Roots of Theory
The fullness of vision in The Over-Soul parallels, and may indeed enable, the inclusiveness of The Poet. Although the empirical context of The Poet has received no attention, Lawrence Buell comes close to acknowledging the evangelical context of the essay, for he argues that Emerson's idea of the poet-priest culminates the Unitarian development of a bond between aesthetic experience and revivalistic emotions.1 In 1831 Emerson reviewed F. W. P. Greenwood's Collection of Psalms and Hymns for Christian Worship ( 1830); demonstrating the hymnic foundation of his taste for bardic poetry, Emerson's review reveals the rudiments of his poetic theory.2 The bardic dimension of Emersonian aesthetics, however, is also understandable in the larger historical context of evangelicalism, which, after all, stresses the hymnic. Thus the dogma of Matthew Arnold, that literature replaces a Christianity threatened by science, is not as much in the nineteenth- century mainstream as one might think, for Emerson views the poet as the gardener of "imaginary gardens with real toads in them," 3 that is, as the priest of a far from attenuated, because almost scientifically concrete, religion. I argue that Emerson's empirical-evangelical method, and hence his radically immanent Christianity, inform his aesthetics. While Van Leer and David Porter emphasize the essay's "weaknesses"--they describe it as "troubled"4--and while Packer hears in The Poet's "ironies" only the muted "affirmation" of a "second best" writer,5 Joel Porte praises The Poet as "the culmination of the energy of the first series."6 I agree; the essay's energy is fully empirical-evangelical.
Emerson's poet, first, can be more of a scientist than scientists themselves. "The poet alone," he declares, "knows astronomy, chemistry, vegetation, and animation, for he does not stop at these facts, but employs