Monday, June 21, 2010

Ralph Waldo Emerson: Essays and Lectures, Book Two (1)

1803 -1882. New York: Literary Classics of the United States. 1983.

Why read it? Emerson’s unit of thought is the epigrammatic sentence. Emerson writes a poetic prose. Emerson’s beliefs—that each man shares in the Over-Soul, or God, that man possesses, within himself, the means to all knowledge—expressed in his memorable sentences, are of central importance in the history of American culture. The only trouble is most of his ideas are half-truths.

“The law is only a memorandum.” P. 559. ………. “…the form and method of governing, which are proper to each nation, and to its habit of thought, and nowise transferable to other states of society.” P. 566. ………. “Each of the speakers expresses himself imperfectly: No one of them hears much that another says, such is the preoccupation of mind of each….” P. 575. ………. “But there are no such men as we fable, no Jesus, nor Pericles, nor Caesar, nor Michael Angelo, nor Washington such as we have made.” P. 576. ………. “The end and the means, the gamester and the game—life is made up of the intermixture and reaction of these two amicable powers, whose marriage appears beforehand monstrous, as each denies and tends to abolish the other.” P. 585. ………. “It was complained…we are students of words: we are shut up in schools, and colleges, and recitation rooms, for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a bag of wind, a memory of words, and do not know a thing.” P. 594. ………. Greek and Latin: “…studies which lead to nothing….” P. 595. ………. “The criticism and attack on institutions which we have witnessed, has made one thing plain, that society gains nothing whilst a man, not himself renovated, attempts to renovate things around him: he has become tediously good in some particular, but negligent or narrow in the rest; hypocrisy and vanity are often the disgusting result.” P. 596.

To be continued.

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