Overview (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
With the publication of Nature in 1836, Ralph Waldo Emerson found himself the center of controversy with the Unitarian community at Harvard. In the introduction to that essay, he had insisted that his contemporaries discover their own “original relation to the universe” instead of living out the history of the forefathers’ understanding. Those “dry bones” of the past ought to be discarded, he declared, in favor of a “religion of revelation to us” in which one could behold God and nature face to face in a new immediacy of spiritual life. In the remainder of the essay, he outlined a vision of the created order in which currents of divinity, stemming from an “Over-Soul,” were immanent in the natural world and described a form of the essential human “self,” the soul, and the forms of its potency and striving that could take possession of such a world for those people daring enough to seize such possibilities for personal spiritual fulfillment.
In more particular terms, as a “self” enjoyed its most glorious prospects, Emerson argued, it would ascend through the world of nature by approaching it not only for its “commodity,” its practical uses, and not only for its “Beauty,” its aesthetic and moral uses, but for its “Spirit,” its revelation to the self of that presence of world-soul that corresponded to the human soul. Thus would the human spirit be nurtured by self-reliance, the active independent seeking of the...
(The entire section is 2031 words.)
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