Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American scholar, writer, and philosopher who became a pivotal figure of American Romanticism and of the transcendentalism movement, both of which flourished in the mid-nineteenth century. Much as Romanticism favored the experience of the individual artist, transcendentalism encouraged people to realize their full potential and learn the mysteries of the universe on their own, without the corrupting influence of modern society. Emerson strongly advocated for these ideals through his writing and public lectures. Living in Concord, Massachusetts, he was a major source of influence for other famous writers in the area, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoureau, and Louisa May Alcott. In 1836, he published Nature, one of his most iconic essays, which espoused transcendental philosophy. This essay, and the rest of Emerson’s work, has had a tremendous influence on subsequent writers and thinkers.
In the introduction to Nature, Emerson argues that people of his era must move beyond retrospection and create their own views of the world around them instead. For this reason, he advocates for a reevaluation of how human beings interact with Nature, particularly the relationship between Nature and the soul. As Emerson sees it, people’s natural surroundings can not only meet their material needs but also help them realize Nature’s aesthetic value, achieve spiritual growth, think more clearly, and attain self-discipline.
Emerson labels these respective uses for Nature as Commodity, Beauty, Language, and Discipline. He explains each of these dimensions in greater detail in the ensuing chapters. As Commodity, Nature provides for the health and well-being of all people, being “the only use of Nature which all men apprehend.” With Beauty, Emerson believes that Nature contains sights and sensations that are pleasing to both the eye and the human spirit, which are instances of Beauty that life...
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