In this essay, originally a Harvard address, Emerson discusses the nature of the ideal American scholar. In doing so, Emerson is participating in nation building and the process of mythologizing the American identity as distinct from and superior to that which can be found in Europe. European education, to Emerson, over-emphasizes book-learning and tradition.
Emerson identifies three legs that are needed to uphold the well-balanced American scholar: nature, books, and action. It is simply not enough for the American to define himself as a scholar based solely on academics. To be an American scholar means, in addition to reading, cultivating a relationship with nature and becoming a person of action.
Book learning has its place, Emerson says, but is less important than direct experience of the world. It also falls behind following the inner dictates of one's own soul, which is the best guide to our actions. As he puts it:
The soul active sees absolute truth; and utters truth, or creates.
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