Emerson’s ESSAYS proclaim the self-reliance of a man who believed himself representative of all men since he felt himself intuitively aware of God’s universal truths. He spoke to a nineteenth century that was ready for an emphasis on individualism and responsive to a new optimism that linked God, nature, and man into a magnificent cosmos.
Emerson himself spoke as one who had found in Transcendentalism a positive answer to the static Unitarianism of his day. He had been a Unitarian minister for three years at the Old North Church in Boston (1829-1832), but he had resigned because in his view the observance of the Lord’s Supper could not be justified in the Unitarian Church.
Transcendentalism combined Neoplatonism, a mystical faith in the universality and permanence of value in the universe, with a pervasive moral seriousness akin to the Calvinist conviction and with a romantic optimism that found evidence of God’s love throughout all nature. Derivative from these influences was the faith in man’s creative power, the belief that the individual, by utilizing God’s influence, could continue to improve his understanding and his moral nature. Knowledge could come to man directly, without the need of argument, if only he had the courage to make himself receptive to God’s truth, manifest everywhere.
Through his essays and addresses Emerson became not only the leading Transcendentalist in America, but also one of the...
(The entire section is 1770 words.)
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