The Completest Man
Emerson’s elegy for Daniel Webster, composed
Always there was Webster, the fit figure
In our landscape. What was small, he showed small
And made the great, great. He trusted
Simple strength of statement, with words
Like the blows from an axe
Hewn fine to say the plain and equal things,
Grand things if he had them. He hugged his fact
So close he would not let it go, not one,
We said, blown about by opinion’s every wind.
In him, Nature cut out a masterpiece:
Tanned complexion; amorphous craglike face;
Mastiff mouth, accurately closed;
Coalblack hair; cinderous black eyes
Under their precipice
Of brows like dull anthracite furnaces
Needing only to be blown; and the rich
Well-modulated thunder of his voice,
Which would not inflame and would not exaggerate.
Knowledge is one thing; what he had was grasp,
Which finds things in their divine order.
His eye to the place where he was,
The day was always part of him,
And he seemed in those days,
When the young men were ranged around him,
The utmost that our unpoetic West
Had accomplished or could – Adamatic,
A titanic Earth-son. He was an underling.
I revered the saints but thought myself glad
The dear old Devil kept state in Boston,
With Webster our Themistocles
At mulled wine with cronies, where he
Stretched himself at his ease,
Known to be generous, always in debt.
Yet canker worms crawled to the topmost bough:
Plainly, too plainly, he was one of us.
The fame of Webster ended in a nasty law.
—James Toupin, Washington, D.C.