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)
1955] Hedges—Emerson's Nature 23 rent tendency to think of it first and foremost as existence. And temporarily Emerson is linked with the eighteenth century rather than struck off from it. Nature is order and "appears to us one with art" ("Art," II, p. 358). The law of nature and natural law are redundancies. If the nature of man is his rationality, then the law of reason is inevitably natural. And the capitalized faculty remains in Emerson's psychology Reason. The reasonable is the natural, the natural is what is expected. The landscape then, being only one aspect of nature, is perhaps not even that which has lent its name to the whole. What is the whole? It must be whatever is natural—whatever puts man's experience into shape, gives it meaning, explains it, justifies it, and thus makes it what it seems to be—whatever is— life or experience as it is. This whole nature must be the whole: nature "suggests the absolute" (Nature, I, p. 61), and in suggesting it, for Emerson's purposes, becomes it. As Pope had previously suggested, "All are but parts of one stupendous whole,/ Whose body Nature is, and God the soul" (Essay on Man, i, 11. 267—8). Nature by starting as the form in which experience or its expression is cast, becomes that experience and/or expression. Emerson tells us in the full circle of his Reasoning what would be, if directly stated, the truism, his life is determined by his life. It (and all other lives, which he knows through his own) he calls "nature." Would one say that whatever is roomy is a "room"? Perhaps not, but one could, though the metaphor becomes involved. The extended meaning of the noun is dependent on the meaning of the adjective, which in turn largely depends on a more specific designation of "room." But Emerson, equally wrapped up in his subject and more concerned with qualities than with things themselves, appears to call whatever is natural "nature." The meanings reverberate then, grow by bounds, and leap to "whatever is, is" natural, which is according to reason, and thus practically "right." Looked at properly (that is, if you can get yourself to see him in this way) Emerson is a parody of Pope, parody by virtual reduction to absurdity. What is always seems appropriate and meaningful when juxtaposed to the immediate past. Since it "follows," from what was, it makes sense, functions regularly, proceeds logically and irrevocably, is unified and rational. The natural being the expected, once the present has arrived, no matter what surprises it has naught us in, we soon get used to it, soon find an excuse for it. Emerson might change only one word in Pope's dictum: from whatever "is," to what "happens," is right. For nature, or what
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