Elizabeth Hoar (1814-1878)

Something may be said here of Elizabeth Hoar, the betrothed of Charles Emerson. She translated the lecture by Dr. Carus on the Nubian Pyramids, printed in the third number of the third volume of “The Dial.” In his biography of Samuel Hoar, now published in his “Lectures and Biographical Sketches,” Emerson gave an account of Hoar’s visit to South Carolina, in 1844, and his expulsion from Charleston. He was accompanied on that occasion by his daughter Elizabeth, and it was doubtless owing to this fact that he was permitted to walk quietly through the city to the wharf without molestation, although a pro-slavery mob was ready to attack him. In a letter introducing Miss Hoar to Herman Grimm, Emerson described her as “a person in whom much culture has not weakened her strength or the delicacy of her native sentiment.” In his journal Emerson wrote of her “admirable fairness” of mind, and added: “I think no one who writes or utilizes his opinions can possibly be so fair. She will see nuances of equity which you would never see if untold. She applied the Napoleon mot, ‘Respect the burden,’ so well to Lincoln quoad Wendell Phillips.” He called her “Elizabeth the Wise,” and wrote of her: “E. H. consecrates. I have no other friend I more wish to be immortal than she; an influence I cannot spare, but must always have at hand for recourse.” His biographer says Miss Hoar “was a sister to Emerson from the death of his brother Charles, to whom she was engaged to be married, and this intimate relation to one gifted as she was with an extraordinary fineness of perception, but whose constitutional reserve, equal to his own, would, but for this tie, have precluded intimacy, was a constant occasion of self-congratulation with him. Abundant sentiment without a touch of sentimentality, and an uuswerving balance of mind joined with entire openness to ideas, made her a most valuable counterpoise to the eager idealists about him. She is the confidante, and as it were the touchstone, of his ideas; and many sentences in the ‘Essays,’ are their mutual confidences.”

In a personal letter Edward Waldo Emerson says: “Miss Elizabeth Hoar’s life was one of beauty and beneficence, and she was an uplifting person to all who had the fortune to come near her. Her sympathies were active and most catholic; her taste and judgment sure, and her memory for all good things and about people was wonderful; and in that glass all looked fair and interesting. She was a good genius in Concord.”

Over the grave of Elizabeth Hoar may be found the following admirable description of her, prepared by her brothers, George F. Hoar and E. Rockwood Hoar: “Her sympathy with what was high and fair brought her into intimacy with many eminent men and women of the time. Nothing excellent or beautiful escaped her frank apprehension, and in her unfailing memory precious things lay in exact order as in a royal treasury, hospitably ready to instruct and delight young and old. Her calm courage and simple, religious faith triumphed over weakness and pain; and, when death transplanted her to her place in the Garden of the Lord, he found little perishable to prune away.”

Elizabeth Hoar was not a literary person, or even a student in any systematic manner. She wrote a biography of Mrs. Sarah Ripley, a member of the transcendental club, for the “Worthy Women of our First Century,” published in 1876. She also put into verse the story of George Nidiver, which she heard in California, and which Emerson gave a place in his lecture on “Courage,” in “Society and Solitude,” and in “Parnassus.” It is so simple and eloquent a story of courage and heroism that it has been placed in many school-readers.

—George Willis Cooke, A Historical
and Biographical Introduction to the Dial
(Cleveland: Rowfant Club, 1902) v. 2, pp. 17-19