"Society and Solitude" by Ralph Waldo Emerson, List 3

March 10, 2023
In this collection of twelve essays, the leader of New England's transcendentalist movement shares his philosophical ideas on different aspects of mid-nineteenth-century life. Read the full text here.

This list covers "Domestic Life" and "Farming."

Here are links to our lists for the book: List 1, List 2, List 3, List 4, List 5, List 6
The size of the nestler is comic, and its tiny beseeching weakness is compensated perfectly by the happy patronizing look of the mother, who is a sort of high reposing Providence toward it.
His unaffected lamentations when he lifts up his voice on high, or, more beautiful, the sobbing child,—the face all liquid grief, as he tries to swallow his vexation,—soften all hearts to pity, and to mirthful and clamorous compassion.
The small enchanter nothing can withstand,—no seniority of age, no gravity of character; uncles, aunts, grandsires, grandams, fall an easy prey: he conforms to nobody, all conform to him; all caper and make mouths, and babble, and chirrup to him.
Fast—almost too fast for the wistful curiosity of the parents, studious of the witchcraft of curls and dimples and broken words—the little talker grows to a boy.
What art can paint or gild any object in after-life with the glow which Nature gives to the first baubles of childhood!
St. Peter’s cannot have the magical power over us that the red and gold covers of our first picture-book possessed. How the imagination cleaves to the warm glories of that tinsel even now!
It is easier to count the census, or compute the square extent of a territory, to criticise its polity, books, art, than to come to the persons and dwellings of men, and read their character and hope in their way of life.
The physiognomy and phrenology of to-day are rash and mechanical systems enough, but they rest on everlasting foundations.
We are sure that the sacred form of man is not seen in these whimsical, pitiful, and sinister masks (masks which we wear and which we meet), these bloated and shrivelled bodies, bald heads, bead eyes, short winds, puny and precarious healths, and early deaths.
How could such a book as Plato’s Dialogues have come down, but for the sacred savings of scholars and their fantastic appropriation of them?
I am afraid that, so considered, our houses will not be found to have unity, and to express the best thought. The household, the calling, the friendships, of the citizen are not homogeneous.
His house ought to show us his honest opinion of what makes his well-being when he rests among his kindred, and forgets all affectation, compliance, and even exertion of will.
The progress of domestic living has been in cleanliness, in ventilation, in health, in decorum, in countless means and arts of comfort, in the concentration of all the utilities of every clime in each house.
If the hours of meals are punctual, the apartments are slovenly. If the linens and hangings are clean and fine, and the furniture good, the yard, the garden, the fences are neglected.
And is there any calamity more grave, or that more invokes the best good-will to remove it, than this?—to go from chamber to chamber, and see no beauty...to be compelled to criticise; to hear only to dissent and to be disgusted; to find no invitation to what is good in us, and no receptacle for what is wise;—this is a great price to pay for sweet bread and warm lodging,—being defrauded of affinity, of repose, of genial culture, and the inmost presence of beauty.
We scorn shifts; we desire the elegance of munificence; we desire at least to put no stint or limit on our parents, relatives, guests, or dependents; we desire to play the benefactor and the prince with our townsmen, with the stranger at the gate, with the bard, or the beauty, with the man or woman of worth, who alights at our door.
We owe to man higher succors than food and fire.
It is not for festivity, it is not for sleep: but the pine and the oak shall gladly descend from the mountains to uphold the roof of men as faithful and necessary as themselves; to be the shelter always open to good and true persons;—a hall which shines with sincerity, brows ever tranquil, and a demeanor impossible to disconcert; whose inmates know what they want; who do not ask your house how theirs should be kept.
The diet of the house does not create its order, but knowledge, character, action, absorb so much life and yield so much entertainment that the refectory has ceased to be so curiously studied.
The rich, as we reckon them, and among them the very rich, in a true scale would be found very indigent and ragged.
It is the iron band of poverty, of necessity, of austerity, which, excluding them from the sensual enjoyments which make other boys too early old, has directed their activity in safe and right channels, and made them, despite themselves, reverers of the grand, the beautiful, and the good.
His house being within little more than ten miles from Oxford, he contracted familiarity and friendship with the most polite and accurate men of that University, who found such an immenseness of wit, and such a solidity of judgment in him, so infinite a fancy, bound in by a most logical ratiocination, such a vast knowledge that he was not ignorant in anything, yet such an excessive humility, as if he had known nothing, that they frequently resorted and dwelt with him...
Beyond its primary ends of the conjugal, parental, and amicable relations, the household should cherish the beautiful arts and the sentiment of veneration.
And yet let him not think that a property in beautiful objects is necessary to his apprehension of them, and seek to turn his house into a museum.
Certainly, not aloof from this homage to beauty, but in strict connection therewith, the house will come to be esteemed a Sanctuary.
The language of a ruder age has given to common law the maxim that every man’s house is his castle: the progress of truth will make every house a shrine.
Will he not see, through all he miscalls accident, that Law prevails for ever and ever; that his private being is a part of it; that its home is in his own unsounded heart; that his economy, his labor, his good and bad fortune, his health and manners, are all a curious and exact demonstration in miniature of the Genius of the Eternal Providence? When he perceives the Law, he ceases to despond.
Does the consecration of Sunday confess the desecration of the entire week? Does the consecration of the church confess the profanation of the house?
The farmer’s office is precise and important, but you must not try to paint him in rose-color; you cannot make pretty compliments to fate and gravitation, whose minister he is. He represents the necessities. It is the beauty of the great economy of the world that makes his comeliness.
The lesson one learns in fishing, yachting, hunting, or planting, is the manners of Nature; patience with the delays of wind and sun, delays of the seasons, bad weather, excess or lack of water,—patience with the slowness of our feet, with the parsimony of our strength, with the largeness of sea and land we must traverse, etc.
Nature, like a cautious testator, ties up her estate so as not to bestow it all on one generation, but has a forelooking tenderness and equal regard to the next and the next, and the fourth, and the fortieth age.
The earth works for him; the earth is a machine which yields almost gratuitous service to every application of intellect.
The plant is all suction-pipe,— imbibing from the ground by its root, from the air by its leaves, with all its might.
The earth burns,—the mountains burn and decompose,—slower, but incessantly. It is almost inevitable to push the generalization up into higher parts of nature, rank over rank into sentient beings.
Whilst all thus burns,—the universe in a blaze kindled from the torch of the sun,—it needs a perpetual tempering, a phlegm, a sleep, atmospheres of azote, deluges of water, to check the fury of the conflagration; a hoarding to check the spending; a centripetence equal to the centrifugence: and this is invariably supplied.
Whilst all thus burns,—the universe in a blaze kindled from the torch of the sun,—it needs a perpetual tempering, a phlegm, a sleep, atmospheres of azote, deluges of water, to check the fury of the conflagration; a hoarding to check the spending; a centripetence equal to the centrifugence: and this is invariably supplied.
As he nursed his Thanksgiving turkeys on bread and milk, so he will pamper his peaches and grapes on the viands they like best.
They keep the secret well, and never tell on your table whence they drew their sunset complexion or their delicate flavors.
But beyond this benefit, they are the text of better opinions and better auguries for mankind.
Put him on a new planet, and he would know where to begin; yet there is no arrogance in his bearing, but a perfect gentleness.

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