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Self-Reliance and Other Essays by Ralph…

Self-Reliance and Other Essays

by Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Showing 4 of 4
Goodreads' star system is annoying. Having 5 as "it was amazing" might as well read "it was totally awesome" or "literally the best" or some other idiotic way of dumbing down that which should not be dumbed down. All such contemporary things are rather pedestrian. Nevertheless, there is not really anywhere else to capture my readings, so here it is for now. Emerson's essays are like reading a religious text: every sentence has something that works just for you (or, more accurately, me). It is profound, yet moribund, exciting yet prosaic in its antiquity, biased in its bigotry, yet soundly rational and calm and erudite all at once. This is not a work to read once. Indeed, it will need to be read several times at different levels of maturity or experience. There is little doubt that Emerson is right up there with the likes of Rousseau, but due to timing or otherwise, he doesn't quite sit on the same bench as the masters. Regrettably, this is due to marketing rather than merit, but so too is most of history. How else might one find such gems as Emerson? My dogs loved it so much, they ate the front cover. It was the only book they have ever touched. ( )
  madepercy | Nov 7, 2017 |
I finished!! Phew, this was heavy, but well worth reading. One of my favorites passages came from the essay from which the book draws its name: Self-Reliance, but it also has one of my least favorites.

"A man should learn to detect and watch that gem of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lessons for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt the whole time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another." (20)

And from this need to be self-reliant Emerson draws an interesting and harsh corollary:

"Do not tell me, as a good man did to-day, of my obligation to put all poor men in good situations. Are they my poor? I tell thee, thou foolish philanthropist, that I grudge the dollar, the dime, the cent, I give to such men as do not belong to me and to whom I do not belong. There is a class of persons to whom by all spiritual affinity I am bought and sold; for them I will go tot prison, if need be; but your miscellaneous popular charities; the education at college of fools; the building of meeting-houses to the vain end to which many now stand; alms to sots; and the thousandfold Relief Societies;--though I confess with shame I sometimes succumb and give the dollar, it is a wicked dollar which by and by I shall have the manhood to withhold." (22)

I could keep quoting forever, but here's just one more from "History":

"The instinct of the mind, the purpose of nature, betrays itself in the use we make of the signal narrations of history. Time dissipates to shining ether the solid angularity of facts. No anchor, no cable, no fences, avail to keep a fact a fact. Babylon, Troy, Tyre, Palestine, and ever early Rome, are passing already into fiction....'What is History,' said Napoleon, 'but a fable agreed upon?'...All history becomes subjective; in other words, there is properly no history; only biography." (3)

Other essays cover Friendship, The Over-Soul, The Poet, Experience, and The Divinity School Address. I think I would have preferred a live conversation with Mr. Emerson, but I am still glad I read this. ( )
  Berly | Mar 30, 2017 |
Very dense text.
  rakerman | Mar 18, 2017 |
Emerson's sentences seem not to know each other. I read this somewhere recently, along with the question of whether or not the man had A.D.D. I found it mostly a chore reading through these essays, struggling hard to get a sense of connection or flow anywhere. However, in his own words... "There is a good ear, in some men, that draws supplies to virtue out of very indifferent nutriment."

It's chiefly two things that make me rate a book highly: entertainment and enlightenment. I was not entertained at all by this book - rather bored. There were a few points, particularly in Self-Reliance and Friendship that bordered on enlightenment, but seemed more like inspiration in the end to me: nice words that feed the heart, but only while the mind is looking the other way.

I would not recommend this book, or these essays. I think he had a talent, but he could not take it past the full-stop; great sentences, but poor paragraphs. I still think he was a man of some genius, and have taken a lot of what he and the transcendentalists represented to heart... however I believe some choice quotations and fragments do better justice than his meandering and fanciful writings. ( )
1 vote jculkin | Feb 1, 2016 |
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A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0486277909, Paperback)

The six essays and one address in this volume outline the great transcendentalist's moral idealism as well as hinting at the later scepticism that colored his thought. In addition to the celebrated title essay, the others included here are "History," "Friendship," "The Over-Soul," "The Poet" and "Experience," plus the well-known and frequently read Harvard Divinity School Address.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:44 -0400)

Essayist, poet and philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) propounded a transcendental idealism emphasizing self-reliance, self-culture and individual expression. The six essays and one address included in this volume, selected from Essays, First Series (1841) and Essays, Second Series (1844), offer a representative sampling of his views outlining that moral idealism as well as a hint of the later scepticism that colored his thought. In addition to the celebrated title essay, the others included here are "History," "Friendship," "The Over-Soul," "The Poet" and "Experience," plus the well-known and frequently read Harvard Divinity School Address.Original Dover (1993) selection of essays from Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thomas Nelson and Sons, N. Y. 128pp. 5 1/16 x 8 1/4. Paperbound.… (more)

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