The main concept which permeates the writing of Ralph Waldo Emerson is that “the fundamental context of our lives is nature” (Richardson, Jr., Emerson and Nature 97). Emerson presents his theory of nature and its relation to man in three essays spanning almost a decade: Nature (1836), “The Method of Nature” (1841) and “Nature” (1844). There are many common threads connecting these works. One of the most notable is Emerson’s belief in the interconnection between all things – between all natural phenomena as well as between nature and the soul. Also, there exists behind and beyond Nature a Spirit from which all things originate. It is the invisible which gives rise to the visible and embodies truth and beauty. Bringing these two ideas together, Emerson shows how it is possible for man to access this unseen world through nature by using the faculties Nature has bestowed upon him. However, during the years spanning the production of these works, Emerson’s conception of nature changes. The result is three distinctive theories of nature which shift in tone from Nature’s idealism, to the disillusionment of “The Method of Nature”, to the pragmatism of “Nature”. With each piece, Emerson is asking different questions which illustrate the fundamental ways in which his characterizations of nature have been altered.
In Nature, his most thorough and concise treatise on the subject, he asks, “To what end is nature?” (1) In the very asking of the question, Emerson is stating his belief that Nature is ultimately knowable and its ends are many – it supplies humanity with what he calls commodity (“all those advantages which our senses owe to nature” (3)), beauty, language, discipline, spirit and prosp...
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...do Emerson, Vol. I: Nature, Addresses, and Lectures. Alfred R. Ferguson and Robert E. Spiller, eds. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971. 117-137.
Richardson, Jr., Robert D. “Emerson and Nature”. The Cambridge Companion to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Joel Porte and Saundra Morris, eds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. 97-105.
Richardson, Jr., Robert D. Emerson: The Mind on Fire. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1995.
Tanner, Tony. “Emerson: The Unconquered Eye and the Enchanted Circle”. Critical Essays on Ralph Waldo Emerson. Robert E. Burkholder and Joel Myerson, eds. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co, 1983. 310-326.
Yoder, R. A. “Emerson’s Dialectic”. Critical Essays on Ralph Waldo Emerson. Robert E. Burkholder and Joel Myerson, eds. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co, 1983. 354-367.
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