What are the main duties of the American scholar that Emerson mentioned in the speech?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his speech "The American Scholar," delivered in 1837, Emerson describes the duties of the scholar as, first and foremost, a commitment to observing the ways of people and to observing him or herself. The scholar is, in Emerson's words, "the world's eye." The scholar must separate fact from appearance and be immune to current fashions. In so doing, the scholar must often be content to live within a world of solitude, poverty, and even hostility.

However, the scholar must never waver from having confidence in his or her convictions, and the scholar must come to know his or her mind so that he or she can understand other people's minds. As Emerson writes, "Not he is great who can alter matter, but he who can alter my state of mind." He believes that a true scholar makes what he or she studies great, just as Linnaeus made the study of botany great. The scholar does not always aim at the great or powerful. Instead, as Emerson writes: "I embrace the common, I explore and sit at the feet of the familiar, the low. Give me insight into to-day, and you may have the antique and future worlds." He believes that the scholar must study what is considered insignificant to find the essence of what is great and eternal. 

sciftw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Duty number one is that the scholar needs to develop an incredible amount of self trust.  In addition to that, the scholar needs to be a source of knowledge and wisdom for other people.  

A second duty of the American scholar is to endure self-sacrifice.  That might mean solitude.  It might mean poverty.  It could mean boredom.  It does not matter to Emerson, because if those things are done to aid in the development of duty number one, then it is for the best.  

The last duty of the American scholar is to always preserve the wisdom of the past and if need be, communicate that wisdom and feeling to the public.  What that means is that the American scholar needs to stay very independent.  He must be free to judge and speak as is NEEDED regardless of what public opinion might think or feel about it.  

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The American Scholar

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