Compare and contrast Emerson's "Nature" essay with his "Self-Reliance" essay.How do they both represent Emerson's style and message, yet differ? Please cite specific lines/passages when possible.

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rareynolds eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both essays show Emerson at his most idiosyncratic. These are beautiful essays that make amazing assertions and whose arguments are, in part, exercises in self-justification. In “Self Reliance,” Emerson argues that “nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind,” a position that (presumably) he himself is exemplifying. He claims that the work of the artist or poet is to articulate, as best he can, “what is true for you in your private heart.”

In “Nature,” he proposes, perhaps as an alternate absolute, the omnipresence and beauty of nature. Nature (a term Emerson uses to mean, roughly speaking, existence) underlies all experience. It is the presence of Nature that, for Emerson, is the source of the urge to express oneself, and the convictions he praises in “Self Reliance” are just expressions of this relationship with Nature. He says, “A man can only speak, so long as he does not feel his speech to be partial and inadequate. It is partial, but he does not see it to be so, whilst he utters it.” This “partiality” is tied to the “disappointment” Emerson says is “felt in every landscape,” a disappointment that our apprehension of the truth of Nature lies elsewhere than in our description of it. He concludes, “Every moment instructs and every object: for wisdom is infused into every form. It has been poured into us as blood; it convulsed us as pain; it slid into us as pleasure; it enveloped us in dull, melancholy days, or in days of cheerful labor; we did not guess its essence, until after a long time.” 

In my view, it is futile to try to build from these two essays a systematic epistemology. It is safe to say that the Emerson of “Self Reliance” is suggesting that “one’s own mind” is simply another “form” Nature inhabits, but the relationship of the individual to Nature is more difficult to pin down. 

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In both Nature and Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson focuses upon humanity.  Just as individuals are part of the "idea of man," so, too, the are individuals part of the "Over-Soul."  Thus, the idea of nature correlates to the idea of man since both are part of a universality in which people can see their souls reflected.  For instance, in Self-Reliance, Emerson writes,

And we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny...obeying the Almighty effort...Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind....Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.

Likewise, in Nature, principles triumph when "all egotism vanishes" as man becomes "a transparent eyeball" that becomes part of something far greater than himself. Moreover, the power to produce delight resides, not in nature, but in man himself. For, "Nature always wears the colors of the spirit."

Thus, the burden of responsibility is upon the individual himself; in Self-Reliance, man must maintain his individuality and not allow society to be in "conspiracy" against him; likewise, in Nature, man must allow Nature to take him to a "higher thought."

In both his essays, Emerson admonishes his audience to live free existences in which they are ready to receive messages from their own identity or from nature. However, Nature is perceived as an organic whole in the essay of this name, while in Self Reliance Emerson advocates individualism and rejects being part of a whole. Nevertheless, both the self and Nature are mediums through which all can learn.

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