Monday, May 20, 2013

A new addition to the list of things I've never imagined before: Ralph Waldo Emerson as a little boy.
Boston corresponded to Plato's city, a population that was not too large to hear the voice of a single orator. The people were prepared for stirring sermons. With Faneuil Hall as their Acropolis, they were accustomed to public speaking, and oratory had filled them with exalted thoughts. At school they learned to recite the swelling strains of the Life of William Tell: "Friends of liberty, sons of sensibility, ye who know how to die for your independence!" Bombast, in a sense, but they believed it. Their fathers and uncles had fought in a similar cause, swept along by a tide of eloquence. Moreover, Plutarch was their second Bible, together with Pope's Homer. Deep in their hearts they cherished the conviction that they could emulate these heroic models and reproduce the deeds of history. The sons of William Emerson, for instance, the former minister of the First Church, who had founded the Philosophical Society, were born with these convictions in their blood, and one of them, a boy of twelve named Ralph, a chubby little spouter of Scott and Campbell, who had recently trundled his hoop about the Common, where he pastured the family cow, was to express them later in his essays. . . . He carried the Pensees of Pascal to church, to read during the sermon. At night, in his cold upper chamber, covered with woollen blankets to the chin, he read his precious Dialogues of Plato. He associated Plato, ever after, with the smell of wool.
[from Van Wyck Brooks, The Flowering of New England, 1815-1865]

"Chubby little spouter"! That phrase makes me happy.

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