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

By Richard E. Brantley | Go to book overview
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SIXTEEN The Play of Skepticism

I will test now the applicability of my argument to two essays in which it might not be expected to obtain, namely, Experience ( 1844) and Fate ( 1852). ( Emerson's tough-minded, "pre-Modern" essays also include Compensation { 1841}, Prudence { 1841}, Circles { 1841}, and Montaigne { 1850}.) Critics see Experience and Fate as emphasizing for the first time in Emerson's career the ordinary over the ideal; with regard to Experience, for example, Van Leer points out that "by so naming his essay, Emerson makes explicit what is implicit throughout the second series: that bracketing questions of noumenality, even of existence--the transcendentality of epistemology-- he now wishes to speak solely for our experience as empirically real."1 Experience, moreover, is seen as advocating an especially tough-minded empiricism, for Whicher associates the essay's usage of experience with empirical experiment,2 and Packer associates this same usage with Humean empiricism.3 Michael, for his part, associates Humean empiricism with both Experience and Fate,4 but Gayle L. Smith, on the other hand, reading Experience in the light of the famous Transparent Eyeball image in Nature, finds that Experience reflects the optimistic, "ideal" empiricism of Emerson's early career.5 And even Van Leer argues that the "source" of Experience "lies less in the empirical tradition, where the more representative term is 'impression,'" than in the optimistic German idealism of Kant, for whom '"experience' is almost literally the first word of the first Critique."6 I, of course, am especially intrigued by Gertrude Hughes's view that experience functions throughout the essays as it does for Paul in Romans 5.3-5: "We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope; and hope maketh


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