Study Guide

Self-Reliance

by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Self-Reliance Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Overview

There are two distinct bodies of criticism of Emerson' s work: commentary on his writing and commentary on his thinking. As a writer, Emerson has been consistently praised through the years from all quarters. Joel Myerson, in Concise Dictionary of Literary Biography: 1640-1865, quotes Rene Wellek, a highly respected historian of literary criticism, as deeming Emerson ‘‘the outstanding representative of romantic symbolism in the English-speaking world.’’ Myerson himself adds:

Ralph Waldo Emerson is perhaps the single most influential figure in American literary history. More than any other author of his day, he was responsible for shaping the literary style and vision of the American romantic period, the era when the United States first developed a distinctively national literature worthy of comparison to that of the mother country.

Myerson goes on to cite Emerson's influence on Thoreau, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson.

Alfred S. Reid, in Style in the American Renaissance: A Symposium, writes that he does not admire Emerson as a philosopher but does hold him in high esteem as a writer. He calls Emerson ‘‘a skillful shaper of sentences, a composer of expository essays that move and give pleasure....one of the few great craftsmen of the genre.’’ Reid echoes the sentiments of Emerson's contemporary Nathaniel Hawthorne, who is quoted by John C. Gerber in Reference Guide to American Literature as having said that he "admired Emerson as a poet of deep beauty and austere tenderness but sought nothing from him as a philosopher.’’

As...

(The entire section is 679 words.)