Ralph Waldo Emerson eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 304 pages of information about Ralph Waldo Emerson.
and may be considered as a true revival of polite learning in this country after that decay and neglect which resulted from the distractions of the Revolutionary War, and as forming an epoch in the intellectual history of the United States.  Its records yet remain, an evidence that it was a pleasant, active, high-principled association of literary men, laboring harmoniously to elevate the literary standard of the time, and with a success which may well be regarded as remarkable, considering the little sympathy they received from the community, and the many difficulties with which they had to struggle.”

The publication of the “Anthology” began in 1804, when Mr. William Emerson was thirty-four years of age, and it ceased to be published in the year of his death, 1811.  Ralph Waldo Emerson was eight years old at that time.  His intellectual life began, we may say, while the somewhat obscure afterglow of the “Anthology” was in the western horizon of the New England sky.

The nebula which was to form a cluster about the “North American Review” did not take definite shape until 1815.  There is no such memorial of the growth of American literature as is to be found in the first half century of that periodical.  It is easy to find fault with it for uniform respectability and occasional dulness.  But take the names of its contributors during its first fifty years from the literary record of that period, and we should have but a meagre list of mediocrities, saved from absolute poverty by the genius of two or three writers like Irving and Cooper.  Strike out the names of Webster, Everett, Story, Sumner, and Cushing; of Bryant, Dana, Longfellow, and Lowell; of Prescott, Ticknor, Motley, Sparks, and Bancroft; of Verplanck, Hillard, and Whipple; of Stuart and Robinson; of Norton, Palfrey, Peabody, and Bowen; and, lastly, that of Emerson himself, and how much American classic literature would be left for a new edition of “Miller’s Retrospect”?

These were the writers who helped to make the “North American Review” what it was during the period of Emerson’s youth and early manhood.  These, and men like them, gave Boston its intellectual character.  We may count as symbols the three hills of “this darling town of ours,” as Emerson called it, and say that each had its beacon.  Civil liberty lighted the torch on one summit, religious freedom caught the flame and shone from the second, and the lamp of the scholar has burned steadily on the third from the days when John Cotton preached his first sermon to those in which we are living.

The social religious influences of the first part of the century must not be forgotten.  The two high-caste religions of that day were white-handed Unitarianism and ruffled-shirt Episcopalianism.  What called itself “society” was chiefly distributed between them.  Within less than fifty years a social revolution has taken place which has somewhat changed the relation between these and other worshipping bodies.  This movement is the general

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Ralph Waldo Emerson from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.