Although The American Scholar has received little critical attention,1 and although even the interpretation of Emerson as quintessentially American gives this "American," if not "Anglo-American," essay short shrift,2 it is nonetheless firmly canonized.3 It certainly rewards careful reading. Although not entirely without the full unity of Emerson's broadly experiential vision, the essay excels at delineating each component of this vision separately, as though unity depends, after all, on perspective-by- perspective understanding. Nowhere else in all his works does one find a clearer, more succinct focus on empiricism per se and evangelicalism per se, for the writing of The American Scholar overlapped with the writing of Nature, and The American Scholar also stakes out and breaks ground for Emerson's complex, yet single, world picture.
The essay's portrait of the scholar, first, is anything but solipsistic; "the deeper he dives into his privatest secretest presentiment," declares Emerson, "to his wonder he finds, this is the most acceptable, most public, and universally true."4 (Emerson's scholar, incidentally, is male, and so is his audience. Let it be admitted at the outset that his language is peculiarly if not risibly sexist even by the standards of his day; Wesley, for example, uses "people" and "men and women."5 Underlying many of Emerson's passages is what Parker calls "the defensiveness of a man who has chosen to be a thinker rather than taking what his contemporaries would have seen as an active role in affairs, a defensiveness, in the sexist terminology which he regularly employed, against the charge of effeminacy."6 This defensive-