Emerson's Beautiful Angst

2022-09-17 • life books

It's so moving and human that someone revered as a great writer and philosopher today was then so regretful and embarassed of his awkwardness and melancholy, and uncertain of his future, and worried of wasting his talents. And that despite he found the strength-- maybe in writing such speeches to himself-- to finally become who he became.

RWE, Age 21, Jounral XVI, January 4th 1825:

I have closed my school. I have begun a new year. I have begun my studies, and this day a moment of indolence engendered in me phantasms and feelings that struggled to find vent in rhyme. I thought of the passage of my years, of their even and eventless tenor, and of the crisis which is but a little way before, when a month will determine the dark or bright dye they must assume forever. I turn now to my lamp and my tomes. I have nothing to do with society. My unpleasing boyhood is past, my youth wanes into the age of man, and what are the unsuppressed glee, the cheering games, the golden hair and shining eyes of youth unto me? I withdraw myself from their spell. A solemn voice commands me to retire. And if in those scenes my blood and brow have been cold, if my tongue has stammered where fashion and gaiety were voluble, and I have had no grace amid the influences of Beauty and the festivities of Grandeur, I shall not hastily conclude my soul ignobly born and its horoscope fully cast. I will not yet believe that because it has lain so tranquil, great argument could not make it stir. I will not believe because I cannot unite dignity, as many can, to folly, that I am not born to fill the eye of great expectation, to speak when the people listen, nor to cast my mite into the great treasury of morals and intellect. I will not quite despair, nor quench my flambeau in the dust of "Easy live and quiet die."

Those men to whom the muse has vouchsafed her inspirations, fail, when they fail, by their own fault. They have an instrument in their hands that discourses music by which the multitude cannot choose but be moved. Yet the player has sometimes so many freaks, or such indolence, as to waste his life. If you have found any defect in your sympathies that puts a bar between you and others, go and study to find those views and feelings in which you come nearest to other men. Go and school your pride and thaw your icy benevolence, and nurse somewhere in your soul a spark of pure and heroic enthusiasm. Ambition and curiosity-- they will prompt you to prove by experiments the affections and faculties you possess. You will bind yourself in friendship; you will obey the strong necessity of nature and knit yourself to woman in love, and the exercise of those affections will open your apprehension to a more common feeling and closer kindred with men. You will explore your connexion with the world of spirits, and happy will you be if the flame of ardent piety toward the Infinite Spirit shall be taught to glow in your breast.