Ralph Waldo Emerson Essays The American Scholar

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“The american scholar” descends to us as literature, but for the more than two hundred auditors who filled the First Parish Church in Cambridge on August 31, 1837, as for the speaker himself, the address was a singular dramatic occasion.

“An event without any former parallel in our literary annals,” James Russell Lowell recalled years later: “What crowded and breathless aisles, what windows clustering with eager heads, what enthusiasm of approval, what grim silence of foregone dissent!

According to Emerson, society used to be united and whole but it became divided and “compartmentalized” as men began to serve narrower and more specific purposes in their work lives. Second, he compares the members in society to “walking monsters”—individual body parts trying to function on their own, but never succeeding.

By demonstrating the fragmentation of society, Emerson draws attention to American scholars’ own place within this fragmented society.

He further on continues to state how books “They look backward and not forward. The eyes of man are set in his forehead, not in his hind head.”298 Emerson thus believes that all men have the capacity of being a genius. Genius creates.”298 But, Emerson does not encourage people to be genius because the “Genius is always the sufficiently enemy of the genius by over-influence.”298 Emerson believes that “books are for the scholar’s idle times”298 and the only subjects that he should learn from reading are history and exact science. “Action is with the scholar subordinate, but it is essential.

Without it, he is not yet man… inaction is cowardice, but there can be no scholar without the heroic mind.”299 Emerson wants the scholar to learn but question everything.As Buell remarks, “Even though [Buckminster] was not actually a saint it is possible to understand how he might have passed for one with an audience looking for charisma, polish, learning, and good morals” (.Set against the enormous political power of the early New England clergy, Buckminster's loftiness “seems to mark a stage in the disengagement of piety and learning from the world of affairs which led, during the nineteenth century, to what we now call the alienation of the intellectual” ().Emerson makes frequent use of metaphor throughout his oration. The state of society is one in which the members have suffered amputation from the trunk, and strut about so many walking monsters, — a good finger, a neck, a stomach, an elbow, but never a man." (Paragraph 4) Emerson paints a powerful image in this passage, with the use of multiple metaphors.One of the most powerful metaphors he used was the description of American society in 1837. First, he compares society to a fountain of power which has become nothing more than spilt drops of water—making clear his views on the negative effects of job specialization on society.Ever since Emerson gave this now-infamous speech to the Phi Beta Kappa Society in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1837, it has been a cornerstone of American literature, defining the scholar’s role in American society.In fact, Oliver Wendell Holmes, a famous 19th century American poet, called an “Intellectual Declaration of Independence” for America.His speech served as the inspiration for many future American writers, artists, and philosophers to create their own ideas, without regard to Europe and its antiquated traditions.To this end, Emerson uses literary devices to make various points in support of his overall theme. "But unfortunately, this original unit, this fountain of power [which is society], has been so distributed to multitudes, has been so minutely subdivided and peddled out, that it is spilled into drops, and cannot be gathered.Certainly, Emerson’s promotion of a uniquely American scholarship influenced a generation of American scholars—and continues to influence scholars until this day.is to call on American scholars to create their own independent American literature and academia—separate from old European ties of the past.


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