The Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson
© Edited 1987, Alfred Ferguson
Two summers ago I began to read Thoreau, and as I continue to find him philosophically compelling I wanted to read the works of Thoreau’s contemporary and like-minded friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson. They’re available online, incidentally, and may be freely accessed here. My volume contained “History” through to “Politics”, and the nineteen essays between those two book ends have similarly austere titles that belie their far more flowery contents. Having mulled over them for four weeks, I come away feeling that most of the essays have escaped me entirely. “Self Reliance” riveted me, and as soon as I finished it I enthusiastically recommended it to several friends, and from other essays I gleaned a sense of Emerson’s inner life and of the Transcendental worldview.
Emerson is a poet at heart, a mystic; he values the inner voice of intuition more than beliefs based on thought-out syllogisms. Only the heart can realize the ‘Oversoul’, a vaguely pantheistic view of God. His prose reads as poetry: “Dream delivers us to dream, and there is no end to illusion. Life is a train of moods like a string of beads, and, as we pass through them, they prove to be many-colored lenses which paint the world their own hue, and each shows only what lies in its focus.” Emerson can write pointedly, but the poetic influence in some essays imparts a subjective feel, as you would find in a collection of poetry. Having the essays available online is a boon, and I intend to keep chewing on them for a while longer.
For the moment, though, if you’ve an interested in Stoic philosophy or anarchist political thought, “Self Reliance” is an essay worth reading. Also,those few souls interested in Thoreau and Emerson’s worldview (American Transcendentalism) will find “The Over-Soul” of most interest.