Ralph Emerson American Scholar Essay

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“To the young mind, every thing is individual, stands by itself.

Emerson presents this idea as a negative effect on the scholar because they seem to continue to break things down trying to find simple answers to complex questions.

Although the invitation came to Emerson just two months before he was to deliver the address, he had been thinking about writing something on "The Duty & Discipline of a Scholar" for at least two years.

Characteristically, many of the passages in the address first appeared in his journals during the years and months before its actual composition in the summer of 1837.

Emerson uses nature as a comparison to the human mind where he states, “There is never a beginning, there is never an end to the inexplicable continuity of this web of God, but always circular power returning into itself.”296 The human mind is an object that is boundless and can be full of so much beauty and intellect such as nature can be.

Emerson continues to explain how classification begins among the young minds.When Emerson reprinted it for the 1849 collection Nature, Addresses, and Lectures, he changed the title to the more familiar and more accurate "The American Scholar."By "scholar," it is important to note, he did not primarily mean a haunter of libraries with a narrow range of specialization but rather something like what we might call a public intellectual—that is, a person of learning who by his or her writing plays an active and thoughtful role in society.And, by extension, he speaks to every reader's intellectual life and the roles we all play or should play as "Man Thinking." The "American" part of the title needs qualification too, for except in the somewhat formulaic beginning and a brief (but important) section at the end, Emerson is more concerned with the universal elements of the scholar's education and duties than with any national or nationalistic aspects of his subject.As the oration takes up the problem of the place of learning and the role of the scholar/writer in American life, "The Divinity School Address," delivered the following year to a much more hostile reception at Harvard, critiques the failures of religion—specifically the errors of Christianity as reflected in the beliefs of New England Unitarianism.And "Self-Reliance," published in 1841, wrestles with the central problem of life for Emerson: the oppositional relationship that exists between society and the individual and the necessity that the individual base his or her life on the promptings of spirit.The topic had broad and deep relevance to his own condition, for he had resigned his formal ministry in 1832 to set out upon his career as a lecturer and author.Leaving the security, the certainty, and the traditions of the Unitarian ministry for the untried world of public and secular discourse gave Emerson ample impetus to ponder his new vocation.His decision, and the essay on the scholar that in some ways grows out of it, also mark a moment of transition in American cultural and literary history, for Emerson is himself a representative man in the shifting of the intellectual and cultural center of gravity from the clergy to the lay intellectual and writer.With the proliferation of lyceums and other lecture venues, magazines, books, and newspapers in the 1840s and 1850s, it was possible for the first time to think of a career in letters that began somewhere else than in the pulpit."The American Scholar" was also the first of what we can now see were three major efforts Emerson made to apply the principles he had announced the previous year in his first book, Nature (1836), to specific issues and problems in American culture.To many it seemed that the very fabric of society and the economy itself were at risk.Emerson himself regarded the depression as proof of the folly of America's single-minded pursuit of wealth and material success.


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