Thursday, July 23, 2009

Emerson casts off English overweight

At Sea, July 23.

Dragged day and night continually through the water by this steam engine, at the rate of near twelve knots, or fourteen statute miles, the hour; in the nearing America my inviting port, England loses its recent overweight, America resumes its commanding claims.

One long disgust is the sea. No personal bribe would hire one who loves the present moment. Who am I to be treated in this ignominious manner, tipped up, shoved against the side of the house, rolled over, suffocated with bilge mephitis and stewing-oil? These lack-lustre days go whistling over us and are those intercalaries I have often asked for, and am cursed now with, — the worthless granting of my prayer.

Thomas G. Appleton* makes now his fourteenth passage. "Shakspeare will do," he said.

The English habit of betting makes them much more accurate than we are in their knowledge of particulars. — "Which is the longest river, the Mississippi or the Missouri?" — They are about the same length. — "About! that won't do, — I've a bet upon it." Captain Lott says that 'tis difficult to know in America the precise speed of a boat because the distances are not settled between the cities, and we overrate them. In England, the distance from Boston to New York would be measured to half a foot. He says that the boat is yet to be built that will go through the water nineteen miles per hour.

In the cabin conversations about England and America, Tom Appleton amused us all by tracing all English performance home to the dear Puritans, and affirming that the Pope also was once in South America, and there met a Yankee, who gave him notions on politics and religion.

M. Lehmann, in Paris, who made a crayon sketch of my head for Madame d'Agout, remarked that in American heads was an approach to the Indian type; and in England, or perhaps from David Scott at Edinburgh, I heard a similar observation.

Gilpin's "Forest Scenery" is a good example of the sincerity of English culture.

*Note by the editor of the Journals: "Thomas Gold Appleton, the genial Boston wit."

Thomas Gold Appleton (March 31, 1812 – April 17, 1884), an American, was an artist, writer, and patron of the arts.

Henri Lehmann (1814–1882) was a French historical and portrait painter. This is his portrait of Madame Marie d'Agoult.

{Marie d'Agoult;source: wikipedia}

Painting by David Scott (1806 – 1849), a Scottish historical painter (portrait here).

{William Gilpin; source: wikipedia}

In referring to Gilpin's Forest scenery as an example of sincerety of English culture, Emerson is drawing attention to the Victorian habit of making things "agreeable." Forest Scenery is a book by William Gilpin. Gilpin (says wikipedia) was an English artist, clergyman, schoolmaster, and author, best known as one of the originators of the idea of the picturesque. He made rules by which wealthy Englishmen could create artful, and very artificial, ruins on their estates.

A source:

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

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