American Literature and the Dream

By Frederic I. Carpenter | Go to book overview

4. EMERSON

I

EMERSON's most famous address described his ideal of "The American Scholar"--"man thinking" in America. It also described the ideal by which he patterned his own life. That he wished to become an ideal scholar is clear, but that he wished to, and did become a representative American is less generally recognized. Judging him by his own standards, "Let us" (to use his own words) "see him in his school, and consider him in reference to the main influences he receives."

Upon Emerson, as upon the mind of his imaginary scholar, the first influence to be exerted was that of nature. "Every day, the sun; and, after sunset, Night and her stars. . . . Every day, men and women, conversing--beholding and beholden." The term "nature" includes not only the sun and the stars, or wild nature, but human nature--the whole environment of man.1 Born as he was in the middle of the city of Boston, the human environment acted upon Emerson first. The America in which he lived exerted the most significant influence upon both his life and his writing.

To think of Emerson as one of the New England group of writers who flourished a century ago is to misrepresent him at the start. He was born to that group, but grew beyond it. By experience and by sympathy, he became a citizen of a larger America. Lowell declared that two men, Lincoln and Emerson, stood preeminent as products of American democracy.2 Because modern Americans have been unwilling to couple Emerson with Lincoln, they have too often overlooked the fact that Emerson was wholly a product of democracy. Mr. James Truslow Adams, who rather distrusts Emerson, yet recognizes that "in no other author can we get so close to the whole of the American spirit."3

To begin with, a long established myth must be destroyed. It has been repeated so often that Emerson was descended from seven generations of Puritan ministers that men have come to believe the statement literally. But only by a careful hand-picking of the branches of his family tree can the assertion be justified, as Holmes, who originated it, cheerfully admitted. Emerson's mother was the daughter of a "cooper and distiller," and his maternal ancestors were largely innocent of ministerial proclivities.4 In the direct line of his paternal

-19-

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American Literature and the Dream
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Part I 3
  • 1 - Introduction 3
  • 2 - The American Dream 5
  • Part II 11
  • 3 - The Transcendental Dream 11
  • 4 - Emerson 19
  • 5 - Bronson Alcott:Genteel Transcendentalist 30
  • 6 - Walt Whitman''s Eidolon 40
  • Part III 51
  • 7 - The Genteel Tradition:A Re-Interpretation 51
  • 8 - Scarlet a Minus 63
  • 9 - Melville and the Men-Of-War 73
  • Part IV 83
  • 10 - The Pragmatic Realization 83
  • 11 - Charles Sanders Peirce:Pragmatic Transcendentalist 94
  • 12 - William James and Emerson 105
  • 13 - Sinclair Lewis and the Fortress of Reality 116
  • Part V 126
  • 14 - The Romantic Confusion- The Devil in America 126
  • 15 - The Romantic Tragedy of Eugene O''Neill 133
  • 16 - Death Comes for Robinson Jeffers 144
  • Part VI 155
  • 17 - Thomas Wolfe- The Autobiography of an Idea 155
  • 18 - John Steinbeck- The Philosophical Joads 167
  • 19 - The Time of William Saroyan''s Life 176
  • 20 - Hemingway Achieves the Fifth Dimension 185
  • Part VII 194
  • 21 - The Good and the Bad 194
  • 22 - The Logic of American Literature 199
  • Notes 208
  • Index 217
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