Emersons essays: notes

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Emerson helped me do it. I printed out the essay and annotated it, carried it around with me, stained it with wine, and wore it out. Then I printed another copy and went back to underlining. I bookmarked the digital version of the essay on my computers at work and at home. Each person has reason to believe in their own ideas, he explains, because each of us is unique. They outfit you for a walk in the woods or an ordinary morning. They urge you to make things, listen to the whispers, for the sake of creativity itself. The inherent capacity for revolutionary thought is also why we cannot fully understand anyone.

Nature Essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson

All individuals contain an unknown potential for greater possibility endowed by his divine soul. Furthermore, such potential waxes and wanes by the day, as when Emerson writes full of thought one day, but cannot do so in the slightest the next. In regard to circles and society, Emerson observes we are left with countless historical examples of the transitory nature of society.

The Project Gutenberg eBook of Essays, by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The Greek sculpture is all melted away, as if it had been statues of ice; here and there a solitary figure or fragment remaining, as we see flecks and scraps of snow left in cold dells and mountain clefts in June and July… New arts destroy the old. See the investment of capital in aqueducts, made useless by hydraulics; fortifications, by gunpowder; roads and canals, by railways; sails, by steam; steam by electricity. The same holds for the intangible aspects of society, including virtue, as does with solid matter.

Perhaps his most controversial stance, Emerson argues like all of life, there is no virtue that is final; all virtue is initial. The virtues of society are vices of the saint.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

The terror of reform is the discovery that we must cast away our virtues, or what we have always esteemed such, into the same pit that has consumed our grosser vices. Does this mean he believes all actions are equal and valid, such that even crimes could be considered sacred? No facts are to me sacred; none are profane; I simply experiment, an endless seeker with no Past at my back. Nevertheless, while the revolutionary circles of life eternally ripple through nature, individuals, and society, they all emanate from the soul, or rather, God. Whilst the eternal generation of circles proceeds, the eternal generator abides.

Rarely have I underlined so copiously in any book, his sentences glowing with images and metaphors memorable and incisive.

In fact, he is best read a sentence at a time. True, he does construct general arguments in the course of his essays, but his thinking is divergent and rambling rather than cumulative and consistent, and it is in his sentences that his charm and wisdom lies. Day after day I found myself eagerly returning to these essays, and I enjoyed and profited from most of them. Emerson could have wished for nothing better. View 1 comment. Jun 03, Aaron added it Shelves: philosophy , culture , reviewed. By all rights I should give this a 5.

Emerson is the quintessential American and quite frankly probably the quintessential human being, by my lights. At his peak, which he hits here often see especially: The Poet, The American Scholar, The Divinity School Address, and the final chapter of The Conduct of Life , his every sentence falls like a fiery brand imprinting itself forever on my mind. Stylistically, he is an absolutely incredible writer, and his content burns.

Emerson speaks to you and on By all rights I should give this a 5. Emerson speaks to you and only you—reading these essays is about as close as an atheist like myself can get to understanding what it is like, for religious people, to have a personal experience with God do not misunderstand this as me simply praising Emerson as a divinity.

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So why only a 4? Because, as good as this is, his journals released, in abridged form, in two wonderful volumes by the Library of America tower above his essays. In his essays, he is the ultimate in self-confidence, but he is also abstract. In his journals, you see the self-doubt, the foibles, etc. That the essays abstract out his life is a good thing in a way—it makes room for your life to fill in that space—but it's also a substantial barrier to seeing just what it means to be self-reliant, in the Emersonian sense.

No doubt about it, the essays, lectures, and books are genius, but they only tell half the story. They pull out ideas from his the journals that serve as the battleground for those ideas, but in his case, it's imperative to see the battle itself. The essays and lectures are a history written by the victors, and skewed exactly as you would expect as a result. View 2 comments. Nov 07, Thomas rated it it was ok Shelves: american-classic. I appreciate Emerson's passion, but his rhetoric is overblown and sophistical.

He excuses his inconsistency with a pithy phrase that has become his trademark, but his careless thinking isn't so much a hobgoblin as a morass. He has a good heart, so it's hard to give the man a pitiful two-star review. Unfortunately, I think he's peddling snake oil. He provides the perfect argument against idealism while intending just the opposite. I admit that I didn't read all of these essays but like the fine p I appreciate Emerson's passion, but his rhetoric is overblown and sophistical.

Early life and works

I admit that I didn't read all of these essays but like the fine people of Concord who crossed the street to avoid "Mad-dog Emerson," I feel compelled to do the same. Jan 23, Ben rated it it was amazing. In alluding just now to our system of education, I spoke of the deadness of its details. But it is open to graver criticism than the palsy of its members: it is a system of despair. The disease with which the human mind now labors, is want of faith. Men do not believe in a power of education. We do not think we can speak to divine sentiments in man, and we do not try.

We renounce all high aims. We believe that the defects of so many perverse and so many frivolous people, who make up society, are In alluding just now to our system of education, I spoke of the deadness of its details. We believe that the defects of so many perverse and so many frivolous people, who make up society, are organic, and society is a hospital of incurables.

A man of good sense but of little faith, whose compassion seemed to lead him to church as often as he went there, said to me; "that he liked to have concerts, and fairs, and churches, and other public amusements go on.

Having settled ourselves into this infidelity, our skill is expended to procure alleviations, diversion, opiates. We adorn the victim with manual skill, his tongue with languages, his body with inoffensive and comely manners. So have we cunningly hid the tragedy of limitation and inner death we cannot avert. Is it strange that society should be devoured by a secret melancholy, which breaks through all its smiles, and all its gayety and games?

But even one step farther out our infidelity has gone. It appears that some doubt is felt by good and wise men, whether really the happiness and probity of men is increased by the culture of the mind in those disciplines to which we give the name of education.

Unhappily, too, the doubt comes from scholars, from persons who have tried these methods. In their experience, the scholar was not raised by the sacred thoughts amongst which he dwelt, but used them to selfish ends. He was a profane person, and became a showman, turning his gifts to a marketable use, and not to his own sustenance and growth.

It was found that the intellect could be independently developed, that is, in separation from the man, as any single organ can be invigorated, and the result was monstrous. A canine appetite for knowledge was generated, which must still be fed, but was never satisfied, and this knowledge not being directed on action, never took the character of substantial, humane truth, blessing those whom it entered.

It gave the scholar certain powers of expression, the power of speech, the power of poetry, of literary art, but it did not bring him to peace, or to beneficence. When the literary class betray a destitution of faith, it is not strange that society should be disheartened and sensualized by unbelief.


What remedy? Life must be lived on a higher plane. We must go up to a higher platform, to which we are always invited to ascend; there, the whole aspect of things changes. I resist the skepticism of our education, and of our educated men. I do not believe that the differences of opinion and character in men are organic. I do not recognize, beside the class of the good and the wise, a permanent class of skeptics, or a class of conservatives, or of malignants, or of materialists.

I do not believe in two classes. You remember the story of the poor woman who importuned King Philip of Macedon to grant her justice, which Philip refused: the woman exclaimed, "I appeal": the king, astonished, asked to whom she appealed: the woman replied, "from Philip drunk to Philip sober. I believe not in two classes of men, but in man in two moods, in Philip drunk and Philip sober. I think, according to the good-hearted word of Plato, "Unwillingly the soul is deprived of truth. The soul lets no man go without some visitations and holy-days of a diviner presence.

It would be easy to show, by a narrow scanning of any man's biography, that we are not so wedded to our paltry performances of every kind, but that every man has at intervals the grace to scorn his performances, in comparing them with his belief of what he should do, that he puts himself on teh side of his enemies, listening gladly to what they say of him, and accusing himself of the same things.

Ralph Waldo Emerson: Essays: First and Second Series

Feb 13, Kathryn added it. Perhaps I am perverse, but I can't figure out where to stand in relation to Emerson. I suppose I want to be a believer, to follow him, to take his essays as personally instructive and applicable to my life. And yet at the same time, for the most part, I can't find how they are of use in these times. So that seems to make them interested mostly from a literary point of view, the peculiar choice and use of words takes a while to get used to.