Study Guide

Ralph Waldo Emerson Nature & Self Reliance

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Nature & Self Reliance


In September 1836 Emerson published his long essay Nature. The book outlined his ideas about the manifestation of the universal spirit in nature. Emerson argued that man needed no church to connect to the divine - he had only to go out into nature, God's true canvas, to hear the truthful voice within. "In the woods, we return to reason and faith," Emerson wrote. "There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, -- no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, -- my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, -- all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God."

In July 1842 Emerson took over from Margaret Fuller the editorship of the Transcendentalist journal The Dial. The job helped him cope with a recent tragedy: the sudden death of his five-year-old firstborn child Waldo from scarlet fever. Fortunately, the rest of Emerson's children lived long, full lives.

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