Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Reading Emerson

I have been reading Ralph Waldo Emerson after noticing a small hardback edition that combined excerpts from his book Nature and his essay "Self-Reliance" at Borders a few weeks ago. I was looking for, of all things, a tree identification guide: such is the serendipitous value of shopping at a bookstore. As it happens, I did not purchase the volume, wanting the entire text of Nature and his other writings as well.

Here is the first paragraph from Emerson's introduction to Nature, the bit that captured my attention at Borders:

Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by the powers they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe? The sun shines to-day also. There is more wool and flax in the fields. There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.

I checked out from the library several editions of Emerson's writings, and found the most enjoyable to read for me is the 1992 Modern Library cloth edition titled The Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. I compared it with the Library of America edition, which comes in two books. After perusing both for a few evenings I found myself preferring the quality of type and paper in the Modern Library edition and set the other aside.

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