Essays, First Series

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Book cover

Unfortunately, I barely pushed myself through this. I picked it up because it was in the “further reading” list in the back of “The Art of Stoic Joy,” and of course Emerson is famous (and it’s out of copyright==free). However, I really never clicked with it. I think there are two main reasons. First, I get frustrated with Emerson’s mysticism–using metaphorical language and arguing by assertion, without any kind of clear logical structure for the most part. I feel like 90% of the assertions he makes could easily be argued the other way. I guess this type of approach really works if it resonates with you, but it failed for me. Second, and perhaps more to my own discredit, I found the language a little dense to keep up with. This is partly just the time of writing, partly his use of figurative language, and partly my disinterest in the material that kept me from focusing that well. Finally, I don’t agree with his Romantic notion that the ideal state of being is a sort of unreflective authenticity, which he associates with adolescent boys. Sorry dude, I remember what that was like, and being a grown-up is better!

I would say there are some vaguely Stoic themes in the book, such as the “Self-Reliance” them of making your own judgments and not being guided by custom or authority. And in a way, by deciding not to push myself through the second volume of this work, I’m following Emerson’s advice exactly–in one of these essays, he urges the reader to put down an author if he or she doesn’t speak to your inner truth, no matter how revered he or she may be by others. So, that’s what I’m doing!

My Goodreads rating: 2 stars