The Laws of Nature: Excerpts from the Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson

Overview

Though written in the mid-nineteenth century, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s work, particularly his nature writing, speaks to contemporary sensibilities. The uniquely American, nature-based philosophy commonly attributed to Thoreau was first presented to the world by Emerson in his slender volume Nature and later developed by both men, each with his own distinct voice. Emerson’s take on wild nature was richer and more complex than Thoreau’s, largely due to the influence of Darwinism and Emerson’s propensity for delving ...

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Overview

Though written in the mid-nineteenth century, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s work, particularly his nature writing, speaks to contemporary sensibilities. The uniquely American, nature-based philosophy commonly attributed to Thoreau was first presented to the world by Emerson in his slender volume Nature and later developed by both men, each with his own distinct voice. Emerson’s take on wild nature was richer and more complex than Thoreau’s, largely due to the influence of Darwinism and Emerson’s propensity for delving deeply into the most difficult philosophical matters.

Featuring nearly 100 luminous watercolor illustrations, The Laws of Nature collects Emerson’s most evocative thoughts on nature, taken from his journals and his books. His famously aphoristic style—“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered”—is showcased throughout. Editor Walt McLaughlin provides background information on Emerson and explores the writer’s relationship with Thoreau as well as the powerful influence they exerted on one another. McLaughlin describes Emerson’s transformation from minister to passionate nature writer and includes a thoughtful introduction to each section of the book.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781556439315
  • Publisher: North Atlantic Books
  • Publication date: 9/21/2010
  • Pages: 96
  • Sales rank: 794,532
  • Product dimensions: 8.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Ralph Waldo Emerson, a renowned American essayist and poet, died in 1882 at age 79. Walt McLaughlin operates Wood Thrush Books, which has published the work of many emerging nature writers. A well-regarded Emerson scholar, he lives in St. Albans, VT. Artist Roderick MacIver lives in North Ferrisburg, VT.

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Read an Excerpt

From the Introduction by Walt McLaughlin
Ralph Waldo Emerson was the first American thinker to acknowledge the self-evident realities of the physical world, thus giving rise to a philosophy deeply rooted in nature. Thoreau came later, as did George Perkins Marsh, John Muir, and John Burroughs. In his slender volume, Nature, Emerson presented ideas that altered humankind's perception of the wild. The impact of those ideas is still being felt today, yet most people are not aware of that book or Emerson's heavy, naturalistic bent. Most see Emerson as a quaint poet, lecturer, and essayist of yesteryear and nothing more.

The Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle once said that the prophet and the poet are much the same. Both explore what he called "the sacred mystery of the Universe." No doubt Emerson stumbled across this notion in his youth when he first read Carlyle. No doubt Emerson aspired to be that kind of poet, seizing upon the laws at work in the universe, then conveying them to others.

"Here we are impressed with the inexhaustible riches of nature. The universe is a more amazing puzzle than ever, as you glance along this bewildering series of animated forms, - the hazy butterflies, the carved shells, the birds, beasts, fishes, insects, snakes, and the upheaving principle of life everywhere incipient, in the very rock aping organized forms. Not a form so grotesque, so savage, nor so beautiful but is an expression of some property inherent in man the observer, - an occult relation between the very scorpions and man. I feel the centipede in me, - cayman, carp, eagle, and fox. I am moved by strange sympathies; I say continually 'I will be a naturalist.'"

"No art canexceed the mellow beauty of one square rod of ground in the woods this afternoon. The noise of the locust, the bee, and the pine; the light, the insect forms, butterflies, cankerworms hanging, balloon-spiders swinging, devils-needles cruising, chirping grasshoppers; the tints and forms of the leaves and trees, - not a flower but its form seems a type, not a capsule but is an elegant seedbox, - then the myriad asters, polygalas, and golden-rods, and through the bush the far pines, and overhead the eternal sky."

In his slender book, Nature, Emerson outlined a philosophy that would soon be known as American Transcendentalism - a curious fusion of European Idealism and Romanticism with Yankee common sense. More to the point, Emerson shows in this book how any discourse on truth, God, or reality is essentially an inquiry into the natural world. Even human nature is but a facet of nature. Hence, a thorough understanding of the laws of nature is key to understanding everything else. Truth, love, morality, beauty, the physical world - it all comes together in nature.
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