Emerson, Ralph Waldo. (1803 - 1882).
L i f e
- grew up in a family including a heritage of nine successive generations of notable New England ministers
- involved with Unitarianism = rejected the Calvinist legacy of Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening, shifted from the individual’s depravity to individual’s moral capabilities
- disapproved the worshipping of ‘the dead forms of our forefathers’ in favour of more intuitive and personally revelatory religious experience
- resigned his ministry: ‘in order to be a good minister it was necessary to leave the ministry’ >> went to Europe >> then Concord (Massachusetts)
W o r k
- generally considered the chief spokesman for transcendentalism
- an ambitious and dynamic lecturer: drew the lectures from his extensive journals, commented on the controversies of the time, private and public persons, and his notes on reading
R e l i g i o n :
- urged the ministers to free themselves from the authority of the church, and to instruct their parishioners ‘to love God without mediator’
- developed this controversial ideas in an address at the Harvard Divinity School, resulted in his condemnation as a heretic
S t y l e :
- his essays display the way his mind actually works: moves from impression to impression, from association to association
- the flow of his texts analogous to the flow of the natural world
- his philosophy rather inconsistent x but: Emerson: ‘to define is to confine’
- achievement: defined the traditional American values of self-reliance, individual authority, individual responsibility, resolute optimism, moral idealism, veneration of experience, and worshipful return to nature
> the work of such divergent figures as Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, Gertrude Stein, Willa Cather, etc.
P r o s e :
- attempts to reject the Old World and build a new one: ‘why should we grope among the dry bones of the past?’
- nature should substitute the new nation’s lack of cultural heritage, and should be the source for the articulation and development of the American cultural identity
- nature should replace the Bible as capable of being read by anyone
- differentiates the following modes of nature:
(a) Nature as a commodity: food for our senses
(b) Nature as a standard of Beauty
(c) Nature as a source of language: language derives from natural objects
(d) Nature as a teacher of discipline
“The American Scholar” (1937):
- an address developed at the Harvard Divinity School
- urges to break with the past, look at the present, and concentrate on one’s own experience
- bases his philosophy on spontaneous action, creative intuition, self-reliance, and self-trust
- the American scholar should be ‘The Man Thinking’ x not parroting other men’s thought
=> declares the independence of American literature: celebrated by the foremost critic of the period, James Russell Lowell, as America’s ‘Intellectual Declaration of Independence’
(Picture: Wikimedia Commons).
AuthorRalph Waldo Emerson. (1803 - 1882). American.
WorkPhilosopher. Essayist. Orator. Poet. Author of Nature (1836).
Baym, Nina, ed. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. New York: W. W. Norton, 1995.
Bercovitch, Sacvan, ed. The Cambridge History of American Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Cunliffe, Marcus. The Literature of the United States. London: Penguin, 1991.
Lauter, Paul, ed. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Lexington: D. C. Heath, 1994.
McQuade, Donald, gen.ed. The Harper American Literature. New York: Harper & Collins, 1996.
Ruland, Richard, Malcolm Bradbury. Od puritanismu k postmodernismu. Praha: Mladá fronta, 1997.
Vančura, Zdeněk, ed. Slovník spisovatelů: Spojené státy americké. Praha: Odeon, 1979.
Means of Education
In "The American Scholar" (1837), Emerson defines following means of education:
(a) Nature: active perception and personal experience of Nature
(b) The Past: practical use of knowledge gained from books
(c) Action: dignity and necessity of everyday labour
"Standing on the bare ground, -- my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, -- all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God".
From Nature (1836).