History of American Literature
by Edward Simonds
Chapter 1: I
| II | III
| IV | Chapter 2: I
| II | III
| IV | V
| Chapter 3: I | II
| III | IV
| Chapter 4: I | II
| III | IV
| V | Chapter 5: I
| II | III
| IV | Chapter 6: I
| II | III
| IV | V
| VI | Chapter 7: I
| II | III
| IV |
RALPH WALDO EMERSON: 1803-82.
Waldo Emerson came of the academic class. His ancestors for five generations
had been scholars and most of them had been ministers. His father, William Emerson,
minister of the First Church in Boston, was a man of good
sense, dignified after the manner of the old New England type, and emphatic
in the expression of his views. The mother of Ralph Waldo was known for her
patience, her gentle courtesy, her quiet dignity and serenity of spirit. Among
the early companionships of the household, there was another which had a lasting
influence in the development of Emerson's character,
that of an aunt, Mary Moody Emerson, whose strong intellectuality was of the
sort which distinguished Emerson himself.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
was born May 25, 1803, in the parsonage on Summer Street, in Boston, not far
from the house in which Franklin was born almost a century before. His boyhood
was passed in an atmosphere of intellectuality and of literary effort. In 1804,
the Rev. William Emerson organized what was known as the Anthology Club, and
edited a publication of the club, the Monthly Anthology,
or Magazine of Polite Literature. The circle of contributors included
John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster and much scholarly talent. The famous Boston
Athenaeum library was an outgrowth of this club; and although with the death
of Mr. Emerson in 1811, the Anthology ceased publication, the appearance
of the North American Review, in 1815, is regarded as a revival of the
Waldo was eight
years old at his father's death; and the household was in serious financial
straits. There were five boys to be clothed and fed -- and educated as family
tradition and innate talent required. By heroic exertion and a most rigid frugality,
Mrs. Emerson succeeded in realizing her ambition for her sons. It is related
that one winter when times were especially hard in the family, Ralph and his
brother Edward had but one great-coat between them and had to take turns in
going without and in bearing the taunts of their school-fellows, calling after
them -- "Whose turn is it to wear the coat to-day?" It is said, too,
that Ralph Waldo was obliged on one occasion to forego the reading of the second
volume of some work drawn from a circulating library because the pennies needed
to secure it were not to be spared. Yet out of the enforced economy and the
life bare of material comfort, the boys emerged sweet-tempered, nobly-mannered,
and with the best academic training to be had. All but one were graduates of
are not many records of Emerson's school-days. He studied at the Boston Latin
School, and entered Harvard at fourteen. Through his appointment as President's
messenger, he had his lodging free in the President's house, and his board was
paid by waiting on table in the commons. He was not conspicuous as a student,
yet was always the scholar; not talkative, his utterances were well weighed,
deliberate, and "with a certain flash when he uttered anything that was
more than usually worthy to be remembered."
Gentle and amiable, his personality lacked a little, perhaps, in masculine vigor.
For mathematics, Emerson had no faculty; but in all subjects of a literary sort,
he took a good stand. Like most students who develop into geniuses, he read
widely in authors not prescribed in his course. He won prizes in English composition,
and at his graduation, in 1821, delivered the poem for the class.
After leaving Harvard, Emerson taught for several years, at first in a suburban
school for girls, kept by his brother William, where the young instructor does
not seem to have been altogether charmed with the teacher's lot. It was at this
time that he composed one of his most widely known poems, Good-bye,
proud world! I'm going home. The latter half of this poem is descriptive
of the sylvan retreat amid the rocks and pines at Canterbury, whither Mrs. Emerson
had recently removed -- a district now included within the limits of Franklin
Park. The lines are significant of the spirit of this nature lover at the age
when I am safe in my sylvan home,
I tread on the pride of Greece and Rome;
And when I am stretched beneath the pines,
Where the evening star so holy shines,
I laugh at the lore and the pride of man,
At the sophist schools and the learned clan;
For what are they all, in their high conceit,
When man in the bush with God may meet?"
Emerson was also
employed in a characteristic New England "academy" in the country
near Lowell. His manner in the school-room was impressive; his self-control
was perfect, he never punished except with words. His last experience as a schoolmaster
was in Cambridge. Here he is remembered as appearing "every inch a king
in his dominion, or rather like a captive philosopher set to tending flocks;
resigned to his destiny, but not amused with its incongruities."
In 1823, Emerson
began studying for the ministry. Descended from a long line of ministers, deeply
spiritual in nature and equally a passionate seeker after truth, full of ideals
of helpfulness and philanthropy, this was the natural course; but his activities
in this profession were brief. He was ordained in 1829 as associate pastor of
the Second Church in Boston, the historic Old North, which
in the preceding century had flourished for sixty years under the ministry of
the Mathers, father and son. It was now one of the important pulpits of Unitarianism.
The young minister, who in a few months became the sole incumbent, took an active
interest in public affairs; he was a member of the school board and was chosen
chaplain of the State Senate. He invited anti-slavery lecturers into his pulpit
and helped philanthropists of all denominations in their work. Three months
after his ordination, however, Emerson found himself fettered even by the liberal
doctrines of the Unitarians; and in 1832, disapproving the continuance of the
Lord's Supper as a permanent rite, he presented his scruples in a sermon to
his parishioners. His views not receiving their support, he quietly withdrew
from the church.
The young wife,
Ellen, a delicate girl of seventeen when Emerson married her soon after his
ordination, died in 1831. The strain of this bereavement, combined with that
of his separation from his church, affected his own health, and on Christmas
Day, 1832, Emerson, urged by his friends to take a sea voyage, sailed from Boston
on a small vessel bound for the Mediterranean. He visited Italy, France, and
England; and apparently found his greatest satisfaction in the opportunity thus
afforded to meet the noted men whom he had long wished to see.
Coleridge he visited
just one year before that writer's death; he saw Wordsworth also, then sixty-three
years old, and past the time of poetical power. And then he went to see Carlyle,
who was living on his lonely farm at Craigenputtock. "Of course we could
do no other than welcome him," wrote Carlyle to his mother, "the rather
as he seemed to be one of the most lovable creatures in himself we had ever
looked on. He stayed till next day with us, and talked and heard talk to his
heart's content, and left us all really sad to part with him." With this
congenial introduction began the life-long friendship of the two great moralists.
The Scotch essayist was seven years the senior of his guest.
By his translations,
his essays, and his Life of Schiller, Carlyle
had already won recognition from many like Emerson, who were deeply interested
in the newly discovered fields of German literature. This was also the year,
1833, in which Carlyle was putting forth his most characteristic work, the Sartor
Resartus; and one result of this visit was the publication of that work
during the following year, in America, under the direction of Emerson.
In 1834, Ralph
Waldo Emerson became a resident of Concord. For a year he lived with his mother
in the old-fashioned gambrel-roofed house, built as a parsonage for his grandfather,
who in his time had served the Concord church. It was this house which subsequently
came to be occupied by the novelist Hawthorne, and was given fame in the title
of his Mosses from an Old Manse. In 1835, Emerson was married to Miss
Lidian Jackson, of Plymouth, and settled in the house, then on the edge of the
town, where for almost fifty years he lived his serene and uneventful life.
The quiet village has been a famous place ever since the day when by the rude
bridge the "embattled farmers" fought the British soldiers in that first
conflict of the Revolutionary war; and its fame has grown more enduring because
of the remarkable group of thinkers and writers who made the town their home.
To Emerson, the surroundings were peculiarly attractive. From his home a path
led through open fields to the shore of beautiful Walden Pond. There was plenty
of space about him. Meandering through an expanse of green meadow land crept the
sleepy Concord River, the Musketaquid of his poem, between its willow-bordered
banks. More than all else he loved the woods; a forty-acre lot of woodland he
bought by the shore of Walden that he might feel the sense of possession in it.
Garden he sings its beauty and significance to him. In constant
communion with Nature he wrote of her in prose and verse. To him, God was near
in every form of natural life, and he loved to express in his writings the deep
spiritual significance of what he saw and heard. He said: --
go to the god of the wood
To fetch his word to men.
... . .
"There was never mystery
But 't is figured in the flowers;
Was never secret history
But birds tell it in the bowers."
his townsmen, Emerson moved a familiar and a welcome figure. His duties as a
citizen and neighbor were never shirked. Everybody knew the tall, spare man
with the slight stoop of the shoulders, the shrewd, wise, tender face with its
smile "like the mild radiance of a hidden sun." Whenever he spoke
in the town hall or in Concord church, they turned out in large numbers to listen
to his address with neighborly pride and due respect--if not with entire comprehension
of his utterances.
There was, too,
a circle of intimate friends about him, some, like Bronson Alcott and Margaret
Fuller, attracted thither by the presence of one generally recognized as the
ablest prophet of transcendentalism. The young and talented Thoreau, a disciple,
although a very independent one, early engaged his interest. In 1842, Hawthorne
came to Concord, and for five years dwelt in the Old Manse. Occasionally, too,
there appeared fantastic dreamers with queer schemes of social reformation in
their heads who sought out Emerson in his retreat as if to consult the oracle
at some sacred shrine. Altogether, the little New England town became closely
identified with that strong intellectual movement which Emerson, more than any
other American writer, had inspired.
In 1836, there
was published anonymously in Boston a little book of about a hundred pages,
entitled Nature. This was Emerson's first characteristic
utterance through the printed essay. "A reflective prose poem" is
what Dr. Holmes calls it: beautiful in its exaltation of spirit, poetical, mystical,
vague--incomprehensible, doubtless, to many an unsympathetic reader. It was
the first public enunciation of the transcendental principles on which much
of the subsequent teaching was based.
generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why
should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not
we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion
by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs?"
This is the question
which serves to start the discussion. Under the heads Commodity, Beauty, Language,
and Discipline, the essayist speaks of the varied advantages which our senses
owe to nature. A characteristic passage is the following:--
"In the woods
is perpetual youth. Within these plantations of God a decorum and sanctity reign,
a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of
them in a thousand years. In the woods we return to reason and faith. There
I feel that nothing can befall me in life, -- no disgrace, no calamity (leaving
me my eyes), which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, -- my
head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, -- all mean
egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the
currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle
some attention, aroused some hostile criticism. Its ideas were pronounced pantheistic,
and considerable ridicule was bestowed upon the transcendental notions of the
In the following
year, 1837, Emerson delivered before the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Harvard College
his famous address on The American Scholar, and with this notable utterance
emerged clearly into the light of public recognition. This address is first
of all a challenge of academic ideals in that day, and then a plea to the scholar
for a larger vision of his relation to nature, a braver attitude toward the
conventions inherited from the past, a stronger confidence in the sacred, the
divine character of his own perception of truth, and a call to participate in
the life of his generation; -- not only to think, but to live.
which once we valued more than the apple of the eye, we have quite exhausted."
then another, we drain all cisterns, and, waxing greater by all these supplies,
we crave a better and more abundant food. The man has never lived that can feed
"I ask not
for the great, the remote, the romantic; what is doing in Italy, in Arabia;
what is Greek art, or Provençal minstrelsy; I embrace the common, I explore
and sit at the feet of the familiar, the low."
In sentences like
these did the orator assail the authority of scholastic tradition. His words
disturbed the grave dignity of many in his audience. But to the younger generation
of Harvard graduates who sat under the spell of his eloquence, Emerson spoke
a message of wonderful power.
springs from ignorance."
all the virtues are comprehended."
estimates of men crowd to him whose mind is filled with a truth, as the heaped
waves of the Atlantic follow the moon."
are these words to-day; more impressive and inspiring were they then. "This
grand oration was our intellectual Declaration of Independence," says Dr.
Holmes. "The young men went out from it as if a prophet had been proclaiming
to them, `Thus saith the Lord!'" The oft-quoted comment of Lowell gives
us a vivid impression of the effect produced by this address.
"It was an
event without any parallel in our literary annals, a scene to be always treasured
in the memory for its picturesqueness and its inspiration. What crowded and
breathless aisles, what windows clustering with eager heads, what enthusiasm
of approval, what grim silence of foregone dissent!"
From this time
on, Emerson was a familiar figure on the public platform. His occasional addresses
were regarded as events of importance in the literary and intellectual world.
The public lecture system, the "lyceum," as it was usually called,
had grown into popular esteem. Throughout New England, Mr. Emerson was looked
upon as the most eminent lecturer in the field. His tours were extended through
the middle west as far as St. Louis; and to this day in thriving Illinois and
Indiana towns, one may hear it mentioned with complacent local pride that in
such or such a year Emerson spoke there.
manner in which these lectures were prepared is perhaps exaggerated by those
who have dwelt on this feature of Emerson's work. From his
commonplace book, or journal, Emerson culled the ideas, epigrammatically recorded,
which touched his theme; and thus he built the discourse -- almost haphazard,
it would seem to a formal writer, without the usual regard to logic or coherence
in composition. Yet these sharp, short, often paradoxical sentences, weighty
with truth, yet brilliant with their illuminating thought, keenly witty and
delicately fanciful, made a most effective appeal to the audiences prepared
to appreciate them. They stirred the minds and kindled the souls of many. It
was a new voice in the land, a challenge and a prophecy, which came to have
vital force in the intellectual and moral growth of thoughtful Americans in
There was no vociferousness
in Emerson's lecturing. Calm, simple, almost monotonous in delivery, without
gestures, he read from his notes with deliberation and with frequent pauses;
but his voice was melodious and resonant, and all agree in the charm felt by
his auditors. He did not prolong his discourse to weariness; at the end of the
sixty minutes, without peroration, without climax, he stopped. Lecturing he
found laborious; he followed it from necessity. And yet in spite of the discomforts
of long journeys and of unhomelike inns, he enjoyed, too, the freedom of expression
on the platform. It more than supplied the opportunities of his old Boston pulpit,
and immeasurably amplified the congregation of his hearers, for to the last
Mr. Emerson remained a preacher.
First Series of Emerson's Essays appeared in 1841. It included these
now familiar discourses: History, Self-Reliance,
Compensation, Spiritual Laws, Love,
Friendship, Prudence, Heroism,
The Over-Soul, Circles, Intellect, and Art. These were for the most
part transcripts from his lectures. The favorite doctrines appear felicitously
every heart vibrates to that iron string."
be a man must be a nonconformist."
consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."
"To be great
is to be misunderstood."
yourself; never imitate."
In such compact,
oracular utterances, Emerson loved to crowd his thought. Taken from their immediate
setting, they appear yet more paradoxical than when read in their connection.
These brief and startling epigrams illustrate both the strength and the weakness
of this author's style. Many of these statements are debatable; extreme application
of every precept to the general conduct could hardly result in anything but
confusion and turmoil. Nevertheless, these ideas were intensely stimulating,
and if they made readers think, so much the better. Agreement with the writer's
thought was by no means essential. Trust thyself! was the burden of his teaching.
Even to our generation these Essays of Emerson are illuminating and quickening
epistles which have their greatest value, perhaps, in arousing and confirming
a wholesome independence of mind.
Second Series of Essays, published in 1844,
included The Poet, Experience, Character,
Manners, Gifts, Nature (a second handling of this theme), Politics, Nominalist
and Realist, and The New England Reformers.
Men and English Traits.
In 1847, a cordial
invitation to address lyceum audiences in England and Scotland led to a second
trip across the Atlantic. The visit was a success. Emerson delivered many lectures,
was warmly received, renewed the acquaintance with Carlyle, and made many new
friends. The material of these lectures appeared in 1850 under the title Representative
Men. The opening chapter is on the uses of great men -- their most efficient
and enduring service being that of introducing moral truths into the general
mind. The characters selected for study and interpretation are: Plato, or the
Philosopher; Swedenborg, or the Mystic; Montaigne, or the Sceptic; Shakespeare,
or the Poet; Napoleon, or the Man of the World, and Goethe, or the Writer. While
the volume suggests a comparison with Carlyle's Heroes and
Hero-Worship, it will be seen that the plan and idea of Emerson's work
are entirely different from his.
Traits (1856), Emerson produced a thoughtful, appreciative, and not
uncritical study of British personality and the significance of the national
character. These two volumes stand by themselves as the only works of the essayist
having a formal structure and definite plan.
The first collection
of Emerson's poems appeared in 1846. He had been writing
verse for many years, and some of his best-known compositions, The
Problem, Woodnotes, The Sphinx,
and others, had appeared in The Dial. Some, like the famous Concord
Hymn, had been heard upon notable occasions. In 1867, a second collection
appeared under the title May-Day and Other Pieces.
poetry of Emerson is, as one would expect to And it, intellectual, subjective,
abstract. It is unemotional and often austere. "I do not belong to
the poets, but only to a low department of literature, the reporters, suburban
men," Emerson had declared, writing to Carlyle. Again he had said with
more of justice to his gift, "I am born a poet, of a low class, without
doubt, yet a poet. That is my nature and my vocation." While criticism
has often joined in the poet's own depreciation of his power, there are also
many who find the fire of genuine poetic genius in his verse. Stedman calls
him "our most typical and inspiring poet." The thought, the substance
of his verse has the originality and vital strength of all his discourse; the
poetical form is uneven.
Thus does Emerson write of the poet:--
is the art,
Great be the manners, of the bard.
He shall not his brain encumber
With the coil of rhythm and number;
But, leaving rule and pale forethought,
He shall aye climb
For his rhyme.
`Pass in, pass in,' the angels say,
`In to the upper doors,
Nor count compartments of the floors,
But mount to paradise
By the stairway of surprise.'"
There are numerous passages of wonderful simplicity and beauty in the poetry
of Emerson: lines like the familiar quatrain in Voluntaries,
"So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
So near is God to man,
When Duty whispers low, Thou must,
The youth replies, I can";
-- and the perfect
lines in Woodnotes:--
In poems like The
Humble-Bee, The Snow-Storm, The Rhodora,
Woodnotes, Monadnoc, Musketaquid,
Emerson is at his best, and ranks next to Bryant, if not as his equal, among American
nature poets. He describes the northward flow of Spring with its radiant life:--
poured the flood of the ancient sea
Spilling over mountain chains,
Bending forests as bends the sedge,
Faster flowing o'er the plains,--
A world-wide wave with a foaming edge
That rims the running silver sheet."
Of the dawn he writes:--
tenderly the haughty day
Fills his blue urn with fire."
These are the phrases and figures of a true poet; but a large part of Emerson's
verse is oracular, like the paradoxes in his prose. Hence it is that much is said
derisively of such orphic breathings as we find in The
Sphinx, and Brahma
-- with its disconcerting
the red slayer think he slays,
Or if the slain think he is slain,
They know not well the subtle ways
I keep, and pass, and turn again."
as this group of poems is, it appeals to the intellect, and appeals strongly
when once the reader finds the key.
While Emerson never strikes the chord of passion, there is one poem -- and
that one of his best -- wherein we feel the human heart-beat of a human grief.
In 1842, the poet lost his little son, "a perfect little boy of five years
and three months," he wrote Carlyle; "a few weeks ago I accounted myself
a very rich man, and now the poorest of all." In Threnody
we have the calm, philosophic, yet very feeling expression of the father's experience.
It is not disconsolate. To him who so often interpreted to others the mystic whisperings
of the great mother teacher, there comes a response from Nature's heart:--
What is excellent,
As God lives, is permanent;
Hearts are dust, hearts' loves remain;
Heart's love will meet thee again.
House and tenant go to ground,
Lost in God, in Godhead found."
on public matters during the period of agitation preceding the Civil War is
interesting. His friends in the transcendental coterie were vigorous abolitionists.
With characteristic self-restraint, Emerson refrained from violent utterance.
He spoke against slavery, but not aggressively against the South. He proposed
a plan to purchase the slaves from the planters, because "it is the only
practical course, and is innocent." As the struggle developed, however,
his position on the issue of the hour was perfectly clear. He stood with Wendell
Phillips when the speakers were mobbed at a public meeting in Boston; and when
the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, January
1, 1863, he read the vigorous stanzas of his Boston Hymn.
He paid an eloquent tribute to Lincoln in an address at
Concord in April, 1865, and was the orator at the services held by Harvard College
in memory of her sons fallen in the war -- when Lowell read his Commemoration
Life and Work.
activity continued throughout a period of forty years. In 1868, 1869, and 1870,
he delivered courses of lectures at Harvard which furnished the material for
the volume entitled Natural History of Intellect. Society
and Solitude was published in 1870. Among the twelve essays included
under this title is the one on Books, in which occur the oft-quoted but
somewhat dubious rules: "Never read any book that is not a year old. Never
read any but famed books. Never read any but what you like." It is in the
essay on Civilization of this series that we find
the famous precept, "Hitch your wagon to a star!"
The volume, Letters
and Social Aims, appeared in 1874. Parnassus,
a collection of poems by British and American authors, a selection made by Mr.
Emerson for his own pleasure, was published in the same year. The last public
address written by Emerson was that delivered at Concord, in April, 1875, on
the centennial of the fight at the bridge.
In 1871, the poet
visited California. Soon after his return to Concord, his house was partially
destroyed by fire. A European tour followed for relief and recreation -- a tour
which extended as far as Egypt. During Mr. Emerson's absence a spontaneous movement
among his friends resulted in the subscription of some twelve thousand dollars
-- a gift which Mr. Emerson was with some difficulty prevailed upon to accept.
It provided for the expense of the journey and for the restoration of the house.
At the home-coming in May, 1873, the entire town of Concord assembled at the
station to greet its famous and well-loved citizen. The church-bells announced
his arrival, and the appearance of the train was received with the cheers of
the assemblage. "Emerson appeared, surprised and touched, on the platform,
and was escorted with music between two rows of smiling school-children to his
house, where a triumphal arch of leaves and flowers had been erected."
the events just mentioned, there had been indications of a weakening of the
splendid intellectual power which had so long led the thought of that generation
on the higher levels of the spirit. Memory failed, and now and then there was
the pathetic spectacle of one, whose mastery of the written and spoken word
had been preëminent, groping vainly for some familiar term. "I can't tell
its name," he said once when he wanted an umbrella; then, with a flash
of his old humor, -- "but I can tell its history. Strangers take it away."
the shadows fell gently on these days of declining strength. In the spring
of 1882, Mr. Emerson suffered from a severe cold, which developed into pneumonia;
and after a brief illness the end came April 27, the poet recognizing his friends
with a smile of greeting to the last. Upon Sunday, the thirtieth, simple and
impressive services were held in the church at Concord. The
homes of the townspeople and the public buildings were draped. Emerson was buried
in the village cemetery, Sleepy Hollow, at the dedication of which as a burial-place
he had delivered an address. His body was laid at the foot of a tall pine, not
far from the graves of Hawthorne and Thoreau.
writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, whether prose or poetry, are philosophical;
but they make no attempt to set forth a comprehensive system of thought. Emerson
is rather a spiritual teacher than a philosopher. Truth came to him not through
an argument nor in logical progression, but in intuitions, as it does to a poet;
and these keen, condensed, authoritative utterances so picturesquely expressed
are self-convincing by their very form. His real philosophy was the purest idealism
-- an idealism which to materialistic readers appeared merely vague and mystical.
He maintained that its application to conduct was the only worthy, the only
practical course. This ideal he supported with an independence and a self-possession
that were marvelous. We hardly appreciate now how radical he was, nor how indifferent
to the views and opinions of others. To many who disputed his opinions, Emerson's
attitude seemed one of insolence. This was a misinterpretation of the spirit
of one who was as gentle and amiable as he was courageous. "What we admire
in Emerson is not only the intellectual elevation but the moral purity and simple
childlike goodness and sweetness of the man" -- says a noted English essayist.
In his search for truth, he felt only one responsibility -- the responsibility
to himself. Assured of his own integrity, he stood serene and happy in absolute
This freedom of
individual opinion and expression which he claimed for himself, Emerson urged
upon all; it was a cardinal point in his teaching. He taught also the simple
life and practiced it. Above everything else, he believed and taught the immanence
of God, the presence of divinity in all of nature and in man. He liberalized
thought in America. His crisp sayings are everywhere quoted. Whatever of substantial
value is discoverable in the various schemes of the "new thought"
of to-day is pretty sure to go back to Emerson as its proper source. His ideas
are current wherever men think seriously of life. Perhaps his greatest service
to literature was the stimulus and encouragement which he gave to the youth
of his own generation who followed so closely in his steps. Hawthorne came under
his influence; he was the direct inspiration of Whitman; Longfellow,
Holmes, and Lowell felt the immediate power of his message; and, together with
Emerson, these were the men who largely determined the character of American
literature in the nineteenth century, and gave it such distinction as it has.
Of Emerson's prose,
the following essays are especially recommended: Self-Reliance, Compensation,
Books (in Society and Solitude); the address, The American Scholar,
should certainly be read and the ideas characteristic of the writer be noted.
In the same way parts of the first Nature should be considered. The student
will find in English Traits an interesting account of Emerson's visits
with Wordsworth and Carlyle. Among the poems, some should be compared with those
of Bryant's which have been read. These are particularly such nature poems as
The River, The Rhodora, The Humble-Bee, The Snow-Storm, Musketaquid, My Garden,
The Titmouse, and Woodnotes I and II. More directly suggestive of
the poet's transcendental utterances are: The Apology, Each and All, The
Problem, The Sphinx, The Informing Spirit, Experience, Hamatreya, Nature (two versions, 1844, 1849), Days, and Brahma. The Concord Hymn,
Boston Hymn, and Voluntaries are in a group by themselves, inspired
by events. Threnody and Terminus are poems of experience.
The authoritative editions of Emerson's Works are those published by Houghton Mifflin Company. The authorized biography is the Memoir of Ralph Waldo Emerson, by J. B. Cabot (2 vols.). The volume on Emerson in the American Men of Letters Series is by Oliver Wendell Holmes; that in the English Men of Letters Series (the most recent biography) is by George E. Woodberry. Sketches and criticisms are almost numberless; it is best to mention few. The student, therefore, is referred only to the following titles: Emerson in Concord, by E. W. Emerson (son of R. W.); Concord Days, by A. Bronson Alcott, and the same author's Ralph Waldo Emerson: An Estimate of his Character and Genius; G. B. Bartlett's Concord; H. E. Scudder's Men and Letters, and E. P. Whipple's Recollections of Eminent Men. Both Lowell and George W. Curtis have delightful essays upon Emerson Lecturing, the former in Literary Essays, the latter in The Easy Chair. There is also a light sketch of Emerson (principally of Concord) in Curtis's Literary and Social Essays. An English estimate, most appreciative, is to be found in Four Great Teachers, by Joseph Forster. An excellent account of the communistic experiment in Roxbury is Brook Farm, by Lindsay Swift (in National Studies in American Letters).