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)
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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