Essays: First Series - Wikipedia

Essays, First Series by Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Waldo Emerson was not a practicing literary critic in the sense that and were, and he was not a theorist as , or Friedrich Ernst Schleiermacher were. Yet he was for America what was for England, the major spokesman for a new conception of literature. From his early essays on English literature and his important first book, (1836), to his greatest single literary essay, "The Poet" (1844), to his late essays on "Poetry and Imagination" and "Persian Poetry" in 1875, Emerson developed and championed a concept of literature as literary activity. The essence of that activity is a symbolizing process. Both reader and writer are involved in acts of literary expression which are representative or symbolic. Emerson's position is an extreme one, and in (1965) René Wellek has said that "the very extremity with which he held his views makes him the outstanding representative of romantic symbolism in the English-speaking world." Emerson's romantic symbolism, biographical and ethical in intent, poetic in expression, is an attitude that still stirs debate and still can have a liberating and encouraging effect on the modern reader. Emerson always cared more for the present than the past, more for his reader than for the text in hand or the author in question. Poets, he said, are "liberating gods"; and Emerson at his best is also a liberator. "Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views, which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries, when they wrote those books."

Essays, First Series Quotes by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson is the chief figure in the American literary movement called Transcendentalism, which was also a philosophical and religious movement. Transcendentalism is complex, drawing upon Platonic, Christian, Stoic, and Hindu thought, but its most immediate affinity is with German Idealism as worked out from Kant to Schelling. Indeed Emerson himself said in a lecture called delivered in December 1841, "What is popularly called Transcendentalism among us, is Idealism." He then described it: "As thinkers, mankind have ever divided into two sects, Materialists and Idealists; the first class founding on experience, the second on consciousness; the first class beginning to think from the data of the senses, the second class perceive that the senses are not final, and say, the senses gives us representations of things, but what are the things themselves, they cannot tell. The materialist insists on facts, on history, on the force of circumstances, and the animal wants of man; the idealist on the power of Thought and of Will, on inspiration, on miracle, on individual culture." Materialist criticism focuses on facts, on literary history, on the life and mind of the author and his or her intention, and on the text itself. Emerson's ethical and idealist criticism concentrates almost entirely upon the reader and his or her response to a text. Emerson is mainly concerned not with the fact of literary history but with the of literature, with its effects on the reader, and its power or lack of power to move us.

Ralph Waldo Emerson was known first as an orator. Emerson converted many of his orations in to essays. A student of Emerson's essays will also want to study Emerson's since he often worked out in his journal entries ideas that later appear in his orations and essays.


Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson First and Second Series …

Emerson closed his English literature lecture series with a final talk on "Modern Aspects of Letters," in which he discussed Lord , , Dugald Steward, James McIntosh, and . Of these his favorite is , whom he praises particularly as a critic. Emerson rates 's (1817) "the best body of criticism in the English language," and it may be added that Emerson as a literary critic is closer to and owes more to him than to any other single source. Emerson singles out as especially important, in addition to the , 's (1809), especially the third volume, and his (1830). (1825), "though a useful book I suppose, is the least valuable." Of particular value to Emerson are 's "distinction between Reason and Understanding; the distinction of an Idea and a Conception; between Genius and Talent; between Fancy and Imagination: of the nature and end of Poetry: of the Idea of a State." Emerson closes his lecture with an argument that beauty and truth "always face each other and each tends to become the other." He insists that everyone has it in him or her to both create and respond to literature, because literature is based on nature and "all nature, nothing less, is totally given to each new being."

Essays : first and second series

The last of the English literature lectures was given in January 1836. In September appeared. It is a major statement, a book which, like Lucretius's , aims at nothing less than an account of "How Things Are," an intense effort to synthesize a first philosophy. shows the warming and shaping influence of , Bacon, , (via Thomas Taylor), Swedenborg (via ), and Kant (via Carlyle, who was also a major influence by himself). Many of the observations, especially on language, from the English literature lectures found their way, often verbatim and at length, into . In some important respects then, key parts of came directly out of Emerson's study of English literature.

Essays : first series and second series

The main purpose of is to recover for the present generation the direct and immediate relationship with the world that our ancestors had. "Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe?," Emerson asks, with emphasis on the word "also." He goes on to inquire, "Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs?" He had already discussed the poetry of tradition in his English lecture series. is an inquiry into the conditions necessary for a modern literature of insight.