AL&P: Emerson's The American Scholar and Nature

2007-03-18 00:00

From Emerson’s The American Scholar:But colleges only highly serve us… when they gather from far every ray of various genius, and, … set the hearts of their youth on flame.This feels to me to be as true today as it must have been then. There is much education, in the sense that students are taught things, but there is little in the way of passion behind that knowledge. There is no flaming desire to learn, and having learned, create knowledge anew. We see in every age the seeking of safety by way of imitating the past, but we must also inspire those bold enough to wade into the future. Without them, we will soon have no past to imitate. Those, in Emerson’s mind, are the scholars.Emerson lays out, in broad sweeping strokes, the picture of the scholar. His examples are American, but the virtues hold across all traditions. It seems Emerson’s hoped for effect would be to inspire the American Scholar to be both a scholar in the traditional way, and more; the American Scholar would be a uniquely American ‘Rennaisanse Man.’ Capable in action, study, duty, and clarity of thought.Emerson’s Nature, by contrast, is a flowing florid appeal to experience, of both Nature as commonly definte, and Nature as that which is not self. Nature appeals to the individualistic spirit of the explorer, “Why Should we not also enjoy an original relation to the universe?” This individualism is also echoed in the opening of The American Scholar where Emerson equates knowing oneself to the study of Nature. Much of Nature focuses on the aesthetics of Nature, how one experiences it, how it changes oneself, and the human experience.

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