Saturday, January 21, 2012
Emerson, essays and bulldogs
We can help ourselves to the modus of mental processes only by coarse material experiences. A knife with a good spring, a forceps whose lips accurately meet and match, a steel-trap, a loom, a watch, the teeth or jaws of which fit and play perfectly, as compared with the same tools when badly put together, describe to us the difference between a person of quick and strong perception, like Franklin or Swift or Webster or Richard Owen, and a heavy man who witnesses the same facts or shares experiences like theirs. 'T is like the impression made by the same stamp in sand or in wax. The way in which Burke or Sheridan or Webster or any orator surprises us is by his always having a sharp tool that fits the present use. He has an old story, an odd circumstance, that illustrates the point he is now proving, and is better than an argument. The more he is heated, the wider he sees ; he seems to remember all he ever knew ; thus certifying us that he is in the habit of seeing better than other people ; that what his mind grasps it does not let go. 'T is the bull-dog bite; you must cut off the head to loosen the teeth.
MEMORY. - Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. 12 (Natural History of Intellect and Other Papers)