Summary of “The Transcendentalist” by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson and Transcendentalism Essay Example for Free
Emerson calls 's work the bible of educated people, claiming that it is "impossible to think, on certain levels, except through him." Swedenborg saw, and stands for, the interconnectedness of human beings and nature. and Goethe exemplify and stand for the power to express, to convert life into life-giving words. Emerson ends each essay with a review of the shortcomings of the subject. is too literary, not enough the prophet. Swedenborg is over-whelmed by a private and rigid symbolism his reader cannot fully share. The effect of these negative conclusions is to prevent the reader from idolizing or enthroning , Swedenborg, or any other great person. The great ones are of interest to us only because each has something to teach us, and it is the present reader, the student, and not the great writer or teacher whom Emerson really cares about. Each great representative figure "must be related to us, and our life receive from him some promise of explanation." So the praise of Goethe, whom Emerson seems to have admired above all writers, is for such things as the creation of Mephistopheles in (1808-1832). In order to make the devil real, Goethe "stripped him of mythologic gear, of horns, cloven foot, harpoon tail, brimstone and blue-fire, and instead of looking in books and pictures, looked for him in his own mind, in every shade of coldness, selfishness, and unbelief that, in crowd or in solitude, darkens over the human thought." Thus Goethe reimagines Mephistopheles: "He shall be real; he shall be modern; he shall be European; he shall dress like a gentleman." The result, says Emerson, is that Goethe "flung into literature, in his Mephistopheles, the first organic figure that has been added for some ages, and which will remain as long as the Prometheus."
Emerson and Transcendentalism Essay
He also continued to be alert to the social and political contexts of literature. In a speech about in 1859, published in (1884), he noted shrewdly that Burns, "the poet of the middle class, represents in the mind of men to-day that great uprising of the middle class against the armed and privileged minorities, that uprising which worked politically in the American and French Revolutions, and which, not in governments so much as in education and social order, has changed the face of the world." In 1870 he included an essay called "Books" in a volume titled . The essay contains Emerson's reading list, his recommendations about the best books to read. Coming during the same period as 's concept of "touchstones," it is an interesting prefiguration of the premise that underlies modern general education, namely that there is a body of knowledge that all educated people should share. For the Greeks, for instance, he lists , , , , and , then goes on to give some background reading in ancient history and art. It is an eminently practical essay, as well as a useful indication of Emerson's own broad taste.