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sidered “one of the majestic remains of lit
Generally throughout these Taylor translations and especially in the writings of Proclus, Emerson found frequent mention of Chaldean, or Zoroastrian, Oracles. Taylor published a collection of them in the Classical Journal for 1817 and 1818. These oracles were esteemed by Proclus as genuine fragments of wisdom. Emerson, however, made no inquiry into their genuineness; not caring, he said, "whether they are genuine antiques or modern counterfeits, as I am only concerned with the good sentences, and it is indifferent how old a truth is.” 2 Emerson read Porphyry also along with other books, “to pass away the cold and rainy season" of 1841.3 The work of this author must have been Taylor's translation of Porphyry's Select Works. The substance of Porphyry's life of Plotinus was available for him in Taylor's introduction to the Select Works of Plotinus. With The Divine Pymander of Hermes Mercurius Trismegistus in the translation made of the work by Dr. Everard in 1650, Emerson also had an acquaintance. His reading led him into a translation of the Akhlak-1-Jalaly made by W. F. Thomson (1839), which was the medium through which the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle got into Mahometism. With Taylor's translation of Sallust On the Gods and the World Emerson may also have been familiar, for he quotes from it in Nature. He had Taylor's translation of The Pythagoric Sentences of Demophilus. He probably availed himself of the other translations of Plotinus made by Thomas Taylor --Five Books of Plotinus, On Suicide, and An Essay on the Beautiful—though no reference by name to these works appear in Emerson. Emerson's reading in the Neo-Platonists was then as vital a thing as his reading in Plato; and his indebtedness to these writers must never be forgotten in explaining his conception of Platonism.
1 Complete Works, VII., 202. 2 J. E. Cabot, A Memoir of Ralph Waldo Emerson, I., 290, 291. 8 Ibid., II., 449.
For the man whose life labors made possible the enjoyment of these obscure philosophers Emerson has the highest praise. “There are also prose poets,” he writes. “Thomas Taylor, the Platonist, for instance, is really a better man of imagination, a better poet, or perhaps I should say a better feeder to a poet, than any man between Milton and Wordsworth.” 1 During his visits to England Emerson was constantly inquiring of the men he met whether they had read Taylor. And it was incredible, so he told Wordsworth, that no one in all England knew anything of Thomas Taylor, “whilst in every American library his translations are found.” 2 Such remarks testify to the importance which Emerson attached to Taylor's work.
The effect of these readings in the NeoPlatonists appears in Emerson's adoption of their manner of interpreting Plato. They consider the highest idea in Plato's scheme of metaphysics the idea of the One as it is treated in the Parmenides. They identify this idea with that of the Good which in the Republic Plato explains is the highest reality. Thus Thomas Taylor, reflecting their method of criticism, writes: “Of all the dogmas of Plato, that concerning the first principle of things as far transcends in sublimity the doctrine of other philosophers of a different sect, on this subject, as this supreme cause of all transcends other causes. For, according to Plato, the highest God, whom in the Republic he calls the good, and in the Parmenides the one, is not only above soul and intellect, but is even superior to being itself. Hence, since everything which can in any respect be known, or of which anything can be asserted, must be connected with the universality of things, but the first cause is above all things, it is very properly said by Plato to be perfectly ineffable. The first hypothesis therefore of his Parmenides, in which all things are denied of this immense principle, concludes as follows: 'The one therefore is in no respect. So it seems. Hence it is not in such a manner as to be one, for thus it would be being, and participate of essence: but as it appears, the one neither is one, nor is, if it be proper to believe in reasoning of this kind. It appears so. But can anything either belong to, or be affirmed of that which is not? How can it? Neither therefore does any name belong to it, nor discourse, nor any science, nor sense, nor opinion. It does not appear that there can. Hence it can neither be named, nor spoken of, nor conceived by opinion, nor be known, nor perceived by any being. So it seems.'” 1
1 Complete Works, VIII., 50. 2 Ibid., V., 295.
Emerson follows this manner of reviewing 1 The Works of Plato, translated by Thomas Taylor, I., Introduction, p. 5.
Plato's system. In his essay on Plato he thus sets forth Plato's conception of the highest postulate of thought: “Plato apprehended the cardinal facts. He could prostrate himself on the earth and cover his eyes whilst he adored that which cannot be numbered, or gauged, or known, or named; that of which everything can be affirmed and denied; that 'which is entity and nonentity.' He called it super-essential. He even stood ready, as in the Parmenides, to demonstrate that it was so —that this Being exceeded the limits of intellect. No man ever more fully acknowledged the Ineffable.” 1
Modern criticism does not accept this view of the Parmenides. Scholars no longer interpret Plato from the standpoint of the NeoPlatonists. They consider the Parmenides either as a dialectical exercise or as a subtle attempt of Plato to criticise the earlier Eleatic philosophy from the standpoint of Zeno.? Consequently they do not co-ordinate the conception of the One given in the Parmenides with the idea of the Good as elaborated in the Republic. Into the soundness or weakness of
1 Complete Works, IV., 61. 2 The Dialogues of Plato, translated by B. Jowett, III., 225, 227.