Ralph Waldo Emerson – The Greatest American Essayist

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Dr. Leary wrote in 1960, “Whether he is demigod or, as has been recently suggested, antichrist, Emerson continues to live, our most continually provocative essayist, because he speaks with skill of matters which disturb us still. He requires personal fulfillment, for he insists that there is no greater sin than any man’s failure to realize the best which his qualifications allow, but he warns also of the terror of life and its unremitting menace. Concentration, he counsels, is the only virtue; dissipation the only vice.”

“To most readers it is as if their own voice spoke, and they answer even when they cannot find the words. Emerson’s early answers were Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman, each of whom extended, modified, or clarified some area of his thought… Each of these writers demonstrated through revelation of himself that living could be enjoyed on different terms, with discrimination between what is worthwhile and good and what is dissipating and bad…”

“When we remember all the men of that generation who tried to express what one of them, who was Emerson, expressed so well, we are tempted to say of every writer that his ideas are the least important thing about him, because they are what he shares with most men of his time. When he speaks with authority, he speaks well, with something that we recognize but usually fail to define, which we call style. His ultimate distinction is in language, in adjusting words to precise requirements.”

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