Emerson Essays First Series - …

Another lecture in the "English Literature" series is called "Ethical Writers." The subject seems puzzling at first, but it is important for a full understanding of Emerson's conception of literature. There is a whole class of writers whose primary function is not entertainment, he says, "who help us by addressing not our taste but our human wants, who treat of the permanent nature of man." Such writers include, among the classics, , , Cicero, Marcus Aurelius. In English, the list includes Bacon, , Jeremy Taylor, Sir Thomas Browne, , and . Emerson also includes poets and playwrights in his list, but his emphasis is clearly on a kind of writing which is not fiction, poetry, or drama but primarily wisdom literature or moral literature, everything that we now place under the heading of nonfiction prose. It is a category that includes much of the best-and most helpful--writing ever done, a category in which Emerson himself now holds a high place.

"Self-Reliance," Essays, First Series (1841, repr

Circles, by Ralph Waldo Emerson, from Essays First Series published in 1841

Blueprint Builders – Emerson essays first and second series

Some things did not slip through his fingers. Emerson could be a brilliant and pungent critic on occasion. In a letter to on 17 March 1840, he told her he had been reading "one of Lord Brougham's superficial indigent disorderly unbuttoned penny-a-page books called 'Times of George III,'" thereby describing a kind of book of which too many are published in every age. Emerson wrote for the notices of 's (1840), which he liked, saying "it will serve to hasten the day of reckoning between society and the sailor." He praised the poetry in 's (1839), "as sincere a litany as the Hebrew songs of David or Isaiah, and only less than they, because indebted to the Hebrew muse for their tone and genius." In a review of Tennyson, he commented, "So large a proportion of even the good poetry of our time is either over-ethical or over-passionate, and the stock poetry is so deeply tainted with a sentimental egotism that this, whose chief merit lay in its melody and picturesque power, was most refreshing." Emerson was also an early admirer of the poetry of and Ellery Channing. He was Carlyle's American agent, so to speak, and through Emerson's effort Carlyle's (1835) was published in book form in Boston before an English publisher could be found for it. When sent Emerson a copy of the first edition of (1855), Emerson wrote back an excited letter, calling the poems "the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed." He recognized the "great power" in the work and praised it for having "the best merits, namely, of fortifying and encouraging."

Essays: First Series ebook (1841) by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

In December 1839 Emerson gave two lectures on literature as part of a series called "The Present Age," much of the material of which went into a paper called "Thoughts on Modern Literature," published in the in October 1840 and reprinted in (1893). Here Emerson lists, in order of importance, three classes of literature. "The highest class of books are those which express the moral element; the next, works of imagination; and the next, works of science." Though he calls "the first literary genius of the world, the highest in whom the moral is not the predominating element," he insists that 's work "leans on the Bible: his poetry supposes it." By contrast, "the Prophets do not imply the existence of or ." is secondary, the prophets of the Bible are primary. These views compensate and balance those in the Divinity School address. Indeed seems to have been intended by Emerson as a sort of corrective of some of his early views and various misinterpretations of them. One of the best things in "Thoughts on Modern Literature" is a long and very specific treatment of the problem of subjectivity. Defending the subjectivism of the age, Emerson is at great pains to distinguish true subjectivism (the right of each single soul, each subject "I" to "sit in judgment on history and literature, and to summon all facts and parties before its tribunal") from narrow-minded insistence on one's own personality or mere "intellectual selfishness." "A man may say , and never refer to himself as an individual," says Emerson in a phrase that prefigures his concept of the representative poet.

The Over Soul by Ralph Waldo Emerson from Essays: First Series first published in 1841
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Ralph Waldo Emerson - Biography and Works. Search …

Books of course are an important part of "The American Scholar," and Emerson gives a description of what he calls "the theory of books." "The scholar of the first age received into him the world around; brooded thereon; gave it the new arrangement of his own mind, and uttered it again. It came into him--life; it went out from him--truth." But once the book is written, says Emerson, there "arises a grave mischief. The sacredness which attaches to the act of creation,--the act of thought,--is instantly transferred to the record." The book is now regarded as perfect, untouchable, unimprovable, and what might have been a guide becomes a tyrant, leading the young people in libraries to read and admire the books of others when they would be better off writing their own. By overvaluing the finished book and underrating the act of book writing, we become mere bookworms, a book-learned class who value books as such. "Hence, the restorers of readings, the emendators, the bibliomaniacs of all degrees." "The American Scholar" makes a major protest against what has called the burden of the past and what Harold Bloom has called the anxiety of influence. Books "are for nothing but to inspire," Emerson declares. "I had better never see a book than to be warped by its attraction clean out of my own orbit, and made a satellite instead of a system." Books must not be overestimated. They can too easily intimidate us and make us forget that "the one thing in the world of value, is, the active soul." Another way to keep the great work of past writers in proper perspective is to read actively and not passively. "There is then creative reading, as well as creative writing." The most valuable part of the text may be what the reader brings to it. "When the mind is braced by labor and invention, the page of whatever book we read becomes luminous with manifold allusion." Emerson is set against any suggestion that we should worship the great books of the past. We can learn from them, of course, but "the man has never lived that can feed us ever." The human spirit, fluid and restless and charged with heat and energy, will always be breaking out with new experiences, and Emerson draws on personal observation from his Italian trip of 1833 to make a bold metaphor of the human mind as "one central fire which flaming now out of the lips of Etna, lightens the capes of Sicily; and now out of the throat of Vesuvius, illuminates the towers and vineyards of Naples."

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Emerson, Ralph Waldo | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

(1850), a book made up of lectures first given in 1845 on , Swedenborg, Montaigne, , Napoleon, and Goethe, is the fullest account of Emerson's biographical approach to literature. This subject is not new with him. It goes back at least to his early lecture on , but it now has a new emphasis. Just as he had once claimed that there is properly no history, only biography, so comes close to saying there is properly no literature, there are only literary persons. "There must be a man behind the book," he says of Goethe. "It makes a great difference to the force of any sentence whether there be a man behind it or no." Emerson's representative figures are his Plutarchan heroes. The book is a pantheon of heroes, chosen not from among warriors (except for Napoleon), but from among thinkers and writers, who are of use to us because they represent or symbolize qualities that lie in us, too. They are essays in symbolic literary biography. Assuming that language is representative, that is, symbolic, Emerson says that "Behmen and Swedenborg saw that things were representative." Then, moving, not toward circular idealism, but toward biography, he states: "Men also are representative: first of things, and secondly, of ideas." Emerson identifies in each of his figures some permanent quality of the human mind. He is also a prestructuralist in that he believes that the world people make and inhabit is determined partly or even largely by the structure of the human mind. "Our colossal theologies of Judaism, Christism, Buddhism, Mahometism are the necessary and structural action of the human mind." It follows from this that our reading is a process of recognizing our own thoughts, or capabilities for thought and imagination, in the work and lives of others. Emerson sums this up concisely. "The possibility of interpretation lies in the identity of the observer with the observed." The democratic aesthetic also follows from this. "As to what we call the masses, and common men,--there are no common men. All men are at last of a size; and true art is only possible on the conviction that every talent has its apotheosis somewhere."

The first volume of Emerson's Essays (1841) includes some ofhis most popular works.

Free self reliance Essays and Papers - 123HelpMe

From December 1836 to March 1837 Emerson gave his first series of independent lectures, the first that is, that he designed himself and gave under his own auspices. It was called the Philosophy of History, and it was a very important series for Emerson, since out of it evolved the great essays on "History" and "Self Reliance" that he would publish in his first volume of in 1841. There is also a lecture on "Literature" in the Philosophy of History series, given in January 1837. The general theme of the series is stated in the introductory lecture: "We arrive early at the great discovery that there is one Mind common to all individual men; that what is individual is less than what is universal; that those properties by which you are man are more radical than those by which you are Adam or John; than the individual, nothing is less; than the universal, nothing is greater; that error, vice, and disease have their seat in the superficial or individual nature; that the common nature is whole." Literature, then, is the written record of this mind, and in one important sense literature is always showing us only ourselves. This lecture contains Emerson's most extreme--and least fruitful--statement of his idealist conception of literature. He contrasts art with literature, explaining that while "Art delights in carrying a thought into action, Literature is the conversion of action into thought." In other words, "Literature idealizes action." In an abstract sense this may be so, but Emerson is generally at his best when he sees literature moving us toward action, not away from it. In another place this lecture has a very valuable comment on how literature is able to reach into our unconscious. "Whoever separates for us a truth from our unconscious reason, and makes it an object of consciousness, ... must of course be to us a great man." And there is also a rather uncharacteristic recognition of what Gustav Flaubert would call . "The laws of composition are as strict as those of sculpture and architecture. There is always one line that ought to be chosen, one proportion that should be kept, and every other line or proportion is wrong.... So, in writing, there is always a right word, and every other than that is wrong."