present to us as he was to the disciples and apostles with whom he conversed when he lay his head, and not more veiled from our sight now than he was them from theirs. Does she not hold the sublime mystery of the Real Presence, which, if an individual fact, is also a universal principle?
The Christian system, if we may so speak, is not an afterthought in creation, or something superinduced on the Creator’s works. It has its ground and reason in the very constitution of things. All the mysteries taught or dogmas enjoined by the church are universal principles; they are truly catholic, the very principles according to which the universe, visible, or invisible, is constructed, and not one of them can be denied, without denying a first principle of life and of science. Mr. Emerson says, in a passage we have quoted, “All science has one aim, namely, to find a theory of nature,” and seems to concede that it has not yet succeeded in finding it. The church goes beyond even the aim of science, and gives, at least professes to give, not a theory of truth, but the truth itself; she is not a method, but that to which the true method leads. She is the body of him who is “the way, the truth, and the life;” she gives us, not as the philosophers, her views of truth, but the truth itself, in its reality, its unity, its integrity, its universality, its immutability. At least such is her profession; for the faith she teaches is the substance – hypostasis- of the things to be hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen – Sperandarum substania rerum, argumentum non apparentium.
            Such being her profession, made long before Protestantism was born, and continued to be made since with no stammering tongue or abatement of confidence, the pretence that judgment has gone against her is unfounded. Many have condemned her, as the Jewish Sanhedrim condemned our Lord, and called on the Roman procurator to execute judgment against him; but she has no more staid condemned than he staid confined in the new tomb hewn from the rock in which his body was laid, and far more are they who admit her professions among the enlightened and civilized than they who deny them. No man has a right to be regarded as a philosopher or sage who has not at least thoroughly examined her titles, and made up his mind with a full knowledge of the cause.  
            In the Catholic church we have found the real presence, and unity, and catholicity which we sought long and earnestly, and could find nowhere else, and which Mr. Emerson, after a still longer and equally earnest search, has not found at all. He looks not beyond nature, and nature is not catholic, universal, or the whole. It is not one, but manifold and variable. It cannot tell its origin, medium, or end. With all the light Mr. Emerson has derived from nature, or from nature and soul united, there is infinite darkness before, and infinite darkness all around him. He says, “Every man’s condition is a solution in hieroglyphic of those inquiries he would put.” Suppose it is so, what avail is that to him who has lost or never had the key to the hieroglyph? Knows he to interpret the hieroglyph in which the solution is concealed? Can he read the riddle of the sphinx? He has tried his hand at it in his poem if the Sphinx, and has only been able to answer that.
                                                            “Each answer is a lie.”
            It avails us little to be told where the solution is, if we are not told what it is, or if only told that  every solution is false as soon as told. Hear him; to man he says,
“Thou art the unanswered question; couldst see thy proper eye, Always it asketh, asketh; and each answer is a lie: So take thy quest through nature, it through a thousand natures ply; Ask on, thou clothed eternity; time is the false reply.”
            The answer if it means any thing, means that man is “a clothed eternity,” whatever that may mean, eternally seeking an answer to the mystery of his own being, and each answer he can obtain is a lie; for only eternity can comprehend eternity and tell what it is. Whence has he learned that man, the man-child, is “a clothed eternity,” and therefore God, who is eternal?
            Now, eternity is above time, and above the world of time, consequently above nature. Catholicity, by the very force of the term, must include all truth, and therefore the truth of the supernatural as well as of the natural. But Mr. Emerson denies the supernatural, and does not, of course, even profess to have any knowledge that transcends nature. How, then, can he pretend to have attained to catholic truth? He himself restricts nature to the external universe, which is phenomenal, and to soul, by which he means himself. But there are no phenomena without being or substance which appears or which shows itself in them? Is this being or substance the soul, or, in the barbarism he adopts, the ME? If so, the NOT-ME is only the phenomena of the ME, of course, identical with himself, as he implies in what he says of the “one man.” Then in himself, and emanating from himself, are all men, and the whole of nature. How does he know this? Does he learn it from nature?
            Of Course, Mr. Emerson means not this, even if his various utterances imply it. He uses the word creation, and we suppose he intends, notwithstanding his systematic views, if such he has, contradicts it, to use it in its proper sense. Then he must hold the universe, including, according to his division, nature and soul, has been created, and if created, it has a creator. The creator must be superior, above nature and soul, and therefore in the strictest sense of the word supernatural; and as reason is the highest faculty of the soul, the supernatural must also be supra-rational.
 Does the creator create for a purpose, for an end? and if so, what is that end or purpose, and the medium or means of fulfilling it, whether on his part or on the part of the creature? Here, then, we have the assertion of a whole order of truth, very real and very important to be known, which transcends the truth Mr. Emerson professes to have, and which is not included in it. We say again, then, that he has not attained to catholicity, and we also say that, by the only method he admits, he cannot attain to it. How can he pretend to have attained to catholicity, and that he has already a truth more universal than Christianity reveals, when he must confess that without the knowledge of a supernatural and supra-rational truth he cannot explain his origin or end, or know the conditions of his existence, or that means of gaining his end?
Mr. Emerson says, as we have quoted him,
            “Undoubtedly we have no questions to ask which are unanswerable. We must trust the perfection of the creation so far as to believe that whatever curiosity the order of things has awakened in our minds, the order of things can satisfy.”
‘Always it asketh, asketh, and each answer is a lie.”
There is here a grand mistake. If he had said the Creator instead of creation, there would have been truth and great propriety in the author’s assertion. Nature – and we mean by nature the whole created order – excites us to ask many very troublesome questions, which nature is quite incompetent to answer. The fact that nature is created, proves that she is, both as a whole and in all her parts, dependent, not independent, and therefore does not and cannot suffice for herself. Unable to suffice for herself, she cannot suffice for the science of herself; for science must be of that which is, not of that which is not.
Mr. Emerson, we presume, struck with the narrowness and inconsistences of all the religions he had studied, and finding that they are all variable and transitory in their forms, yet though that he also discovered something in them, or underlying them all, which is universal, invariable, and permanent, and which they are all honest efforts of the great soul to realize. He therefore came to the conclusion that the sage can accept none of these narrow, variable, and transitory forms, and yet can reject none of them as to the great, invariable, and underlying principles, which in fact is all they have that is real or profitable. To distinguish between the transient and permanent in religion was the common aim of the Boston movement from 1830 to 1841, when we ourselves began to turn our own mind, though very timidly and at a great distance, toward the church. Mr. Emerson, Miss Margaret Fuller, A. Bronson Alcott, and Mr. Theodore Parker regarded the permanent elements of all religions as the natural patrimony or products of human nature. We differ from them, by ascribing their origin to supernatural revelation made to our first parents in the garden, universally diffused by the dispersion of the race, and transmitted to us by the traditions of all nations. Following out this view, the grace of God moving and assisting, we found our way to the Catholic church, in which the from and the invariable and permanent principle, or rather, the form growing out of the principle, and inseparable, and are fitted by the divine hand to each other.
The others, falling back on a sort of transcendental illuminism, sunk into pure naturalism, where such of them as are still living, and a whole brood of young disciples who have sprung up since, remain, and, like the old Gnostics, suppose themselves spiritual men and women in possession of the secret of the universe. There was much life, mental activity, and honest purpose in the movement; but those who had the most influence in directing its course could not believe that any thing good could come out of Nazareth, and so turned their backs on the church. They thought they could find something deeper, broader, and more living that Christianity, and have lost not only the transient, but even the permanent in religion.