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09/07/2019

R. W. Emerson’s influence to American culture?

QUESTION
R. W. Emerson’s influence to American culture?
what contributions he made for American society

ANSWER
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) was the leading figure in American transcendentalism.
As a philosopher, essayist and poet, he set the intellectual tone of New England letters in his own time, and of American literature since. He is the original expression of American pragmatism.

His friends included Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreau, and Thomas Carlyle. He knew Nathaniel Hawthorne and Walt Whitman. His influence is evident in the tradition of American pragmatism in thinkers such as William James and John Dewey. Friederich Nietzsche carried a well-marked copy of Emerson’s Essays with him for years.
He was perhaps most widely known in his own day from the hundreds of public lectures he gave on the traveling speaker’s circuit.

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This site contains information about Emerson, and begins to catalogue criticism of his work. His essays and poems are also available here.
Robert Richardson, the author of the excellent biography Emerson: The Mind on Fire did an interview with C-Span’s Booknotes. The interview is a good introduction to Emerson and his day.

Representative texts by Emerson are available on this site. Emerson’s works appear on the web in many places.

Emerson wrote in an aphoristic style, and commented on the range of human passions in Religion, Love, Poetry, Politics, Art.

Of course, reviewers and critics have not been taciturn in their responses to his musings.

Among the more interesting uses of Emerson’s works in the last two decades has been that in the field of political theory/philosophy.

Web sites contain much that is interesting and entertaining for students and fans of Emerson, his friends, and his time.

Reader’s comments and discussion are posted throughout the site. (Make a comment.)

Emerson at work
His first book, Nature (1836) gave a definite shape to transcendentalism. It also gathered unto him an audience receptive to his ideas. His address “The American Scholar” (1837) provoked the younger generation with this maxim: “The one thing in the world, of value, is the active soul.” “The Divinity School Address” (1838) angered and confused the older generations, with its proclamations that “historical Christianity has fallen into·error” and “historical Christianity destroys the power of preaching.”
His Essays: First Series (1841) includes the canonical “Self-Reliance” and “Circles.” Essays: Second Series (1844) presents what is probably his single best work, “Experience.” Representative Men (1850) uses a collection of exemplary individuals to teach that “All men are at last of a size.” English Traits (1856) provides a portrait of England through the eyes of a Yankee at once sympathetic and skeptical. The Conduct of Life (1860) finds him still preaching “Life is an ecstasy,” in “Fate,” even as he allows that “the last lesson of life, the choral song which rises from all elements and all angels, is, a voluntary obedience, a necessitated freedom.” Emerson also managed two volumes of poems, Poems (1847) and May-Day and Other Pieces (1867), which included “Concord Hymn” and “Days.”

His friends included Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreau, and Thomas Carlyle. He knew Nathaniel Hawthorne and Walt Whitman. His influence is evident in the tradition of American pragmatism in thinkers such as William James and John Dewey. Friederich Nietzsche carried a well-marked copy of Emerson’s Essays with him for years.

Emerson’s work represents the beginning of an authentically American voice in letters and thought. Critics often take Emerson’s relationship to America–the distinctively American voice he creates–as the key to understanding his work. America is the key to Emerson’s thought, but the America that makes its mark on his thought is not the Puritan inheritance, or the wilderness and frontier experience, or any of the liberal or republican ideologies that contend for our imaginations. It is rather the ideal of democracy and the experience of democracy in America that is the portal to Emerson’s unique moral and political vision.

His unique voice–the original Voice of America–is marked by the culture of equality which gives his mind the transcendental cast it has. He is a pragmatist, but only this is the philosophy most compatible with his democratic commitments. If he deserves the title of the “philosopher of democracy” that John Dewey gave him, it is only because he learned to put democracy ahead of philosophy. Perhaps it is Emerson’s voice as a prophet of equality that John Jay Chapman hears when he remarks that “If a soul be taken and crushed by democracy till it utter a cry, that cry will be Emerson.”