In 1837, Emerson was invited to deliver the address “The American Scholar,” one of the most influential American speeches made at his time, to the Harvard chapter of Phi Beta Kappa; the same topic of the address had been prescribed year after year since his boyhood.
When Emerson urged American scholars at the beginning of his address to create an original literature free from European influence, he was to some extent reiterating a conventional theme. The creation of an original literature, Emerson maintained, however, would have to be based on an inner spirit of self-reliance—the opening and concluding theme of Nature. The primary concern of this address is thus with an intellectual’s spiritual cultivation—the eventual goal being “Man Thinking”—rather than the actual composition of literary works.
In the discussion of the scholar’s education, three kinds of influence are mentioned: nature, books, and action. Of primary importance, permanent nature corresponds to one’s mind, hence it should be studied for the enhancement of the understanding of the self. The close relationship between the soul and nature is explained here in terms of a seal and print. The second source of influence is the mind of the past, which can best be seen in books. Emerson criticizes those scholars who allow themselves to be dominated by the past great minds to the extent that they think for the historical figures rather than for themselves,...
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