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by Edward Waldo Emerson (page images at HathiTrust; US access only)

The essay makes one more important literary point. Emerson takes it as a welcome sign of the times that "instead of the sublime and beautiful, the near, the low, the common" was being explored and made into poetry. "I embrace the common," he says. "I explore and sit at the feet of the familiar, the low .... the meal in the firkin, the milk in the pan." Like Wordsworth's call for a language of common men, this recognition of Emerson's went further than his own practice could usually follow. But Emerson's endorsement of common language had a powerful effect on the rising generation of young American writers, first on and , then on and others.

Munroe and company, 1838), also by Ralph Waldo Emerson (page images at HathiTrust)

There is more in the essay on the origin of words. "The etymologist finds the deadest word to have been once a brilliant picture," Emerson says, in a passage that was noted by Richard Trench, the English author who first suggested the idea of the . "Language is fossil poetry," Emerson explains, saying that "Language is made up of images, or tropes, which now, in their secondary use, have long ceased to remind us of their poetic origin." Coleridge had linked genius to organic form, saying genius was the mind's "power of acting creatively under laws of its own origination." Emerson now links genius with the revival and renewal of language. "Genius is the activity which repairs the decays of things," he says, and the epigrammatic force of his own language pushes back against entropy itself.

Ralph Waldo Emerson - Wikipedia

Wise, 1926), also by Edward Waldo Emerson (page images at HathiTrust; US access only)


Check out 30 of the top free philosophy books, lectures, & podcasts available online. For years we've put an emphasis on showcasing philosophy as part of our . Now with this list of 30 hand picked titles, you can dive into political theory with Machiavelli or Jean-Jacques Rousseau, learn the Art of War with Sun Tzu, take a film class on Existentialism and ask the big questions of life's significance. Other philosophers you'll meet and learn about on this list include Plato, Frederick Nietzsche, Immanuel Kant, Bertrand Russell, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Ayn Rand among many others. You can check them all out by clicking the titles below:


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Emerson's final word is reserved for Goethe not Faust, the creator not the creation, and what he says of Goethe is true of Emerson himself. "Goethe teaches courage, and the equivalence of all times.... We too must write Bibles, to unite again the heavens and the earthly world. The secret of genius is to suffer no fiction to exist for us; to realize all that we know; in the high refinement of modern life, in art, in sciences, in books, in men, to exact good faith, reality and a purpose; and first, last, midst and without end, to honor every truth by use." Thus, Emerson, like most critics who get their bearings from , has little to say about fiction, about the novel. Fiction he regarded as unreal, but poetry was for him, "the science of the real." In his later writings, while he would comment on novels and romances occasionally, he continued to deepen and widen his conception of poetry.

Ralph Waldo Emerson - Biography and Works. Search …

: Houghton Mifflin, 1903-1904), also by Edward Waldo Emerson (page images at HathiTrust)

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."

Emerson's idealism is always mentioned in critical discussions of his thought. The equally important ethical aspect of his work is less often insisted upon. But Emerson's characteristically practical idealism cannot be fully appreciated until one recognizes that he evaluated all literature, all philosophy, all religion, by a simple ethical test: how does it help me to live a better life. has defined the moral element in literature as that which teaches us how to live. All of Emerson's idealist conceptions also meet this moral test, and those books which have served successfully over time as practical guides to conduct are the books Emerson values most highly. maintained in the "Preface to Shakespeare" that "nothing can please many and please long but just representations of general nature." Emerson used a similar criterion. The best ethical writers, he says, are those who write about "certain feelings and faculties in us which are alike in all men and which no progress of arts and no variety of institutions can alter," those writers, in short, who hold fast to "the general nature of man."

Dutton & co., inc., [1908]), also by Ralph Waldo Emerson (page images at HathiTrust)
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Ralph Waldo Emerson Biography | Biography Online

Emerson spent the rest of his life centered in Concord, with another trip to England in 1847-1848, one to California in 1871, and a final trip to Egypt in 1872. Each winter he would travel through New England and the East Coast, and as far west as there were cities on his annual lecture tour, for which he was his own booking agent, advertiser, and arranger. The rest of the year he spent in Concord, which soon became one of the intellectual centers of the country, a sort of American Weimar. The group around Emerson, usually called the Transcendentalists, were defined in one way by Emerson's 1838 Divinity School address, which offended orthodox Unitarians by locating religious authority in the religious nature of human beings, rather than in the Bible or the person of Christ. The , a new magazine founded by the group and edited first by , showed the group's interest in the literature of Idealism. In religion, in philosophy, and in literature, the group around Emerson was liberal, learned, forward-looking and reform-minded. The Emersonian "movement" (it was Emerson who said there are always two parties in society, the Establishment and the Movement) or "the newness" was eventually overshadowed by the Civil War, the coming of industrialism, and the rise of realism. But in the late 1830s, 1840s, and into the 1850s, Emerson was at the center of much that was new, exciting, and vital in American cultural life.

Ralph Waldo Emerson biography - Transcendentalism

His addresses including"The Philosophy of History," "Human Culture," "Human Life," and"The Present Age" were based on material in his Journals, acollection of observations and notes that he had begun while astudent at Harvard.

In the autumn of 1835 Emerson married Lydia Jackson and thecouple moved into a spacious house in Concord that Emerson hadpurchased.

The Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson; The First Series …

In the introductory lecture for his 1835 series, "English Literature," Emerson offers a very broad definition of literature as "the books that are written. It is the recorded thinking of man." Later he excludes "records of facts," but even so it is evident that he meant the term literature to take in far more than just poems, plays, and novels. More important, in this lecture Emerson describes all language as "a naming of invisible and spiritual things from visible things," and he here first gives his famous two-part definition of language. First, words are emblematic of things; "supercilious" means literally "the raising of an eyebrow." Second, things are emblematic; "Light and Darkness are not in words but in fact our best expression for knowledge and ignorance." Since both words and things are emblematic, it follows for Emerson that "good writing and brilliant discourse are perpetual allegories." He concludes that "the aim and effort of literature in the largest sense [is] nothing less than to as events and ages unfold it, to record in words the whole life of the world."

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