Cover

pdf iconDownload PDF
 

Frontmatter

pdf iconDownload PDF
 

Contents

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. vii

read more

Introduction

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 1-5

The first sentence of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s that reached me still jolts me every time I run into it. “Meek young men,” he wrote in “The American Scholar,” “grow up in libraries believing it their duty to accept the views which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon have given, forgetful that Cicero...

read more

Reading

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 7-17

“There is then creative reading as well as creative writing,” Emerson says in “The American Scholar.” “First we eat, then we beget; first we read, then we write.” Reading is creative for Emerson; it is also active. In “History” he insists that “the student is to read history actively and not passively; to esteem his...

read more

Keeping a Journal

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 19-21

The mature Emerson would look back on his voluminous journals as his savings bank. The phrase from the world of money seems feeble; it lacks the disastrous felicity—as Kenneth Burke called it—of, say, William James’s insistence on the “cash value of an idea,” but Emerson’s journals served...

read more

Practical Hints

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 23-26

We do not usually think of Emerson as an intensely practical person. Give us Emerson for ideas, perhaps, but Thoreau for the practical application. But this is to ignore a side of Emerson that is enormously practical, even though the practicality may be masked by humor or drawn out—by fine attention...

read more

Nature

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 27-32

The practical, down-to-earth Emerson urges us, as we might have guessed, to look to nature for language. On this subject he once quoted Goethe, even though it meant a tussle with German syntax: “They say much of the study of the ancients but what else does that signify, than, direct your attention...

read more

More Practical Hints

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 33-43

“A Plotinus-Montaigne” was what James Russell Lowell called Emerson, and the description has stuck, suggesting that there are two Emersons—one transcendental and idealistic, the other pragmatic and practical. The Plotinus side, the side that is sure that mind alone is real, and sure of both Primal...

read more

The Language of the Street

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 45-48

Emerson pointedly preferred the language of the street and of action to that of the study. “Life is our dictionary,” he says in “The American Scholar.” 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...

read more

Words

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 49-52

One modern critic has wondered how Emerson wrote as well as he did, considering how little faith he had in words as such. It is an empty judgment. Emerson loved language as much as any poet does, but he understood that reality is larger than language. If you call a dog’s tail a leg, how many...

read more

Sentences

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 53-57

Words are the writer’s clay; the sentence is the writer’s brickmold. For Emerson the sentence—not the paragraph and not the essay—is the main structural and formal unit. This was a deliberate, self-conscious matter. He was endlessly curious about sentence mechanics, and he combed his reading...

read more

Emblem, Symbol, Metaphor

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 59-63

If language begins in the street, so do symbols and metaphors. “The schools of poets and philosophers are not more intoxicated with their symbols than the populace with theirs,” he says in his 1844 essay “The Poet.” In our political parties, compute the power of badges and emblems. See the great ball which they roll from Baltimore to Bunker Hill! In the political processions Lowell...

read more

Audience

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 65-70

Henry James once gave it as his reason for leaving Paris to live in London that in France, in those days, it was impossible for an American to be admitted to the best society, whereas in England James found he was welcome everywhere if he would just take pains to make himself entertaining. I remember...

read more

Art Is the Path

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 71-76

Though we often think of Emerson as an essayist, his strongest and most lasting self-identification was as a poet. He told Lydia Jackson when he was courting her that poetry was his vocation, noting wryly that his singing was very husky and “is for the most part in prose.” By “poet” he meant “verse-maker,” and something more...

read more

The Writer

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 77-83

It is difficult to overstate the importance of Emerson’s understanding of the poet as representative, as standing for the poet in each of us. And while we continue to think of his 1836 book Nature as his central, necessary book, there is an argument that his 1850 book Representative Men is his most useful...

read more

Epilogue

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 83-85

No one can maintain the heroic, the Promethean tone all the time. Emerson came to adopt, for most of his writing, a calmer rhetoric, a muted bravado, but a bravado nonetheless, which breaks out from time to time with unexpected heat. Toward the end of Nature, for example, Emerson turns...

read more

Acknowledgments

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 87

Thanks first of all to Joe Parsons, whose interest in this project got me to resurrect and finish it. Amanda Gladin-Kramer transcribed illegible notes, ran down innumerable references, and was an enthusiastic and indispensable research assistant. I will always be grateful for the work—and even more for the...

Notes

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 89-98

Index

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 99-101