Emerson's Literary Criticism

By Eric W. Carlson; Ralph Waldo Emerson | Go to book overview

following account of the English fashionist. "His highest triumph is to appear with the most wooden manners, as little polished as will suffice to avoid castigation, nay, to contrive even his civilities so that they may appear as near as may be to affronts; instead of a noble high-bred ease, to have the courage to offend against every restraint of decorum, to invert the relation in which our sex stand to women, so that they appear the attacking, and he the passive or defensive party."

We must here check our gossip in mid-volley and adjourn the rest of our critical chapter to a more convenient season.

Natural History of Intellect and Other Papers, W 12:365-78; first published in the Dial, April 1843.


Literature

Mark Van Doren's comment that English Traits is "the wittiest work of America's wittiest writer" is complemented by Howard Mumford Jones's view that, despite its faults, "no better book by an American about Victorian England (or rather Great Britain at midcentury) has ever been written." As "a tough‐ minded analysis of a complex modern industrial society," English Traits represents "a silent rebuke to the school of criticism that dismisses Emerson as a thin idealist."8 The opening pages of the chapter on literature illustrate the power of Emerson's vivid characterization, as in his description of the English common sense and of Saxon speech and Renaissance poetry ("iron raised to white heat"), especially in Shakespeare, the perfect example of the union of "Saxon precision and Oriental soaring." British empiricism, as in Locke, is condemned as lacking the poetic power that derives from Platonic analogy and from "an insight of general laws" (deducing the rule "with equal precision from few subjects, or from one"). To remedy this deficiency in "the practical finality class" (the empiricists, who hate ideas, lack imagination and ideals), Emerson recommends "Oriental largeness," or intuitive realization of universal truths. Emerson's practical idealism shows through his conclusion: that these two styles of mind, the perceptive and

-134-

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Emerson's Literary Criticism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Emerson''s Literary Criticism *
  • Contents v
  • List of Abbreviations vii
  • Introduction *
  • I- Art as Experience *
  • Beauty (1836) 3
  • Language 8
  • Art 14
  • The Poet 24
  • Beauty (1860) 45
  • II- The Creative Process *
  • Intellect 59
  • Bacchus 70
  • Merlin 73
  • III- The Art of Rhetoric *
  • Diction and Style 81
  • Art and Criticism 84
  • The Craft of Poetry 96
  • IV- Toward a Modern Critical Perspective *
  • Emerging Critical Concepts 103
  • Thoughts on Modern Literature 108
  • The Novel of Character vs. the Costume Novel 121
  • V- Writers and Books *
  • Europe and European Books 127
  • Literature 134
  • Preface to Parnassus 143
  • Chaucer 151
  • Bacon 156
  • Montaigne 159
  • Shakespeare 162
  • Milton 179
  • Burns 187
  • Byron 190
  • Shelley 193
  • Tennyson 194
  • Wordsworth 197
  • Carlyle 204
  • Coleridge 206
  • Dickens 210
  • Scott 212
  • Margaret Fuller 216
  • Hawthorne 219
  • Thoreau 222
  • Whitman 227
  • Bibliography 237
  • Acknowledgments 245
  • Index *
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