The intellectual life may be kept clean and healthful, if man will live the life of nature, and not import into his mind difficulties which are none of his. No man need be perplexed in his speculations. Let him do and say what strictly belongs to him, and, though very ignorant of books, his nature shall not yield him any intellectual obstructions and doubts. Our young people are diseased with the theological problems of original sin, origin of evil, predestination, and the like. These never presented a practical difficulty to any man,—never darkened across any man's road, who did not go out of his way to seek them. These are the soul's mumps, and measles, and whooping-coughs, and those who have not caught them cannot describe their health or prescribe the cure. A simple mind will not know these enemies. It is quite another thing that he should be able to give account of his faith, and expound to another the theory of his self-union and freedom. This requires rare gifts. Yet, without this self-knowledge, there may be a sylvan strength and integrity in that which he is. "A few strong instincts and a few plain rules" suffice us.
This excerpt from Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay "Spiritual Laws" hits on a whole heap o' big Transcendentalist themes. First of all, there's the surefire emphasis on nature. He's all about how the best way to lead a "clean and healthful" intellectual life is to "live the life of nature." Who knew that going out for a roll in the grass could boost ya in the IQ department?
Second, we can see the criticism of conventional religious orthodoxy all over this passage. The Transcendentalists, as we all know, were very critical of conventional religion. Spirituality? Pile it on! Six hours in mass? Um, thanks but no thanks.
So Emerson gets into the nitty-gritty of the thing by saying we shouldn't worry ourselves with things like original sin (gettin' jiggy, making whoopee…you know) or predestination (the idea that it's preset whether you'll land at the pearly gates of Heaven or its fiery neighbor downstairs). Why? Well, there's no need to complicate our spiritual lives.
What we need to do instead is rely on our instincts to guide us when it comes to spiritual matters. Let's cut out the rules and the uncomfortable benches and just focus on our instincts.
Emerson was a master of the essay form. Like, if he were in an English class, he's the one all the other students would try to copy off of. And indeed, a lot of his most important works are essays. Emerson used the essay form to clarify his Transcendentalist worldview and to communicate it to a wider audience. Convenient, eh?
And there's more! The essay genre was especially useful given Emerson's aims because it's all about argument. Emerson, remember, was introducing new ideas to people. Ideas that went against much of conventional wisdom. Like thinking nature was a road to getting better grades. And saying the Church didn't have all the answers. Yeah, especially that second one.
He needed to convince people, and essays allowed him to put forward his arguments in a way that was clear and concise. Besides, his essays are like poetry. Or does that defeat the purpose of how important it is that they're essays?
Ralph Waldo Emerson is considered by some to be a crackpot, and by others to be a near genius somewhere in the middle, I am sure his true importance lies. He was an early American philosopher, thinker, and teacher, who wrote lectures, commentaries and poems throughout his life. He developed his own philosophy (based on the non-Conformism of Quakerism) which captured the American imagination: American Transcendentalism.
The Transcendentalist movement is interesting because it combines so many elements, and at the same time capturing the spirit of what it may mean to be an American at a time when the country was still in its birthing pangs. It was rigorously intellectual but not dogmatic with ones interior life being of paramount importance. As a corollary of this, individualism and freedom were seen as prime virtues, expressed in Emersons proclamation that Americans should be as self-reliant as possible, both intellectually and materially. The newly occupied territory of America was seen almost like a new Eden, where the American could start the kingdom of man again, living in a state of grace without the previous corrupt authority of church or state. Emerson became this movements chief prophet, especially with his wonderful gift for aphorisms and quips.
Emerson moved in important circles, learning his untraditional faith from John Stuart Mill and Thomas Carlyle, as well as being friends with Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Walt Whitman. It was his on and off friendship with Henry David Thoreau however, the abolitionist who actually lived the transcendentalists beliefs, that Emerson is most often remembered.
Emersons works themselves are often fragmentary, and hard to collect. A truly splendid collection would be the one presented by The Riverside Press one year after Emersons death in 1883 The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, which contains eleven volumes, fine-printed, gold gilt engraved hardcovers. This entire set can currently be found (only 500 copies ever printed) for as little as eight hundred US dollars (and over a thousand in near mint condition).
The holy grail for the Emerson collector however, would be Nature, 1936, the slim hardback book published by James Munroe of Boston which carries Emersons first declaration of the Transcendentalist belief and attitude, and encapsulates its entire philosophy. The first edition was published anonymously, for fear of religious persecution and it remains as controversial now as it was then. A fine copy of this first edition can cost as much as several thousand US dollars, whilst even a not-mind copy would cost somewhere in the region of two thousand US dollars. A true testament to how important this slim volume is to American literature, thought, and culture!
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Nature. James Munroe, Boston (1836).True First Issue With Page 94 Misnumbered 92
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Essays. Munroe, Boston (1841).2 Volumes; With Preface By Thomas Carlyle; Twelve Essays Titled History, Self-Reliance, Compensation, Spiritual Laws, Love, Friendship, Prudence, Heroism, The Over-Soul, Circles, Intellect, and Art.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. THE DIAL. E. P. Peabody/John Green, Boston and London (1842).Fuller, Margaret; Thoreau, Henry David; A Magazine For Literature, Philosophy, And Religion,300 Copies; First Edited By Margaret Fuller (1840-42) And Then By Ralph Waldo Emerson (1842-44); Volume Iis Four Issues Contain Two Poems By Thoreau, Including His Important Friendship, Later Collected In His First Book, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, And Much By Emerson Including His Defining Piece Transcendentalism.
Carlyle, Thomas. Past and Present. Charles C. Little and James Brown, Boston (1843).Edited By Emerson.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. An Address Delivered in the Court-House in Concord, Masssachusetts. James Munroe and Company Boston (1844).On 1St August, 1844 On The Anniversary Of The Emancipation Of The Negroes In The British West Indies
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Poems. Chapman and Hall (1847).Preceded By The London Edition; Emerson'S First Book Of Poem - Including His Most Famous, Hymn: Sung At The Completion Of The Concord Monument
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Representative Men. John Chapman (1850).Seven Lectures
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. English Traits. Phillips, Sampson, and Co., Boston (1856).First Issue Showing (1) On Half Title And Battered Type On Page 230.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Miscellanies. Phillips, Sampson, Boston (1856).Embracing Nature, Addresses, And Lectures; 500 Copies Of The Second Edition.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Conduct of LIfe. Ticknor and Fields, Boston (1861).First Edition With Newly Ready Advert And 1260 Catalog, Perfect C In Title, Page Date; 2500 Copies.
Thoreau, Henry David. Letters to Various Persons. Ticknor and Fields, Boston (1865).Thoreaus Letters To Friends, Edited By Emerson; Also Included Are Nine Poems; 2130 Copies.
Saadi, Musle-Hudeen Sheik of Shiraz. The Gulistan, or Rose Garden. Ticknor and Fields, Boston (1865).Translated From The Original By Francis Gladwin; With And Essay On Saadis Life And Genius, By James Ross, And A Preface By R. W. Emerson.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. THE COMPLETE WORKS OF RALPH WALDO EMERSON. Bell and Daldy (1866).Including His Essays, Lectures, Poems, And Creations; In Two Volumes.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. May Day and Other Pieces. Ticknor and Fields, Boston (1867).Tota 2000 Copies.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Society and Solitude. Fields and Osgood and Co, Boston (1870).Twelve Chapters
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Letters and Social Aims. James R. Osgood and Co., Boston (1876).5000 Copies; First Issue: With Signature Mark N On P. 209; Includes Essays On Inspiration, Social Progress, Greatness, Quotations And Originality, Imagination, Among Others.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Emersons Complete Works. Houghton Mifflin and Company Boston (1883).12 Volumes; 500 Copies; The Volumes Are Titled, Society And Solitude, English Traits, Lectures And Biographical Sketches, Nature, Address, And Lectures, Conduct Of Life, Poems, Representative Men: Seven Lectures, Essays: First Series, Essays: Second Series, Letters And Social Aims, Miscellanies; Natural History Of Intellect And Other Papers.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Essays. Riverside Press, Cambridge (1883).First And Second Series: New And Revised Edition; Limited To 500 Copies; 2 Volumes
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Correspondnce of Thomas Carlyle and Ralph Waldo Emerson. James R. Osgood, Boston (1883).Edited By Charles Eliot Norton; 2 Volumes; 250 Copies.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Houghton, Mifflin and Co., Boston (1883).14 Volumes; With A General Index And A Memoir By James Elliot Cabot, With Steel Portraits And Etchings
Thayer, JAMES BRADLEY. A Western Journey with Mr. Emerson. Little, Brown and Co., Boston (1884).First Edition Of This Account Of Emersons Trip To California Visiting Yosemite By James Thayer, Married To One Of Emersons Uncles Daughters, Who Went On The Trip As Chief Reporter.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Emersons Complete Works. Riverside Press and Houghton Mifflin, Boston (1892).14 Volumes Complete, Black And White Frontispieces
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Works. Houghton Mifflin Company Boston (1894).11 Volumes; Two Frontispiece Portraits; The Eleven Volumes Of The Edition Are As Follows: 1. Nature; Addresses And Lectures. 2. Essays: First Series. 3. Essays: Second Series. 4. Representative Men: Seven Lectures. 5. English Traits. 6. The Conduct Of Life. 7. Society And Solitude: Twelve Chapters. 8. Letters And Social Aims. 9. Poems. 10. Lectures And Biographical Sketches [A New Volume]. 11. Miscellanies
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Emersons Essays. Arthur L. Humphreys (1899).2 Volumes.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Dial. Rowfant Club, Cleveland (1902).2 Introductory Volumes By George Willis Cooke, An Historical And Biographical Introduction To The Dial; 125 Copies.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Houghton Mifflin, Boston (1903).With A Biographical Introduction And Notes By Edward Waldo Emerson And A General Index; Illustrated With Photogravures; Total 12 Volumes; 600 Copies.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Conduct of Life. Scott-Thaw Co (1903).350 Copies.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Complete Works. Houghton and Mifflin, Boston (1904).12 Volumes; 600 Copies Signed By The Publisher.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Essays. (1906).The Text, With A Preface By Thomas Carlyle, Contains Emersons Twelve Humanist Studies Simply Entitled History, Self-Reliance, Compensation, Spiritual Laws, Love, Friendship, Prudence, Heroism, The Over-Souls, Circles, Intellect, And Art; Total 325 Copies; 25 Copies On Vellum.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson with Annotations. Houghton Mifflin Company Boston (1909).Total 10 Volumes; Edited By Edward Waldo Emerson And Waldo Emerson Forbes
Montaigne, Michel de. The Works of Michel de Montaigne. Edwin C. Hill (1910).An Essay By Ralph Waldo Emerson, Complete In Ten (10) Volumes; 1050 Copies; Translated By Charles Cotton; Revised With A Preface By William Carew Hazlett.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Nature. Bremer Presse, Munchen (1929).Printed At The Bremer Press With Color Initials By Anna Simons; A Total Of 530 Copies Were Printed, Numbers I-Ccl Were For Random House, Numbers 131-280 For The Buch-Bund, Hamburg, Numbers 1-130 For The Subscribers Of The Bremer Press.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson. John Henry Nash (1934).1500 Copies; Essays With A Critical Introduction By Edward F. O'Day; Designed, Printed In Red And Black, And Bound By John Henry Nash. Signed By Nash.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Columbia University Press (1939).6 Volume Set; Edited By Ralph L. Rusk.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Best of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Walter J. Black, Roslyn (1941).Essays, Poems, Addresses; 24 Offerings Including The Young American, Friendship, Love, Nature And Others
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Columbia University Press (1966).6 Volumes.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (1982).
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. FRIENDSHIP. Kelly-Winterton Press (1993).An Emerson Homage; In Remembrance Of Joseph Blumenthal; Woodcuts By Antonio Frasconi; 120 Copies Signed By Frasconi.