Anglo-American Antiphony: The Late Romanticism of Tennyson and Emerson

By Richard E. Brantley | Go to book overview

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Although Emerson's perspective deepens over time and although his tones vary, his ideas/ideals of sensation tend to unify his works. Stephen E. Whicher, it is true, traces changes from Emerson the rhapsodist ( 1841- 43), through Emerson the reformer ( 1844-45), to Emerson the preacher of the "sacredness of private integrity" ( 1846-52).1 Whicher notes, accordingly, Emerson's tonal modulations from the prophetic, through the dramatic, to the "coolly professional." David Van Leer, however, by focusing on Emerson's ideas about Kantian epistemology and German idealism, resists, as I do, the notion of distinct stages in Emerson's life of writing: "Although Emerson clearly comes to understand more fully the {epistemological} question with which he began his philosophical career, the issues themselves remain sufficiently constant that it may be unwise to speak of this refinement as 'growth' or 'change.'"2"At the very least," Van Leer adds, "it seems unfair to see the tonal progression from Circles through Experience to Fate as the characteristic shift: each of these pessimistic essays is published in a collection whose predominant tone is optimistic." Rather than echoing Van Leer's influence studies through German idealism, I call attention to Emerson's British as well as American reflection of Lockean epistemology and empirical-evangelical philosophical theology. Consistent with the method I see in In Memoriam and throughout my exposition of Emerson's prose method, I argue that the empirical-evangelical dialectic he forges in Nature ( 1836)3 methodically and faithfully synthesizes the aesthetic as well as intellectual-emotional effects he creates in seven other characteristic essays. The American Scholar, The Divinity School Address, Self-Reliance, The Over-Soul, and The Poet ( 1837-42), first, com

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