May 25, 2011

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, MAY 25, 1803 - APRIL 27, 1882

Emerson, Ralph Waldo, Selected Journals 1820-1842, edited by Lawrence Rosenwald (New York: Library of America, 2010) ("If you will, you may read nothing by song books & fairy tales, all the year round, but if you would know the literature of any cultivated nation, you must meet the majestic ideas of God, of Justice, of Freedom, of Necessity, of War, & of Intellectual beauty, as the subject & spirit of volumes & eras." Id. at 435-436.).

Emerson, Ralph Waldo, Selected Journals 1841-1877, edited by Lawrence Rosenwald (New York: Library of America, 2010) ("Books. It is taking a liberty with a man to offer him a book as if he also had not access to that truth to which the bookmaker had access. Each of the books, if read, invades me, displaces me; the law of it is that it should be first, that I should give way to it, I who have no right to give way and, if I would be tranquil & divine again, I must dismiss the book." "And yet I expect a great man to be a good reader or in proportion to the spontaneous power should be the assimilating power." "Every book serves us at last only by adding some one word to our vocabulary, or perhaps two or three. And perhaps that word shall not be in the volume or shall only be the author's name. And yet there are books of no vulgar origin but the work & the proof of faculties so comprehensive, so nearly equal to the universe which they paint, that although one shuts them also with meaner ones, yet he says with a sigh the while, this were to be read in long thousands of years by some stream in Paradise. Swedenborg, Behman, Plato, Proclus, Rabelais, & Greaves." Id. at 115-116. On Rabelais: "It is no small thing to know of a man that he does not accept the conventional opinions & practices. That non-conformity will remain a perpetual remembrancer & goad, & every inquirer will have to dispose of him in the first place." Id. at 137. "In reading books as in seeing men, one may well keep, if he can, his first thoughts; for they will soon be written over by the details of argument & sentiment in the book, and yet they are a juster judgment of the book than a digest of the particular merits can yield. As W.T. said of the first impression of a face, that after your friend has come & gone many times & now is long absent that first seen face comes back to the memory & not the more intimate knowledge of recent days." Id. at 257. "If a man read a book because it interests him and read in all directions for the same reason, his reading is pure, & interests me, but if he read with ulterior objects, if he read that he may write, we do not impute it to him for righteousness. In the first case he is like one who takes up only so much land as he uses; in the second, he buys land to speculate with." Id. at 376. "The costliest benefit of books is that they set us free from themselves also." Id. at 729. "It takes twenty years to get a good book read. For each reader is struck with a new passage & at first only with the shining & superficial ones, & by this very attention to these the rest are slighted. But with time the graver & deeper thoughts are observed & pondered. New readers come from time to time, --their attention whetted by frequent & varied allusions to the book,--until at last every passage has found its reader & commentator." Id. at 869. "It is with a book as it is with a man. We are more struck with the merits of a man who is well-mannered, wel-drest, & well-mounted, than with those of my neighbors in shoddy; and I am a little ashamed to find how much this gay book in red & gold with a leaf like vellum & a palatial page, has opened my eyes to the merits of the poet whose verses I long since coldly looked over in newspapers or monthlies or in small cloth-bound volumes." Id. at 857. "It is a great loss to lose the confidence of a class; yet the scholar, the thinker goes on losing the ear & love of class after class who once sustained him." "The scholar isolates himself by the sweet opium which he has learned to chew, & which he calls muses, & memory, & philosophy. Now & then,, he meets another scholar, & then says, 'See, I am rewarded for my truth to myself & calling, by the perfect sympathy I here find.' But, meantime, he is left our more & more, & at last utterly, by society, & his faculties languish for want of invitation, & objective work; until he becomes the very thing which they taunt him with being, a selfindulgent dreamer. In an intellectual community, he would be steeled & sharpened & burnished to a strong Archimedes or Newton. Society makes him the imbecile it accuses him of being." Id. at 616. Might might the following be Emerson's anticipatory response to today's Tea Party?: "The state is our neighbors; our neighbors are the state. It is a folly to treat the state as if it were some individual arbitrarily willing thus and so. It is the same company of poor devils we know so well, of William & Edward & John & Henry, doing as they are obliged to do, & trying hard to do conveniently what must & will be done. They do not impose a tax. God & the nature of things imposes the tax, requires that the land shall bear its burden, of road, & of social order, & defence; & I confess I lose all respect for this tedious denouncing of the state by idlers who rot in indolence, selfishness, & envy in the chimney corner." Id. at 248. "Laws of the world. The fish in the cave is blind; such is the eternal relation between power & use." Id. at 377. "He who does his own work frees a slave, He who does not his own work, is a slave-holder." Id. at 785. Written in 1861, still relevant today: "Do the duty of the day. Just now, the supreme public duty of all thinking men is to assert freedom. Go where it is threatened, & say, "I am for it, & do not wish to live in the world a moment longer than it exists." Id. at 759. One of the saddest state of affairs is the current lack of believe, particularly among many academics, of a minor but essential freedom: academic freedom. Intellectual life is dying, if not already dead, in American universities as more and more universities move to the business model that knows only dollars and cents, incomes and expenses, and cost accounting. "The aphorism of the lawyers non curat de minimis praetor, like most of their wisdom is to be reversed; for the truth is, in minimus existit natura. In nature, nothing is insignificant because it is small. The bee is essential to the marriage of the plants." Id. at 804. "'The magistrate is not concerned with leasts," and "nature works in leasts'." Id. at 967 (editors notes).).