Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Representative Men was first presented as a course of lectures in Boston in the winter of 1845-1846 and later during his visit to England in 1847. The volume opens with a discussion of the uses of great thinkers and follows with six chapters on those who represent humanity in six aspects: Plato as philosopher, Emanuel Swedenborg as mystic, Michel Eyquem de Montaigne as skeptic, William Shakespeare as poet, Napoleon Bonaparte as man of the world, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe as writer.
The book has often been mentioned in connection with Thomas Carlyle’s On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History (1841), but whereas Carlyle saw the hero as a divinely gifted individual above and apart from the common person, Emerson conceived of the “great man” as a lens through which people may see themselves. For Emerson the great man is one who through superior endowments “inhabits a higher sphere of thought, into which other men rise with labor and difficulty.” Such individuals may give direct material or metaphysical aid, but more frequently they serve indirectly by the inspiration of their accomplishment of things and by their introduction of ideas. The great man does stirring deeds; he (or she) reveals knowledge and wisdom; he shows depths of emotion—and others resolve to emulate him. He accomplishes intellectual feats of memory, of abstract thought, of imaginative flights, and dull minds are brightened...
(The entire section is 2388 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Representative Men Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!