The Early Years of the Saturday Club, 1855-1870

By Edward Waldo Emerson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
1858

That makes the good and bad of manners, namely, what helps or hinders fellowship. For fashion is not good sense absolute, but relative; not good sense private, but good sense entertaining company. It hates corners and sharp points of character, hates quarrelsome, egotistical, solitary, and gloomy people; hates whatever can interfere with total blending of parties; whilst it values all peculiarities as in the highest degree refreshing which can consist with good fellowship. And besides the general infusion of wit to heighten civility, the direct splendour of intellectual power is ever welcome in fine society as the costliest addition to its rule and its credit.

EMERSON

IN Mr. Emerson's journal of 1836 he says, "In our Club we proposed that the rule of admission should be this; whoever by his admission excludes any topic from our debate shall be excluded."1

The Saturday Club seems to have had the instinct that the membership of aggressive reformers, however much they might be worthy of respect and praise, would be destructive to its happy organization. Whittier said to Fields one day that he was "troubled about Wendell Phillips: he is a hard man. It is the Calvinist in him." Dr. S. G. Howe -- but he was also a brilliant doer -- and James Freeman Clarke, who was sweet-tempered, and Edmund Quincy, who had a lively sense of humour, were comfortable reformers among the membership, never complained of for untimely zeal, except that Mr. Norton chafed a little at Clarke's unshakeable optimism. Sumner, living in Washington, was not included in the first group. Early in the war, the Club wished to do him honour for his noble struggle, then renewed, in a cause for which he had undergone a long martyrdom. Because of its enduring effects very possibly, and a continued life of struggle, into which he put his whole soul, he became less fitted for easy social intercourse and seems to have been sometimes a trying convive on the rather rare occasions when he came to the dinners.

Our printed list of members, given to each on joining, shows in

____________________
1
The club referred to was The Symposium.

-166-

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