Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson (Modern Library Series) [NOOK Book]

Overview

'Standing on the bare ground--my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space--all mean egotism vanishes,' Emerson wrote in Nature, his statement of the principles of transcendentalism. 'I become a transparent eyeball.' Nature, published in 1836 when Emerson was thirty-three, is collected here with his book of observations on the English people; a famous sermon against administering communion in church; a sketch of his step-grandfather; the eulogy he delivered at the funeral of his Concord ...
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Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson (Modern Library Series)

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Overview

'Standing on the bare ground--my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space--all mean egotism vanishes,' Emerson wrote in Nature, his statement of the principles of transcendentalism. 'I become a transparent eyeball.' Nature, published in 1836 when Emerson was thirty-three, is collected here with his book of observations on the English people; a famous sermon against administering communion in church; a sketch of his step-grandfather; the eulogy he delivered at the funeral of his Concord friend and neighbor Henry David Thoreau; twenty-three poems; and addresses, lectures, and essays on such subjects as slavery, self-reliance, and organized Christianity's obsession with the person of Jesus. Emerson called transcendentalism another word for idealism--'hypothesis to account for nature by other principles than those of carpentry and chemistry.' Considered intensely radical at a time when materialism and a rigid form of Christianity were ascendant, he urged Americans to 'enjoy an original relation to the universe.' These selections span Emerson's career as author and traveling lecturer, and chart his evolving thought: the concepts of the 'over-soul,' individualism without egotism, and antimaterialism; a belief in intuition, independence, and 'the splendid labyrinth of one's own perceptions.'

Included are Emerson's complete essays and representative selections from the poems, addresses, and miscellaneous works that make him an outstanding interpretive critic.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679641421
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/1/2000
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 864
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Ralph Waldo Emerson was born on May 25, 1803, in Boston, Massachusetts. At Harvard he won prizes for his oratory and essays. He studied briefly at Harvard Divinity School but was forced to interrupt his courses because of eye trouble. In 1826 he began a career as a minister, eventually becoming junior pastor of the Second Church of Boston. He married Ellen Tucker in 1829, despite the fact that she was already ill with tuberculosis; she died two years later at the age of nineteen.

After the death of his wife, Emerson went to Europe, where he met Landor, Mill, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Carlyle, and others. On his return he settled in Concord, Massachusetts, and a year later married Lydia Jackson. What would eventually be called the Transcendental Club had begun to form around him, its members including Margaret Fuller, Bronson Alcott, and Orestes Brownson. The spiritual ferment of the Concord group found expression in Emerson's first significant work, the essay 'Nature' (1836), in which he sketched the ideas that his later writings were to elaborate: 'The use of natural history is to give us aid in supernatural history: the use of the outer creation, to give us language for the beings and changes of the inward creation. . . . By degrees we may come to know the primitive sense of the permanent objects of nature, so that the world shall be to us an open book, and every form significant of its hidden life and final cause.' This was followed by two profoundly influential orations, 'The American Scholar,' a powerful statement of individualism, and 'The Harvard Divinity School Address,' whose unorthodox religious views created a scandal: 'Historical Christianity has fallen into the error that corrupts all attempts to communicate religion. . . . It has dwelt, it dwells, with noxious exaggeration about the person of Jesus. The soul knows no persons.'

Around this time Emerson became closely associated with Henry David Thoreau and with the mystical poet Jones Very. He gave up preaching and collaborated with Margaret Fuller on the journal The Dial, in which he began to publish his essays. These appeared in book form as Essays: First Series (1841) and Essays: Second Series (1844). He became more involved in political issues, launching attacks on the Mexican War and slavery. His essays had made him an internationally known figure, and on a return trip to Europe in 1847 he met with a wide range of writers and thinkers, including Dickens, Tocqueville, and Tennyson. He published further collections of his essays and public addresses--Nature, Addresses, and Lectures (1849), Representative Men (1850), English Traits (1856), The Conduct of Life (1860)--while lecturing against slavery throughout the Northeast. Whitman's Leaves of Grass elicited an enthusiastic response from him, although he attempted to persuade the poet to tone down the poem's sexual imagery.

Following the Civil War, Emerson continued to lecture energetically, publishing Society and Solitude (1870) and the verse collection May-Day and Other Pieces (1867). In 1872 his health began to fail, and after a final trip to Europe he settled into a quieter routine as his memory gradually weakened. He died in Concord, of pneumonia, on April 27, 1882.
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Read an Excerpt

NATURE

I

TO GO into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me. But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars. The rays that come from those heavenly worlds will separate between him and what he touches. One might think the atmosphere was made transparent with this design, to give man, in the heavenly bodies, the perpetual presence of the sublime. Seen in the streets of cities, how great they are! If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.
The stars awaken a certain reverence, because though always present, they are inaccessible; but all natural objects make a kindred impression, when the mind is open to their influence. Nature never wears a mean appearance. Neither does the wisest man extort her secret, and lose his curiosity by finding out all her perfection. Nature never became a toy to a wise spirit. The flowers, the animals, the mountains, reflected the wisdom of his best hour, as much as they had delighted the simplicity of his childhood.

When we speak of nature in this manner, we have a distinct but most poetical sense in the mind. We mean the integrity of impression made by manifold natural objects. It is this which distinguishes the stick of timber of the wood-cutter from the tree of the poet. The charming landscape which I saw this morning is indubitably made up of some twenty or thirty farms. Miller owns this field, Locke that, and Manning the woodland beyond. But none of them owns the landscape. There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is, the poet. This is the best part of these men's farms, yet to this their warranty-deeds give no title.

To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At least they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child. The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood. His intercourse with heaven and earth becomes part of his daily food. In the presence of nature a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows. Nature says--he is my creature, and maugre all his impertinent griefs, he shall be glad with me. Not the sun or the summer alone, but every hour and season yields its tribute of delight; for every hour and change corresponds to and authorizes a different state of the mind, from breathless noon to grimmest midnight. Nature is a setting that fits equally well a comic or a mourning piece. In good health, the air is a cordial of incredible virtue. Crossing a bare commen, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear. In the woods, too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life is always a child. In the woods is perpetual youth. Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life--no disgrace, no calamity (leaving me my eyes), which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground--my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space--all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God. The name of the nearest friend sounds then foreign and accidental: to be brothers, to be acquaintances, master or servant, is then a trifle and a disturbance. I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty. In the wilderness, I find something more dear and connate than in streets or villages. In the tranquil landscape, and especially in the distant line of the horizon, man beholds somewhat as beautiful as his own nature.

The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable. I am not alone and unacknowledged. They nod to me, and I to them. The waving of the boughs in the storm is new to me and old. It takes me by surprise, and yet is not unknown. Its effect is like that of a higher thought or a better emotion coming over me, when I deemed I was thinking justly or doing right.

Yet it is certain that the power to produce this delight does not reside in nature, but in man, or in a harmony of both. It is necessary to use these pleasures with great temperance. For nature is not always tricked in holiday attire, but the same scene which yesterday breathed perfume and glittered as for the frolic of the nymphs is overspread with melancholy to-day. Nature always wears the colors of the spirit. To a man laboring under calamity, the heat of his own fire hath sadness in it. Then there is a kind of contempt of the landscape felt by him who has just lost by death a dear friend. The sky is less grand as it shuts down over less worth in the population.

II

COMMODITY

WHOEVER CONSIDERS the final cause of the world will discern a multitude of uses that enter as parts into that result. They all admit of being thrown into one of the following classes: Commodity; Beauty; Language; and Discipline.

Under the general name of commodity, I rank all those advantages which our senses owe to nature. This, of course, is a benefit which is temporary and mediate, not ultimate, like its service to the soul. Yet although low, it is perfect in its kind, and is the only use of nature which all men apprehend. The misery of man appears like childish petulance, when we explore the steady and prodigal provision that has been made for his support and delight on this green ball which floats him through the heavens. What angels invented these splendid ornaments, these rich conveniences, this ocean of air above, this ocean of water beneath, this firmament of earth between? this zodiac of lights, this tent of dropping clouds, this striped coat of climates, this fourfold year? Beasts, fire, water, stones, and corn serve him. The field is at once his floor, his work-yard, his play-ground, his garden, and his bed.

'More servants wait on man
Than he'll take notice of.'

Nature, in its ministry to man, is not only the material, but is also the process and the result. All the parts incessantly work into each other's hands for the profit of man. The wind sows the seed; the sun evaporates the sea; the wind blows the vapor to the field; the ice, on the other side of the planet, condenses rain on this; the rain feeds the plant; the plant feeds the animal; and thus the endless circulations of the divine charity nourish man.

The useful arts are reproductions or new combinations by the wit of man, of the same natural benefactors. He no longer waits for favoring gales, but by means of steam, he realizes the fable of Aeolus's bag, and carries the two and thirty winds in the boiler of his boat. To diminish friction, he paves the road with iron bars, and, mounting a coach with a ship-load of men, animals, and merchandise behind him, he darts through the country, from town to town, like an eagle or a swallow through the air. By the aggregate of these aids, how is the face of the world changed, from the era of Noah to that of Napoleon! The private poor man hath cities, ships, canals, bridges, built for him. He goes to the post-office, and the human race run on his errands; to the book-shop, and the human race read and write of all that happens for him; to the court-house, and nations repair his wrongs. He sets his house upon the road, and the human race go forth every morning, and shovel out the snow, and cut a path for him.

But there is no need of specifying particulars in this class of uses. The catalogue is endless, and the examples so obvious, that I shall leave them to the reader's reflection, with the general remark, that this mercenary benefit is one which has respect to a farther good. A man is fed, not that he may be fed, but that he may work.

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2013

    Good

    Read

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 4, 2012

    It is Emerson.

    I would have preferred a better quality edition for this classic material, but none seemed available.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2012

    Thanks for this book!

    The person to whom I sent this book, says he is enjoying it very much.
    He was not well acquainted with Emerson, so this is a treat for him!

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  • Posted September 20, 2011

    highly recommeded - Always a good read!

    Excellent selection of R.W. Emerson's works. Great to have on the coffee table or on the shelf!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2001

    A series of inspirational essays

    'The Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson¿ contains over 800 pages full of the writer¿s inspiration and beautifully crafted work. Gathered by Brooks Atkinson, it includes famous essays such as ¿Nature¿, ¿The Transcendentalist¿ and ¿The American Scholar¿. His collection of stories and brilliant essays reflect the principles that we follow every day. Having grown up in New England, Emerson is introduced to the beauty of Nature that he says few adults do see. He is also introduced to many other brilliant authors and their works, such as Nathanial Hawthorne, in the early nineteenth century. Emerson brings us along in his masterpieces to experience the world around us, and the significance of man and God. In ¿An Address¿, Emerson takes the relationship of man in a spiritual state of mind and relates him to God. He says: ¿If a man is at heart just, then in so far is he God; the safety of God, the immortality of God, the majesty of God do enter into that man with justice.¿ This is one of my favorite quotes from the book. He expresses the role of man, his thoughts and emotions, and how they are not limited to what he may be thought of, but how he himself feels about it. Emerson emphasizes and teaches us to obey ourselves through trust. In Emerson¿s First Essays, ¿The American Scholar¿ was presented as a speech at the Harvard Divinity School for the senior class of 1837. Emerson presents the students with the idea to create and invent with their numerous abilities. Emerson says that ¿colleges exist to teach elements, but can only better us if we use them not to drill, but to create.¿ ¿The American Scholar¿, known commonly even today, served as an influence to the students and received great enthusiasm. Emerson¿s elements and perspectives are taken to a whole new level as you read from his Second Essays and beyond. Emerson sends his ideas of creation and living to a new view. His character and firm tone in his writing perhaps made him one of the many inspirational authors of his time.

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