Emerson: America's Scholar

Reply Sat 10 Dec, 2005 07:00 am
Emerson: America's Scholar

One of Emerson's most popular essays is "Self-Reliance". He speaks of many things in his books and lectures but this concept "self-reliance" runs throughout his writings. I wanted to acquire an understanding how this concept compares with "rugged individualism" that seemed to be a phrase that identified especially the individuals who sought the new frontier during America's early development.

Self-reliance denotes especially a psychological-philosophical-intellectual aspect of human behavior. He says that an intellectual person (Emerson speaks to and includes every normal person) must have "no engagement in any thought or feeling which can hinder him from looking at it as [something] foreignÂ…The true scholar is one who has the power to stand beside his thoughts or to hold off his thoughts at arm's length and give them perspective." Emerson makes his lectures and books difficult and elusive to disappoint expectations that he will furnish doctrinal conclusions. His commitment is to one of a "method of intellect".

"Truth is our element of life, yet if a man fasten his attention on a single aspect of truth, and apply himself to that alone for a long time, the truth becomes distorted and not itself, but falsehood."

"A man is a method, a progressive arrangement; a selecting principle, gathering his like to him wherever he goes. He takes only his own out of the multiplicity that sweeps and circles round him."

"The commonest remark, if the man could only extend it a little, would make him a genius; but the thought is prematurely checked, and grows no more. All great masters are chiefly distinguished by the power of adding a second, a third, and perhaps a fourth step in a continuous line. Many a man had taken the first step. With every additional step you enhance immensely the value of your first."

Emerson makes clear that he considers that knowledge of the world leads to a deeper self-knowledge, "the knowledge of all men that belongs to self-knowledge".

Emerson implies that self-reliance is an intermittent process, perhaps an advocation that is more than a mood, but requires persistent struggle. It lies in independent being, doing, or acting.
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Reply Sat 10 Dec, 2005 03:51 pm
He was a giant and is well worth reading. Too many people know him, if they know him at all, as the author of clever aphorisms like "Hitch your wagon to a star."
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Reply Fri 16 Dec, 2005 08:22 am
Transcendentalists as a group have much to offer. Thanks for the reminder. Here are some gems from Emerson.

Emerson on inner peace

...A political victory, a rise of rents, the recovery of your sick, or the return of your absent friend, or some other favorable event, raises your spirits, and you think good days are preparing for you. Do not believe it. Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.

From Emerson, when he was asked how did he measure success in life?

"If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and emit a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal, that is your success."

Emerson on mindfulness of the present moment

...The roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God today. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose, perfect in every moment of its existence. In the unburst bud it has a full life. In the bloomed flower it has no more; in the leafless root it has no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, exactly the same in every moment. But man postpones or remembers. He doesn't live in the present; he looks back and regrets the past or, blind to the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He can't be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, beyond time.
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Reply Fri 16 Dec, 2005 11:50 am

"If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and emit a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal, that is your success."

This is one I like the best. I am a retired engineer who took up self-actualized learning as a hobby 25 years ago and it is now, in retirement, that this hobby has supplied me "with joy" when I meet each morning. I wish more people could find that same pleasure in learning.
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