Emerson's Literary Criticism

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

What I wrote on the last leaf concerning Tennyson is due perhaps to the first reading,—to the new wine of his imagination,—and I may not enjoy it, or rate it so highly again.

October 1871

The only limit to the praise of Tennyson as a lyric poet is, that he is alive. If he were an ancient, there would be none.

J 4:411-12 (cf. JMN 5:463). J 6:218 (cf. JMN 13:404-5). J 9:207-9 (cf. JMN 14:287-89). J 10:240-41.


Wordsworth

It has been said that " Coleridge touched Emerson's intellect.... Wordsworth touched his soul," and that from Coleridge Emerson learned the art of literary criticism, from Wordsworth the art of lyric poetry.59 Initially, however, Emerson undervalued Wordsworth, as did others; not until 1828-29, when he reread him, did Emerson cautiously reconsider his view. Even so, though he had praised the "Immortality" ode for its latent Platonism in 1826, in 1828 he faulted Wordsworth for being too direct in his treatment of poetic subjects, and in 1832 referred to him as "a genius that hath epilepsy, a deranged angel." In 1831 he praised "Ode to Duty," among several poems by Wordsworth; in 1832 he felt that poem and "Tintern Abbey" to be seriously flawed in language. The 1833 visit with Wordsworth is reprinted here as a commentary on the poet, the man, and his "very narrow and English mind." Most memorable were Wordsworth's opinions of America, Goethe, Carlyle, and Coleridge, and his comments on and recitation of his own poems. From 1833 to 1836, Emerson's views continued mixed, with occasional outbursts crowning Wordsworth as "a divine man," a true genius, a "divine savage," and "the great philosophical poet of the present day" (EL 1:140), once rating Wordsworth as "a more original poet" than Milton (JMN 4:312-13). In 1837 he listed his choice of Wordsworth's best poems from the years 1798 to 1820, omitting " The Prelude," not available in full until 1850. "Modern Literature" ( 1840) singles out " The Excursion," especially the passage on the boy in Book I, as a source of "great joy" ... in its

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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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