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He acknowledged his own indebtedness to three women of high character and rare attainments, not of his own immediate family, - his aunt, Mary Moody Emerson, of whom he wrote, “ she gave high counsels: it was the privilege of certain boys to have this immeasurably high standard indicated to their childhood, a blessing which nothing else in education could supply ;” Mrs. Samuel Ripley, of whom he said, “The kindness and genius that blend their light in the eyes of Mrs. Ripley inspire me with some feeling of unworthiness ; at least with impatience of doing so little to deserve so much confidence ;” and Elizabeth Hoar, of whom he recorded in his journal, “ I have no other friend whom I more wish to be immortal than she; an influence I cannot spare, but must always have at hand for recourse."
Mr. Emerson was an idealist, he was the idealist of our time, he was “the Man thinking," but he was more than that to us. Where his standard was planted, to that height he had himself attained; yet he was singularly free from self-assertion; he sought for, and seemed eager to recognize, the superiority of others, and lived among us here as other men lived. It is our great felicity that he lived here. He bound us to him by the completeness of his character and the sweetness and simplicity of his life, and by the message of good hope which he continually gave. The supreme test of the neighbor proved his worth. Did not our own Sam Staples say of him that he was “a first-rate neighbor, and one who always kept
his fences up”? And he himself said, “ Those of us who do not believe in communities, believe in neighborhoods and that the Kingdom of Heaven may consist of such.”
The Chairman then said :
We have invited some eminent men to speak to us to-day, and I take pleasure in presenting Professor Charles Eliot Norton, of Cambridge.
CHARLES ELIOT NORTON
MR. CHAIRMAN, Members of the Social Circle, Ladies and Gentlemen of Concord and from abroad : It is well that this day should be celebrated throughout our land, for the memory of Emerson deserves more than mere local honor. It is well, moreover, because the celebration is a virtual protest against the prevalent spirit of materialism and militarism. But here, in this doubly consecrated town, the celebration, as you, Mr. Chairman, have justly said, has special significance and appropriateness, and you will not disapprove of my citing, as accordant with your own words, those of your honored father, Mr. Emerson's near friend, the “incomparable citizen,” as he called him, the spokesman of the town at Emerson's funeral, when he said, in his brief and heartfelt address on that occasion : “ We, his
neighbors and townsmen, feel that he was ours. He was descended from the founders of the town. He chose our village as the place where his lifelong work was to be done. It was to our fields and orchards that his presence gave such value; it was our streets in which the children looked up to him with love, and the elders with reverence. He was our ornament and pride.” It is becoming, then, that you, members of the Social Circle to which Emerson belonged for many years, should, above all, commemorate this anniversary, and should ask others to celebrate it with you. I thank you for inviting me to take part in it. “ There are always in the world,” says
the world,” says Plato, “a few inspired men whose acquaintance is beyond price.” “I am in the habit of thinking,” said Mr. Emerson, “ that to every serious mind Providence sends from time to time five or six or seven teachers who are of the first importance to him in the lessons they have to impart. The highest of these not so much give particular knowledge, as they elevate by sentiment, and by their habitual grandeur of view."
And of these highest inspired men whose acquaintance is beyond price, and who elevate those who come into relations with them by sentiment and habitual grandeur of view, was Emerson himself. In modern times the influence of these men is dif. fused through their printed words, and they become teachers of first importance to many remote and unknown readers. Yet now, as in the days of Plato, personal acquaintance with them is beyond price.
But the printed word is diuturnal, and the personal acquaintance transitory. For a little while the personality of these divine men, cherished in the memories of a few of their contemporaries, continues to have a twilight existences but before long all who knew them face to face have gone from the world, and only hearsay and tradition concerning them remain.
It is an interesting and precious element of this commemorative occasion that so many are taking part in it who remember Mr. Emerson in life, and who bear in their hearts the image of his benignant presence. We, the elders, who held acquaintance with him to be priceless, and for whom he felt a kindly regard or even a friendly affection, can hardly do a better service for the younger generation than to give them, so far as may be possible, a faithful impression of the man himself, who exhibited in his daily walk and conversation a nature of ideal sim. plicity, dignity, and elevation.
Emerson was fortunate in the time and place of his birth. I doubt if there has ever been a community happier in its main conditions, moral and material, than that of Massachusetts during the early years of the last century. But it was essentially immature; it had not yet secured intellectual independence ; its thought, its literature, its manners, its religion, were imported and derivative. Many men of vigorous character and abundant natural capacity were found in it; but there were few who
possessed originality or depth of intellect; no poets, no philosophers, no thinkers in the highest sense were here; nor were there any deep founts of learning.
Into this fortunate, immature, intelligent, religious, hopeful community, Emerson was born; born of admirable parents, the children of a long line of well-bred ancestors. He was born good, with an inheritance of serious-mindedness, of an intellectual disposition, and of religious sentiment. He was also born a poet, and the advantages of place and time of his birth gave form and direction to his poetic genius. Its very originality, that which distinguishes and individualizes it, exhibits its native source.
The originality of genius is often a strange and perplexing phenomenon to the contemporaries of its possessor, — nor is it always understood by the man himself. Contemporaries fail to recognize at once the poet as the seer who reveals to them their own imperfectly developed tendencies, and expresses for them their own mute sentiments; while the poet, familiar with the conditions in which he lives, and unconsciously shaped by them, may fail, for a time at least, to note the partial incompatibility between the traditional and customary order of things and the novel ideas revealed to his poetic vision.
So it was with Emerson. The mass of his contemporaries for a long while looked askance on him, and regarded his utterances with suspicion and disapproval. And he himself made a long trial of the