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2908 WordsDec 22, 201312 Pages
11 Some of Emerson’s most discriminating champions over the years have tended, despite their support, to damn him with faint praise. Typical of this view was the late Clifton Fadiman, who included Emerson’s essays in The Lifetime Reading Plan, a popular 1960 book meant to highlight works that the great literary critic thought every American should read. While recommending him as a seminal writer, Fadiman notes Emerson’s “gassiness and repetitiousness” and cautions readers, when dipping into the Sage of Concord, to “beware of overlarge doses. At times he offers fine words in lieu of fine thoughts, and he never understood how to organize or compress large masses of material.” Emerson’s sweeping pronouncements, which sometimes read like a patchwork of fortune cookie aphorisms, give his prose a mystical sensibility that can sometimes feel unmoored from daily concerns. Henry David Thoreau, an Emerson protégé who excelled at grounding his philosophical musings within detailed observations of Concord, seems much more approachable by comparison.“Thoreau, reaping the reward of greater daring and a firmer grasp on rude fact, casts the longer shadow,” Fadiman flatly declares. But if Emerson is better known as a maker of proverbs than as a master of sustained prose narratives, his one-liners have proven memorable enough to secure his reputation as a cultural icon. Even those who have never cracked the spine of an Emerson anthology are familiar with many of his sayings. The seventeenth edition of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, with its one hundred fifty Emerson entries, affirms that he was a heavy-hitter of witticisms. To read them is to be reminded of his rhetorical greatest hits: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do.” “To be great

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