, Research Paper
The American Scholar by Ralph Waldo Emerson
In the essay the American Scholar, Emerson portrays the scholar as a person who learns from three main things. These things by which a scholar is educated are by nature, by books (the past) and by action.
Emerson uses nature as a comparison to the human mind where he states, “There is never a beginning, there is never an end to the inexplicable continuity of this web of God, but always circular power returning into itself.”(296) The human mind is an object that is boundless and can be full of so much beauty and intellect such as nature can be. Emerson continues to explain how classification begins among the young minds. “To the young mind, every thing is individual, stands by itself. Emerson presents this idea as a negative effect on the scholar because they seem to continue to break things down trying to find simple answers to complex questions. Man is then convinced “that he and it (nature) proceed from one root; one is leaf and one is flower.”(296) This thinking of man is the opposite from the truth of the relationship between nature and himself. “He shall see that nature is the opposite of the soul…. Its laws are the laws of his own mind.”(296)
According to Emerson, the next influence on the scholar is the mind of the past, where he uses books to convey his ideas. “Books are the best things, well used; abused, among the worst.”(297) Books were originally intended for good. “The scholar of the first age, received into him the world around; brooded thereon; gave it the new arrangement of his own mind, and uttered it again.”(297) According to Emerson, books can have a negative effect on the way the scholar should think. “Instead of Man Thinking, we have the bookworm.”(297) Emerson feels that the scholar should learn things for themselves and not easily accept the views and opinions presented by a writer in their books. He further on continues to state how books “They look backward and not forward. But genius always looks forward. The eyes of man are set in his forehead, not in his hind head.”(298) Emerson thus believes that all men have the capacity of being a genius. “Man hopes. Genius creates.”(298) But, Emerson does not encourage people to be genius because the “Genius is always the sufficiently enemy of the genius by over-influence.”(298) Emerson believes that “books are for the scholar’s idle times”(298) and the only subjects that he should learn from reading are history and exact science.
The action of the scholar is important to Emerson. “Action is with the scholar subordinate, but it is essential. Without it, he is not yet man… inaction is cowardice, but there can be no scholar without the heroic mind.”(299) Emerson wants the scholar to learn but question everything. “The true scholar grudges every opportunity of action past by, as a loss of power.”(300) Emerson also places a value on action. “The final value of action…is, that it is a resource.”(301) Through action man has transformed himself into Man Thinking. “The mind now thinks; now acts; and each fit reproduces the other…he has always the resource to live.”(301)