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The true test of civilization is not the senses not the size of cities not the crops but the kind of man the country turns out. If there be a country where knowledge cannot be diffused without perils of mob law and statute law where speech is not free where liberty is attacked in the primary institution of social life where the position of the white woman is injuriously affected by outlawing the black woman where suffrage is not free and equal that country is in all these respects not Civic but barbarous. I know advantages of soil climate or coast can resist the suicidal mischiefs Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke in Washington DC in February 1862. If he became convinced that an idea or cause was essentially ethical He didn't hesitate to ally himself with it although he was not by nature partisan. His hostility to slavery and the treatment of the negro as a less than equal
human being was a moral issue that he could not ignore. In the same country where leaders were urging free public education for all. Several million negroes were still bought and sold as property. This was part of the American scene during Emerson's most active years on the lecture platform. Meet Mr. Emerson a series of radio programs presenting in survey fashion. Excerpts from his journals lectures and essays produced by W. H. A University of Wisconsin. This series was produced for national educational radio under a grant from the National Home Library Foundation. Today the anthem of history. How can such a question as the slave trade be agitated for 40 years by all Christian nations without throwing great light on ethics into the general mind. The fury with which the slave trader defends every inch of his bloody decade is hollowing auction
platform is a trumpet to alarm the ear of mankind to wake the dog and drive all neutrals to take sides. And to listen to the argument and verdict. The origin of all reform is in that mysterious fountain of moral sentiment in man which omits the natural ever contains the supernatural for man. Then as now the American was the world's leading preacher of liberty equality and democracy. Then as now many were not prepared to accept the fact that equality is an idea that has to do with the fundamental nature of man. That is the position of historian George Propes who goes on to say John wise and Thomas Jefferson believed that equality is a natural law a basic condition of life. Equality means as wize said. Since human nature agrees equally with all persons and since no one can live a sociable life with another who does not respect him as a man
it follows as a command of the law of nature that every man a steamin treats another as one who is naturally his equal or who is a man as well as he. But even if equality is a natural law this does not mean that people always act in accord with it. They may choose to disobey or they have the freedom to do so many try to deny this natural law of equality in the dependence that wise spoke of. The consequence of that choice is often in justice and mutual destruction. The demand for equality persists because people resent being treated as inferior and they resent being treated unjustly. And this passion for equality tends to elevate the humble. The American attitude towards the negro in the 1830s as later was the most flagrant violation of the otherwise revered principle of human equality yet equality lies at the heart of the democratic ideal. But equality is an intricate and paradoxical
human experience in many ways it seems to be denied by the commonly observed individual differences in physical appearance and intelligence in wealth position and in power. It is therefore easy to avoid seeing the qual that is an aspect that all men have in common. Emerson charge the treatment of the negro and indifference to the wrongs of the slave to a general scepticism concerning all great human duties. You complain that the negroes are a base class who makes and keeps the jew or the negro base. Who but you. We exclude them from the rights which others enjoy. At no time was Emerson a leader in the actual battle against slavery. But his word and pen were powerful and conspicuous. He was first concerned by the ethical and religious aspects of the problem. From his journal let Christianity
speak ever for the poor and the law. Though the voice of society should demand a defense of slavery from all its organs that service can never be expected of me. My opinion is of no worth. But I have not a syllable of all the language I have ever learned to utter for the planter. If by opposing slavery I go to undermine institutions. I confess that I do not want to live in a nation where slavery exists. Thirty years before the Emancipation Proclamation Great Britain emancipated the negroes of the British West Indies. Emerson noted the tenth anniversary of this event with a lecture in Concord on August 1st 1840 for a note in his journal prefaces this lecture. When I address a large assembly I am always surprised what an opportunity is there not for reading to them as I do lively Miscellanies but for painting in fire my thought and being agitated to
agitate. Emerson called the British emancipation of West Indies negroes and event singular in the history of civilization. A day of reasoning. The history of mankind interests us only as it exhibits a steady gain of truth and right in the incessant conflict which it records between the material and moral nature. From the earliest monuments it appears that one race was victim and serve the other races from the earliest time the Negro has been an article of luxury to the commercial nations. These men are benefactors as they are producers of corn and wine of coffee of tobacco. Of cotton of sugar of rum and brandy. Gentle and joyous themselves. Producers of comfort and luxury for the civilized world. These seated in the finest climates of the globe are children of the sun. I am heartsick when I read how they came there and how they are kept
there. Their case was left out of the mind and out of the heart of their brothers. The prizes of society the trumpet of Fame the privileges of learning of culture of religion the decencies and joys of marriage honor obedience personal authority. And perpetual merely aeration into a finer activity. These were for Orb but not for them. There are many styles of civilization and not only one. Ours is full of barbarous cities. There are many faculties in man each of which takes its turn of activity and that faculty which is paramount in any period exerts itself through the strongest nation determines the civility of that age and each age thinks its own the perfection of reason.
Our culture is very cheap and intelligible. Unruh of any house and you shall find it. The well-being consists in having a sufficiency of coffee and toast with a daily newspaper. A Well plays parlor with marbles mirrors and center table and the excitement of a few parties and a few rides in a year such as one how those such were all the owner of a New York man or. Imitates the mansion an echo of the London nobleman the Boston merchant rivals his brother of New York and the villages copy Boston. There have been Nations elevated by great sentiment as such was the civility of Sparta and the Dorian race. Whilst it was defective in some of the chief elements of Ahlers that of Athens again lay in an intellect dedicated to beauty that of Asia Minor in poetry music and arts that of
Palestine and piety that of Roman military arts and virtues exalted by a prodigious magnanimity that of China and Japan in the last exaggeration of decorum and etiquette our civility in England determines the style of it as much as England is the strongest of the family of existing natures. A listener recollects as we are I can still hear in my memory the very intimations of his support of St. Ignace the lingering first words of the sentence up and the emphatic close. There was a final deliberation on people a just revelation of his own thought at profession he seemed unconscious of an audience. The speech was rather a soliloquy. I thinking aloud as if the thought grew up before our very sight. We are shopkeepers. And have acquired the vices and virtues that belong to trade. We
pedal the truck. We sail we row we ride in cars we creep in teams we go in canals to a market and for the sake of goods. The National AIM and employment streams into our way of thinking. Our laws our habits and our manners. It was OUR it seemed the dictate of trade to keep the Negro down. We found a race who were less warlike and less energetic shopkeepers than we who had very little skill in trade. We found it very convenient to keep them at work since by the aid of a little whipping we could get their work for nothing but their board and the cost of whips. The sugar they raised was excellent. Nobody tasted blood in it. The coffee was fragrant The tobacco was incense the brandy made nations happy. The cardinal closed the world. What all raised by these men at no
wages. Excellent. What a convenience. They seemed created by Providence to bear the heat and the whipping and make these articles but unhappily most unhappily gentleman man is born with intellect. As well as with a love of sugar and with a sense of justice as well as a taste for strong drink. These ripened as well. As Emerson then introduces the historical figures who are responsible for England's emancipation of the West Indian negroes and continues with his own thoughts. This event was a moral revolution. There was no prodigy no trojan horse no bloody war. But all was achieved by plain means of plain men working not under a leader but under a sentiment. Other revolutions have been the insurrection of the oppressed. This was the repentance of the tyrant.
It was the masters revolting from their mastery. The end was no book and the means were pure. The stream of human affairs flows its own way and is very little affected by the activity of legislators. What great masses of men wish done will be done and they do not wish it for a freak but because it is their staid and natural end. There are now other energies than force other than political which no man in future can allow himself to disregard. There is a direct conversation and influence. A man is to make himself felt. By his proper force. The tendency of things run steadily to this point namely to put every man on his merits. And to give him so much power as he naturally exerts no more no less. Of course the timid and base persons all who are conscious of no worth in themselves
and who all their place to the opportunities which the old order of things allow them to do see them defraud men shudder at the change and would feign silence every honest voice. And lock up every house where liberty and innovation can be pleaded for the Southern literary messenger wrote about Emerson. His mind was like all right and pictures you ask it full of all manner of TRAI Shula's ation of his words are valuable however for the very reason that they are of no earthly account. They illustrate the utter worthlessness of the philosophy of free society ego ism or rather man ism if we make one a word propounded in short scraps tags and shreds of sentences may do very well for a people who have no subtlety opinions and politics religion or morals and have lived for forty years on pure fanaticism. Your fragmentary
philosopher of the Emerson stamp who disturbs the beliefs of common folk without again composing or attempting to compose them with a higher unpure of faith is a curse to society. Nature will say only what is worth saving and it saves not by compassion but by power of it appoints no police to guard the lion but his teeth and claws. No fort or city for the bird but his wing is no rescue for flies and mites but their spawning numbers which no ravages can overcome. It deals with men after the same manner. If they are rude and foolish down they must go. When at last in a race a new principle appears and idea. That conserves it. Ideas only save races. If the black man is feeble and not important to the existing race is not on a parity with the best race
the black man must serve. And be xterm of it. But if the black man carries in his bosom an indispensable element of a new and coming civilization for the sake of that element no wrong no strings nor circumstances can hurt him and he will survive. And play his part. But a compassion for that which is not and cannot be useful or lovely is degrading and futile. All the soup and newspapers and money subscriptions and vituperation of such as Do not think with us will avail nothing against a fact. I say to you you must save yourself black or white man or woman. Other help is none. I esteem the occasion of this jubilee to be the proud discovery that the
black race can contend with the white. That in the great anthem which we call history. A piece of many parts and vast compass. After playing a long time a very long view again the southern literary messenger refers to energy summarized when they cans such a man ought to be subject to the mild punishment of perpetual confinement with plenty of pens and paper. Burn his writings as fast as they come from his table and bury the writer quietly in the back yard of the prison as soon as he is dead. If in early life the speculative lobes of his brain had been eaten out with nitric acid. Emerson would have made a better point than any New England has yet given us. As it is he's a moral nuisance he ought to be abated by act of Congress and his works suppressed.
The world has reached that pitch in that they're more moral genius is becoming indispensable and the quality of this black race is to be honored for itself. For this they have been preserved in sandy desert in rice swamps in kitchens and shoe shops all along. Now let them emerge clothed in their own form. The severity of no race can be perfect whilst another race is degraded. It is a doctrine the like of the oldest and of the newest philosophy that men is one. And that you cannot injure any member. Without a sympathetic injury to all members. These considerations seem to leave no choice for the action of the intellect and the conscience of our country. There is a blessedness yesterday by which the interest of men is always rising them to the right and again making all crime mean and ugly. The genius of the
Saxon race friendly to liberty the Enterprise the very muscular vigor of this nation are inconsistent with slavery. The intellect with blazing eyes. Looks through history from the beginning onward gazes on this blot and it disappears. The sentiment of right once very low and indistinct but ever more articulate. Because it is the voice of the universe pronounced freedom. The power that built this fabric of things affirms it in the heart. And in the history of the 1st of August. Has made a sign to the ages all of his will. Emerson was speaking on August 1st 1844 at the 10th anniversary of British emancipation of West Indian negroes. This was more than 18 years before President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation more than 50 years
before the long drive for civil rights in the organizational sense we know it now began in the early years of this century. And it was more than a hundred years before the 1960s when a Negro lawyer in New Orleans was prompted to ask what I'm asking is plain and simple. At what point. When will it be possible for white people to look at black people as human beings. You know this is the 20th century we're talking about and our people have been on this government for 400 years and there hasn't been any recognition to date more than a hundred years ago. Emerson was prompted to confide to his journal now in their lips a word or a fact a light which is no man's invention but a common instinct. Thus all men are born free and equal though denied by all politics is the key word of our modern civilization. We think our civilization near its meridian but we are yet only at the cock crowing in the morning
star in our barbarous society. The influence of character is in its infancy about the same time that Emerson was confiding these thoughts to his Journal de Tocqueville was making notes on his studies of American democracy. Although man has many points of resemblance with the Roots One trait is peculiar to himself. He improves. They are incapable of improvement. Mankind could not fail to discover this difference from the beginning. The idea of perfect ability is there for eyes only is the word equality did not give birth to it but has imparted to it a new character in proportion as cause to disappear and the classes of society draw together as manners customs and laws varied because of the tumultuous intercourse of men as new facts arise as new truths are brought to light as ancient opinions are dissipated and others take their place. The image of the
ideal but only as fugitive perfection presents itself to the human mind. Continual changes are then every instance occurring under the observation of every man. The position of some is rendered worse and he learns but too well that no people and no individual however enlightened they may be can lay claim to infallibility. The condition of others is improved whenever he infers that man is endowed with an indefinite faculty for improvement. His reverses teach him that none have discovered absolute good. He success stimulates him into the never ending pursuit of it. Thus for ever seeking for ever falling to rise again often to Disappointed but not to discouraged. He tends unceasingly towards that unmeasured to greatness so indistinctly visible at the end of the long track which humanity has yet to tread
the Tocqueville had left America and returned to his native France to write about democracy in America. Before Emerson took to the platform on the subject of American civilization this was eight months before Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation a lecture delivered in Washington attended by President Lincoln and members of his cabinet. A certain degree of progress from the rudest state in which man has found a dweller in caves or on trees like an ape a cannibal. A certain degree of progress from this extreme is called civilization. It is a very complex name of many degrees. Nobody has attempted a definition. It implies the evolution of a highly organized man brought to supreme delicacy of sentiment as in practical power religion liberty a sense of honor. And taste
in the hesitation to define what it is. We usually suggest it by negations. A nation that has NO clothing. No alphabet no iron no marriage no arts of peace no abstract of thought we call barbarous. And after many arts are invented or imported it is often a little complacent to call them civilized. Each nation grows after its own genius and has a civilization of its own. The term imports a mysterious progress in the brutes none. And in mankind the savage tribes do not advance. It is the learning the secret of cumulative power of advancing oneself. It implies a facility of association power to compare the ceasing from fixed ideas. Where should we begin or end the list of
those feats of liberty and wit each of which feeds made an epoch of history. The skill that pervades complex details. The man that maintains himself the chimney top to burn its own smoke. The farmer made to produce all that is consumed on it. The very prison compelled to maintain itself and yield a revenue and better than that made a reform school and a manufactory of honest Emerson's friend Bronson Alcott said about him. It will belong not to old times but to one time only to combine and I will pass away and utilize except to those who delight in that special manifestation of His gifts. These good things have all been talked and slept over meditated standing and sitting read and polished and utterance submitted to all various tests and so accepted they pass
into print. Civilization is the result of highly complex organisation in the sneak. All the organs are sheaves. No hands no feet no fins no wings in bird and bees. The organs are released and begin to play. In man they are all on bone and full of joyful action. With this on the swaddling he receives the absolute illumination we call reason and thereby true liberty. But one condition is essential to the social education of man namely morality. The evolution of a highly destine society must be moral It must run in the grooves of the celestial we lose. It must be Catholic in name. What is moral. It is the Respecting in the action of Catholic or universal and. Civilization
depends on morality. Everything good in man leans on what is higher this rule holds in small as in Great. That's all our strength and success in the work of our hands depends on our borrowing the aid of the elements the forces of steam gravity galvanism light magnets Wind Fire Service Day by day and cost us nothing. And as our handy works borrow the elements. So all our social and political action leans on principles to accomplish anything excellent. Henry James wrote for capital Emerson did something better than anyone else. He had a particular faculty which has not been surpassed for speaking to the song in a voice of direction and authority. There have been many spiritual voices appealing consoling reassuring exhorting or even denouncing and
terrifying but none has had just that firmness and just that purity. It penetrates further. It seems to go back to the roots of our feelings to where conduct and manhood begin. The true test of civilization is not the census not the size of cities not the crops. But the kind of man. The country turns out in strictness the vital refinements are the moral and intellectual steps. If there be a country where knowledge cannot be diffused without perils of mob law and statute law where speech is not free where liberty is attacked in the primary institution of social life. Where the position of the white woman is injuriously affected by outlawing the black woman where suffrage is not free or equal that country is in all these respects not Civic but barbarous and Neu
vantage of climate or coast and resists these suicidal mischiefs. Morality is essential. And all the incidence of morality as justice to the subject and personal liberty modest says countries are well cultivated not as they are fertile. But as they are free. And the remark was not less but more true of the culture of men than of pillage of land and the highest proof of civility is that the whole public action of the state is directed on securing the greatest good of the greatest number a twentieth century critic points out that Emerson recognized the existence of social classes and he knew that there were substantial reasons for them. Some traditional some social some individual at the same time he must have reasoned that if every man is a spark of the divine and of the Divine is the
supreme fact in man's life then every man must naturally assume an importance and equality in the eyes of his brother man. That would tend to obliterate class distinctions and unite all men in a bond of common sympathy and understanding. The distinction and end of a soundly constituted man is his labor. Use is inscribed on all his faculties. Use is the end to which he exists as a tree exists for its fruit. So a man for his work a fruitless plant and idle animal is not found in the universe. They are all toiling However secretly or slowly in the province assigned to them and to a do in the economy of the world. The higher and more complex organizations to a higher and more Catholic service and man seems to play a certain part that tells on the general face of the planet as
if dressing the globe for happier races of his own kind. Or as we sometimes fancy for beings of superior organization. We have attempted to hold together two states of civilization a higher state where labor and the tenure of land and the right of suffrage are democratic and a lower state in which the old military tenure of prisoners or slaves and of power in which land in a few hands makes an oligarchy. We have attempted to hold these two states of society under one law but the rude and early state of society does not work well with the latter. Nay works badly and has poisoned politics. Public Morals and social intercourse in the Republic now for many years the evil you contend with has taken alarming proportions and you still content yourself with parrying the blows the dangers.
But as if enchanted abstain from striking at the cause. If the American people hesitate it is not for want of warning or advices. There are already mountains of facts if anyone wants them in this national crisis. It is not an argument that we want but that rare courage which dares to commit itself to a principle believing that nature is its ally and will create the instruments it requires and more than make good any petty and injurious profit which it may disturb. We want men of our original perception and original action who can open their eyes wider then to a nationality namely to considerations of benefit to the human race can act in the interest of civilization. It looks as if we held the fate of the fairest possession of mankind in our
hands to be saved by our firmness or. To be lost by hesitation. Emerson's audience was President Lincoln and his cabinet assembled to hear him speak in Washington in February 1862 emancipation followed within the air. Emerson believed that the abolition of slavery was a matter of sufficiently great moral importance to justify war. His dream for America was that no mere accident of birth or circumstance should stand between the individual and self realisation. In the swelling anthem of history there being a number of judgments on Emerson and his castigation of the complacency of American civilization as he saw it and judged it from a debate Jerry in the Boston Post dated May 1880 to Emerson seem to touch on no subject upon which after he had left it
greater light was not thrown while rapt often in visions of and aspirations for the ideal. There never was a wiser or more sagacious witness of mundine things or a shrewd observer of character manners and conditions of existence. Later John Dewey wrote Emerson is not only a philosopher but the philosopher of democracy. Even if Emerson has no system nonetheless he is the prophet and herald of any system which democracy may henceforth construct and hold by. And when democracy has articulated itself it will have no difficulty in finding itself proposed in Emerson later in the century D.H. Lawrence took exception. Amazon believes in having the courage to treat all men as equals. It takes some courage not to treat them so now. Shall I not treat all men as gods he cries. If you like Waldo but we've got to pay for it when you've made them feel that
they are gods. A hundred million American God lets it all that much for the world to deal with. We've got to have a different sort of sod Donek courage and the sort of credentials we are due to receive from the god in the shadow would have been real bones out of how broth to Ralph Waldo and later Edgar Lee Masters judged Emerson. He was a mind of spiritual discernment in reference to man in society moral social and political wisdom. He hits the nail on the head over and over largely because he was so true to himself and because he saw it with such clearness. America and its people. America and its people. Who speaks for the Negro. Asks Robert Penn Warren in the title of his recent book Mike Emerson one hundred years ago has said Amen to these lines from Mr. Warren summary.
The notion is current that history has failed us specifically Western history. We the white race have failed to respect the worth of the individual soul and person to respect the rights of man to achieve a common liberty to realize justice to practice Christian charity other civilizations have developed insights and values which demand our respect and admiration. And if we close our minds our sensibilities to them we do so at a grave risk to our own fulfillment. Only if we recognize the historical cost and significance of those standards by which we judge the failure of our civilization and that civilization have any chance of retrieving its failure if our failure seems grimmer. It is only because our professions are grander and better advertised. It is self interest to want to live in a society operating by the love of
justice and the concept of law. We have not been living in such a society it is self interest to want all members of society to contribute as fully as possible to the enrichment of that society. The structure of our society has prevented that. It is self interest to seek out friends and companions who are congenial in temperament and whose experience and capacities extend our own. Our society has restricted us in this natural Quest. It is self-interest to want to escape from the pressure to conform to values which we feel immoral are antiquated our society has maintained such pressure. It is self-interest to want to escape from the burden of vanity into the hard and happy realisation that in the diminishment of others there is a deep diminishment of the self. Our society has been organized for the diminishment of others.
It would be sentimentality to think that our society can be changed easily and without pain to our particular selves. Black and white it would be realism to think that that pain would be a reasonable price to pay for what we or selfishly might get out of it. Amid the swelling anthem of history Mike Robert Penn Warren say amen to Emerson's lines of 100 years ago under the dominion of an idea which possesses the minds of multitudes as civil freedom or the religious sentiment. The powers of persons are no longer subject of calculation. A nation of men unanimously bent on freedom or. Conquest can easily confound the arithmetic of
Meet Mr. Emerson
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The Anthem of History
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Meet Mr. Emerson is a series of programs which introduces the ideas of Ralph Waldo Emerson through excerpts from his journals, lectures, and essays. In addition to dramatic readings, the program provides commentary on Emersons life, reputation, and legacy. The program is produced by station WHA, the University of Wisconsin, and is distributed by the National Educational Radio Network.
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Chicago: “Meet Mr. Emerson; 5; The Anthem of History,” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 21, 2022,
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APA: Meet Mr. Emerson; 5; The Anthem of History. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from