Cuvier, Georges 1769-1832 A French naturalist, he is considered to be the founder of comparativeanatomy. I deny not, however, that a revolution in the leading idea may be distinctly enough traced. Ever the winds blow; ever the grass grows. Linnæus makes botany the most alluring of studies, and wins it from the farmer and the herb-woman: Davy, chemistry; and Cuvier, fossils. The true scholar grudges every opportunity of action passed by, as a loss of power. He is famous as having discovered the law of gravitation.
The first time children experience something they are dumbfounded, as we should be, yet nature stays overlooked. Let him look into its eye and search its nature, inspect its origin, -- see the whelping of this lion, -- which lies no great way back; he will then find in himself a perfect comprehension of its nature and extent; he will have made his hands meet on the other side, and can henceforth defy it, and pass on superior. In silence, in steadiness, in severe abstraction, let him hold by himself; add observation to observation, patient of neglect, patient of reproach, and bide his own time,--happy enough if he can satisfy himself alone that this day he has seen something truly. Forget this, and our American colleges will recede in their public importance, whilst they grow richer every year. It is one light which beams out of a thousand stars. Polaris is now the nearest conspicuous star to the north pole of the celestial equator. Gowns and pecuniary foundations, though of towns of gold, can never countervail the least sentence or syllable of wit.
These things by which a scholar is educated are by nature, by books the past and by action. He passed his life in patient observation and determined the position of 2884 stars. The eye was placed where one ray should fall, that it might testify of that particular ray. Each age, it is found, must write its own books; or rather, each generation for the next succeeding. But in Emerson's writings the broad turnpike is suddenly changed into a hazardous sandy foot-path. Berserker was a redoubtable hero in Scandinavian mythology, the grandson of the eight-handed Starkodder and the beautiful Alfhilde. It presently learns that since the dawn of history there has been a constant accumulation and classifying of facts.
The world has been instructed by its kings, who have so magnetized the eyes of nations. Emerson inspired Transcendentalism, although never adopting the label himself. This is a total act. Typically, the thoughts of a collective are regarded negatively as collective implies the reliance on the ancients or the leading figures of the day. The region of pure light and fire; the ninth heaven of ancient astronomy. Nature has a great impact on our minds. Man is no longer complete.
But the sure years reveal the deep remedial force that underlies all facts. He even went so far as to say the greatest value of action to the mind is like that of books, and better, since actions are also a great source of inspiration and 'Thinking itself is a partial act. It is one of those fables which out of an unknown antiquity convey an unlooked-for wisdom, that the gods, in the beginning, divided Man into men, that he might be more helpful to himself; just as the hand was divided into fingers, the better to answer its end. The soul active sees absolute truth and utters truth, or creates. What a testimony, full of grandeur, full of pity, is borne to the demands of his own nature, by the poor clansman, the poor partisan, who rejoices in the glory of his chief! What is nature to him? Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another. I do not belong to the poets, but only to a low department of literature,—the reporters; suburban men.
Must that needs be evil? The dread of man and the love of man shall be a wall of defense and a wreath of joy around all. This pre-eminence is due not solely to his transcendent intellect, but also in no small measure to his poetic power and to that unrivaled grace of style which led the ancients to say that if Jove should speak Greek he would speak like Plato. Long he must stammer in his speech; often forego the living for the dead. There are creative manners, there are creative actions, and creative words; manners, actions, words, that is, indicative of no custom or authority, but springing spontaneous from the mind's own sense of good and fair. Thought and knowledge are natures in which apparatus and pretension avail nothing. Free should the scholar be,--free and brave.
Therein it resembles his own spirit, whose beginning, whose ending, he never can find,—so entire, so boundless. Its beauty is the beauty of his own mind. Do we fear lest we should outsee nature and God, and drink truth dry? The cheat, the defaulter, the gambler, cannot extort the knowledge of material and moral nature which his honest care and pains yield to the operative. Why, that they can do now. Or, I might say, it depends on how far the process had gone, of transmuting life into truth.
Emerson's theory is that of the 'sovereignty of the individual. It is one central fire, which, flaming now out of the lips of Etna, lightens the capes of Sicily, and now out of the throat of Vesuvius, illuminates the towers and vineyards of Naples. So is the danger a danger still; so is the fear worse. Then shall man be no longer a name for pity, for doubt, and for sensual indulgence. But the genius, too, can suffer from the undue influence of books.
Ironically, we should remember that at the beginning of the essay, Emerson advocated Americans' throwing off the European mantle that cloaks their own culture. The education of the scholar completed, it remains for Emerson to sketch his duties and toaddress the larger issue of how to solve the problem of Americans long-standing sense ofcultural inferiority with respect to Europe. So do you multiply your presence, or spread yourself throughout your estate. Proverbs, like the sacred books of each nation, are the sanctuary of the intuitions. Man no longer worked effectively with each other to produced great work because of the increase in division among man. I launch eagerly into this resounding tumult. Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today.