Criticism Theory

A Historical Guide to Ralph Waldo Emerson (Historical Guides by Joel Myerson

By Joel Myerson

There's no query that Emerson has maintained his position as one of many seminal figures in American heritage and literature. In his time, he was once the said chief of the Transcendentalist circulate and his poetic legacy, schooling beliefs, and non secular suggestions are imperative to the formation of yank highbrow existence. during this quantity, Joel Myerson, one of many best specialists in this interval, has collected jointly gleaming new essays that debate Emerson as a fabricated from his occasions. person chapters offer a longer biographical examine of Emerson and his impression on American lifestyles, through experiences of his thought of individualism, nature and common technological know-how, faith, antislavery, and women's rights.

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T]hese," Emerson now wrote, "are the threads on the loom of time, these are the lords of life" (CW, 3:47). Similarly, in "Gifts," Emerson treated optimism and brotherly love with sentiments bordering on contempt. Yet as a whole, Essays: Second Series does not justify the negative reading it has sometimes been given. In "The Poet," for example, Emerson moved his philosophy a significant step forward, identifying the poet as the "sayer," the "namer," the representative of beauty, who stands among "partial men for the complete man, and apprises us not of his wealth, but of the commonwealth" (CW, 3:4-5).

To survive in the city, to survive in an evolving yet imperfect culture, the idealistic individual had to learn "to look for the permanent in the mutable and fleeting" and "to bear the disappearance of things he was wont to reverence, without losing his reverence" (CW, 4:104-5). In writing and publishing The Conduct of Life, Emerson expected readers to recognize that his emphasis was still on reverence for nature and thought. Although he admitted repeatedly in the volume that the individual had to submit to the sway of myriad influences on his life, influences that ranged from fate, to 4O Ralph Waldo Emerson culture, to the illusion and subjectiveness he had called "the lords of life" in "Experience," he held fast to his idealism.

As in energy" that makes him, through thought in which all men share, "formi- A Brief Biography 41 dable and not to be disposed of" (CW, 1:120, 127-28). In "Illusions," the essay that concludes The Conduct of Life, Emerson reaffirmed the idealism with which he continued to respect the power of man, his mind, and the efficacy of thought. In an extended conceit that depicted "[e]very god . . sitting in his sphere" and a "young mortal . . in the hall of the firmament [temporarily blinded by] snow-storms of illusions," he showed that once "the air clears and the clouds lift a little," two essentials remained: the young mortal still possessing the integrity of his will and thought, and the gods, who, as universal rnind, sanction eternally moral man's will and thought (W, 6:325).

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