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I think we must clear ourselves each one by the interrogation. Whether we have earned our bread for today by the hearty contribution of our energies to the common benefit and we must not cease to tend in the correction of flagrant wrongs by laying one stone I write every day. What is a man born for but to be a reformer. A remake or of what man has made. Ralph Waldo Emerson was addressing an audience of young men in Boston January 25th 1840 one members of the mechanics apprentices Library Association one of several groups of skilled workers who met regularly to expand their knowledge and improve themselves. The free public library was still only an idea and universities were for the well-to-do. It was an age when everybody was trying to improve something and most facets of the social order came in for microscopic examination while organized reform movements attacked institutions. Church state law
commerce property Emerson turned his attention to the individual. How could man reform his world he asked unless he first reformed himself. Meet Mr. Emerson a series of radio programs presenting in survey fashion. Excerpts from his lectures journals and essays. This series was produced by station W.H. a University of Wisconsin for national educational radio under a grant from the National Home Library Foundation. Today the call of worth the power which is that one spring and regulator in all efforts of reform is a conviction that there is an infinite worthiness in man which will appear at the call of worth. And that all particular reforms are the removing of some impediment. Is it not the highest duty that man should be honored in us. When Emerson took to the lecture platform in the second quarter of the last century people
were willing to travel miles to hear him. To hear him tell them that they themselves were responsible for the failures of the institutions they had created in an age of reform Emerson was but one of many who questioned the excellence of the social order created by advancing industrialization as people's lives became dominated by the machine the shop the office the foundry the factory. Those who peered behind the facade of young America's prosperity discovered a gap between the real and the ideal. Francis Wright a Scotswoman was one of those who speaks of liberty while the human mind is in chains who have equality while thousands are in squalid wretchedness. Millions Harriss with health destroying labor. If you are afflicted with health destroying idleness and tormented by health destroying solicitude. Look abroad in the misery which is gaining on the land. Mock the strife Dischord
jealousies the shock of interests and opinions the hatred to say it is strange amounts of class pride of wealth. The basement of poverty the helplessness of youth unprotected of age John comforted industry and rewarded ignorance and enlightened vice on reclaimed misery and pitied of sickness hunger and nakedness unsatisfied and alleviated. And then he did go mark all the wrongs and wretchedness with which the eye and the ear and the heart of familiar and then echo in triumph and celebrate in Jubilee the insulting declaration. All men are free and equal. Francis Wright proposed that children should be taken out of factories and placed in school communities established by legislatures of the Crusaders worked to end capital punishment and stop flogging branding and the use of stocks.
Prohibit the demon rum was a loud and forceful cry and temperance society has flourished in all sections of the country. Reformers organized to do away with poverty crime unemployment mistreatment of the insane political chicanery slavery almost all Emerson's friends were connected with the various reform movements. But he was not a joiner. He held aloof changes he insisted must be moral not legal. Except he didn't put it quite that way in proclaiming his own mission as a reformer he said. What shall be the substance of my shrift. I don't mean the Guardian. I am to new name all the beasts of the field and all the gods in the sky. I am to invite men drenched in time to recover themselves and come out of time and taste their native immortal air. I am to dedicate constantly though all unworthy of the ideal and holy
life. And life within life. The Forgotten good the unknown cause in which we sprawl and sin. I am to celebrate the spiritual powers in their infinite contrast to the mechanical powers and the mechanical philosophy of this time. I am to console the brave sufferers under evils. Whose end they cannot see by appeals to the great optimism self affirmed in all bosoms guarding to one critic. Emerson put his ideas in poetic language because that was the best way he knew to speak about things he couldn't pin down. Although he didn't share the zeal of the organized reformers Emerson has been called the cow from which came their milk said Gilbert cell days. He just like the reformers enthusiasm for helping everybody and changing everything but themselves. And he was in a strange way their inspiration. Whatever broke from the established order could justify itself by some sentence from his
rattling talks. What a fertility of projects for the salvation of the world. One apostle thought all men should go to farming another that no man should buy or sell. That the use of money was the cardinal evil. Another that the mischief was in our diet that we eat and drink damnation. These made unleavened bread and were foes to the death of fermentation. It was in vain urged by the housewife that God made yeast as well as dough and loves fermentation just as dearly as he loves vegetation. That fermentation develops a saccharin element in the grain and makes it more palatable and more digestible. No. They wish the pure wheat and will die but it shall not ferment. Stop dear nature. These incessant advances of the sign let us cart today's man on the moon. Perhaps finding himself impatient others Emerson's peripatetic style might well agree with the listener of the last century who remarked a
lecture in the common sense of the term he's not calling rather a public commune ologist talking rather to himself than to his audience. Ever boats and locomotives will not carry him. Even the insect world was to be defended and a society for the protection of ground worms slugs and mosquitoes was to be incorporated without delay. With these appear the adepts of homeopathy. Hi Dr. Cathy mesmerism friend ology in their wonderful theories of the Christian miracles others assail particular vocations as that of the lawyer of the merchants a manufacturer the clergyman the scholar. Others attacked the institution of marriage as the foundation of social evils. Others devoted themselves to the worrying of churches and meetings for public worship and the fertile forms of antinomianism among the elder Puritans seem to have their match in the plenty of the new harvest of reform. His story has revealed that the experimenters admired him envied him
wanted him with them and reproached him for his indifference. He stood aside says Gilbert Soltys because his mind was occupied with other things. He refrained from joining the great experiments at his very door benign Lee sending blessings to the streets and philosophers or paying a steer friendly visits and returning to Concord to write coldly about ideas without hands and feet. A question which well deserves examination now is the dangers of Commerce. This invasion of nature by trade with its money its credit its steam its locomotives threatens to upset the balance of man and establish a new universal monarchy more tyrannical than Babylon or Rome. Very faint and few other poets or men of God. Those who remain are so antagonistic to this tyranny that they appear mad or morbid and are treated as a sensible of this extreme unfitness.
They suspect themselves and all of us apologize when we ought not and congratulate ourselves when we ought not. It's less important said Emerson that some evil be attacked than that the individual be right in his own mind while Emerson's rhetoric is unfamiliar to modern ears underneath his exhortation. There's a substance of situation description which is familiar. I wish to offer to your considerations some thoughts on the particular and general relations of man as a reformer. I shall assume that the aim of each young man in this association is the very highest that belongs to a rational mind. Let it be granted that our life as we lead it is common and mean that some of these offices and functions for which we were mainly created are grown so rare in society that the memory of them is only kept alive in old books and traditions. That prophets and poets are beautiful and perfect
men. We are not know nor have even such seen that some sources of human instruction are almost unnamed and unknown among us. That's a community in which we live will hardly bear to be told that every man should be open to ecstasy or a divine illumination and his daily walk elevated by intercourse with the spiritual world. Grant all of this as Emerson's friend with thier daughter Parker and I his brilliant genius rose in the winter nights and hung over buster that night drawing the eyes of ingenuous young people to look up to that great new star of beauty and mystery which charm for the moment while it gave also perennial inspiration as it led them forward along new paths and toward new hopes. America had seen no such sight before. I will not dissemble my hope that each person whom I address has felt his own
call to cast aside all evil customs timidity and limitations and to be a free and helpful man a reformer a benefactor. Not content to slip along through the world like a footman or spy. Escaping by his nimbleness and apologies as many knocks as he can but a brave and upright man who must cut a straight road to everything excellent and not only go honorably himself but make it easier for all who follow him. What if some of the objections were by our institutions our assailed our extreme and speculative and the reformers tend to idealism that only shows the extravagance of the abuses which have driven the mind into the opposite extreme. It will afford no security from new ideas that old Nations the laws of centuries. The property and institutions of a hundred cities are built on other foundations. The demon of reform has a secret door into the heart of every lawmaker
of every inhabitant of every city. The fact that a new thought and hope have dawned in your breast should apprise you of that in the same hour a new light broke in upon a thousand private hearts that secret with you according to one who heard him talk. There is one standing. There is much in Emerson's mode of expression which itself challenges attention to his immense elevation. Does not your cause it goes like a bird from one tree top to another. Comedy is a queer as the gods talk around the Olympian peaks. He had some semblance of its almost too lofty. That's one gasp for a less rarefied air body and longs to touch the ground. It cannot be wondered at that this general inquest into abuses should arise in the bosom of society when one considers the practical impediments that stand in the way of virtuous young man. The young man entering life finds the way to lucrative employments blocked with abuses the ways of trade are grown selfish to the borders of theft.
And supple to the borders if not beyond the borders of fraud but the employments of Commerce are not intrinsically unfit for a man or less genial to his faculties but these are now in their general course vitiated by dereliction Zend abuses at which all it requires more vigor and resources than can be expected of every young man to write himself in the employment of Commerce. He is lost in them. He cannot move hand or foot in them. Has he genius and virtue. The less does he find them fit for him to grow in. And if he would thrive in them he must sacrifice all the brilliant dreams of boyhood and youth as dreams. He must forget the prayers of his childhood and must take on him the harness of routine and obsequiousness. If not so minded nothing is left to him but to begin the world anew.
As he does who puts the spade into the ground for food. We are all implicated Of course in this charge. It is only necessary to ask a few questions as to the progress of the articles of commerce from the fields where they grew to our houses to become aware that we eat and drink and where perjury and fraud in a hundred commodities while Emerson hurls his accusations and flights of rhetoric unfamiliar to modern ears to the abuses he deplores have a familiar ring translated against the backdrop of modern America. He seems to have been putting his finger on certain recognizable practices shady business deals unfair competition misleading advertising deceptive packaging rigged bidding influence peddling expense account padding payola anything to make a fast buck. Today's American looks to the FTC the FDA the ICC a host of regulatory
agencies to weed out graft and corruption. Emerson looks to the individual. It's less important says he that some evil be attacked than that the individual be right in his own mind. Put his own house in order. The sins of our trade belong to no class to no individual one plucks one distributes one eat everybody partakes everybody confesses with Cap'n ne volunteers his confession. Yet none. Feels himself accountable. He did not create the abuse. He cannot alter it. What is he an obscure private person who must get his bread. That is the advice that no one feels himself called on to act for man but only as a fraction of a man. The trail of the serpent reaches into all the lucrative professions and practices of man.
Each has its own wrongs. Each finds a tender and very intelligent conscience a disqualification for success. Each requires of the practitioner a certain shutting of eyes a certain dapper innocent compliance and acceptance of customs as Seaquest ration from the sentiments of generosity and love. A compromise of private opinion and lofty integrity the duty that every man should assume his own followers should call the institutions of society to account and examine their fitness to him gains in emphasis. If we look at our modes of living is our housekeeping sacred and honorable. Does it raise and inspire us. Or does it cripple us instead. I ought to be armed by every part and function of my household by all my social functions by my economy by my feasting by my voting by my traffic.
Yet I am almost no party to any of these things. Custom does it for me. Gives me no power therefrom and runs me in debt to boot. We spend our incomes for paint and paper. For a hundred trifles. I know not what and not for the things of a man. Our expenses almost all for conformity. It is for cake that we run in debt. It is not the intellect. Not the heart. Not beauty not worship. The cost so much. We are first thoughtless and then find that we are money less. We are first sensual and then must be rich. We dare not trust our wit for making our home pleasant to our friends. And so we buy ice cream. He is accustomed to carpets and we have not sufficient character to put floor claws out of his mind whilst he stays in the house.
And so we pile the floor with carpets although Emmerson could hardly have dreamed of luxury as we know it. He seems to have believed that prosperity would be a destructive force destructive to the moral climate that is what was to become America's economic miracle was still in the throes of growing pains. What help for these evils. How can the man who has learned but one art procure all the conveniences of life on a still a credit has been an accepted procedure as America grew and prospered. Shall we say what we think. Perhaps with his own hands. Suppose he collects and makes the mail. Yet he has learned their lesson. If you cannot do that. Then perhaps you can go without. It is better to go without than to have things at too great a cost. Can we not learn the lesson of
self-help. Emerson himself never joined the utopian groups that experimented briefly with self-help. It is more elegant to answer one's own needs than to be richly served in elegant. Perhaps it may look today and to a few. But it is an elegance for ever and to all has elegance been the aim of Americans who fill their garages with cars their kitchens with appliances their living rooms with color television. When Emerson talked in his own way about conspicuous consumption was he ignoring the surging demand for a higher standard of living. Was he negating free enterprise and denying the free Americans rights to balance the scale between production and consumption. Were people so wrong in supporting an economy that was building the country and supplying their needs. Is it wrong to do so now. Does affluence affect a society's system of
values. Earlier in this century Edgar Lee Masters credited Emerson with prophetic powers in sizing up America and its people. He saw that the maker of the best rat trap will drive to his door by a beaten path. Profitable custom. But that in America patient merit working for higher things than traps is likely to starve. He knew that anyone who can identify himself with the popular and mob psychology who can think express the idiocies of the hour will have the support of the money giving mob and is on the way to affluence and power and in some cases to a kind of deification he knew what money grabbing would do to the American mind how it would make imbeciles
and restless natures needing literary stimulants and easy reading. How overreaching greed and will not fully reduce the physical and mental strength of the people. How did Emerson propose to change the picture. I did not wish to be absurd pedantic and reform. I do not wish to push my criticism on the state of things to that extravagant mark a child compelled me to suicide or to an absolute isolation from the advantages of civil society. If we suddenly plant our foot and say I will neither eat nor drink nor aware nor touch any food or fabric which I do not know to be innocent or deal with any person whose manner of life is not clear and rational which will stand still. Who is this soul. Not mine not dine not hears. But I think we must clear ourselves each one by the interrogation. Whether we have
earned our bread for today by the hearty contribution of our energies to the common benefit. And we must not cease to tend in the correction of flagrant wrongs by laying one stone a right every day. What is a man born for but to be a reformer. A remake or of what man has made a RINO answer of lies a restorer of truth and good imitating that great nature which in bosoms I saw and which sleeps no moment on an old past. But every hour repairs herself yielding us every morning a new day and with every post station a new life. The power which is that one spring and regulator in all efforts of reform is the conviction that there is an infinite worthiness in man which will appear at the call of work. And that all particular reforms are the removing of some impediment. Is it not the highest duty that man should be honored in us.
A space age philosopher picks up Emerson's thread says Lewis Mumford. If we are to control machines and organizations we must make men and our first task is that of self-examination self education self control. Those who fail at this point will be incapable of contributing to the political economic and social transformation so long overdue. Only in one place can immediate renewal begin within the person. Each one must carry into his immediate day's work a changed attitude toward all his functions and obligations. His collective work cannot rise to a higher level than his personal scale of values less we rebuild ourselves all our external triumphs will crumble. The possibilities of progress will become real again once we lose our blind faith
in the external improvements of the machine alone. But the first step is a personal one. A change in direction of interest toward the person. Emerson continues all rage and history for these thousand years has not been the history of kindness but of selfishness. Let our affectation flow out to our fellow. It would operate in a day the greatest of all revolutions. It is better to work on institutions by the sun than by the wind. Love would put a new face on this weary old world in which we dwell as pagans and enemies too long. Love will creep where it cannot go will accomplish that by imperceptible methods being its own lever fulcrum and power which force could never achieve. Will you suffer me to add one trait more to this portrait of man the reformer the mediator between the spiritual and the actual world.
Should have a great prospective prudence and Arabian poet describes his hero saying sunshine was he in the winter day and in the midsummer coolness and shade. He who would help himself and others should not be a subject of irregular and interrupted impulse as a virtue but a continent persisting immovable person. Such as we have seen a few scattered up and down in time for the classic the Boston Post reported men who were having it because only oratorical qualifications were in his calm strong way of emphasizing what he deems to be great the Freudians equably on the platform he was far from grace from. He was even angular and awkward suddenly in destructive shocks. It is better that joy should be spread over all the day in the form of strength than that it should be concentrated into ecstasy full of danger and followed by reaction. There is a sublime imprudence which is the very highest that we know of man
which believing in a vast future sure of more to come then is yet seen postpones always the present hour to the whole of life postpones talent to genius and special results to character. As the merchant gladly takes money from his income to add to his capital so is the great man very willing to lose particular powers and talents so that he gain in the elevation of his life. The opening of the spiritual senses disposes men ever to greater sacrifices to leave their signal talents their best means and skill of procuring a present success. Their power and their fame are greater power rewards the sacrifice. It is the conversion of our harvest into seed as the farmer casts into the ground the finest years of his grain. The time will come when we too shall hold nothing back but you'll easily convert more than we now possess into means and powers when we shall be willing to sow the sun and the
moon for seeds. Many a reformer Perry says in his removal of rubbish and that makes the offensiveness of the class. They are far from. The New York World reported. His method is entirely different. The amount of logical and consecutive demonstration no man is less capable of hearing in time what is called a train of thought and is not by any process of reasoning but by an intense gaze of this they don't seem to discover the truth. Twenty errors of our social system be corrected but of much. That the man be in his senses. The criticism and attack on institutions has made one thing plain that society gains nothing whilst a man not himself renovated attempts to renovate things around here. He has become tediously good in some particular but negligent or narrow
in the rest and hypocrisy and vanity are often the disgusting result. It is handsomer to remain in the establishment. Better than the establishment and conduct that in the best manner than to make a sally against evil by some single improvement without supporting it by total regeneration. Be not so vain of your own objection. Do you think there is only one. I'll ask my good friend there is no part of society or life better than any other part. All our things are right and wrong together. The wave of evil washes all our institutions I like. All the men in the world cannot make a statue awk and speak cannot make a drop of blood or a blade of grass anymore than one man can. But let there be one man. Let there be truth in two men in ten
men. Then is concert for the first time possible. Because of the force which moves the world. The Ladies Home Journal wrote and never he bore himself like one who came from a higher up and defend purer world. What is in ours this concert of the false and disunited. There can be no concert in two where there is no concert in one. When the individual is not individual but his duel when his thoughts look one way and his actions another. When his face is traversed by his habits when his will enlightened by reason is warped by his sense when with one hand he rose it with the other backed water. What concert can he be. The German ghetto reacted to Emerson in a letter to Schiller he grasps backwards and forwards at pleasure. He is followed because he has only to do with the imagination which of itself produces images. And after a certain degree it is indifferent what kind he
calls up. He does not appear to his authors but he cites as it were behind the curtain. So there is a total abstraction from himself and it seems to them as though they heard only the voice of the Muses weeded out believe that any education any system of philosophy any influence of genius will ever give depth of insight to a superficial mind. Having settled ourselves into this infidelity our skill is expended to procure alleviations diversion opiates. We have gone the victim with manual skill. His tongue with languages his body with inoffensive and comely manners. So have we cunningly here the tragedy of limitation and in her death we cannot vote. Is it strange that society should be devoured by a secret melancholy which breaks through all its smiles and all its gayety and game
historian Vernon L. Parrington interprets. The master idea of the Emersonian philosophy is the divine sufficiency of the individual. The law for things is not the law for mind. Man is on King and in acknowledging any lesser sovereignty of self statutes constitutions governments schools churches banks trade the coercing some institutions and customs. These things do not signify they are only idols with clay feet. That blind man worship the true Divinity dwells elsewhere in the soul of man and that divinity must rule the world and not be ruled by it. It is because we know how much is due from us that we are impatient to show some petty talent as a substitute for worth. We are hunted by a conscience of this right to a grand your character and our
force to it. But each of us has some talent can do something useful or graceful or formidable or amusing or lucrative that we do as an apology to others and to ourselves for not reaching the mark of a good and equal life. But it does not satisfy us. Whilst we thrust it on the notice of our companions. It may throw dust in their eyes but does not smooth our own bra or give us the tranquility of the strong. When we walk abroad we do do penance as we go. Our talent is a sort of expiation. And we are constrained to reflect on this splendid moment with a certain humiliation and somewhat to find and not as one act of many acts a fair expression of our permanent energy. Most persons of ability meet in society with a kind of tacit appeal. Each seems to say I am not
all here. There is not among the most religious and instructed men of the most religious and civil nations. A reliance on the moral sentiment and a sufficient believe in the unity of thing toward the end of Emerson's life by Emma Lazarus wrote in the Century Magazine as well as the no discrepancy exists between his words and the record of his life. He fought his battle against error and bias not with the usual weapons of denunciation and invective but by proclaiming him speech and the beauty of truth and virtue he has founded no school formulated no theory and has abstained from uttering a single dogma yet his moral and intellectual influence has made itself felt as an active and growing power for highest good over the whole breadth of the continent. Emma Lazarus was an Emerson contemporary about his influence today. Alfred Kazin has said that he
instinctively agrees with him finds himself surprised and refresh by Emerson's observations while the reader who does not agree may insist not so much on the proofs. A clearer articulation of Emerson's point of view while generally alive to Emerson's brilliance and Graeme wit. Finds himself in nature irritated and frustrated by a writer who are living by ideas simply on no sails off into the world on them as if he were on a personal journey as if everything he describes had come to him first as a daily experience of human beings might exercise towards each other. The grandest. And simplest sentiments as well as a knot of friends or a pair of lovers.
Meet Mr. Emerson
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Between the Poles
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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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