The world is filled with many different authors with a plethora of thoughts to pour out into their writing, each one doing so in their own unique way. In their lives people are exposed to these different ways of thinking and writing and will eventually make a conclusion as to which ideas and writing styles they find value in. One brilliant writer that many people find value in is Ralph Waldo Emerson. He is a writer of many different things, but one type of writing he was well versed in is that of the essay. During the 19th century, Emerson wrote many essays and read them to many audiences. His writing contained many philosophical ideas about knowledge and the nature of mankind. While these writings are almost two hundred years old, people still find joy and knowledge through them today. That begs the question, why Emerson? What makes him stand out from the many other writers of his day? The difference is that Emerson’s work is written for both readers and writers. Readers can gain the knowledge of knowledge itself, where it comes from. While writers have his pieces on the influences of a writer and how they can use it to their most advantage. Someone interested in the idea of learning literature from all angles will most certainly benefit from Emerson’s writing.
Readers benefit from the philosophical aspect of Emerson’s writing. His work, especially that present in The American Scholar and The Poet, allow for a reader to look into the very origin of knowledge, how one obtains it. These writings can give readers a new perspective on the other works they pick up in the future. The American Scholar shows the reader three central influences of mankind, these are nature, books and the past, and engagement in action. In the nature section Emerson speaks of it as a sort of origin to all knowledge, where it all began and how it will never end. The past is a section centered around previous literature and how one can find knowledge in other people’s knowledge. It is sort of like a food chain, one animal eats nature and the other animal eats the animal that eats nature, thus gaining the energy of both the animal and the nature. In this quote, “The theory of books is noble. The scholar of the first age received into him the world around; brooded thereon; gave it the new arrangement of his own mind, and uttered it again.” he speaks about the original ideas of past literature, a scenario in which the process was simply nature to pen, but now we have past literature to guide us. This is why he finds past literature so powerful, it is a pure version of nature’s influence. This allows the reader to think about the influences of the author’s works, to ask questions such as “What was this author’s influence in writing?” Finally, he talks about action being an influence. By keeping these influences in mind, they can be used to improve any endeavors that the reader may use them for. Knowing where knowledge derives from is the best way to find one’s own knowledge in life and future readings. Emerson’s work inspires a reader to think critically about where the information came from and how the author was influenced to write the piece.
Emerson’s work is difficult for many people to dissect, but this is another way it benefits the readers of his pieces. It teaches his readers not only the lessons within his work, but to comprehend more philosophical writing like his. It is like when teachers assign Shakespeare to their students. It aims to teach about the literature of the day and how to decode more complicated language they are not so familiar with. Simply put, it is another way for people to hone their reading skills. It is not only valuable for what the reader is reading, but how well they know how to read. Emerson’s work is wordy and contains many complicated sentences that don’t make sense right away, meaning that a reader will improve by reading his work. Take this sentence from his essay Politics, “This accident, depending, primarily, on the skill and virtue of the parties, of which there is every degree, and, secondarily, on patrimony, falls unequally, and its rights, of course, are unequal.” Examples of this type of wordiness are not hard to find in his work, rather it is hard to find a sentence that is simple to read. His work is built to be digested and understood, not simply swallowed whole without thought or effort. The wordiness of Emerson’s writing is also something that can build one’s creativity as a reader. His words are often crafted in such a way that a reader can derive different meanings from. For example, this line from his essay The Poet. ““The beautiful rests on the foundations of the necessary.” When I first read this line, I interpreted it as saying that something must first be necessary to be beautiful. Like a house, it needs foundation before the beautiful house can be built. An annotation on the line said that beauty will find a way to be necessary. These are two very different ideas centered around the same line. Finding our individual meanings behind lines is a creative endeavor that Emerson’s writing takes his readers on. Emerson’s readers are more well versed in the ability to find the knowledge and value in more complicated writing.
The work Emerson did during his lifetime doesn’t only benefit the average reader, but also the writers that choose to read his essays. The origin of knowledge topic that Emerson tackles in many of his works benefits writers just as much as it benefits readers. The American Scholar dissects the influences of man that allow a regular person to become a scholar. It pinpoints these important aspects of knowledge, and how it is obtained, which will allow writers to improve their work when taking these things into consideration. Much of Emerson’s work, such as The Poet, The American Scholar, and Quotation and Originality, can be seen as tools that help writers figure out where to find inspiration and knowledge. These essays are dedicated to teaching this subject. In his section on nature in The American Scholar he writes, “The scholar must needs stand wistful and admiring before this great spectacle. He must settle its value in his mind. What is nature to him? There is never a beginning, there is never an end,” Emerson urges writers to take the influence of nature into their own hands, make of it what you will. It isn’t simply inspiration from nature, it is what it means to the writer that creates an original thought on the matter. However, he also mentions the value of utilizing past literature as a scholarly influence. This is also the case with Quotation and Originality. This essay teaches the reader about a very important aspect of writing and coming up with ideas. It focuses on the idea of quotation and how that can be used to create originality, as well as the idea that there may be no originality. In this essay he states, “that, in a large sense, one would say there is no pure originality. All minds quote. Old and new make the warp and woof of every moment. There is no thread that is not a twist of these two strands.” This quote shares the idea that every “strand” or new idea is not purely a new idea but instead a mixture of the old and the new. The idea of a lack of originality is an important thing to teach writers of today because it is something many struggle with, but this essay shows writers how this can become something beneficial to them and their work. He also states the value of this pattern by stating, “What he quotes, he fills with his own voice and humor” This indicates to a writer that writing is not about finding the most original ideas, but is instead about utilizing those pre existing ideas in a way that is personal to one’s self in order to create the piece of the thread that is new.
In spirit of the themes of Quotation and Originality, it is important to mention how Emerson’s work can teach a writer to write in a more philosophical and meaningful way as he did. Just as readers can hone their reading skills by studying Emerson’s work, writers can also find new tools to utilize for their writing toolkit. Emerson had a way with words that felt intelligent and knowledgeable, he could tell an audience that two plus two was five, but do it in a way that almost makes them believe him. This is a very valuable skill that writers can pick up from his work. One way he does this is by overexplaining in a way that doesn’t feel forced. Take the opening sentence of his essay The Poet as an example of this style, “Those who are esteemed umpires of taste, are often persons who have acquired some knowledge of admired pictures or sculptures, and have an inclination for whatever is elegant; but if you inquire whether they are beautiful souls, and whether their own acts are like fair pictures, you learn that they are selfish and sensual.” This is one sentence that could have been summed up in less time, but he chose not to. Giving the reader more information to chew on allows them to be more convinced by his ideas, which is a technique that writers can take away from his work and use in their own way. Emerson also utilizes metaphors and anecdotes in his writing to further prove the points he makes in his work, this is another technique that gives the reader more to think about and a foundation that allows them to believe Emerson’s claims more thoroughly. These are skills that are extremely valuable for writers who are learning to sound more professional or persuasive in their works. The American Scholar and Quotation and Originality taught readers that literature of the past influences current writing as well as inspires current writers to write, and Emerson’s work is no exception to this idea.
Ralph Waldo Emerson provided the world with unique, philosophical work that continues to inspire people in the present day. His works are ones that can be utilized in a plethora of different ways which allows it to stay valuable even when it has been over one hundred years since they were first written. His writing not only teaches his readers about the topics he was passionate about, it also teaches them how to better interpret more complicated works such as his. He also teaches writers the art of finding knowledge, and inadvertently teaches them how to articulate that knowledge through his unique writing style. Emerson is a writer that is useful for many different people with a plethora of literary backgrounds.