Where are there specific examples of European Romanticism in Emerson's "Self Reliance."

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Influenced by the British and German Romantics, Ralph Waldo Emerson adopted three Romantic concepts and molded them to his American Transcendentalism.

  • "Idealism over Realism"

The integrity of one's mind is, for Emerson, paramount; he must also trust himself. This ideal is one held by all great men, for it is that which connects man with the Divine.

The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.

Man must be brave and idealistic, a guide, a redeemer, and a benefactor; ortherwise, he loses his individuality. "Nothing is sacred but the integrity of your own mind."  Although he may be misunderstood, Emerson states, man must continue to think on his own and he will have the support of others.

  • "Imagination over Reason"

The "namer, the doer, and the knower"--all are different names for the highest progeny of the Over-Soul that sees all things.

To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men,— that is genius.

Emerson continues by stating that the greatest minds of the world were misunderstood.  And to be great is to be misunderstood because society is in a conspiracy against the individual.

  • "The inner or Psychological over the outer or Objective"

Emerson contends that men must not sacrifice their own judgments and thoughts lest they hear them from others.

A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages.

If he does not listen to and express his inner thought, Emerson contends, then he will hear these thoughts expressed by someone else, his own inner voice taken by someone else since society is "in conspiracy against him. Truly, in his essay Emerson rails against imitation.  The individual of idealism, imagination, and a thinking mind is a dynamic force that can make for a strong society, but conformity lends men weak and vulnerable.


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