Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Society and Solitude is a collection of twelve essays previously delivered as lectures on various occasions and before varied audiences. Each essay is preceded by a few lines of original verse. The volume as a whole lacks the propagandistic fire of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s earlier essays, although there is still a tendency to dwell upon humanity’s better side, almost as though it had no other. Emerson continues also to see the world as filled with good for those who will receive what is offered. One of Emerson’s biographers has called these late writings the cheeriest of Emerson’s essays. Several are more discursive than necessary, but on many pages are the sparkle, wit, and happy phrasing that mark Emerson at his best.
In the title essay, Emerson makes clear that for humanity, both society and solitude are necessary. People differ in their need for these two opposites according to their personalities and their activities. Creative geniuses such as Sir Isaac Newton and Dante Alighieri needed isolation to accomplish their work. Emerson notes, however, that although now and then an ordinary person can and must live alone, “coop up most men and you undo them.” A balance is needed. Humanity should not remain proudly alone nor let itself be vulgarized by too much society; one mood should reinforce the other.
“Civilization” may be considered an essay in definition since much of it is devoted to a description of what...
(The entire section is 1915 words.)
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