The essay makes one more important literary point. Emerson takes it as a welcome sign of the times that "instead of the sublime and beautiful, the near, the low, the common" was being explored and made into poetry. "I embrace the common," he says. "I explore and sit at the feet of the familiar, the low .... the meal in the firkin, the milk in the pan." Like Wordsworth's call for a language of common men, this recognition of Emerson's went further than his own practice could usually follow. But Emerson's endorsement of common language had a powerful effect on the rising generation of young American writers, first on and , then on and others.
Until the eighteenth century, most philosophical accounts of beautytreated it as an objective quality: they located it in the beautifulobject itself or in the qualities of that object. In De VeritateReligione, Augustine asks explicitly whether things are beautifulbecause they give delight, or whether they give delight because theyare beautiful; he emphatically opts for the second (Augustine, 247).Plato's account in the Symposium and Plotinus's in theEnneads connect beauty to a response of love and desire, butlocate beauty itself in the realm of the Forms, and the beauty ofparticular objects in their participation in the Form. Indeed,Plotinus's account in one of its moments makes beauty a matter of whatwe might term ‘formedness’: having the definite shapecharacteristic of the kind of thing the object is.
He is also one What Is Real Beauty?
But, perhaps, the good and the beautiful are the same, and must beinvestigated by one and the same process; and in like manner the base and theevil. And in the first rank we must place the beautiful, and consider it as thesame with the good; from which immediately emanates intellect as beautiful. Nextto this, we must consider the soul receiving its beauty from intellect, andevery inferior beauty deriving its origin from the forming power of the soul,whether conversant in fair actions and offices, or sciences and arts. Lastly,bodies themselves participate of beauty from the soul, which, as somethingdivine, and a portion of the beautiful itself, renders whatever it supervenesand subdues, beautiful as far as its natural capacity will admit.
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'I think that now, with what you have sent me, I have everything, though in a very imperfect state, for the manuscript is exceeding faulty. I had expected our friend Amelius to correct the scribal errors, but he evidently had something better to do. The copies are quite useless to me; I have been especially eager to examine the treatises and , and these are precisely the most corrupted. It would be a great satisfaction to me if you would send me faithful transcripts for collation and return--though again I suggest to you not to send but to come in person, bringing me the correct copies of these treatises and of any that Amelius may have passed over. All that he brought with him I have been careful to make my own: how could I be content not to possess myself of all the writings of a man so worthy of the deepest veneration?
PLOTINUS ON THE BEAUTIFUL Ennead 1
For not he that has no share of beautiful colours or bodies, or of power or dominion or kingship, is unfortunate; but he that lacks this one thing alone, for the sake of which it were well to let go the possession and kingship and rule of the whole earth and of the sea, aye, and of the heaven itself, if a man, by leaving behind all these and looking beyond them, might be converted to This and behold It.
An Essay on the Beautiful by Plotinus - Free eBook
Books of course are an important part of "The American Scholar," and Emerson gives a description of what he calls "the theory of books." "The scholar of the first age received into him the world around; brooded thereon; gave it the new arrangement of his own mind, and uttered it again. It came into him--life; it went out from him--truth." But once the book is written, says Emerson, there "arises a grave mischief. The sacredness which attaches to the act of creation,--the act of thought,--is instantly transferred to the record." The book is now regarded as perfect, untouchable, unimprovable, and what might have been a guide becomes a tyrant, leading the young people in libraries to read and admire the books of others when they would be better off writing their own. By overvaluing the finished book and underrating the act of book writing, we become mere bookworms, a book-learned class who value books as such. "Hence, the restorers of readings, the emendators, the bibliomaniacs of all degrees." "The American Scholar" makes a major protest against what has called the burden of the past and what Harold Bloom has called the anxiety of influence. Books "are for nothing but to inspire," Emerson declares. "I had better never see a book than to be warped by its attraction clean out of my own orbit, and made a satellite instead of a system." Books must not be overestimated. They can too easily intimidate us and make us forget that "the one thing in the world of value, is, the active soul." Another way to keep the great work of past writers in proper perspective is to read actively and not passively. "There is then creative reading, as well as creative writing." The most valuable part of the text may be what the reader brings to it. "When the mind is braced by labor and invention, the page of whatever book we read becomes luminous with manifold allusion." Emerson is set against any suggestion that we should worship the great books of the past. We can learn from them, of course, but "the man has never lived that can feed us ever." The human spirit, fluid and restless and charged with heat and energy, will always be breaking out with new experiences, and Emerson draws on personal observation from his Italian trip of 1833 to make a bold metaphor of the human mind as "one central fire which flaming now out of the lips of Etna, lightens the capes of Sicily; and now out of the throat of Vesuvius, illuminates the towers and vineyards of Naples."