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Essays - First Series (English Edition) [Format Kindle]

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Essays, First Series is bundled free with "The Diaries of Fortune" by Daniel Oldis


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39 internautes sur 45 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 American Classic 16 avril 2010
Par Bill R. Moore - Publié sur Amazon.com
Ralph Waldo Emerson is America's greatest essayist and one of its greatest orators. To call him an essayist indeed sells him rather short and is very misleading. Most think of essays as interminable, dry, and academic, full of jargon, polysyllables, and other esoterica making them near-inaccessible to general readers. Emerson is very different. His writing is vibrant and vital, making subjects come alive in a way that is as accessible as it is thought-provoking. He writes about general topics - self-reliance, history, love, friendship - of fundamental importance to humanity but is never pretentious, portentous, or arcane; his writing is indeed so strong and lively that it can be read as literature - or even entertainment. Emerson was most famous in life for oratory and is now best-known for essays but had a poet's soul in the truest sense; he wrote many poems, but a poetic sensibility underlies all his writings. His essays are sculpted with poetic precision; he is admirably concise and knows just what words to use to get attention and desired effect, not needing more. Perhaps more importantly, his style is as close to poetry as prose can be, full of beautiful descriptions, exciting metaphors, and general lushness. Yet he was also a philosopher, conveying classic philosophy in easily relatable form with new relevance and contributing much of his own. Only Plato himself rivals Emerson for combining poetry and philosophy's unique strengths; his essays are strong on all fronts.

Emerson now unfortunately and unfairly has a reputation as a difficult, somewhat antiquated read in many minds. This is a travesty, as very few classic writers are as relevant and accessible. Hard as it may be to conceive, Emerson was seen in life as a popularizer; he wrote for regular people, conveying intellectual material in terms they could easily understand, relate to, appreciate - and, above all, act on. Though one of the most well-educated, well-read, and well-traveled people of his day, he had the rare gift of translating weighty issues to the masses without losing intellectual vigor. Thus, though widely and greatly admired by artists and intellectuals, he was often looked down on by the high-brow. Time has erased this injustice, meaning Emerson can now be enjoyed by all.

It is hard to classify Emerson's essays; he wrote on nearly every conceivable subject: philosophy, psychology, history, literary criticism, ethics, politics, and many, many others. However, his overriding concern at all times was to make his subjects not only accessible but in the most fundamental way relatable. His work was essentially a call to action meant to wake people up from intellectual stupor, apathy, narrow-mindedness, and pre-conceptions. He wanted to take people's intellectual virginity, forcing them to see the truth of Socrates' belief that an unexamined belief is not worth living. No cow was too sacred for him to kick, which led to considerable controversy; he was famously banned from Harvard Divinity School, his alma mater, for decades only to be welcomed back enthusiastically late in life when the school had adopted nearly all the stances it originally condemned as blasphemous. Emerson knew people were held back by inherited inhibitions of all sorts - often without even realizing it - and wanted them swept away so all could reach full potential. On top of everything else, his work is thus the best kind of self-help manual; few writers are as inspirational and fundamentally moving. He had a very real impact on millions of regular people across decades and profoundly influenced artists as diverse as Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, Poe, Longfellow, and Whitman. His impact is indeed so titanic that most of these and many others might not have written at all without him; at the very least, their work would have been very different - probably unrecognizable and possibly far less great, if great at all - without him. He continued to have a great effect on later writers, including Robert Frost and his namesake Ralph Waldo Ellison; his reach indeed stretches to the present and shows no sign of disappearing. A true testament to his influence is the fact that several of these writers profoundly disagreed with him, much of their work essentially being a rebuttal; agree with him or not, his stature is such that one must deal with him. The aspect opponents have most often objected to is his relentless optimism, which is really the main obstacle to reading him. His philosophy survived the Civil War - was indeed a far from negligible force in creating and sustaining union spirit -, but the twentieth century's numerous atrocities can easily make him seem so naïve as to be hopelessly outdated. The truth is very much otherwise. Emerson is never more needed than in trying times; it is not hyperbolic to say the world would be a far more peaceful and better place if the hard common sense at his writings' core were taken to heart. Everyone should read him because he helps us find the best in ourselves, appealing to humanity's best instincts to make a better future for both individuals and society.

This, Emerson's first essay collection, has twelve of his writings, including some of the best and most famous: "History," "Self-Reliance," "Compensation," "Spiritual Laws," "Love," "Friendship," "Prudence," "Heroism," "The Over-Soul," "Circles," "Intellect," and "Art." They were painstakingly pieced together from numerous and various lectures and journals, and though this sometimes gives a sort of choppy effect, it is clear that the labor paid off. Emerson is highly persuasive; his rhetoric is mesmerizingly engaging, his style unique and memorable. One of his main strengths is that he is as satisfying aesthetically as intellectually; he often works himself up to a near-lyrical rapture, and his prose is about as poetic as possible.

I will briefly discuss some of my favorites essays, but all are of very high and, indeed, nearly consistent quality. "Self-Reliance" is Emerson's most famous essay and is rivaled only by "Concord Hymn" as his most famous work. It is also his masterpiece; one often hears - sometimes disparagingly - that Emerson tried to fit his whole philosophy into each essay, and this comes remarkably close. There is far more depth and subtlety here than the length suggests; one would be very hard-pressed to find another work so densely packed. The words are few, but the implications are enough for a lifetime. "Self" is a seminal masterwork; a founding Transcendentalist text and American Romantic cornerstone, it is central to American thought, culture, and literature. Anyone even remotely interested in any Americana aspect must be intimately familiar with it; aside from the Declaration of Independence and Constitution themselves, perhaps no other document is so vital to the American spirit.

Reading "Self" is perhaps more necessary than ever - not only because it is eternally relevant but also because it is often misrepresented. The term "self-reliance" is now almost entirely political, almost synonymous with libertarianism, and the essay is frequently touted along such lines. However, these things are hardly more than implied here, and though the definition of "liberal" has greatly changed, it is important to remember that Emerson was one of his era's leading liberals. His prime meaning in any case is self-reliance intellectually and in everyday life. He urges us to trust ourselves, to recognize human divinity and avoid imitation. It is a simple message but all-important - and far easier said than done. Emerson explores all its ramifications - philosophical, practical, social, political, economic, etc. - and outlines all its benefits. The case is beyond convincing, but he can do no more than show us; the rest is up to us.

This profoundly individualist message is another reason that reading "Self" is so necessary. We must open our minds to him, and once we have, they will never be closed again. Though greatly revered with many and diverse followers, Emerson's intention was not to be loved but to inspire; he wanted all to find individual genius. His work is thus the truest and best kind of self-help manual, and "Self" is its apotheosis. It has inspired millions in the more than century and a half of its existence, including me. I have read thousands and thousands of works, but this is one of the handful that truly changed my life. Emerson's greatness always shines through, but reading him at the right time can make an astonishing difference. He was more popular in life with the young than the old, and I can easily see why. I was lucky to read him at just the right time, and "Self" spoke to me more powerfully than almost anything else ever has. Without hyperbole, I can say that I would not be doing what I am today and would have abandoned my goals and visions without reading "Self" and Thoreau's "Life without Principle" - a somewhat similar essay highly influenced by Emerson - when I did. I was wracked with self-doubt and getting nothing but indifference, bafflement, or hostility from others; these works gave just the kick I needed, and I will never look back. "Self" has the potential to be life-changing as almost nothing else does, and I highly recommend it to all; you can hardly be unaffected and may never be the same. However, I especially recommend it to the young; its importance to them - and Emerson's generally - simply cannot be overemphasized.

Emerson is a signature American stylist, and "Self" is near his height. An Emerson-loving professor of mine once joked that no one can find the topic sentence in an Emerson paragraph, and his transitions also frequently leave much to be desired. However, "Self" is near-seamless, a true masterpiece of style that flows smoothly and often waxes beautiful. This is all the more remarkable in that it was assembled even more than usual from disparate sources; entries that ended up here came as far as eight years apart, but the whole is admirably harmonious.

"Self" is a preeminent example of how Emerson delights in paradox. Anyone who reads him closely sees that he is as complex as he is simple. Thus, despite - or perhaps even because of - apparent straight-forwardness, few texts are more ripe for deconstruction. "Self" fans after all love a text that tells us not to love texts, are inspired by a man who tells us not to be inspired by men, and are convinced by a text and man both of which tell us not to be convinced by either. But this is only the beginning. "Self" works because it tells us exactly what we want to hear and, in striking contrast to innumerable self-help books, does so in an intellectually and even aesthetically respectable way. This is fine for me and (hopefully) you but could of course be taken to heart by Hitler as easily as Gandhi. The thoroughly optimistic, mild-mannered, and physically frail Emerson may not have foreseen his revolutionary text being put to nefarious use and probably would have been unable to believe in even the possibility. However, the danger, if we choose to call it so, is very real. "Self" could easily have had the same effect that Nietzsche had on Nazis, and that it has not been taken up by anarchists, radical terrorists, and the like is perhaps mere luck. One at least wonders how it avoided preceding The Catcher in the Rye as the work synonymous with unsavory people. That said, it is likely unfair to Emerson to say he did not anticipate this; he after all takes his views to the logical conclusion. He surely saw it, and it may have given pause, but he persevered because he was faithful to his intuition just as he urges us to be to ours. He truly believed in self-reliance and was ready to stand by it no matter what befell - nay, thought it his only choice. His optimism must have told him that the doctrine would not be abused, and he has been right - so far. Only time will tell if this continues to hold, but "Self" remains essential for all.

"Compensation" is one of the most representative essays. The staunch optimism so essential to his thought was perhaps never shown so clearly or thoroughly elsewhere. Emerson begins by saying he had wanted to write about compensation since he was a boy, and it shows in his enthusiasm. The essay details Emerson's belief that everything balances out, even if we cannot see it, and that good and evil have their own earthly rewards despite appearances. He may not convince cynics, but his argument is certainly compelling, and his critiques of conventional Christianity and other traditions are very intriguing.

"Spiritual Laws" details and refines some of his most important concepts. They are put forth more vividly elsewhere, but fans and scholars will appreciate this delineation. It deals specifically with Emerson's belief that the same spiritual laws inhabit all people, underscoring his emphasis on self-reliance and human divinity. He teaches us to rely on our own minds rather than being intimidated by ostensibly higher ones because all are in a sense part of a universal intellect.

"Love" and "Friendship" are particularly important for disproving the common claim that Emerson focused on the intellect to the exclusion of the emotions; after all, what could be more fundamentally and profoundly emotional than love and friendship? Love may be the most written about subject of all, and friendship is high on the list, but Emerson is as startlingly original as ever. His love analysis is particularly vivid; I have read countless works about love - who has not? -, but his is one of the most memorable. He examines it from virtually every aspect - everything from its metaphysical and theological senses to a full history of its everyday existence. This last goes from first love to love among the aged, and the insight is great. Emerson notes the immense changes that inevitably take place on this path, but unlike nearly everyone else, does not lament fiery love's demise in youth. His characteristic optimism shines through, as he not only says that aging love has compensations but even that it is actually higher; Emerson's chart is indeed a progression. This is perhaps his most emotional essay, apt to move even those who normally find him cold and aloof. "Friendship" is also very good - not as affecting but more thought-provoking. Emerson's view is unsurprisingly original and engaging. He believes that friendship can exist only with real equality and sees it as a sort of springboard to something higher. His demands are great, and the work is eye-opening in the sense that almost no one has a friend by his definition. Like his best work, "Friendship" can easily make us question beliefs and preconceptions - and perhaps even make us better friends.

"The Over-Soul" is one of Emerson's most important essays. The over-soul concept is central to his thought and present in nearly all his work, but he explicitly defines and details it only here. Simply put, it is a unity underlying all humanity - a universal soul of which all people are a part. The idea was heavily influenced by Eastern religion, showing just how far Emerson had drifted from his Unitarian upbringing and early minister career. Everyone knows that Emerson was a transcendentalist, but a satisfying definition of the term is very hard to define. This essay is a good start, as the over-soul is the prime transcendence agent, letting us escape the body's prison and daily life's dullness to achieve universal unity. As elsewhere, Emerson's real point is human divinity; the fact that all are part of the over-soul would set us free if we but knew it. His core self-reliance doctrine also comes to the fore as he urges us to cease self-doubt and comparisons with others to embrace universal divinity. All this doubtless sounds highfalutin, pretentious, or at least hopelessly obscure, but that is my second-hand relaying; Emerson is clear, concise, and articulate.

"Circles" is a sort of corollary to "Compensation." This goes further by boldly claiming that everything can be outdone. Emerson's characteristic optimism comes to the fore, and he works himself up to a rhapsody, drawing a vibrant vision of perpetual improvement. Yet this is no mindless optimism. Emerson was well ahead of his time philosophically, specifically anticipating Nietzsche and existentialism, though he rarely gets credit. For example, "Circles" goes as far as saying there are no final or eternal truths because a new one can always be made. Emerson of course had advancement in mind, but there was a subtler side to his thinking that comes out here as it rarely did. Even more than most of his work, this truly requires close reading, and those who pay attention will be amply rewarded.

There is much to be said for reading the essays as first published, but many are widely available in anthologies alongside others of comparable greatness. This is a great way to get a substantial number in one place, but some will want more comprehensiveness. The important thing in any event is to read them in some form.
5 internautes sur 5 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 An Emerson Essential 2 mai 2011
Par Un client - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
Here is a good sampling of Ralph Waldo Emerson writings. After reading a few, you will wonder why he is not more popular today. At least a few of these essays should be required reading in high school and beyond. Excellent writing and great insights from a relatively well known but seldom visited American philosopher. Highly recommended for anyone on an inner journey.
2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 The man who walked to the sound of his own drummer, and inspired many others to do so 24 août 2011
Par Shalom Freedman - Publié sur Amazon.com
This is as the title says Emerson's first collection of essays. It contains the essence of his thought, and what is perhaps his most well- known essay, "Self-Reliance". Emerson is a man of great ideas and great inspiration. He is a poetic thinker and one whose Essays seem often to be pieced together from his Journals. i.e. They do not read as one long consecutive arguments, but rather as clusters of thought, many short forays that combine into one long exploration. Emerson 's aim is to truly change his reader, to have a real effect. What he is perhaps most known for his emphasis on the value of the individual, and the importance of individual independence and freedom. He is the great critic of Authority and Tradition and group- thought. He wants each individual to find and make his own way. Emerson too and this is felt especially in his essay on 'The Over- Soul' is a deeply spiritual thinker who feels Nature and Man are bound in symbolic and purposeful connection. Turning away from particular Christian doctrines he is the teacher of one grand religion for all of Mankind. He is deeply influenced by Eastern thought, by the Indian religious texts. Yet one feels his tough New England poetic terseness, the maxim- rich quality of his thought. Emerson is too considered the great prophet of America and of its optimistic unique forward- looking attitude. But Emerson knew many personal tragedies and was not unfamiliar with the dark side of life. Reading him has never been for me a simple or easy experience. I have always sensed that I am not understanding far more than I do really get. But then Emerson can give in a phrase or paragraph a whole world of thought. He is a thinker who loves the forthright statement, but these too are often filled with ambiguity and open to contradictory interpretation. I do not know how exactly or where his ideas can be rightly evaluated today. Some claim the idea of the 'individual' has deteriorated into 'narcissim' and 'doing one's own thing' at the expense of real communal responsibility. One might argue that his basic positions have become the cliches of subsequent generations. But Emerson historically inspired many , and was a major influence on Thoreau,William James, Whitman, and a whole host of other important creative figures. He certainly was a man who in the words of his friend and student Thoreau 'walked to the sound of his own drummer'. And he perhaps more than any other inspired others to do so.
3 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
2.0 étoiles sur 5 LibriVox recording could be improved 4 mars 2011
Par nothing special - Publié sur Amazon.com
Achat vérifié
One appreciates the effort but two voices of four of these recordings are almost unbearable.
Linda Lou speaks in a low, whispery and uneven breathy voice that often goes froggy. The speakers need to be adjusted up or down often during her presentations and the voice annoying. Also one male voice is very froggy and interfering. A British male voice is clear and lovely, very well done and the other female voice good.
Thank you for your efforts. Hopefully some more recordings of better quality will be offered for this most excellent author's work. This is the only audio cd I could find of Emerson's essays.
5 internautes sur 7 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
1.0 étoiles sur 5 Terrible version of a great masterpiece 8 février 2012
Par David Robinson - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
The paperback version shown above is a terrible version of this book (The Essays of Emerson themselves are brilliant - this is a review of this particular book.) Although the "Look Inside" feature shows a nice table of contents, it's not there - the essays aren't named, just "Section 1, Section 2," etc. The actual essays look like someone just downloaded them from online - including odd characters floating through, paragraphs beginning midsentence and other things that make this edition virtually rubbish. For a few dollars more, pick up a better edition of these wonderful essays. [...]
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