Chris Schlegel 6/18/08 English 245 American Literature I Dr. Calendar Primary Source Paper The Influence of Ralph Waldo Emerson Ralph Waldo Emerson is considered by many as one of the most respected and widely known authors in the history of American literature. From his famous book “Nature”, to his various essays, poems and lectures, Emerson’s collection of works maintain an authentic diverse style that separated him from other authors. The confidence and optimism he portrayed thru his work helped to spawn an assembly of followers from not only America, but Europe as well.
Many historians believe that Emerson may be the most inspirational figure in American thought since the colonial period, and In my opinion without Emerson’s influences on American Literature and Transcendentalism the new thought movement, and conception of individualism during the 19th century may have never taken place. Emerson’s 1836 essay “Nature” is considered by many to be the foundation of Transcendentalism, and the “New Thought” movement that followed. Both terms were considered anomalies at the time since they protested against the “normal” cultural, and social trains of thought during the 19th century.
In Samuel Osgood ‘s 1837 publication “The Western Messenger” Osgood reviews “Nature” and is quoted as saying the following, “whatever may be thought of the merits, or of the extravagances of the book, no one, we are sure can read it without feeling himself more wide awake to the beauty and meaning of creation. ” It was the core belief of transcendentalists that individual intuitions should be at the forefront of their being, and not be limited to established forms of culture.
This conviction was right on with Emerson’s philosophy, which encouraged people to think for themselves, and follow their hearts. It was Emerson’s own nature in fact that touched so many peoples mind and soul, generating a group of admirers that held him in their highest regards. In analyzing numerous historical New York Times clippings I encountered several articles that spoke volumes of Emerson and his influence on people. One I enjoyed in particular was an article depicting various commemorative addresses’ entitled “ Emerson’s Many Friends. ” In this piece Dr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes speaks vibrantly of Emerson in saying “ He enriched the treasure-house of literature, but, what was far more, he enlarged the boundaries of thought for the few that followed him and the many that never knew, and do not know today what hand it was that took down their prison wall. ” Dr Holmes reference to his late friend shows not only his respect for Emerson, but also how significant a role he played in supplying his followers with optimism and confidence in being themselves. Two American authors whose literary careers were inspired significantly by Mr. Emerson were Henry David Thoreau and Margaret Fuller.
Both Thoreau and Fuller played an equally important role in the development of the transcendental movement, but their careers as writers may have taken a different path were it not for Emerson’s Influence on them. Emerson’s interaction with Fuller was well documented as the two were known to indulge in verbal intercourse regularly, eventually working together in creating “The Dial”, a publication dedicated to new ideas relating to the reformation of society. Thoreau on the other hand was a pupil of Emerson using many of his Philosophical beliefs in his literature and lifestyle.
One of Thoreau’s greatest works was a book titled “Walden or Life in the Woods” detailing Thoreau’s construction of a cabin and isolation from society on a plot of land owned by Emerson at Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. It is my belief that it was Thoreau’s aspiration to live the simple life Emerson spoke of so frequently in his writing relying only on himself instead of the influences of society. Although both Fuller and Thoreau were exceptional authors, and thinkers in their own right, there connection with Emerson is undeniable in relation to their life and works of literature.
Furthermore the impact of Emerson’s work was not only realized in the United States, but across the Atlantic in Europe as well. Many Europeans found enjoyment in Emerson’s literature, and in an 1882 clipping from the New York Times I found an interesting editorial entitled “ British Views of Emerson. ” This article confirmed the Europeans respect for Mr. Emerson including excerpts from various newspapers across Europe. The text within the article appreciates Emerson and his works referring to his unique style as “sometimes obscure, and yet apparently so simple. There was also admiration for his humble demeanor citing that despite all his success he remained grounded, “in a tranquil seclusion, seeking none of the rewards that the world had to bestow, yet earnest in his efforts for the elevation of mankind. Before taking American Literature, I am disappointed to say that had never read nor heard of Ralph Waldo Emerson or his works. During an assignment requiring me to read and analyze Emerson’s essay “Self Reliance” I realized how appealing this mans work was to me.
His outgoing, and original approach to writing really captured my attention and gave me a piece of mind that before then I had never been subjected to. As I began to research Emerson and his legacy, I realized I was not alone in this thinking, and that Emerson’s literature had indeed influenced an entire movement based around his teachings and philosophies of individualism. In conclusion it is my opinion that Emerson’s character and ability to communicate his beliefs thru lectures essays and books helped the transcendental literary movement gain an incredible following and achieve a great degree of success during the 19th century.
I believe Emerson was a remarkably deep individual who used his knowledge thru literature to achieve a mindset that made him and his admirers comfortable with themselves and who they were. Without Ralph Waldo Emerson’s influential works, transcendentalism and the American thought process that followed might have never taken such an individualistic approach to life and living in general.