The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (Ralph Waldo Emerson) pdf, epub, doc

The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson ePub and PDF Available
1,700 plus pages of Emerson over more than a month. Where to begin? I think it best to evaluate Emerson by using his own ideas to aid in the critique. Emerson said of books: “We are too civil to books. For a few golden sentences we will turn over and actually read a volume of four or five hundred pages.” At times I felt this with Emerson. There were times that he was tedious, but with Emerson, those few golden sentences make up for many pages of long-winded erudition. Some essays flow so naturally and so engage the reader. Others seemed somewhat antiquated.

In his essay on books, Emerson offers three “practical rules” for readers:

1. Never read any book that is not a year old. (Check).
2. Never read any but famed books. (Check).
3. Never read any but what you like; or, in Shakespeare’s phrase, ‘No profit goes where is no pleasure ta’en; In brief, Sir, study what you most affect.’ (Check).


Perhaps I was too civil to Emerson to spend so much time with him, but I feel the time was well worth it. He was an intelligent and thought-provoking houseguest, a bit pedantic at times, long-winded and sometimes churlish in the presentation of his ideas, but a generous and engaging guest, nonetheless.

All that said, a few general observations of my own:

1)While there were some very worthwhile essays contained in this work, many were in the first part of this 4 volume series, the only one of the 4 volumes that I had previously read. Among those essays contained here are his essay on history, which opens this volume, and where he clearly lays out much of his philosophy; this is followed by his essay on self-reliance, also one of the best of Emerson’s essays; “Circles;” “Intellect,” and “Nominalist and Realist.” In Volume 2, some of his essays on Representative Men are certainly worth reading more than once: the opening essay titled “Uses of Great Men” and his writings on Plato, Shakespeare and Napoleon. His take on The Lord’s Supper and the (perceived) misunderstanding among Christians about the sacrament of Eucharist was a piece that I would not have picked to read if it were not part of this collection, but I found his arguments intriguing (perhaps because I was raised in a Catholic family, attending Catholic schools throughout all of my youth).In his essays on the Conduct of Life, I was greatly interested in his essays on behavior, worship and, more than any other here, the essay entitled, “Considerations by the Way.” Among my favorites in Volume 3 were the essays on fate and books and the piece on Thoreau – a great influence on Emerson and vice versa.

2)I had a difficult time getting through Emerson’s poetry. He is a master of form, but it is hard to feel his poetry – he lacks the "poet’s soul." This isn’t to suggest that his verse is bad; structurally, as least, some of it is very impressive. His free verse is quite good. His rhymed verse seems at times a bit strained. For me, Emerson is a much better essayist than a poet.

3)Of like-minded men of his generation, while there is much to love about Emerson, I much prefer Whitman and Thoreau. Emerson’s arguments and ideas are clear and well-presented, but, as stated earlier, he lacks the soul of the poet. He preaches a great deal about freedom and the “importance of the individual,” but he seems more tightly bound by the customs of his day than either of these two contemporaries, though they were very much free and wild souls for their times. Emerson, too, but I feel Whitman and Thoreau are giants in his presence (he a giant in the presence of others).

4) Not unlike Whitman, Emerson often contradicts himself in his writings, even in essays not very far removed from one another in terms of time. This, to me, is not a weakness, however – it simply adds to his depth.

5)Some of Emerson’s allusions are undoubtedly obscure to the modern reader – more notes could have been helpful in this regard. These days, though, praise be to Google! In a recent article I read in New York magazine, longtime New Republic literary editor, Leon Wieseltier (I cannot believe I’m quoting him) said, “In the old days, I used to get shit from certain people about difficult words or references. The irony now is that I just smile and say, ‘Google it.’ I have no conscience about that anymore.” I think in this regard Emerson might just say the same, more or less.

A great influence on writers and thinkers from Whitman and Thoreau to Dewey and Nietzsche, and countless others, Emerson deserves to be read, and today more than ever, when conformity seems too often to take precedent over self-reliance (it is easier, after all).Some essays deserve to be reread occasionally. Others need be read only once, if at all.

“What is the hardest task in the world?” Emerson asks. “To think.” Emerson gives us plenty to think about long after each encounter with him. Like the great men he glorifies in his writings, Emerson has (along with others in his school – Thoreau and Whitman, especially), in a sense become a great man, and, likewise, an American institution.

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  • Ganre: Philosophy
  • ISBN: 9780404054809
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