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SOME books, like some persons, convey to us all that they will ever have to give at a single sitting. Others hold our attention profitably through two or three encounters. But the books to be shipwrecked with, the great books into which rich and substantial lives have been distilled and packed — the Dialogues of Plato, Montaigne's Essays, Boswell's Johnson, the Essays and Journals of Emerson these are to be lived with and returned to and made the companions of hours and days and moods as various as those in which they were written. You cannot discover what Emerson has been to others or what he may be to you by any cursory turning of his pages. Still less can you "get him up" by studying any summary of his philosophical system. Philosophers tell us indeed that his philosophical system is hopelessly antiquated, and fancy that they have disposed of him. But Emerson himself remarked: "I need hardly say to anyone acquainted with my thoughts that I have no system.” The value of his thoughts depends scarcely more upon the metaphysical filaments among them than the value of a string of alternating beads of gold and pearl depends upon the string. The figure has a momentary illustrative force but is very inadequate. Emerson lives, still speaks pertinently of our current affairs, and tomorrow we shall still find him commenting with equal pertinency on tomorrow's affairs. To know him is not mere knowledge. It is an experience; for he is a dynamic personality, addressing the will, the emotions, the imagination, no less than the intellect. His value escapes the merely intellectual appraiser. Analysis cannot deal properly with his pungent wit-it must be savored; nor with the impetus that he gives to the will—it must be felt; nor with the purgation and serene rapture of the mind towards which his noble discipline tends—this rapture must be attained as a state of grace by imitation of those who have attained it, by lifelong intercourse with men whose tone and habit of life is noble.
Since we are to consider him primarily as an unspent force in our own times, what it most concerns us to inquire about him is what he can do for us. If we approach him with that question, we need not tarry long over biographical details, interesting and rewarding as they may be to the student of literary history We pretty well sum up his external career when we say that he was a New Englander of Boston, where he was born in 1803, and of Concord, where he died in 1882, after a studious life of irreproachable purity, dignity, and simplicity becoming the descendant of several generations of New England gentlemen and scholars. His formal education he received at the Boston Latin School and at Harvard College, from which he was graduated in 1821, with a well-formed bias towards an intellectual life. The son of a Unitarian minister, he inherited an ethical impulse which directed him to the Harvard Divinity School in 1825–6. In 1829 he was appointed pastor of the Second Unitarian Church of Boston. He was married in the same year to Ellen Tucker, who died two years later, leaving him a sweet and unfading memory of her fragile loveliness. After he had served his parish acceptably for three years, he felt obliged to announce, in 1832, that he was no longer able to administer the sacrament of communion in the general sense of his congregation, and resigned his charge. In December of that year he visited Europe and made acquaintance with three or four men whose residence in Europe constituted for him the chief reason for going abroad: Landor in Italy, Carlyle at Craigenputtock, and Coleridge and Wordsworth in England. He returned to America in October 1833, and in the following year settled permanently in Concord. In 1835 he married his second wife, Lydia Jackson. For three .or four years he preached with some regularity in various pul