The American Scholar

by Ralph Waldo Emerson

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What are the scholar’s duties and how does he cope with them according to Emerson in the "American Scholar"?

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In "The American Scholar ," Emerson sums up the duties of the scholar in a single phrase. He says that the scholar must become "Man Thinking." He must show mankind the light of truth by teaching them to distinguish "facts amidst appearances." The scholar is, according to Emerson, "the...

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In "The American Scholar," Emerson sums up the duties of the scholar in a single phrase. He says that the scholar must become "Man Thinking." He must show mankind the light of truth by teaching them to distinguish "facts amidst appearances." The scholar is, according to Emerson, "the world's eye...the world's heart." This is, to be sure, a heavy burden, and Emerson warns his listeners that it will involve resisting the "vulgar prosperity" that motivates lesser men and at times even accepting "poverty." Emerson is essentially suggesting that the American scholar should seek to create something new rather than mimicking European literary and intellectual achievements. To do this, or "cope with" the duties of a scholar, the American scholar must look within himself. Only by following the dictates of his own conscience and soul could he transcend the artificial boundaries created by centuries of European thought. "In self-trust," Emerson tells his listeners, "all the virtues are comprehended." To turn to one's self was far better than to look to books from the past. To lean excessively on the achievements of others would never promote the true intellectual independence that Emerson thought was essential to the modern American scholar. As Emerson said in so many of his works, the key to coping with the demands placed on the scholar was to be true to one's self.

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