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Dicke, Robert J. (ed.) / Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters
volume XLIV (1955)

Hedges, William L.
A short way around Emerson's nature,   pp. 21-27 ff. PDF (2.5 MB)


Page 26

 26 Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters [Vol. 44 
ulties of the eighteenth century: "The common sense of Franklin, Dalton,
Davy and Black, is the same common sense which made the arrangements which
it now discovers" ("Nature," III, pp. 183—4). Common
sense is only
nature finding itself, as, a few lines before, when nature was the mason
and the house, nature was building itself—"natura naturans"
("Nature,"
III, p. 179). And Emerson even tries to put some life into that "famous
aboriginal
push" without discarding the mechanistic universe which proper romantics
are supposed so to despise. As he says, the push "propagates itself
through
all the balls of the system, and through every atom of every ball; through
all the races of creatures, and through the history and performances of every
individual" ("Nature," III, p. 184). Intellectual history
is an appreciation
of mixed metaphor. 
 The world of common sense does not make good sense. Since philosophical
systems do not explain a universe of infinite sides, shades, and shapes,
the wise man passes beyond philosophy to poetry and prophecy, and the common
man acts without stopping to think. What confuses us is the paradox that
nature is "always and never the same." It is always the same because
contained
within our one experience: every part of nature is a part of that experience:
and all parts of the whole are ultimately related, have something in common,
are practically the same. Yet common sense tells us there is a difference.
Although we accept what is as inevitable, we expect a change; although we
know our present to be determined by its relation to past experience, we
believe we can steer our life along a new course. Whether we profit by the
lessons of history or fail to do so, our denouement is equally natural or
logical. Or in the last analysis, it is equally unnatural or inexplicable.
"We live in a system of approximations. Every end is prospective of
some
other end, which is also temporary; a round and final success nowhere. .
. . Our music, our poetry, our language itself are not satisfactions, but
suggestions" ("Nature," III, p. 190). 
 Our logic then is only an instrument of common sense, useful in describing
things from various points of view. The truth itself is always the same.
Once we accept "whatever is" as right, or natural, the next epistle
must
begin as Pope's, "Know then thyself": it is a presumption to scan
God: self-reliance
is "the proper study of Mankind." And this "Man" of Pope's
is no different
from Emerson's nature: "The glory, jest, and riddle of the world"
(Essay
on Man, ii, 11. 1, 2, 18). Telling us that our life is what we make of it
at the same time that it is being made 


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