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Emerson Opening

What lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. [Ralph Waldo Emerson]

Emerson is often marked by very doubtful rhetoric. Example from his essay "Ability":

The . . . sots of England . . . Heavy fellows, steeped in beer and fleshpots, they are hard of hearing and dim of sight. . . . When they have pounded each other to a poultice, they will shake hands and be friends for the remainder of their lives.

Where is the evidence that Emerson has got it right about "the English"? The proper question is often, "Can we judge the many by the actions of the few?" Emerson's views on this and that from the 19th century may not have been much representative for all British folks, for example, for he met only a few. He had a limited range of sources to draw on. It is best to acknowledge that.

So, how representative of the many are the actions of the few?. If much representative, a sample may show a lot. If the samle is not representative, it may or may not be valuable anyway, for there are also lucky guesses.

Ralph Waldo Emerson does judge the many by his impressons of the few; he treats all alike and generalises bombastically - that is, he philosophises. After all, it means "I utter this and that, lacking great evidence a long way - yes, I lack proof."

One may safely say that Emerson is overdoing lots of things rather often and that he claims causes, but without having proper proof, etc. Still, that does not exclude he could be spot-on in some instances, only that solid back-up evidence is lacking.

Ralph Waldo Emerson was a formidable North American essayist, philosopher, and poet born on May 25, 1803 - a powerful, inspirational writer who died in 1882 after a brief illness. Emerson was nicknamed the Concord Sage by fellow Americans, and as a lecturer and orator he became the leading voice of intellectual culture in the United States at the time. Hope can accomplish such feats. But apt hope might be better than all other forms of hope.

Works of this American catalyst writer have an impressive style, almost without equal, for he never tried to put plan in his essays. Instead he said what came to him, ever on the alert for "the first glimmer". In this way he excelled and later prospered. Yet, when he travelled about lecturing, most people did not understand him.

Emerson held that human spiritual renewal proceeds from the individual's intimate personal experience of his own portion of the divine oversoul, and his "God is in every man" is the keynote of what is called the Transcendentalist movement of the early 1800s. Emerson led it. He was seen as a champion of individualism, and someone who warned against tensions growing in society.

The young Emerson had high, candid notions on such as self-expression and self-reliance. What Emerson strove for in his way and day, seems to be "Let us honestly state the facts [in "Fate"]." His essential philosophy is found in the little book Nature (1836). Afterwards he wrote extensions, amplifications, or amendments of ideas in it and added some more themes. He warned against scholarship unrelated to life, a washed-up Christian tradition, imitation of others, and pedantry. ("The American Scholar", 1837; "Address at Divinity College" at Harvard University, 1838).

From ongoing lecture series, he gathered his Essays into two volumes (1841, 1844). In the first volume he vented idealistic notions on such as self-expression and self-reliance and much else. In the second volume he accommodated his earlier idealism to limitations of life.

Later in life Emerson showed less reliance on self.

His collected Poems (1846) were supplemented by others in 1867, and made him known as a major American poet. The Conduct of Life (1860) is his most mature work.

Many famous men he met, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, seemed to him inferior in intellect. The exception was Thomas Carlyle. Emerson warned against academic pedantry and sallow faith and also made himself thoroughly unwelcome at Harvard University; he was ostracized by Harvard for many years. But his reputation increased until the old Emerson was regarded as the internationally famous Sage of Concord. (see EB, "Ralph Waldo Emerson")

Words of warning

Write how you want, the critic shall show the world you could have written better. [Oliver Goldsmith]

On top of the page, the "Concord Sage" describes Englishmen. He is likely to be far out and tendentious, as you can see. Or maybe it is long-range effects of pub life he is into? A few selected Emerson remarks may be found on the next pages. On another page there is a series of Emerson quotes.

"Where is the evidence for what he pinpoints?" That could be an apt question to tag on most of his various utterances. Good evidence may be missing, frankly. And by the way, it is often lack of solid proof that makes the philosopher. But looking for evidence it makes a smarter person - or "Someone may rise higher than duped ones."

If Emerson had made apt reservations against exaggerations and wild claims in the first series of essays, he might have escaped years of amplifying and elaborating on his early works and have time for much else. Learning betimes may ride above isolated mentions or paragraphs of celebs too.

By an Emerson example under "elaborating", you could end up coping better. It often pays to be careful or well reserved in public.


Ralph Waldo Emerson selections, Literature  

Atkinson, Brooks, ed: The Complete Essays and Other Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. New York: The Modern Library, 1950.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Bloom's Classic Critical Views: Ralph Waldo Emerson. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2008.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Ralph Waldo Emerson Essays and Lectures. New York: The Library of America, 1983.

Emerson, Edward Waldo, and Waldo Emerson Forbes, eds. 1909-1914. Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Vols 1 to 10. London: Constable and Co.

Levine, Allan M., and Daniel S. Malachuk, eds. A Political Companion to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2011.

Meyer, Adolphe. Grandmasters of Educational Thought. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1975.

Myerson, Joel, ed. 1997. The Selected Letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Chichester, West Sussex: Columbia University Press Porte, Joel and Saundra Morris, eds: The Cambridge Companion to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Cambridge UP. Cambridge, 1999.

The Ralph Waldo Emerson Institute. The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Centerary Edition., 2005-2009. Online, searchable: ◦

Rusk, Ralph: The Life of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Columbia University. New York, 1949.

Wayne, Tiffany K. 2010. Critical Companion to Ralph Waldo Emerson: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File.

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