Saturday, June 27, 2009

a world to ride virtues in

From the Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson, written at the end of his 1847-48 trip to Britain and France.
June 27.        

Mr. Owen invited Hillard* and myself to inspect the Hunterian (John Hunter) Museum, of which he is the Curator. Afterwards, he would carry us to Turner, the artist, who is his friend. We met accordingly at his chambers and he showed us over the Museum, communicating a great deal of valuable information, of which I deeply regret that I omitted to make immediate record. He gave a sad history of the misuse and voluntary destruction of Hunter's manuscripts by Sir Everard Home, who had built his own scientific reputation on the private use he had made of these manuscripts, and then destroyed them to hide his debt. He was displaced, and Owen himself appointed to the care of the Museum, and he does not like to sleep one night away from it. One of these days when the Museum shall be confided to other and sufficient hands, he said, he shall feel at liberty to come to America, and read lectures to the Lowell Institute of Boston, as Mr. Lowell has pressed him to do. He thought Faraday would also come to Boston. Owen seemed to me an Englishman who had made a prodigious stride in scientific liberalism for an Englishman, and indemnified himself in the good opinion of his countrymen by fixing a certain fierce limitation to his progress, and abusing without mercy all such as ven tured a little farther; these poor transmutationists, for example.

He carried us to Turner's studio, but Turner, though he had written him a note to announce his visit, was gone. So he showed us the pictures. In his earlier pictures, he said, Turner painted conventionally, painted what he knew was there, finished the coat and buttons; in the later, he paints only what the eye really sees and gives the genius of the city or landscape. He was engaged to paint a whaleship, and he came one day to see Mr. Owen and asked to see a mullet (Agassiz said, a Clio), and begged him to explain to him, from the beginning, the natural history of the creature; which he did; and Turner followed him with great accuracy. In process of time the picture was painted, and Owen went there to see his mullet; "I could not find it," he said, "in the picture, but I doubt not it is all there." He told us that, one day, being present at the annual dinner of the Royal Academy, which takes place in the Gallery itself, as the shades of evening darkened around, all the pictures became opake, all but Turner's, and these still glittered like gems, as if having light in themselves. I was much struck with the elevated manner in which Mr. Owen spoke of the few men of science he named; of Agassiz and others, he said, "Each had a manner, and a certain strength, and his own foible too," and he thought he could well discern that in all they did, and I think he added, "I can see the same in myself, too."

Turner's face, I was told, resembles much the heads of Punch.

It was Miss —— of New Haven, who on reading Ruskin's book, said "Nature was Mrs. Turner."

By the kind offices of Mr. Milnes, Mr. Milman, Lord Morpeth, and I know not what other gentlemen, I found myself elected into the "Athenaeum" Club, "during my temporary residence in England"; a privilege one must prize, not because only ten foreigners are eligible, at any one time, but because it gives all the rights of a member in the library and reading-room, a home to sit in, and see the best company, and a coffee-room, if you like it, where you eat at cost. Milnes, Milman, Crabbe Robinson, and many good men are always to be found there. Milnes is the most good-natured man in England, made of sugar; he is everywhere, and knows everything; has the largest range of acquaintances, from the Chartist to the Lord Chancellor; fat, easy, affable, and obliging; a little careless and sloven in his dress. His speeches in Parliament are always unlucky, and a signal for emptying the House, a topic of great mirth to himself and all his friends, who frankly twit him with it. He is so entirely at home everywhere, and takes life so quietly, that Sydney Smith called him "the cool of the evening," and I remember I was told some anecdotes of exploits of well-bred effrontery. They address him now as Citoyen Milnes, since Punch's, that is, Thackeray's late list of the ministry; but with pure feeling between jest and earnest they speak of him as really one who might play, one day, the part of Lamartine in England.

Carlyle, at the first meeting of the London Library, proposed to sacrifice Milnes, as a sort of acceptable Iphigenia. When he breakfasted somewhere with the Archbishop of Canterbury, his friend said, "Now, Milnes, I beg you not to slap him on the back, and call him Canterbury, before breakfast is half over." His good humor is infinite; he makes bad speeches of exquisite infelicity, and joins in the laugh against himself. He is very liberal of his money, and sincerely kind and useful to young people of merit. Coventry Patmore told me that Milnes had procured him spontaneously the place he holds of sub-librarian in the British Museum; and that he had known many good deeds of his. Jane Carlyle testified to his generosity — rare, she said, among people of fashion — with his money.

For my part, I found him uniformly kind and useful to me both in London and in Paris. He procured me cards to Lady Palmerston's soirée, introduced me there, and took pains to show me all the remarkable persons there, the Crown Prince of Prussia; the Prince of Syracuse; Rothschild, a round, young, comfortable-looking man; Mr. Hope, reputed the richest commoner in England; the Turkish Ambassador; Lord Lincoln, head of the "Young England" party; and princely foreigners, whose names I have forgotten.

Milnes took pains to make me acquainted with Chevalier Bunsen and Lady Bunsen, whom I had already met at Mr. Bancroft's; with young Mr. Cowper, son of Lady Palmerston; with Disraeli; and with Macaulay, whom I here met for the second time. I had a few words with both Lord and Lady Palmerston. He is frank (at least, in manner; Bancroft says, far from frank in business), affable, of a strong but cheerful and ringing speech.

But I soon had enough of this fine spectacle and escaped. Milnes sent me again another card from Lady Palmerston, but I did not go.

Milnes again befriended me at Sir William Molesworth's, where Bancroft carried me, one night, and made me acquainted with Dr. Elliotson, and a very sensible young man, member of Parliament, whose name I have lost. At Paris, he carried me to De Tocqueville, and at last, at my Exeter Hall lectures in London, he took the chair, and made a closing speech full of praises, perfectly well meant, if not felicitous. He is one of the most valuable companions in London, too, for the multitude of anecdotes he tells about good people, and at Paris I found him equally acquainted with everybody and a privileged man, with his pockets full of free cards, which admitted him everywhere.

Milnes said, in my presence, that he desired nothing so much as to make a good speech in Parliament. The distinguished Mrs. Norton (to whom I was carried one day by Carlyle) said that "Milnes and Disraeli were the two remarkable political failures which she had known."

Viscount Melbourne's letter in reply to Lord Brougham's sheets of objections, — "Dear B. I am sorry you don't like my appointment of N. Pray expedite the matter through all the forms as fast as possible. Yours, M."

Topics of conversation in England are Irish affairs; universal suffrage; pauperism; public education; right and duty of government to interfere with increase of population; taxes.

Paris and London have this difference, that Paris exists for the foreigner, serves him; — whilst in London is the Londoner, who is much in the foreigner's way. England has built London for its own use. France has built Paris for the world.

The French have this wonderful street courage. The least dislike, the smallest unpopularity, is intolerable to them. But they will take your fire with indifference. And is this a world to ride virtues in? There must, then, be revolutions to bring them out.

In Blanqui's Club des droits de l'Homme, an orator in blouse said, "Why should the rich fear that we shall not protect their property? We shall guard it with the utmost care, in the belief that it will soon be our own."

People eat the same dinner at every house in England, 1, soup; 2, fish; 3, beef, mutton, or hare; 4, birds; 5, pudding and pastry and jellies; 6, cheese; 7, grapes, nuts, and wine. During dinner, hock and champagne are offered you by the servant, and sherry stands at the corners of the table. Healths are not much drunk in fashionable houses. After the cloth is removed, three bottles, namely, port, sherry, and claret, invariably circulate. What rivers of wine are drunk in all England daily! One would say, every guest drinks six glasses.

The English youth has a narrow road to travel. Besides his horse and gun, all he knows is the door to the House of Commons.

Landseer the only genius of the Academy exhibition. Leslie very sensible and pleasing. There are many English portraits, the true national type. The 'Hŵs of Gibson,, like the admirably finished pictures of Scheffer, show want of all object with great powers of execution, so that we get noble vases empty.

I bring home from England — 1, the Heim-skringla, or Sea Kings of Norway, translated by Laing; 2, Wood' Athenae Oxonienses; 3, Bede; 4, The Megbaduta; 5, Lowth's Life of William of Wykeham; 6, Wordsworth's Scenery of the Lakes; 7, Jacobson's Translation of Aeschylus; 8, John Carlyle's Translation of Dante; 9, John Mill's Political Economy.

I thought how great men build substructures, and, like Cologne Cathedral, these are never finished. Lord Bacon begins, Behmen begins, Goethe, Fourier, they all begin; we, credulous, believe, of course, they can finish as they begun. If you press them, they fly to a new topic, and here again open a magnificent promise which serves the turn of interesting you, and silencing your reproaches.

I stayed in London till I had become acquainted with all the styles of face in the street, and till I had found the suburbs and then straggling houses on each end of the city. Then I took a cab, left my farewell cards, and came home.

I saw Alison, Thackeray, Cobden, Tennyson, Bailey, Marston, Macaulay, Hallam, Disraeli, Milnes, Wilson, Jeffrey, Wordsworth, Carlyle, Dickens, Lockhart, Procter, Montgomery, Collyer, Kenyon, Stephenson, Buckland, Sedgwick, Lyell, Edward Forbes, Richard Owen, Robert Owen, Cruikshank, Jenny Lind, Grisi, William Allingham, David Scott, William B. Scott, King-lake, De Tocqueville, Lamartine, Leverrier, Rachel, Barbes, Eastlake, Spence, Wilkinson, Duke of Wellington, Brougham, Joanna Baillie, De Quincey, Sir C. Fellows, Sir Henry De la Beche, John Forster.

[Note from the editor of the Journals: "Just before his final departure from London, Mr. Emerson visited Cambridge, and the next day went with Carlyle to Salisbury, and thence by carriage to Amesbury on July 7, whence they walked to Stonehenge. Next day they visited the sacred circle again with the local antiquary, then saw Wilton House, and passed Sunday with Arthur Helps at Bishop's Waltham. Monday they spent at Winchester. Of this excursion Mr. Emerson gives a full ac count in English Traits."]

*Footnote by the editor of the Journals: Probably Mr. George S. Hillard, of Boston, at one time editor of the Courier, author of Six Months in Italy, and other works.

{Richard Monckton Milnes; source: wikipedia}

{Hunterian Museum in Emerson's time; source: taxidermy4cash. The Hunterian Museum was 'founded in 1807 on the collections of the eminent Scottish physician and obstetrician, William Hunter (1718-1783) whose medical collections were the core of his career, museum and success.'}

Everard Home, British physician, a pupil of his brother-in-law, John Hunter.

{An early work of Turner's: Fishermen at Sea (1796); source: wikimdeia}

{Whale Ship by Turner (1845); source: picasaweb}

John Elliotson

{William Molesworth was a British politician and civil servant; source: wikipedia}

{Edwin Henry Landseer's painting, "Dignity and Impudence"; source: squidoo}

{Charles Robert Leslie; source: rossettiarchive}

{Elizabeth Fry, by Charles Robert Leslie; source: wikimedia}

For information on others mentioned in this journal entry, see these previous blog posts:

Some sources:

Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson, With Annotations, ed. by Edward Waldo Emerson and Waldo Emerson Forbes (Houghton Mifflin company, 1912)

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