I am single-dading it this weekend, so I am not going to give Emerson's "Heroism" the treatment I'd like to...unless single-dading it for a weekend makes me a hero!
Nah, I don't think so either. Anyway, even though I can hardly HTML format straight, let me start this kind of this-n-that post with some bracing Emersonian prose:
We have seen or heard of many extraordinary young men who never ripened, or whose performance in actual life was not extraordinary.Oh shit. Well, I deny it; I think there's still plenty of mileage left for me to get out of my high school Latin medal, no matter what Emerson says.
This project has softened me on Emerson. I mean, he's still a blowhard, and there's a lot of the Rocky Todd in him, and yet I can't help nodding my head from time to time. It's probably because I'm becoming a blowhard, but, whereas I always hated having him shoved down my throat, now that school is over I can appreciate him for what he is. It's kind of like the way I feel about disco.
In this essay he started to win me over when he talked about hospitality as a characteristic of the large-souled hero:
Citizens, thinking after the laws of arithmetic, consider the inconvenience of receiving strangers at their fireside, reckon narrowly the loss of time and the unusual display: the soul of a better quality thrusts back the unseasonable economy into the vaults of life, and says, I will obey the God, and the sacrifice and the fire he will provide.My wife is like this; she loves to feed and water people who wander by, but without the Emersonian touch of acknowledging that she is thrusting back unseasonable economies into the vaults of life. She just likes conversation.
The Emersonian way seems to be to shove five pounds of potatoes into a ten-pound sack, and then spray paint the sack gold:
Our culture therefore must not omit the arming of the man. Let him hear in season that he is born into the state of war, and that the commonwealth and his own well-being require that he should not go dancing in the weeds of peace, but warned, self-collected and neither defying nor dreading the thunder, let him take both reputation and life in his hand, and with perfect urbanity dare the gibbet and the mob by the absolute truth of his speech and the rectitude of his behavior."Let him hear in season..." The whole construction is ornate, but I love the "in season" -- it's such an extra dipsy-doodle, it's like tailfins on a Cadillac. Ditto "dancing in the weeds of peace." The executive summary is "Always do right."
Aside: one of the things about reading a variety of authors, as this project requires you to do, is that you start to realize that there are only so many stances one can take about human affairs -- pretty much everyone is in favor of "rectitude in behavior," always has been -- and that originality consists of providing new frosting on the age-old cake.
And yet the truth is that frosting is delicious. The dailyness of our lives can be a little dull, and it's nice to think, when I am driving the kids to their various lessons, that "the unremitting retention of simple and high sentiments in obscure duties is hardening the character to that temper which will work with honor, if need be in the tumult, or on the scaffold."