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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 idealis 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 skepticism 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.


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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 idealis 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 skepticism 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.

30 review for Self-Reliance and Other Essays

  1. 4 out of 5

    HeatRush

    Ralph Waldo Emerson is the greatest writer who ever lived. I carry his collected essays around like a Mormon carries the Book of Mormon. Though I don't ride a bike. No one has every offered up more wisdom, with such jazzy tempo and energetic flow. He has a more extensive vocabulary than Shakespeare, and I believe he was the first writer who suffered from A.D.D. It is like the great UCLA professor Coulecourcio once said, "It's as if his sentences don't know each other." I appreciate that he doesn Ralph Waldo Emerson is the greatest writer who ever lived. I carry his collected essays around like a Mormon carries the Book of Mormon. Though I don't ride a bike. No one has every offered up more wisdom, with such jazzy tempo and energetic flow. He has a more extensive vocabulary than Shakespeare, and I believe he was the first writer who suffered from A.D.D. It is like the great UCLA professor Coulecourcio once said, "It's as if his sentences don't know each other." I appreciate that he doesn't try to make everything he says make perfect communicative sense. It pushes the reader to derive possible meanings, or to expand on the meanings that are present. That is a much more accurate depiction of the truth than most philosophers write, with their stupid, boring, flat, theoreticaly sound arguments. I will die with fire in my heart for Emerson. He uplifts and expands my consciousness with every sentence. WHIM!

  2. 4 out of 5

    shellyindallas

    when i read this i was 20 and under the impression that what was shitty about the world and people could be changed and that me and my friends could make an impact for the better on people just by talking to them and reasoning with them. since then i've lost god and watch w "win" back to back elections, so I guess you could say i'm a bit more jaded. still, i like a lot of what emerson says. self-reliance cannot be underestimated. if only we chided ourselves for our mistakes instead of placing blam when i read this i was 20 and under the impression that what was shitty about the world and people could be changed and that me and my friends could make an impact for the better on people just by talking to them and reasoning with them. since then i've lost god and watch w "win" back to back elections, so I guess you could say i'm a bit more jaded. still, i like a lot of what emerson says. self-reliance cannot be underestimated. if only we chided ourselves for our mistakes instead of placing blame, and applauded ourselves for our success instead ascribing credit elsewhere. i also love what he says about honesty. he talks about (and i'm paraphrasing) the annoying guest who tells lame stories and thinks he's funny so everyone laughs to spare his feelings and how that dishonesty gives the lame-o the idea that his stories are good and he's a funny guy so he keeps passing those stories on. only now the next crowd of people are victims since no one in the audience the first time around had the courtesy--and emerson refers to this as courtesy--to tell the guy his jokes are lame. of course, there are countless times when i've been in that situation. whether or not i tell the person their lame or not depends on how much alcohol i've consumed at the time.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Desiree Finkbeiner

    Fantastic! I had a natural disposition from an early age to stand on my own ground apart from the crowd. I've embraced my own personal truth without the need to force my values and opinions upon others. This philosophy has awarded me popularity (and in some cases, intense enemies) throughout my life. There is no happiness quite like self-acceptance and the ability to be comfortable with one's own personality and conviction of beliefs. Ralph Waldo Emerson illuminates these truths with great vigor Fantastic! I had a natural disposition from an early age to stand on my own ground apart from the crowd. I've embraced my own personal truth without the need to force my values and opinions upon others. This philosophy has awarded me popularity (and in some cases, intense enemies) throughout my life. There is no happiness quite like self-acceptance and the ability to be comfortable with one's own personality and conviction of beliefs. Ralph Waldo Emerson illuminates these truths with great vigor and testimony; that no outside source can make one happy, but that which emanates from within. Self-reliance is a CHOICE. Happiness is a choice... so few there are that find it in this life to the degree Emerson spells out in this awesome book. Anyone who applies the courage to BE who they are without fear of rejection or ridicule, finds the key to happiness in this life.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Aurelia

    Ralph Waldo Emerson is a spiritual experience, an intense one indeed, for everyone who is afraid of conformity, afraid of the loneliness that thinking for yourself can put you in. Emerson is here to remind you, that it not only ok, but it is your duty to think for youself, to find your own way, to look at the world with your own perspective, and there is nothing wrong about that, there is nothing to be afraid of, on the contrary, there is everything to gain, it is the only way you can live a ful Ralph Waldo Emerson is a spiritual experience, an intense one indeed, for everyone who is afraid of conformity, afraid of the loneliness that thinking for yourself can put you in. Emerson is here to remind you, that it not only ok, but it is your duty to think for youself, to find your own way, to look at the world with your own perspective, and there is nothing wrong about that, there is nothing to be afraid of, on the contrary, there is everything to gain, it is the only way you can live a fully authentic and rich life. For Emerson, every conformity and every imitation is a huge impoverishment to human existence, one should have the audacity to walk his own path. I think that Emerson's thought, self-confidence and power does show itself more intensly in his Divinity School Adress more than his Self-reliance. His way of re interpreting the Christian religion according to his philosophical views, is something extremely important. What most of people would call a heresy is for him a way to reform religious thougth. His transcendental philosophy would at first apear incompatible with any arthodox religious thought, as it refuses some of the the fondamental premisses and dogmas of orthodoxy, but he saw it as an enrichemnt of christian spirituality now weekend by tradition and imitation.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    Nathaniel Hawthorne best captured Emmerson's Transcendentalism in his short story The Celestial Railroad (inspired by Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress). He says, "He [i.e. Giant Transcendentalism] shouted after us, but in so strange a phraseology that we knew not what he meant, nor whether to be encouraged or affrighted." Emerson’s essays are filled with feel-good rhetoric on being “one with the Oversoul.” He lectures on “originality” while borrowing ideas from Eastern religions and insists upon “reli Nathaniel Hawthorne best captured Emmerson's Transcendentalism in his short story The Celestial Railroad (inspired by Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress). He says, "He [i.e. Giant Transcendentalism] shouted after us, but in so strange a phraseology that we knew not what he meant, nor whether to be encouraged or affrighted." Emerson’s essays are filled with feel-good rhetoric on being “one with the Oversoul.” He lectures on “originality” while borrowing ideas from Eastern religions and insists upon “religious tolerance” while cramming his own ideology down your throat. The essence of Emerson's essays is merely nebulous claims to self-importance and a direct undermining of Christianity and traditional values. To me, it seems as if Emerson was just trying to create a philosophy he could use to excuse himself from moral absolutes. He claims that if each individual believes himself to be a manifestation of God then perfection and peace can be established on earth. Clearly, his neglect of history blinds him to the logical outcome of his theory: egotism only leads to conflict and chaos.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Claudia

    Emerson's essays are best read when: A) You're of the thought that the world can transcend its troubles, be changed for the better, and that you, personally, can be the agent of much of the change. B) You've become older and jaded and need to be reminded that at one time you thought the world could be changed for the better and that you could be the agent of much of the change. Emerson's essays are best read when: A) You're of the thought that the world can transcend its troubles, be changed for the better, and that you, personally, can be the agent of much of the change. B) You've become older and jaded and need to be reminded that at one time you thought the world could be changed for the better and that you could be the agent of much of the change.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Brad Lyerla

    Emerson's Essay on Self-Reliance is the classic argument for non-conformity. Everyone should read it if only for the quotes. Check it out: "Whosoever would be a man must be a non-conformist." Or how about: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds." It's best to read this essay when you are 19, but no one is too old to enjoy this classic. Emerson's Essay on Self-Reliance is the classic argument for non-conformity. Everyone should read it if only for the quotes. Check it out: "Whosoever would be a man must be a non-conformist." Or how about: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds." It's best to read this essay when you are 19, but no one is too old to enjoy this classic.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Dominic Robin

    Dear Lord, please no -never again- if it can be helped, and if I must be tortured for some wrong and made to read a terrible book, give me Twilight or a bad fan fiction but not this.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Hana

    Do I always agree with him? Of course not. In particular, his emphasis on 'self-reliance' rather than wisdom handed down and tested through time has always struck me as fool-hardy. But his thinking is so central to American identity and is so beautifully argued that it is worthwhile studying no matter what your perspective. Do I always agree with him? Of course not. In particular, his emphasis on 'self-reliance' rather than wisdom handed down and tested through time has always struck me as fool-hardy. But his thinking is so central to American identity and is so beautifully argued that it is worthwhile studying no matter what your perspective.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Katerina

    "Self-Reliance" is an essay that captures the independent spirit behind many Americans, but it overlooks the sinfulness of people. Emerson calls on each person to listen to his own intuition rather than society, membership organizations, or religious traditions. He believes that each person can achieve his greatest genius by listening to himself. In the middle section of the essay, Emerson presents his arguments for his belief. The support seems to largely be based on a faulty understanding of G "Self-Reliance" is an essay that captures the independent spirit behind many Americans, but it overlooks the sinfulness of people. Emerson calls on each person to listen to his own intuition rather than society, membership organizations, or religious traditions. He believes that each person can achieve his greatest genius by listening to himself. In the middle section of the essay, Emerson presents his arguments for his belief. The support seems to largely be based on a faulty understanding of God. He believes that God speaks directly to people's souls, disclosing all truth. If people would tune their intuition, they would touch the divine. He goes on to claim that praying for help is false prayer. He also dismisses the Bible as a source of God's revelation. These ideas ignore the Bible's teachings on the sinfulness of man and holiness of God. They also ignore the Bible's teachings on prayer and warnings about false teachers. At first this essay appeals because it rings true to the ideas taught in America. However closer evaluation shows the ideas are not true to Scripture. The essay is worth reading for the perspective it offers on American self-reliance, but it should be read with caution and not blindly accepted.

  11. 5 out of 5

    David Calhoun

    Holy smokes. This is one of those rare things you hear about your whole life but put off because it sounds boring. Something hailed as a classic but something you are skeptical of being relevant for the current age. But when it finally comes to you, and when you finally get the discipline to read it, it resonates and turns out to be just the thing you needed to read, right at that stage in your life. This is an essay about self-reliance, not in the Thoreau sense, but being self-oriented even when Holy smokes. This is one of those rare things you hear about your whole life but put off because it sounds boring. Something hailed as a classic but something you are skeptical of being relevant for the current age. But when it finally comes to you, and when you finally get the discipline to read it, it resonates and turns out to be just the thing you needed to read, right at that stage in your life. This is an essay about self-reliance, not in the Thoreau sense, but being self-oriented even when in the crowd. Very existential at times since it has this "self vs crowd" aspect. I was not sure I totally agreed with the essay. The part against travelling for amusement rubbed me the wrong way, maybe because I've been travelling a lot this year. But it challenged me, which is good.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lindsey

    Whoso would be a man, must be a non-conformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude. A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, a Whoso would be a man, must be a non-conformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude. A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Out upon your guarded lips! Sew them up with pockthread, do. Else if you would be a man speak what you think today in words as hard as cannon balls, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today. Ah, then, exclaim the aged ladies, you shall be sure to be misunderstood! Misunderstood! It is a right fool's word. Is it so bad then to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.

  13. 5 out of 5

    océane (desbouquinsdanslamain)

    as we are studying Emily Dickinson in our American literature class, our teacher said that it was important to include Emerson in our analysis of her poems! I see the different connections between the two authors (as Dickinson admired Emerson). moreover his writing style is simple yet every word has an important role in his construction of sentences, I see Dickinson’s fascination for him

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lex

    I reread Self-Reliance shortly after quitting Facebook, and then re-read it again twice more, in disbelief that apparently the issues I have with FB are not so removed from Emerson's times.... this is classic and timeless. I reread Self-Reliance shortly after quitting Facebook, and then re-read it again twice more, in disbelief that apparently the issues I have with FB are not so removed from Emerson's times.... this is classic and timeless.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Philip of Macedon

    These essays are unlike anything else. They’re a glimpse into the workings of transcendentalism, into the mind of its most noteworthy poet-advocate. Emerson has a mystical, romantic, esoteric way of writing about all manner of things. I appreciate many of the sentiments he expresses, his celebration of individualism, self-reliance, solitude, mental or “spiritual” fortitude, his embrace of nature, of poetry and philosophy and art and a connection to history, to reality, and to things beneath the These essays are unlike anything else. They’re a glimpse into the workings of transcendentalism, into the mind of its most noteworthy poet-advocate. Emerson has a mystical, romantic, esoteric way of writing about all manner of things. I appreciate many of the sentiments he expresses, his celebration of individualism, self-reliance, solitude, mental or “spiritual” fortitude, his embrace of nature, of poetry and philosophy and art and a connection to history, to reality, and to things beneath the mundane, unseen to the eye, his joy for intellectualism and tranquility and the unnamable qualities of life that he has somehow given names and descriptions to, as well as his criticism of conformity and the forces and opinions and motives of society. I’m confused by his delivery. At times I wonder if he means everything he says, or if he on occasion says things just because he’s in a strong flow, carried away by his own momentum. Given his love for the things mentioned, and his almost metaphysical disposition as a poet, it may be no surprise he finds math cold, science lifeless, facts untrustworthy, empiricism worthless. His writing style reflects this aversion to reason and logic. It is all from the gut and a state of trancelike riffing, rarely a carefully worded, straight forward organization of thoughts. Since he does not bother to persuade, but only to express, I can only read along and differ in opinion here and there, while nodding along and pausing occasionally to reflect on the moments of wonder, on his lyrical might. What he lacks in persuasion and reason he makes up for with hardy, feeling, romantic, poetic, insightful, and reflective musings. Many good thoughts and ideas abound. He can appear disorganized and lost in a stream of consciousness instead of focused, but maybe it was only me who was lost in his current. We get a lot of strong and beautiful passages full of sage wisdom and sound thinking, sometimes profound observations, on top of passages that do nothing to convince the reader to share his perspective, but still suffused with awe. Like Nietzsche, he does not reason so much as he intuits. I think I see where Nietzsche gets it from. Emerson also reminds me of Spinoza, in his vague allusions to a god that seems to be synonymous with nature or the universe, but somehow still personified. And as I reached the end of the book and began to detect some hints of ancient Chinese thinking, he brought Mencius into the fold, as fitting a philosopher for him to refer to as any. He urges his reader to see the glimmers of genius that have shone in others in the past, in great thinkers and writers, like Homer, Dante, Milton, Shakespeare, and to see them also in ourselves. He encourages one to see themselves as an active participant in the world and to see history and experience and friendship as part of the vastness of existence and the self. Emerson writes a manifesto against conformity to society, to live one’s life even around others as though they were steeped in solitude and able to live according to their own opinions and values. Ones who are seeking amusement or escape in world travel instead of self realization and growth, he supposes, will find neither. His observations on the “improvements” in society being no improvement for man are astute. For every gain on one side it recedes on the other, losing old instincts while acquiring new art, becoming weak while becoming civilized, becoming ignorant of the universe around him while inundated with new tools and luxuries. This collection overflows with dense substance to go over again and again, to unwrap and consider. It isn’t always compelling, sometimes it seems as though he rambles a bit too long, though not without some grand cavalcade of ideation, but when it’s good it’s very good.

  16. 5 out of 5

    John

    A difficult book to review. Six of Emerson’s best essays along with his controversial Divinity School Address. History, Self-reliance, Friendship, The Over-Soul, The Poet and Experience are the topics of the essays written around 1841. The recurrent theme throughout the essays is think for your self. The need for each individual to avoid conformity and false consistency, and follow his own instinct. The idea of believing in one's self and one's worth is another key theme. It is the source of one A difficult book to review. Six of Emerson’s best essays along with his controversial Divinity School Address. History, Self-reliance, Friendship, The Over-Soul, The Poet and Experience are the topics of the essays written around 1841. The recurrent theme throughout the essays is think for your self. The need for each individual to avoid conformity and false consistency, and follow his own instinct. The idea of believing in one's self and one's worth is another key theme. It is the source of one of Emerson's most famous quotations: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." He also states you should do what you think right and not follow the herd instinct. He advocates reflection through solitude and is also critical of institutional religion. Emerson argues to question everything and is very skeptical of charities or communal based support. His argument is that self reliance on one self does not cover less fortunate people, disabled, blind or not having been born in privileged position. In some ways he is a cruel and heartless commentator and on the the other side he talks sense and there are some great quotes. My favorite was from Napoleon ‘What is history but a fable agreed upon’. Overall a thought provoking book of its time and with relevance today. Trust thyself would be his mantra and to finish with a quote from him. ‘’To believe in your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, - that is genius." This I think encapsulates what is main message is in that self-reliance means to on one's own thoughts and ideas not others. One person I will be reading more of is Emanuel Swedenborg who sounds fascinating.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Christian

    I didn't read this exact edition. Mine had 12 essays in it, including Self-Reliance. I'm not really sure why that particular essay is so popular. I guess people take away the message of: believe in yourself and don't worry about what the critics in your life say. That's great, but Emerson seems more arrogant and extreme than that. For example: "To believe your own thought, to believe that what it true for you in your private heart is true for all men - that is genius." No, it isn't. That's one o I didn't read this exact edition. Mine had 12 essays in it, including Self-Reliance. I'm not really sure why that particular essay is so popular. I guess people take away the message of: believe in yourself and don't worry about what the critics in your life say. That's great, but Emerson seems more arrogant and extreme than that. For example: "To believe your own thought, to believe that what it true for you in your private heart is true for all men - that is genius." No, it isn't. That's one of the things they break you of during freshman year when you realize you're not that wise and the world is a pretty diverse place. As for extreme, I think he's dangerously individualistic. He argues that we belong to no one and that each person is responsible for charting their own course through life. Sounds fine at first. But then someone asks him to give to the poor. "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." He's quick to say he'll help a certain class of people, but not just anybody. Nice.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Michael Cook

    These essays appeal to me now more than they did in school. In high school, I thought Ralph Waldo Emerson was old-fashioned and his writing boring. I think it takes a more mature mind with life experiences to appreciate many of Emerson's muses. It was only after I traveled in Europe that I understood what he meant by American culture. SPOILERS: My favorite quotes from this book of essays are: "It is for want of self-culture that the superstition of Traveling, whose idols are Italy, England, Egypt These essays appeal to me now more than they did in school. In high school, I thought Ralph Waldo Emerson was old-fashioned and his writing boring. I think it takes a more mature mind with life experiences to appreciate many of Emerson's muses. It was only after I traveled in Europe that I understood what he meant by American culture. SPOILERS: My favorite quotes from this book of essays are: "It is for want of self-culture that the superstition of Traveling, whose idols are Italy, England, Egypt, retains its fascination for all educated Americans. "The thief steals from himself. The swindler swindles himself. For the real price of labor is knowledge and virtue, whereof wealth and credit are signs... like paper money, may be counterfeited or stolen, but that which they represent, namely, knowledge and virtue, cannot be counterfeited or stolen... The law of nature is, Do the thing, and you shall have the power: but they who do not the thing have not the power." "But man postpones, or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with a reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time." "It is for want of self-culture that the superstition of Traveling, whose idols are Italy, England, Egypt, retains its fascination for all educated Americans."

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jack

    With apologies to people who like Emerson, during this book I did so much face-palming and eye-rolling that my head hurts. I'm not really sure I have ever had such a negative reaction to an author or essayist before. I could probably tolerate the long-windedness, but his philosophies are not just naive, they are wrong. I would re-title Self Reliance as Hubris. What bothers me is that looking back, I have been in discussions where people have used his ideas as an excuse to close their minds and s With apologies to people who like Emerson, during this book I did so much face-palming and eye-rolling that my head hurts. I'm not really sure I have ever had such a negative reaction to an author or essayist before. I could probably tolerate the long-windedness, but his philosophies are not just naive, they are wrong. I would re-title Self Reliance as Hubris. What bothers me is that looking back, I have been in discussions where people have used his ideas as an excuse to close their minds and satisfy themselves with their own foolishness. I could go on, but really, what's the point?

  20. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    So dense yet lucid and poetic and rigorous....you can't get your arms around him, no matter how hard you try. I've been coming back to this stuff for years in short but deeply felt dives into Emerson's humming catacombs. I do believe what Bloom says when he calls Ralphie-boy "the mind of America"....it's all there So dense yet lucid and poetic and rigorous....you can't get your arms around him, no matter how hard you try. I've been coming back to this stuff for years in short but deeply felt dives into Emerson's humming catacombs. I do believe what Bloom says when he calls Ralphie-boy "the mind of America"....it's all there

  21. 5 out of 5

    Justin Tyler

    The essay "Self-Reliance" has been immensely important to me. If ever you are going through tough times, or feel that you are not being treated as well as you deserve, or fear that you are too dependent on another person for your happiness, or are just wondering about what it really means to have personal identity, read this essay. It's incredible. The essay "Self-Reliance" has been immensely important to me. If ever you are going through tough times, or feel that you are not being treated as well as you deserve, or fear that you are too dependent on another person for your happiness, or are just wondering about what it really means to have personal identity, read this essay. It's incredible.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Trystan W

    I didn’t even finish the book of essays. It was that bad. I can imagine Ralph thinking “if I constantly reference obscure moments in history and drop some quotes in Greek and Latin, then my philosophy will be valid.” No, Ralph, that is not how philosophy works. I can’t even say that his ideas are built off of unsound foundations, because there are no foundations. Ugh, Americans.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Seth Hanson

    Pure and simple... "Self-Reliance" was life-altering. My personal philosophy of life is largely grounded in the ideals that are so well articulated and espoused in this short work. It's like scripture to me. Pure and simple... "Self-Reliance" was life-altering. My personal philosophy of life is largely grounded in the ideals that are so well articulated and espoused in this short work. It's like scripture to me.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Wooden

    Wow....When I read someone as gifted as RWE, I feel like Mr. Potato head. Have I ever really had an original thought? Very inspirational and also very challenging. KLW

  25. 4 out of 5

    Wesley

    This is going to take a few more reads for me to really get.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Emma Whitacre

    A must read for anyone wanting to be an American scholar (whatever you take that to mean)…especially someone interested in the shifts society took when turning away from the communal beliefs to a more individualistic society. Although Emerson’s ideas are dense, enough truth can be scraped from the surface of his writings to begin piecing together the timeline of the United States and the new patterns of living that emerged with Emerson’s thought.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Tim Gasparik

    Self- Reliance is a great transcendental piece along with the other essays on love and friendship. Ralph’s older English I admit is a bit difficult to get through, but once you get over that the idea’s he presents are incredible. I would recommend for everyone to read self-reliance, especially people who are need of a bit of self exploratory philosophy.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Greg Hickey

    It's easy to see why Nietzsche liked and admired Emerson. They share an affinity for individualism, a belief that humanity will improve upon itself, and a penchant for arguing from intuition. And while I appreciated "Self-Reliance" and parts of the other essays in this collection, I seem to identify more with Nietzsche's intuitions than Emerson's. Emerson's poetic prose and seemingly inconsistent arguments for individualism and for the interconnectedness of human spirits make for some challengin It's easy to see why Nietzsche liked and admired Emerson. They share an affinity for individualism, a belief that humanity will improve upon itself, and a penchant for arguing from intuition. And while I appreciated "Self-Reliance" and parts of the other essays in this collection, I seem to identify more with Nietzsche's intuitions than Emerson's. Emerson's poetic prose and seemingly inconsistent arguments for individualism and for the interconnectedness of human spirits make for some challenging reading, and though I found some value in these essays, it was often difficult to do so.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ben Lind

    Reading Books Emerson thinks that you should only read as a last resort. "Books are for the scholar's idle times. When he can read God directly, the hour is too precious to be waster in other men's transcripts of their readings. But when the intervals of darkness come, as come they must,—when the soul seeth not, when the sun is hid and the stars withdraw their shining,—we repair to the lamps which were kindled by their ray, to guide our steps to the East again, where the dawn is. We hear, that we Reading Books Emerson thinks that you should only read as a last resort. "Books are for the scholar's idle times. When he can read God directly, the hour is too precious to be waster in other men's transcripts of their readings. But when the intervals of darkness come, as come they must,—when the soul seeth not, when the sun is hid and the stars withdraw their shining,—we repair to the lamps which were kindled by their ray, to guide our steps to the East again, where the dawn is. We hear, that we may speak" (19). Books do still have extraordinary power, however. "There is some awe mixed with the joy of our surprise, when this poet, who lived in some past world, two or three hundred years ago, says that which lies close to my own soul, that which I also had well-nigh thought and said" (19). On the same hand, "[o]nly so much do I know, as I have lived. Instantly we know whose words are loaded with life, and whose not" (21). "Literature is a point outside of our hodiernal circle through which a new one may be described. The use of literature is to afford us a platform whence we may command a view of our present life, a purchase by which we may move it" (187). Self-Reliance I found Emerson's writing to be at times distastefully arrogant. He places such importance on self-reliance that any man who is not completely self-reliant is treated as lesser. Emerson says of the self-reliant man that "[h]e and he only knows the world" (25). "In self-trust all the virtues are comprehended" (27). That, besides being almost the definition of pride, goes completely against my firm Christian beliefs. Despite this distaste, I still appreciated Emerson's wisdom on many topics. He must be taken with a helping of salt. "A great man is always willing to be little. Whilst he sits on the cushion of advantages, he goes to sleep. When he is punished, tormented, defeated, he has a chance to learn something; he has been put on his wits, on his manhood; he has gained facts; learns his ignorance; is cured of the insanity of conceit; has got moderation and real skill. The wise man throws himself on the side of his assailants. It is more his interest than it is theirs to find his weak point. The wound cicatrizes and falls off from him like a dead skin, and when they would triumph, lo! he has passed on invulnerable. Blame is safer than praise" (49). "What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. [...] It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude" (60). "Self-existence is the attribute of the Supreme Cause, and it constitutes the measure of good by the degree in which it enters into all lower forms" (69). Choose your companions carefully. "I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly rejoices me, and the heart appoints. If you are noble, I will love you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions. If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I will seek my own" (71). We have lost the art of resilience. "If our young men miscarry in their first enterprises, they lose all heart. If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges, and is not installed in an office within one year afterwards in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New York, it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened, and in complaining the rest of his life. A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all the professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always, like a cat, falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls. He walks abreast with his days, and feels no shame in not "studying a profession," for he does not postpone his life, but lives already. He has not one chance, but a hundred chances. Let a Stoic open the resources of man, and tell men they are not leaning willows, but can and must detach themselves; that with the exercise of self-trust, new powers shall appear; that a man is the word made flesh, born to shed healing to the nations, that he should be ashamed of our compassion, and that the moment he acts from himself, tossing the laws, the books, idolatries and customs out of the window, we pity him no more, but thank and revere him,—and that teacher shall restore the life of man to splendor, and make his name dear to all history" (73). "Do that which is assigned to you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much. There is at this moment for you an utterance brave and grand as that of the colossal chisel of Phidias, or trowel of the Egyptians, or the pen of Moses, or Dante, but different from all these. Not possibly will the soul all rich, all eloquent, with thousand-cloven tongue, deign to repeat itself; but if you can hear what these patriarchs say, surely you can reply to them in the same pitch of voice; for the ear and the tongue are two organs of one nature. Abide in the simple and noble regions of thy life, obey thy heart, and thou shalt reproduce the Foreworld again" (77). Nature One idea that Emerson expounds upon at length is the polarity of nature. To him, everything moves in circles. Seasons come and go in a defined cycle. Fluids and sound undulate predictably. "An inevitable dualism bisects, nature, so that each thing is a half, and suggests another thing to make it whole; as, spirit, matter; man, woman; odd, even; subjective, objective; in, out; upper, under; motion, rest; yea, nay" (36). "The same dualism underlies the nature and condition of man. Every excess causes a defect; every defect an excess" (37). At the same time, every part of nature contains the whole of nature. "The true doctrine of omnipresence is, that God reappears with all his parts in every moss and cobweb. The value of the universe contrives to throw itself into every point" (39). These ideas remind me of Thoreau and Walden. "Every secret is told, every crime is punished, every virtue rewarded, every wrong redressed, in silence and certainty" (40). I agree, but of course not in the way that Emerson means. "A man should not go where he cannot carry his whole sphere or society with him,—not bodily, the whole circle of his friends, but atmospherically. He should preserve in a new company the same attitude of mind and reality of relation, which his daily associates draw him to, else he is shorn of his best beams, and will be an orphan in the merriest club" (116). "It seems as if the day was not wholly profane, in which we have given heed to some natural object" (134). "We can never see Christianity from the catechism:—from the pastures, from a boat in the pond, from amidst the songs of wood-birds we possibly may. Cleansed by the elemental light and wind, steeped in the sea of beautiful forms which the field offers us, we may chance to cast a right glance back upon biography" (188). Man Emerson then reflects on the nature of man: "to gratify the senses, we sever the pleasure of the senses from the needs of the character. The ingenuity of man has always been dedicated to the solution of one problem,—how to detach the sensual sweet, the sensual strong, the sensual bright, etc., from the moral sweet, the moral deep, the moral fair; that is, again, to contrive to cut clean off this upper surface so thin as to leave it bottomless; to get a one end, without an other end" (40). But alas, "[t]his dividing and detaching is steadily counteracted. Up to this day, it must be owned, no projector has had the smallest success" (41). Consistency "The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word, because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loth to disappoint them. [...] A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with the shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said to-day" (61-62). Travel Emerson is not fond of travel. "It is for want of self-culture that the superstition of Traveling, whose idols are Italy, England, Egypt, retains its fascination for all educated Americans. [...] The soul is no traveler; the wise man stays at home, and when his necessities, his duties, on any occasion call him from his house, or into foreign lands, he is at home still" (75). Friendship Emerson's perception of friendship and authenticity is insightful. "A friend is a person with whom I may be sincere. Before him, I may think aloud. I am arrived at last in the presence of a man so real and equal that I may drop even those undermost garments of dissimulation, courtesy, and second thought, which men never put off, and may deal with him with the simplicity and wholeness, with which one chemical atom meets another. [...] Every man alone is sincere. At the entrance of a second person, hypocrisy begins. We parry and fend the approach of our fellow-man by compliments, by gossip, by amusements, by affairs. We cover up our thought from him under a hundred folds. I knew a man who,[298] under a certain religious frenzy, cast off this drapery, and omitting all compliments and commonplace, spoke to the conscience of every person he encountered, and that with great insight and beauty. At first he was resisted, and all men agreed he was mad. But persisting, as indeed he could not help doing, for some time in this course, he attained to the advantage of bringing every man of his acquaintance into true relations with him. No man would think of speaking falsely with him, or of putting him off with any chat of markets or reading-rooms" (87-88). "Our intellectual and active powers increase with our affection. The scholar sits down to write, and all his years of meditation do not furnish him with one good thought or happy expression; but it is necessary to write a letter to a friend, and, forthwith, troops of gentle thoughts invest themselves, on every hand, with chosen words" (81). "The laws of friendship are great, austere, and eternal, of one web with the laws of nature and of morals. But we have aimed at a swift and petty benefit, to suck a sudden sweetness. We snatch at the slowest fruit in the whole garden of God, which many summers and many winters must ripen. We seek our friend not sacredly but with an adulterate passion which would appropriate him to ourselves" (85). "I ought to be equal to every relation. It makes no difference how many friends I have, and what content I can find in conversing with each, if there be one to whom I am not equal. If I have shrunk unequal from one contest instantly, the joy I find in all the rest becomes mean and cowardly. I should hate myself, if then I made my other friends my asylum" (85). "But the sweet sincerity of joy and peace, which I draw from this alliance with my brother's soul, is the nut itself whereof all nature and all thought is but the husk and shell" (86). "I hate, where I looked for a manly furtherance, or at least a manly resistance, to find a mush of concession. Better be a nettle in the side of your friend, than his echo" (90). "We must be our own before we can be another's" (92). "Only be admonished by what you already see, not to strike leagues of friendship with cheap persons, where no friendship can be. Our impatience betrays us into rash and foolish alliances which no God attends. By persisting in your path, though you forfeit the little you gain the great" (93). "We refuse sympathy and intimacy with people, as if we waited for some better sympathy and intimacy to come. But whence and when? To-morrow will be like to-day. Life wastes itself whilst we are preparing to live. Our friends and fellow-workers die off from us. Scarcely can we say we see new men, new women, approaching us. We are too old to regard fashion, too old to expect patronage of any greater or more powerful. Let us suck the sweetness of those affections and consuetudes[688] that grow near us. These old shoes are easy to the feet" (180). Heroism "The characteristic of a genuine heroism is its persistency. All men have wandering impulses, fits and starts of generosity. But when you have chosen your part, abide by it, and do not weakly try to reconcile yourself with the world. [...] It was a high counsel that I once heard given to a young person,—'Always do what you are afraid to do'" (105). Manners "The secret of success in society, is a certain heartiness and sympathy. A man who is not happy in the company, cannot find any word in his memory that will fit the occasion. All his information is a little impertinent. A man who is happy there, finds in every turn of the conversation equally lucky occasions for the introduction of that which he has to say" (121). "Genius is always ascetic; and piety, and love. Appetite shows to the finer souls as a disease, and they find beauty in rites and bounds that resist it" (175).

  30. 5 out of 5

    Garron

    I first read “Self-Reliance” in a 4000 level undergrad course. At the time I really enjoyed it, and I fell for Emerson’s ideals. However, after reading this collection in its entirety, and perhaps with also having a much higher level of knowledge and deeper background into this type of work, my love for Emerson now feels misplaced. This is in part due to his religious points and the notion of the “Oversoul” that I in no way agree with, which has created an issue where I can’t really follow his t I first read “Self-Reliance” in a 4000 level undergrad course. At the time I really enjoyed it, and I fell for Emerson’s ideals. However, after reading this collection in its entirety, and perhaps with also having a much higher level of knowledge and deeper background into this type of work, my love for Emerson now feels misplaced. This is in part due to his religious points and the notion of the “Oversoul” that I in no way agree with, which has created an issue where I can’t really follow his train of logic because I fundamentally disagree with the foundations of his work. However, I do really enjoy the essay “History.” I like how he connects us all and argues for what appears to be every entity’s innate potential at conception. The collection ends strongly with “The Divinity School Address,” and I believe the many of the issues that he sees plaguing the religious system are still poignant in today’s Christian practices. In the end, I believe that everyone should grasp his work in “History” and “Self-Reliance,” but it must be done while keeping a critical mind to the differences in the landscape that we face now from the one that Emerson wrote in.

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