The American Scholar


This essay is excerpted from Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Merrill's English Texts, published in 1907.

Preface by the publisher: This address was delivered at Cambridge in 1837, before the Harvard Chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, a college fraternity composed of the first twenty-five men in each graduating class. The society has annual meetings, which have been the occasion for addresses from the most distinguished scholars and thinkers of the day.

An illustration for the story The American Scholar by the author Ralph Waldo Emerson An illustration for the story The American Scholar by the author Ralph Waldo Emerson An illustration for the story The American Scholar by the author Ralph Waldo Emerson

Mr. President and Gentlemen,

I greet you on the recommencement of our literary year. Our anniversary is one of hope, and, perhaps, not enough of labor. We do not meet for games of strength[1] or skill, for the recitation of histories, tragedies, and odes, like the ancient Greeks; for parliaments of love and poesy, like the Troubadours;[2] nor for the advancement of science, like our co-temporaries in the British and European capitals. Thus far, our holiday has been simply a friendly sign of the survival of the love of letters amongst a people too busy to give to letters any more. As such it is precious as the sign of an indestructible instinct. Perhaps the time is already come when it ought to be, and will be, something else; when the sluggard intellect [20] of this continent will look from under its iron lids and fill the postponed expectation of the world with something better than the exertions of mechanical skill. Our day of dependence, our long apprenticeship to the learning of other lands, draws to a close. The millions that around us are rushing into life cannot always be fed on the sere remains of foreign harvests.[3] Events, actions arise that must be sung, that will sing themselves. Who can doubt that poetry will revive and lead in a new age, as the star in the constellation Harp, which now flames in our zenith, astronomers announce, shall one day be the pole-star[4] for a thousand years?

In the light of this hope I accept the topic which not only usage but the nature of our association seem to prescribe to this day,—the American Scholar. Year by year we come up hither to read one more chapter of his biography. Let us inquire what new lights, new events, and more days have thrown on his character, his duties, and his hopes.

It is one of those fables which out of an unknown antiquity convey an unlooked-for wisdom, that the gods, in the beginning, divided Man into men, that he might be more helpful to himself; just as the hand was divided into fingers, the better to answer its end.[5]

The old fable covers a doctrine ever new and sublime; that there is One Man,—present to all particular men only partially, or through one faculty; and that you must take the whole society to find the whole man. Man is not a farmer, or a professor, or an engineer, but he is all. Man is priest, and scholar, and statesman, and producer, and soldier. In the divided or social state these functions are parceled out to individuals, each of whom aims to do his stint[6] of the joint work, whilst each other performs his. The fable implies that the individual, to possess himself, must sometimes return from his own labor to embrace all the other laborers. But, unfortunately, this original unit, this fountain of power, has been so distributed to multitudes, has been so minutely subdivided and peddled out, that it is spilled into drops, and cannot be gathered. The state of society is one in which the members have suffered amputation from the trunk and strut about so many walking monsters,—a good finger, a neck, a stomach, an elbow, but never a man.

Man is thus metamorphosed into a thing, into many things. The planter, who is Man sent out into the field to gather food, is seldom cheered by any idea of the true dignity of his ministry. He sees his bushel and his cart, and nothing beyond, and sinks into the farmer, instead of Man on the farm. The tradesman scarcely ever gives an ideal worth to his work, but is ridden[7] by the routine of his craft, and the soul is subject to dollars. The priest becomes a form; the attorney a statute-book; the mechanic a machine; the sailor a rope of the ship.

In this distribution of functions the scholar is the delegated intellect. In the right state he is Man Thinking. In the degenerate state, when the victim of society, he tends to become a mere thinker, or, still worse, the parrot of other men's thinking.

In this view of him, as Man Thinking, the whole theory of his office is contained. Him Nature solicits with all her placid, all her monitory pictures.[8] Him the past instructs. Him the future invites. Is not indeed every man a student, and do not all things exist for the student's behoof? And, finally, is not the true scholar the only true master? But as the old oracle said, "All things have two handles: Beware of the wrong one."[9] In life, too often, the scholar errs with mankind and forfeits his privilege. Let us see him in his school, and consider him in reference to the main influences he receives.

I. The first in time and the first in importance of the influences upon the mind is that of nature. Every day, the sun;[10] and, after sunset, Night and her stars. Ever the winds blow; ever the grass grows. Every day, men and women, conversing, beholding and beholden.[11] The scholar must needs stand wistful and admiring before this great spectacle. He must settle its value in his mind. What is nature to him? There is never a beginning, there is never an end, to the inexplicable continuity of this web of God, but always circular power returning into itself.[12] Therein it resembles his own spirit, whose beginning, whose ending, he never can find,—so entire, so boundless. Far too as her splendors shine, system on system shooting like rays, upward, downward, without center, without circumference,—in the mass and in the particle, Nature hastens to render account of herself to the mind. Classification begins. To the young mind everything is individual, stands by itself. By and by it finds how to join two things and see in them one nature; then three, then three thousand; and so, tyrannized over by its own unifying instinct, it goes on tying things together, diminishing anomalies, discovering roots running under ground whereby contrary and remote things cohere and flower out from one stem. It presently learns that since the dawn of history there has been a constant accumulation and classifying of facts. But what is classification but the perceiving that these objects are not chaotic, and are not foreign, but have a law which is also a law of the human mind? The astronomer discovers that geometry, a pure abstraction of the human mind, is the measure of planetary motion. The chemist finds proportions and intelligible method throughout matter; and science is nothing but the finding of analogy, identity, in the most remote parts. The ambitious soul sits down before each refractory fact; one after another reduces all strange constitutions, all new powers, to their class and their law, and goes on forever to animate the last fiber of organization, the outskirts of nature, by insight.

Thus to him, to this school-boy under the bending dome of day, is suggested that he and it proceed from one Root; one is leaf and one is flower; relation, sympathy, stirring in every vein. And what is that root? Is not that the soul of his soul?—A thought too bold?—A dream too wild? Yet when this spiritual light shall have revealed the law of more earthly natures,—when he has learned to worship the soul, and to see that the natural philosophy that now is, is only the first gropings of its gigantic hand,—he shall look forward to an ever-expanding knowledge as to a becoming creator.[13] He shall see that nature is the opposite of the soul, answering to it part for part. One is seal and one is print. Its beauty is the beauty of his own mind. Its laws are the laws of his own mind. Nature then becomes to him the measure of his attainments. So much of nature as he is ignorant of, so much of his own mind does he not yet possess. And, in fine, the ancient precept, "Know thyself,"[14] and the modern precept, "Study nature," become at last one maxim.

II. The next great influence into the spirit of the scholar is the mind of the Past,—in whatever form, whether of literature, of art, of institutions, that mind is inscribed. Books are the best type of the influence of the past, and perhaps we shall get at the truth,—learn the amount of this influence more conveniently,—by considering their value alone.

The theory of books is noble. 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. It came to him short-lived actions; it went out from him immortal thoughts. It came to him business; it went from him poetry. It was dead fact; now, it is quick thought. It can stand, and it can go. It now endures, it now flies, it now inspires.[15] Precisely in proportion to the depth of mind from which it issued, so high does it soar, so long does it sing.

Or, I might say, it depends on how far the process had gone, of transmuting life into truth. In proportion to the completeness of the distillation, so will the purity and imperishableness of the product be. But none is quite perfect. As no air-pump can by any means make a perfect vacuum,[16] so neither can any artist entirely exclude the conventional, the local, the perishable from his book, or write a book of pure thought, that shall be as efficient, in all respects, to a remote posterity, as to contemporaries, or rather to the second age. Each age, it is found, must write its own books; or rather, each generation for the next succeeding. The books of an older period will not fit this.

Yet hence arises a grave mischief. The sacredness which attaches to the act of creation, the act of thought, is instantly transferred to the record. The poet chanting was felt to be a divine man. Henceforth the chant is divine also. The writer was a just and wise spirit. Henceforward it is settled the book is perfect; as love of the hero corrupts into worship of his statue. Instantly the book becomes noxious.[17] The guide is a tyrant. We sought a brother, and lo, a governor. The sluggish and perverted mind of the multitude, always slow to open to the incursions of Reason, having once so opened, having once received this book, stands upon it, and makes an outcry if it is disparaged. Colleges are built on it. Books are written on it by thinkers, not by Man Thinking, by men of talent, that is, who start wrong, who set out from accepted dogmas, not from their own sight of principles. Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views which Cicero, which Locke,[18] which Bacon,[19] have given; forgetful that Cicero, Locke and Bacon were only young men in libraries when they wrote these books.

Hence, instead of Man Thinking, we have the bookworm. Hence the book-learned class, who value books, as such; not as related to nature and the human constitution, but as making a sort of Third Estate[20] with the world and soul. Hence the restorers of readings,[21] the emendators,[22] the bibliomaniacs[23] of all degrees. This is bad; this is worse than it seems.

Books are the best of things, well used; abused, among the worst. What is the right use? What is the one end which all means go to effect? They are for nothing but to inspire.[24] 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. The one thing in the world of value is the active soul,—the soul, free, sovereign, active. This every man is entitled to; this every man contains within him, although in almost all men obstructed, and as yet unborn. The soul active sees absolute truth and utters truth, or creates. In this action it is genius; not the privilege of here and there a favorite, but the sound estate of every man.[25] In its essence it is progressive. The book, the college, the school of art, the institution of any kind, stop with some past utterance of genius. This is good, say they,—let us hold by this. They pin me down.[26] They look backward and not forward. But genius always looks forward. The eyes of man are set in his forehead, not in his hindhead. Man hopes. Genius creates. To create,—to create,—is the proof of a divine presence. Whatever talents may be, if the man create not, the pure efflux of the Deity is not his;[27]—cinders and smoke there may be, but not yet flame. There are creative manners, there are creative actions, and creative words; manners, actions, words, that is, indicative of no custom or authority, but springing spontaneous from the mind's own sense of good and fair.

On the other part, instead of being its own seer, let it receive always from another mind its truth, though it were in torrents of light, without periods of solitude, inquest, and self-recovery; and a fatal disservice[28] is done. Genius is always sufficiently the enemy of genius by over-influence.[29] The literature of every nation bear me witness. The English dramatic poets have Shakespearized now for two hundred years.[30]

Undoubtedly there is a right way of reading, so it be sternly subordinated. Man Thinking must not be subdued by his instruments. Books are for the scholar's idle times. When he can read God directly, the hour is too precious to be wasted in other men's transcripts of their readings.[31] But when the intervals of darkness come, as come they must,—when the soul seeth not, when the sun is hid and the stars withdraw their shining,—we repair to the lamps which were kindled by their ray, to guide our steps to the East again, where the dawn is.[32] We hear, that we may speak. The Arabian proverb says, "A fig-tree, looking on a fig-tree, becometh fruitful."

It is remarkable, the character of the pleasure we derive from the best books. They impress us ever with the conviction that one nature wrote and the same reads. We read the verses of one of the great English poets, of Chaucer,[33] of Marvell,[34] of Dryden,[35] with the most modern joy,—with a pleasure, I mean, which is in great part caused by the abstraction of all time from their verses. There is some awe mixed with the joy of our surprise, when this poet, who lived in some past world, two or three hundred years ago, says that which lies close to my own soul, that which I also had well-nigh thought and said. But for the evidence thence afforded to the philosophical doctrine of the identity of all minds, we should suppose some pre-established harmony, some foresight of souls that were to be, and some preparation of stores for their future wants, like the fact observed in insects, who lay up food before death for the young grub they shall never see.

I would not be hurried by any love of system, by any exaggeration of instincts, to underrate the Book. We all know that as the human body can be nourished on any food, though it were boiled grass and the broth of shoes, so the human mind can be fed by any knowledge. And great and heroic men have existed who had almost no other information than by the printed page. I only would say that it needs a strong head to bear that diet. One must be an inventor to read well. As the proverb says, "He that would bring home the wealth of the Indies must carry out the wealth of the Indies." There is then creative reading as well as creative writing. When the mind is braced by labor and invention, the page of whatever book we read becomes luminous with manifold allusion. Every sentence is doubly significant, and the sense of our author is as broad as the world. We then see, what is always true, that as the seer's hour of vision is short and rare among heavy days and months, so is its record, perchance, the least part of his volume. The discerning will read, in his Plato[36] or Shakespeare, only that least part,—only the authentic utterances of the oracle;—all the rest he rejects, were it never so many times Plato's and Shakespeare's.

Of course there is a portion of reading quite indispensable to a wise man. History and exact science he must learn by laborious reading. Colleges, in like manner, have their indispensable office,—to teach elements. But they can only highly serve us when they aim not to drill, but to create; when they gather from far every ray of various genius to their hospitable halls, and by the concentrated fires set the hearts of their youth on flame. Thought and knowledge are natures in which apparatus and pretension avail nothing. Gowns[37] and pecuniary foundations,[38] though of towns of gold, can never countervail the least sentence or syllable of wit.[39] Forget this, and our American colleges will recede in their public importance, whilst they grow richer every year.

III. There goes in the world a notion that the scholar should be a recluse, a valetudinarian,[40]—as unfit for any handiwork or public labor as a penknife for an axe. The so-called "practical men" sneer at speculative men, as if, because they speculate or see, they could do nothing. I have heard it said that the clergy—who are always, more universally than any other class, the scholars of their day—are addressed as women; that the rough, spontaneous conversation of men they do not hear, but only a mincing[41] and diluted speech. They are often virtually disfranchised; and indeed there are advocates for their celibacy. As far as this is true of the studious classes, it is not just and wise. Action is with the scholar subordinate, but it is essential. Without it he is not yet man. Without it thought can never ripen into truth. Whilst the world hangs before the eye as a cloud of beauty, we cannot even see its beauty. Inaction is cowardice, but there can be no scholar without the heroic mind. The preamble[42] of thought, the transition through which it passes from the unconscious to the conscious, is action. Only so much do I know, as I have lived. Instantly we know whose words are loaded with life, and whose not.

The world—this shadow of the soul, or other me, lies wide around. Its attractions are the keys which unlock my thoughts and make me acquainted with myself. I launch eagerly into this resounding tumult. I grasp the hands of those next me, and take my place in the ring to suffer and to work, taught by an instinct that so shall the dumb abyss[43] be vocal with speech. I pierce its order; I dissipate its fear;[44] I dispose of it within the circuit of my expanding life. So much only of life as I know by experience, so much of the wilderness have I vanquished and planted, or so far have I extended my being, my dominion. I do not see how any man can afford, for the sake of his nerves and his nap, to spare any action in which he can partake. It is pearls and rubies to his discourse. Drudgery, calamity, exasperation, want, are instructors in eloquence and wisdom. The true scholar grudges every opportunity of action passed by, as a loss of power.

It is the raw material out of which the intellect molds her splendid products. A strange process too, this by which experience is converted into thought, as a mulberry-leaf is converted into satin.[45] The manufacture goes forward at all hours.

The actions and events of our childhood and youth are now matters of calmest observation. They lie like fair pictures in the air. Not so with our recent actions,—with the business which we now have in hand. On this we are quite unable to speculate. Our affections as yet circulate through it. We no more feel or know it than we feel the feet, or the hand, or the brain of our body. The new deed is yet a part of life,—remains for a time immersed in our unconscious life. In some contemplative hour it detaches itself from the life like a ripe fruit,[46] to become a thought of the mind. Instantly it is raised, transfigured; the corruptible has put on incorruption.[47] Henceforth it is an object of beauty, however base its origin and neighborhood. Observe, too, the impossibility of antedating this act. In its grub state it cannot fly, it cannot shine, it is a dull grub. But suddenly, without observation, the selfsame thing unfurls beautiful wings, and is an angel of wisdom. So is there no fact, no event, in our private history, which shall not, sooner or later, lose its adhesive, inert form, and astonish us by soaring from our body into the empyrean.[48] Cradle and infancy, school and playground, the fear of boys, and dogs, and ferules,[49] the love of little maids and berries, and many another fact that once filled the whole sky, are gone already; friend and relative, profession and party, town and country, nation and world, must also soar and sing.[50]

Of course, he who has put forth his total strength in fit actions has the richest return of wisdom. I will not shut myself out of this globe of action, and transplant an oak into a flower-pot, there to hunger and pine; nor trust the revenue of some single faculty, and exhaust one vein of thought, much like those Savoyards,[51] who, getting their livelihood by carving shepherds, shepherdesses, and smoking Dutchmen, for all Europe, went out one day to the mountain to find stock, and discovered that they had whittled up the last of their pine-trees. Authors we have, in numbers, who have written out their vein, and who, moved by a commendable prudence, sail for Greece or Palestine, follow the trapper into the prairie, or ramble round Algiers, to replenish their merchantable stock.

If it were only for a vocabulary, the scholar would be covetous of action. Life is our dictionary.[52] Years are well spent in country labors; in town; in the insight into trades and manufactures; in frank intercourse with many men and women; in science; in art; to the one end of mastering in all their facts a language by which to illustrate and embody our perceptions. I learn immediately from any speaker how much he has already lived, through the poverty or the splendor of his speech. Life lies behind us as the quarry from whence we get tiles and copestones for the masonry of to-day. This is the way to learn grammar. Colleges and books only copy the language which the field and the work-yard made.

But the final value of action, like that of books, and better than books, is that it is a resource. That great principle of Undulation in nature, that shows itself in the inspiring and expiring of the breath; in desire and satiety; in the ebb and flow of the sea; in day and night; in heat and cold; and, as yet more deeply ingrained in every atom and every fluid, is known to us under the name of Polarity,—these "fits of easy transmission and reflection," as Newton[53] called them, are the law of nature because they are the law of spirit.

The mind now thinks, now acts, and each fit reproduces the other. When the artist has exhausted his materials, when the fancy no longer paints, when thoughts are no longer apprehended and books are a weariness,—he has always the resource to live. Character is higher than intellect. Thinking is the function. Living is the functionary. The stream retreats to its source. A great soul will be strong to live, as well as strong to think. Does he lack organ or medium to impart his truth? He can still fall back on this elemental force of living them. This is a total act. Thinking is a partial act. Let the grandeur of justice shine in his affairs. Let the beauty of affection cheer his lowly roof. Those "far from fame," who dwell and act with him, will feel the force of his constitution in the doings and passages of the day better than it can be measured by any public and designed display. Time shall teach him that the scholar loses no hour which the man lives. Herein he unfolds the sacred germ of his instinct, screened from influence. What is lost in seemliness is gained in strength. Not out of those on whom systems of education have exhausted their culture comes the helpful giant to destroy the old or to build the new, but out of unhandselled[54] savage nature; out of terrible Druids[55] and Berserkers[56] come at last Alfred[57] and Shakespeare. I hear therefore with joy whatever is beginning to be said of the dignity and necessity of labor to every citizen. There is virtue yet in the hoe and the spade,[58] for learned as well as for unlearned hands. And labor is everywhere welcome; always we are invited to work; only be this limitation observed, that a man shall not for the sake of wider activity sacrifice any opinion to the popular judgments and modes of action.

I have now spoken of the education of the scholar by nature, by books, and by action. It remains to say somewhat of his duties.

They are such as become Man Thinking. They may all be comprised in self-trust. The office of the scholar is to cheer, to raise, and to guide men by showing them facts amidst appearances. He plies the slow, unhonored, and unpaid task of observation. Flamsteed[59] and Herschel,[60] in their glazed observatories, may catalogue the stars with the praise of all [36] men, and, the results being splendid and useful, honor is sure. But he, in his private observatory, cataloguing obscure and nebulous[61] stars of the human mind, which as yet no man has thought of as such,—watching days and months sometimes for a few facts; correcting still his old records,—must relinquish display and immediate fame. In the long period of his preparation he must betray often an ignorance and shiftlessness in popular arts, incurring the disdain of the able who shoulder him aside. Long he must stammer in his speech; often forego the living for the dead. Worse yet, he must accept—how often!—poverty and solitude. For the ease and pleasure of treading the old road, accepting the fashions, the education, the religion of society, he takes the cross of making his own, and, of course, the self-accusation, the faint heart, the frequent uncertainty and loss of time, which are the nettles and tangling vines in the way of the self-relying and self-directed; and the state of virtual hostility in which he seems to stand to society, and especially to educated society. For all this loss and scorn, what offset? He is to find consolation in exercising the highest functions of human nature. He is one who raises himself from private considerations and breathes and lives on public and illustrious thoughts. He is the world's eye. He is the world's heart. He is to resist the vulgar prosperity that retrogrades ever to barbarism, by preserving and communicating heroic sentiments, noble biographies, melodious verse, and the conclusions of history. Whatsoever oracles the human heart, in all emergencies, in all solemn hours, has uttered as its commentary on the world of actions,—these he shall receive and impart. And whatsoever new verdict Reason from her inviolable seat pronounces on the passing men and events of to-day,—this he shall hear and promulgate.

These being his functions, it becomes him to feel all confidence in himself, and to defer never to the popular cry. He and he only knows the world. The world of any moment is the merest appearance. Some great decorum, some fetich[62] of a government, some ephemeral trade, or war, or man, is cried up[63] by half mankind and cried down by the other half, as if all depended on this particular up or down. The odds are that the whole question is not worth the poorest thought which the scholar has lost in listening to the controversy. Let him not quit his belief that a popgun is a popgun, though the ancient and honorable[64] of the earth affirm it to be the crack of doom. In silence, in steadiness, in severe abstraction, let him hold by himself; add observation to observation, patient of neglect, patient of reproach, and bide his own time,—happy enough if he can satisfy himself alone that this day he has seen something truly. Success treads on every right step. For the instinct is sure that prompts him to tell his brother what he thinks. He then learns that in going down into the secrets of his own mind he has descended into the secrets of all minds. He learns that he who has mastered any law in his private thoughts is master to that extent of all men whose language he speaks, and of all into whose language his own can be translated. The poet, in utter solitude remembering his spontaneous thoughts and recording them, is found to have recorded that which men in cities vast find true for them also. The orator distrusts at first the fitness of his frank confessions, his want of knowledge of the persons he addresses, until he finds that he is the complement[65] of his hearers;—that they drink his words because he fulfills for them their own nature; the deeper he dives into his privatest, secretest presentiment, to his wonder he finds this is the most acceptable, most public and universally true. The people delight in it; the better part of every man feels—This is my music; this is myself.

In self-trust all the virtues are comprehended. Free should the scholar be,—free and brave. Free even to the definition of freedom, "without any hindrance that does not arise out of his own constitution." Brave; for fear is a thing which a scholar by his very function puts behind him. Fear always springs from ignorance. It is a shame to him if his tranquility, amid dangerous times, arise from the presumption that like children and women his is a protected class; or if he seek a temporary peace by the diversion of his thoughts from politics or vexed questions, hiding his head like an ostrich in the flowering bushes, peeping into microscopes, and turning rhymes, as a boy whistles to keep his courage up. So is the danger a danger still; so is the fear worse. Manlike let him turn and face it. Let him look into its eye and search its nature, inspect its origin,—see the whelping of this lion,—which lies no great way back; he will then find in himself a perfect comprehension of its nature and extent; he will have made his hands meet on the other side, and can henceforth defy it and pass on superior. The world is his who can see through its pretension. What deafness, what stone-blind custom, what overgrown error you behold is there only by sufferance,—by your sufferance. See it to be a lie, and you have already dealt it its mortal blow.

Yes, we are the cowed,—we the trustless. It is a mischievous notion that we are come late into nature; that the world was finished a long time ago. As the world was plastic and fluid in the hands of God, so it is ever to so much of his attributes as we bring to it. To ignorance and sin it is flint. They adapt themselves to it as they may; but in proportion as a man has any thing in him divine, the firmament flows before him and takes his signet[66] and form. Not he is great who can alter matter, but he who can alter my state of mind. They are the kings of the world who give the color of their present thought to all nature and all art, and persuade men, by the cheerful serenity of their carrying the matter, that this thing which they do is the apple which the ages have desired to pluck, now at last ripe, and inviting nations to the harvest. The great man makes the great thing. Wherever Macdonald[67] sits, there is the head of the table. Linnæus[68] makes botany the most alluring of studies, and wins it from the farmer and the herb-woman: Davy,[69] chemistry; and Cuvier,[70] fossils. The day is always his who works in it with serenity and great aims. The unstable estimates of men crowd to him whose mind is filled with a truth, as the heaped waves of the Atlantic follow the moon.[71]

For this self-trust, the reason is deeper than can be fathomed,—darker than can be enlightened. I might not carry with me the feeling of my audience in stating my own belief. But I have already shown the ground of my hope, in adverting to the doctrine that man is one. I believe man has been wronged; he has wronged himself. He has almost lost the light that can lead him back to his prerogatives. Men are become of no account. Men in history, men in the world of to-day, are bugs, are spawn, and are called "the mass" and "the herd." In a century, in a millenium, one or two men;[72] that is to say, one or two approximations to the right state of every man. All the rest behold in the hero or the poet their own green and crude being,—ripened; yes, and are content to be less, so that may attain to its full stature. What a testimony, full of grandeur, full of pity, is borne to the demands of his own nature, by the poor clansman, the poor partisan, who rejoices in the glory of his chief! The poor and the low find some amends to their immense moral capacity, for their acquiescence in a political and social inferiority.[73] They are content to be brushed like flies from the path of a great person, so that justice shall be done by him to that common nature which it is the dearest desire of all to see enlarged and glorified. They sun themselves in the great man's light, and feel it to be their own element. They cast the dignity of man from their downtrod selves upon the shoulders of a hero, and will perish to add one drop of blood to make that great heart beat, those giant sinews combat and conquer. He lives for us, and we live in him.

Men such as they[74] are very naturally seek money or power; and power because it is as good as money,—the "spoils," so called, "of office." And why not? For they aspire to the highest, and this, in their sleep-walking, they dream is highest. Wake them and they shall quit the false good and leap to the true, and leave governments to clerks and desks. This revolution is to be wrought by the gradual domestication of the idea of Culture. The main enterprise of the world for splendor, for extent, is the upbuilding of a man. Here are the materials strewn along the ground. The private life of one man shall be a more illustrious monarchy, more formidable to its enemy, more sweet and serene in its influence to its friend, than any kingdom in history. For a man, rightly viewed, comprehendeth[75] the particular natures of all men. Each philosopher, each bard, each actor has only done for me, as by a delegate, what one day I can do for myself. The books which once we valued more than the apple of the eye, we have quite exhausted. What is that but saying that we have come up with the point of view which the universal mind took through the eyes of one scribe; we have been that man, and have passed on. First, one, then another, we drain all cisterns, and waxing greater by all these supplies, we crave a better and a more abundant food. The man has never lived that can feed us ever. The human mind cannot be enshrined in a person who shall set a barrier on any one side to this unbounded, unboundable empire. It is 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. It is one light which beams out of a thousand stars. It is one soul which animates all men.

But I have dwelt perhaps tediously upon this abstraction of the Scholar. I ought not to delay longer to add what I have to say of nearer reference to the time and to this country.

Historically, there is thought to be a difference in the ideas which predominate over successive epochs, and there are data for marking the genius of the Classic, of the Romantic, and now of the Reflective or Philosophical age.[76] With the views I have intimated of the oneness or the identity of the mind through all individuals, I do not much dwell on these differences. In fact, I believe each individual passes through all three. The boy is a Greek; the youth, romantic; the adult, reflective. I deny not, however, that a revolution in the leading idea may be distinctly enough traced.

Our age is bewailed as the age of Introversion.[77] Must that needs be evil? We, it seems, are critical. We are embarrassed with second thoughts.[78] We cannot enjoy anything for hankering to know whereof the pleasure consists. We are lined with eyes. We see with our feet. The time is infected with Hamlet's unhappiness,—

"Sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought."[79]

Is it so bad then? Sight is the last thing to be pitied. Would we be blind? Do we fear lest we should outsee nature and God, and drink truth dry? I look upon the discontent of the literary class as a mere announcement of the fact that they find themselves not in the state of mind of their fathers, and regret the coming state as untried; as a boy dreads the water before he has learned that he can swim. If there is any period one would desire to be born in, is it not the age of Revolution; when the old and the new stand side by side and admit of being compared; when the energies of all men are searched by fear and by hope; when the historic glories of the old can be compensated by the rich possibilities of the new era? This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.

I read with some joy of the auspicious signs of the coming days, as they glimmer already through poetry and art, through philosophy and science, through church and state.

One of these signs is the fact that the same movement[80] which effected the elevation of what was called the lowest class in the state assumed in literature a very marked and as benign an aspect. Instead of the sublime and beautiful, the near, the low, the common, was explored and poetized. That which had been negligently trodden under foot by those who were harnessing and provisioning themselves for long journeys into far countries, is suddenly found to be richer than all foreign parts. The literature of the poor, the feelings of the child, the philosophy of the street, the meaning of household life, are the topics of the time. It is a great stride. It is a sign—is it not?—of new vigor when the extremities are made active, when currents of warm life run into the hands and the feet. I ask not for the great, the remote, the romantic; what is doing in Italy or Arabia; what is Greek art, or Provençal minstrelsy; I embrace the common, I explore and sit at the feet of the familiar, the low. Give me insight into to-day, and you may have the antique and future worlds. What would we really know the meaning of? The meal in the firkin; the milk in the pan; the ballad in the street; the news of the boat; the glance of the eye; the form and the gait of the body;—show me the ultimate reason of these matters; show me the sublime presence of the highest spiritual cause lurking, as always it does lurk, in these suburbs and extremities of nature; let me see every trifle bristling with the polarity that ranges it instantly on an eternal law;[81] and the shop, the plow, and the ledger referred to the like cause by which light undulates and poets sing;—and the world lies no longer a dull miscellany and lumber-room, but has form and order: there is no trifle, there is no puzzle, but one design unites and animates the farthest pinnacle and the lowest trench.

This idea has inspired the genius of Goldsmith,[82] Burns,[83] Cowper,[84] and, in a newer time, of Goethe,[85] Wordsworth,[86] and Carlyle.[87] This idea they have differently followed and with various success. In contrast with their writing, the style of Pope,[88] of Johnson,[89] of Gibbon,[90] looks cold and pedantic. This writing is blood-warm. Man is surprised to find that things near are not less beautiful and wondrous than things remote. The near explains the far. The drop is a small ocean. A man is related to all nature. This perception of the worth of the vulgar is fruitful in discoveries. Goethe, in this very thing the most modern of the moderns, has shown us, as none ever did, the genius of the ancients.

There is one man of genius who has done much for this philosophy of life, whose literary value has never yet been rightly estimated:—I mean Emanuel Swedenborg.[91] The most imaginative of men, yet writing with the precision of a mathematician, he endeavored to engraft a purely philosophical Ethics on the popular Christianity of his time. Such an attempt of course must have difficulty which no genius could surmount. But he saw and showed the connexion between nature and the affections of the soul. He pierced the emblematic or spiritual character of the visible, audible, tangible world. Especially did his shade-loving muse hover over and interpret the lower parts of nature; he showed the mysterious bond that allies moral evil to the foul material forms, and has given in epical parables a theory of insanity, of beasts, of unclean and fearful things.

Another sign of our times, also marked by an analogous political movement, is the new importance given to the single person. Everything that tends to insulate the individual—to surround him with barriers of natural respect, so that each man shall feel the world is his, and man shall treat with man as a sovereign state with a sovereign state—tends to true union as well as greatness. "I learned," said the melancholy Pestalozzi,[92] "that no man in God's wide earth is either willing or able to help any other man." Help must come from the bosom alone. The scholar is that man who must take up into himself all the ability of the time, all the contributions of the past, all the hopes of the future. He must be an university of knowledges. If there be one lesson more than another that should pierce his ear, it is—The world is nothing, the man is all; in yourself is the law of all nature, and you know not yet how a globule of sap ascends; in yourself slumbers the whole of Reason; it is for you to know all; it is for you to dare all. Mr. President and Gentlemen, this confidence in the unsearched might of man belongs, by all motives, by all prophecy, by all preparation, to the American Scholar. We have listened too long to the courtly muses of Europe. The spirit of the American freeman is already suspected to be timid, imitative, tame. Public and private avarice make the air we breathe thick and fat. The scholar is decent, indolent, complaisant. See already the tragic consequence. The mind of this country, taught to aim at low objects, eats upon itself. There is no work for any one but the decorous and the complaisant. Young men of the fairest promise, who begin life upon our shores, inflated by the mountain winds, shined upon by all the stars of God, find the earth below not in unison with these, but are hindered from action by the disgust which the principles on which business is managed inspire, and turn drudges, or die of disgust, some of them suicides. What is the remedy? They did not yet see, and thousands of young men as hopeful now crowding to the barriers for the career do not yet see, that if the single man plant himself indomitably on his instincts, and there abide, the huge world will come round to him. Patience,—patience; with the shades of all the good and great for company; and for solace the perspective of your own infinite life; and for work the study and the communication of principles, the making those instincts prevalent, the conversion of the world. Is it not the chief disgrace in the world, not to be an unit; not to be reckoned one character; not to yield that peculiar fruit which each man was created to bear, but to be reckoned in the gross, in the hundred, or the thousand, of the party, the section, to which we belong; and our opinion predicted geographically, as the north, or the south? Not so, brothers and friends,—please God, ours shall not be so. We will walk on our own feet; we will work with our own hands; we will speak our own minds. Then shall man be no longer a name for pity, for doubt, and for sensual indulgence. The dread of man and the love of man shall be a wall of defense and a wreath of joy around all. A nation of men will for the first time exist, because each believes himself inspired by the Divine Soul which also inspires all men.


[1] Games of strength. The public games of Greece were athletic and intellectual contests of various kinds. There were four of importance: the Olympic, held every four years; the Pythian, held every third Olympic year; and the Nemean and Isthmian, held alternate years between the Olympic periods. These great national festivals exercised a strong influence in Greece. They were a secure bond of union between the numerous independent states and did much to help the nation to repel its foreign invaders. In Greece the accomplished athlete was reverenced almost as a god, and cases have been recorded where altars were erected and sacrifices made in his honor. The extreme care and cultivation of the body induced by this national spirit is one of the most significant features of Greek culture, and one which might wisely be imitated in the modern world.

[2] Troubadours. In southern France during the eleventh century, wandering poets went from castle to castle reciting or singing love-songs, composed in the old Provençal dialect, a sort of vulgarized Latin. The life in the great feudal chateaux was so dull that the lords and ladies seized with avidity any amusement which promised to while away an idle hour. The troubadours were made much of and became a strong element in the development of the Southern spirit. So-called Courts of Love were formed where questions of an amorous nature were discussed in all their bearings; learned opinions were expressed on the most trivial matters, and offenses were tried.

Some of the Provençal poetry is of the highest artistic significance, though the mass of it is worthless high-flown trash.

[3] At the time this oration was delivered (1837), many of the authors who have since given America a place in the world's literature were young men writing their first books. "We were," says James Russell Lowell, "still socially and intellectually moored to English thought, till Emerson cut [280] the cable and gave us a chance at the dangers and glories of blue water."

[4] Pole-star. Polaris is now the nearest conspicuous star to the north pole of the celestial equator. Owing to the motion of the pole of the celestial equator around that of the ecliptic, this star will in course of time recede from its proud position, and the brilliant star Vega in the constellation Harp will become the pole-star.

[5] It is now a well-recognized fact in the development of animal life that as any part of the body falls into disuse it in time disappears. Good examples of this are the disappearance of powerful fangs from the mouth of man, the loss of power in the wings of barnyard fowls; and, vice versa, as new uses for a member arise, its structure changes to meet the new needs. An example of this is the transformation from the hoof of a horse through the cloven hoofs of the cow to the eventual development of highly expert fingers in the monkey and man. Emerson assumed the doctrine of evolution to be sufficiently established by the anatomical evidence of gradual development. In his own words: "Man is no up-start in the creation. His limbs are only a more exquisite organization—say rather the finish—of the rudimental forms that have been already sweeping the sea and creeping in the mud. The brother of his hand is even now cleaving the arctic sea in the fin of the whale, and innumerable ages since was pawing the marsh in the flipper of the saurian." A view afterwards condensed into his memorable couplet:

"Striving to be man, the worm Mounts through all the spires of form." [6] Stint. A prescribed or allotted task, a share of labor.

[7] Ridden. Here used in the sense of dominated.

[8] Monitory pictures. Instructive warning pictures.

[9] The Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus is the author of this saying, not "the old oracle." It occurs in the Encheiridion, or manual, a work put together by a pupil of Epictetus. The original saying of Epictetus is as follows: "Every thing has two handles, the one by which it may be borne, the other by which it may not. If your brother acts unjustly, do not lay hold of the act by that handle wherein he acts unjustly, for this is the handle which cannot be borne: but lay hold of the other, that he is your brother, that he [281] was nurtured with you, and you will lay hold of the thing by that handle by which it can be borne."

[10] Every day, the sun (shines).

[11] Beholden. Emerson here uses this past participle with its original meaning instead of in its present sense of "indebted."

[12] Here we have a reminder of Emerson's pantheism. He means the inexplicable continuity "of what I call God, and fools nature," as Browning expressed it.

[13] His expanding knowledge will become a creator.

[14] Know thyself. Plutarch ascribes this saying to Plato. It is also ascribed to Pythagoras, Chilo, Thales, Cleobulus, Bias, and Socrates; also to Phemonië, a mythical Greek poetess of the ante-Homeric period. Juvenal (Satire XI. 27) says that this precept descended from heaven. "Know thyself" and "Nothing too much" were inscribed upon the Delphic oracle.

"Know then thyself, presume not God to scan; The proper study of mankind is man." [15] Observe the brisk movement of these sentences. How they catch and hold the attention, giving a new impulse to the reader's interest!

[16] Nature abhors a vacuum.

[17] Noxious. Harmful.

[18] John Locke (1632-1704), an English philosopher whose work was of especial significance in the development of modern philosophy. The work he is best known by is the exhaustive "Essay on the Human Understanding," in which he combated the theory of Descartes, that every man has certain "innate ideas." The innate-idea theory was first proved by the philosopher Descartes in this way. Descartes began his speculations from a standpoint of absolute doubt. Then he said, "I think, therefore I am," and from this formula he built up a number of ideas innate to the human mind, ideas which we cannot but hold. Locke's "Essay on the Human Understanding" did much to discredit Descartes' innate ideas, which had been very generally accepted in Europe before.

[19] Francis Bacon, Baron Verulam, Viscount Saint Alban's (1561-1626), a famous English statesman and philosopher. He occupied high public offices, but in 1621 was convicted of taking bribes in his office of Lord Chancellor. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to imprisonment and a fine [282] of forty thousand pounds. Both these sentences were remitted, however. In the seventeenth century, judicial corruption was so common that Bacon's offence was not considered so gross as it would now be. As a philosopher Bacon's rank has been much disputed. While some claim that to his improved method of studying nature are chiefly to be attributed the prodigious strides taken by modern science, others deny him all merit in this respect. His best known works are: "The Novum Organum," a philosophical treatise; "The Advancement of Learning," a remarkable argument in favor of scholarship; and the short essays on subjects of common interest, usually printed under the simple title "Bacon's Essays."

[20] Third Estate. The thirteenth century was the age when the national assemblies of most European countries were putting on their definite shape. In most of them the system of estates prevailed. These in most countries were three—nobles, clergy, and commons, the commons being the third estate. During the French Revolution the Third Estate, or Tiers Etat, asserted its rights and became a powerful factor in French politics, choosing its own leaders and effecting the downfall of its oppressors.

[21] Restorers of readings. Men who spend their lives trying to improve and correct the texts of classical authors, by comparing the old editions with each other and picking out the version which seem most in accordance with the authors' original work.

[22] Emendators. The same as restorers of readings.

[23] Bibliomaniacs. Men with a mania for collecting rare and beautiful books. Not a bad sort of mania, though Emerson never had any sympathy for it.

[24] To many readers Emerson's own works richly fulfill this obligation. He himself lived continually in such a lofty mental atmosphere that no one can come within the circle of his influence without being stimulated and elevated.

[25] Genius, the possession of a thoroughly active soul, ought not to be the special privilege of favorites of fortune, but the right of every sound man.

[26] They stunt my mental growth. A man should not accept another man's conclusions, but merely use them as steps on his upward path.

[27] If you do not employ such talent as you have in original labor, in bearing the mental fruit of which you are [283] capable, then you do not vindicate your claim to a share in the divine nature.

[28] Disservice. Injury.

[29] In original composition of any sort our efforts naturally flow in the channels worn for us by the first dominating streams of early genius. The conventional is the continual foe of all true art.

[30] Emerson is continually stimulating us to look at things in new ways. Here, for instance, at once the thought comes: "Is it not perhaps possible that the transcendent genius of Shakespeare has been rather noxious than beneficent in its influence on the mind of the world? Has not the all-pervading Shakespearian influence flooded and drowned out a great deal of original genius?"

[31] That is,—when in his clear, seeing moments he can distil some drops of truth from the world about him, let him not waste his time in studying other men's records of what they have seen.

[32] While Emerson's verse is frequently unmusical, in his prose we often find passages like this instinct with the fairest poetry.

[33] Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400). The father of English poetry. Chaucer's chief work is the "Canterbury Tales," a series of stories told by pilgrims traveling in company to Canterbury. Coleridge, the poet, wrote of Chaucer: "I take unceasing delight in Chaucer; his manly cheerfulness is especially delicious to me in my old age. How exquisitely tender he is, yet how free from the least touch of sickly melancholy or morbid drooping." Chaucer's poetry is above all things fresh. It breathes of the morning of literature. Like Homer he had at his command all the riches of a new language undefiled by usage from which to choose.

"Dan Chaucer, well of English undefyled, On Fame's eternall beadroll worthie to be fyled." [34] Andrew Marvell (1620-1678). An eminent English patriot and satirist. As a writer he is chiefly known by his "Rehearsal Transposed," written in answer to a fanatical defender of absolute power. When a young man he was assistant to the poet Milton, who was then Latin secretary to Oliver Cromwell. Marvell's wit and distinguished abilities rendered him formidable to the corrupt administration of [284] Charles II., who attempted without success to buy his friendship. Emerson's literary perspective is a bit unusual when he speaks of Marvell as "one of the great English poets." Marvell hardly ranks with Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton.

[35] John Dryden (1631-1700). A celebrated English poet. Early in life he wrote almost entirely for the stage and achieved great success. In the latter part of his life, however, according to Macaulay, he "turned his powers in a new direction with success the most splendid and decisive. The first rank in poetry was beyond his reach, but he secured the most honorable place in the second.... With him died the secret of the old poetical diction of England,—the art of producing rich effects by familiar words."

[36] Plato (429-347 B.C.). One of the most illustrious philosophers of all time. Probably no other philosopher has contributed so much as Plato to the moral and intellectual training of the human race. This pre-eminence is due not solely to his transcendent intellect, but also in no small measure to his poetic power and to that unrivaled grace of style which led the ancients to say that if Jove should speak Greek he would speak like Plato. He was a remarkable example of that universal culture of body and mind which characterized the last period of ancient Greece. He was proficient in every branch of art and learning and was such a brilliant athlete that he contended in the Isthmian and Pythian games.

[37] Gowns. The black gown worn occasionally in America and always in England at the universities; the distinctive academic dress is a cap and gown.

[38] Pecuniary foundations. Gifts of money for the support of institutions of learning.

[39] Wit is here used in its early sense of intellect, good understanding.

[40] Valetudinarian. A person of a weak, sickly constitution.

[41] Mincing. Affected.

[42] Preamble. A preface or introduction.

[43] Dumb abyss. That vast immensity of the universe about us which we can never understand.

[44] I comprehend its laws; I lose my fear of it.

[45] Silkworms feed on mulberry-leaves. Emerson describes what science calls "unconscious cerebration."

[46] Ripe fruit. Emerson's ripe fruit found its way into his diary, where it lay until he needed it in the preparation of some lecture or essay.

[285] [47] I. Corinthians xv. 53.

[48] Empyrean. The region of pure light and fire; the ninth heaven of ancient astronomy.

"The deep-domed empyrean Rings to the roar of an angel onset." [49] Ferules. According to the methods of education fifty years ago, it was quite customary for the teacher to punish a school-child with his ferule or ruler.

[50] Oliver Wendell Holmes cites this last sentence as the most extreme development of the distinctively Emersonian style. Such things must be read not too literally but rapidly, with alert attention to what the previous train of thought has been.

[51] Savoyards. The people of Savoy, south of Lake Geneva in Switzerland.

[52] Emerson's style is characterized by the frequent use of pithy epigrams like this.

[53] Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727). A great English philosopher and mathematician. He is famous as having discovered the law of gravitation.

[54] Unhandselled. Uncultivated, without natural advantages. A handsel is a gift.

[55] Druids. The ancient priesthood of the Britons in Cæsar's time. They had immense power among these primitive peoples. They were the judges as well as the priests and decided all questions. It is believed that they made human sacrifices to their gods in the depths of the primeval forest, but not much is known of their rites.

[56] Berserkers. Berserker was a redoubtable hero in Scandinavian mythology, the grandson of the eight-handed Starkodder and the beautiful Alfhilde. He had twelve sons who inherited the wild-battle frenzy, or berserker rage. The sagas, the great Scandinavian epics, are full of stories of heroes who are seized with this fierce longing for battle, murder, and sudden death. The name means bear-shirt and has been connected with the old were-wolf tradition, the myth that certain people were able to change into man-devouring wolves with a wolfish mad desire to rend and kill.

[57] Alfred, surnamed the Great (848-901), king of the West Saxons in England. When he ascended the throne his country was in a deplorable condition from the repeated inroads of northern invaders. He eventually drove them out [286] and established a secure government. England owes much to the efforts of Alfred. He not only fought his country's battles, but also founded schools, translated Latin books into his native tongue, and did much for the intellectual improvement of his people.

[58] The hoe and the spade. "In spite of Emerson's habit of introducing the names of agricultural objects into his writing ('Hay, corn, roots, hemp, flax, apples, wool, and wood' is a line from one of his poems), his familiarity therewith is evidently not so great as he would lead one to imagine. 'Take care, papa,' cried his little son, seeing him at work with a spade, 'you will dig your leg.'"

[59] John Flamsteed (1646-1719). An eminent English astronomer. He appears to have been the first to understand the theory of the equation of time. He passed his life in patient observation and determined the position of 2884 stars.

[60] Sir William Herschel (1738-1822). One of the greatest astronomers that any age or nation has produced. Brought up to the profession of music, it was not until he was thirty years old that he turned his attention to astronomy. By rigid economy he obtained a telescope, and in 1781 discovered the planet Uranus. This great discovery gave him great fame and other substantial advantages. He was made private astronomer to the king and received a pension. His discoveries were so far in advance of his time, they had so little relation with those of his predecessors, that he may almost be said to have created a new science by revealing the immensity of the scale on which the universe is constructed.

[61] Nebulous. In astronomy a nebula is a luminous patch in the heavens far beyond the solar system, composed of a mass of stars or condensed gases.

[62] Fetich. The word seems to have been applied by Portuguese sailors and traders on the west coast of Africa to objects worshiped by the natives, which were regarded as charms or talismans. Of course the word here means an object of blind admiration and devotion.

[63] Cry up, to praise, extol.

[64] Ancient and honorable. Isaiah ix. 15.

[65] Complement. What is needed to complete or fill up some quantity or thing.

[66] Signet. Seal. Emerson is not always felicitous [287] in his choice of metaphors.

[67] Macdonald. In Cervantes' "Don Quixote," Sancho Panza, the squire to the "knight of the metaphysical countenance," tells a story of a gentleman who had asked a countryman to dine with him. The farmer was pressed to take his seat at the head of the table, and when he refused out of politeness to his host, the latter became impatient and cried: "Sit there, clod-pate, for let me sit wherever I will, that will still be the upper end, and the place of worship to thee." This saying is commonly attributed to Rob Roy, but Emerson with his usual inaccuracy in such matters places it in the mouth of Macdonald,—which Macdonald is uncertain.

[68] Carolus Linnæus (1707-1778). A great Swedish botanist. He did much to make botany the orderly science it now is.

[69] Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829). The most famous of English chemists. The most important to mankind of his many discoveries was the safety-lamp to be used in mines where there is danger of explosion from fire-damp.

[70] Baron George Cuvier (1769-1832). An illustrious French philosopher, statesman, and writer who made many discoveries in the realm of natural history, geology and philosophy.

[71] The moon. The tides are caused by the attraction of the moon and the sun. The attraction of the moon for the water nearest the moon is somewhat greater than the attraction of the earth's center. This causes a slight bulging of the water toward the moon and a consequent high tide.

[72] Emerson frequently omits the principal verb of his sentences as here: "In a century there may exist one or two men."

[73] This obscurely constructed sentence means: "For their acquiescence in a political and social inferiority the poor and low find some compensation in the immense moral capacity thereby gained."

[74] "They" refers to the hero or poet mentioned some twenty lines back.

[75] Comprehendeth. Here used in the original sense to include. The perfect man should be so thoroughly developed at every point that he will possess a share in the nature of every man.

[76] By the Classic age is generally meant the age of Greece and Rome; and by the Romantic is meant the middle ages.

[288] [77] Introversion. Introspection is the more usual word to express the analytic self-searching so common in these days.

[78] Second thoughts. Emerson uses the word here in the same sense as the French arrière-pensée, a mental reservation.


"And thus the native hue of resolution Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought." Hamlet, Act III, Sc. 1. [80] Movement. The French Revolution.

[81] Let every common object be credited with the diviner attributes which will class it among others of the same importance.

[82] Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774). An eminent English poet and writer. He is best known by the comedy "She Stoops to Conquer," the poem "The Deserted Village," and the "Vicar of Wakefield." "Of all romances in miniature," says Schlegel, the great German critic, "the 'Vicar of Wakefield' is the most exquisite." It is probably the most popular English work of fiction in Germany.

[83] Robert Burns (1759-1796). A celebrated Scottish poet. The most striking characteristics of Burns' poetry are simplicity and intensity, in which he is scarcely, if at all, inferior to any of the greatest poets that have ever lived.

[84] William Cowper (1731-1800). One of the most popular of English poets. His poem "The Task" was probably more read in his day than any poem of equal length in the language. Cowper also made an excellent translation of Homer.

[85] Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). The most illustrious name in German literature; a great poet, dramatist, novelist, philosopher, and critic. The Germans regard Goethe with the same veneration we accord to Shakespeare. The colossal drama "Faust" is the most splendid product of his genius, though he wrote a large number of other plays and poems.

[86] William Wordsworth (1770-1850). By many considered the greatest of modern English poets. His descriptions of the ever-varying moods of nature are the most exquisite in the language. Matthew Arnold in his essay on Emerson says: "As Wordsworth's poetry is, in my judgment, the most important work done in verse in our language [289] during the present century, so Emerson's 'Essays' are, I think, the most important work done in prose."

[87] Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881). A famous English essayist, historian, and speculative philosopher. It is scarcely too much to say that no other author of this century has exerted a greater influence not merely upon the literature but upon the mind of the English nation than Carlyle. Emerson was an intimate friend of Carlyle, and during the greater part of his life maintained a correspondence with the great Englishman. An interesting description of their meeting will be found among the "Critical Opinions" at the beginning of the work.

[88] Alexander Pope (1688-1744). The author of the "Essay on Criticism," "Rape of the Lock," the "Essay on Man," and other famous poems. Pope possessed little originality or creative imagination, but he had a vivid sense of the beautiful and an exquisite taste. He owed much of his popularity to the easy harmony of his verse and the keenness of his satire.

[89] Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). One of the eminent writers of the eighteenth century. He wrote "Lives of the Poets," poems, and probably the most remarkable work of the kind ever produced by a single person, an English dictionary.

[90] Edward Gibbon (1737-1794). One of the most distinguished of English historians. His great work is the "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." Carlyle called Gibbon, "the splendid bridge from the old world to the new."

[91] Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772). A great Swedish theologian, naturalist, and mathematician, and the founder of a religious sect which has since his death become prominent among the philosophical schools of Christianity.

[92] Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827). A Swiss teacher and educational reformer of great influence in his time.


facebook share button twitter share button google plus share button tumblr share button reddit share button email share button share on pinterest pinterest

Create a library and add your favorite stories. Get started by clicking the "Add" button.
Add The American Scholar to your own personal library.

Return to the Ralph Waldo Emerson Home Page, or . . . Read the next essay; The Over-Soul

Anton Chekhov
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Susan Glaspell
Mark Twain
Edgar Allan Poe
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Herman Melville
Stephen Leacock
Kate Chopin
Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson