Dicke, Robert J. (ed.) / Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters
volume XLIV (1955)
Hedges, William L.
A short way around Emerson's nature, pp. 21-27 ff. PDF (2.5 MB)
A SHORT WAY AROUND EMERSON'S NATURE 21 WILLIAM L. HEDGES Department of English, University of Wisconsin This paper examines the possible usefulness in interpreting Emerson of approaching his concept of "nature" from a more traditional, particularly neo-classical, point of view rather than from what are generally taken to be the primary romantic significances. Not that nature as sublime landscape, mother earth, and the universe itself is by any means done away with, but an attempt is made to see these ideas as conformable to earlier notions of regularity, law, and reason. Though we cannot claim that considering him momentarily as an adjunct of the eighteenth century and apostle of common sense makes Emerson's work absolutely clear, it does seem to enable us to rationalize some of the contradictions which have bothered critics. To scholars who have worked on the XVIII—XIX century transition the obligations of this essay, though they can hardly be specified, are obviously manifold. References to Emerson's writings carry the number of the volume in which they appear in The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Centenary Edition, 12 vols. (Boston[, 1903—04]). Distinctions in Emerson are in name only. With everything the same—there being no voids in nature—it is almost impossible for him to be specific, to put a finger on something definite. For what is touched on, because it can't exist in a vacuum, touches something else, fits it, and thus in a way is like it, suggests it, and means it. The suggestions multiply indefinitely, and entities soon lose their identities becoming related parts of one great relation. Talking about one thing is almost immediately by extension, implication, or analogy, commentary on something else: if "it is the fault of our rhetoric that we cannot strongly state once fact without seeming to belie some other" ("History," II, p. 39), it is equally difficult to say one thing without affirming another. For a word which begins by pointing out one— one anything—will not stop vibrating until it implicates others, every last other that bears a resemblance to what was originally intended. One could try to be specific for the sake of an argument, but Emerson abandons the attempt before starting, seeming to feel that he may mean more by being general.
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