a process of random sampling," and when. he says,further
are watching a process
action of a superiorimagination taking possession of its world."
are to make this general assessment of the hvmgquality of Emerson's work complete,
should stress not
the dynamism of his life and thought and the great power of hisimagination,
also his capacity for highly disciplined thinking.And here again a contemporary author sums up the matter for uswhen she says (in reference to Emerson's ideas of literature and
point was he soaring into a vague empyrean ofirresponsible speculation,
was always sustained
the supportof other thinkers however disparate these thinkers may be from
and when, in addition, she tells us
his esthetictheory "is a better rationalized esthetic than his critics havegenerally suspected."
while Emerson was primarily a literary figure, he foundhimself in the situation where he had to function constructivelyon a theoretical level, and not merely with respect to poetry andliterature,
in relation to reality as a whole. And the burdensimposed
such a diversity of interests were bound
a literary figure he had to concern himself
esthetic theory inasmuch as he wanted to show
indispensable function within the whole str.uc-ture of knowledge. His avowed aim was to demonstrate the obJec-tive status of esthetic experience, while justifying a symbolisticmethod in literature. Moreover, the need for a reappraisal of humanexistence in its entirety was keenly felt by him, especially sincehe could see
the problems confronting him as a writer andpoet waited for their solution on the answer to questions of aphilosophical nature.From first to last an artist, Emerson paid the price of his diverseefforts, even laying himself open to the charge
his "failingwas a lack of literary purposefulness."
well ques-tion whether
lack of literary purposefulness" exactly states thecase, for
in fortifyingand expanding esthetic sensibility, as the author just quoted hashimself shown.Although Emerson spent much time brooding over philosophicalmatters he never for a moment fancied himself a philosopher in
pu;ely formal or technical sense of the terms.
from it,for he made
bones about his deficiency in the sort of thinking
produced the works of a Hume or a Butler.
along with his
surely cannot avoid seeing
he was capable of a high and sustained philosophical serious-ness which puts the stamp of significance on much of what he says.Indeed, as
has been rightly said,
depth of histhought" is one of his "distinguishing excellencies."
Emerson was first and last
artist in the medium of theory."
And, as an artist he brought something of value to his philosophicalreflections, namely, an esthetic sensibility which held him fastto a concrete and experiential method. This method in no wayimplied a derogatory view of philosophical speculation, although
did fasten his attention on the strange and complex process
which experience is converted into thought. Others might disparageknowing and the contemplative life, but, as one who had imbibedcopiously of Plato's wisdom, he grasped the importance and eventhe sublimity of soaring speculative thought. However, the sus-taining purpose of his philosophical efforts was simply to extendconsciousness through direct insight, and to enlarge man's visionof the world.Emerson was quite content to translate his philosophical ideasinto the broadest human terms, without trying to work them intoa strictly philosophical form. Systematic thinking of a sort therewould be, of course,
he would mainly content himself withthe kind of system which consists in "dotting a fragmentary curve,recording only what facts he has observed, without attemptingto arrange them within one outline
Thus, all things con-sidered, Emerson's approach was characterized
good sense andmodesty, and
his thought may
times seem to defy abstractlogic,
possesses, notwithstanding, a logic of its own, a logic oflife, which is validated in the depth of personal experience.At every step of the way, Emerson worked on two levels
of principles and
of experience, for he saw with far morethan ordinary clarity
men were suffering from an impoverish-ment of both principles and experience.
was especially withthe level of experience
he concerned himself, since he knew
while principles were absolutely essential, they would hardlymanifest their
to men who had already imposed artificiallimits on experience. How could they possibly
heed to hisreligious, ethical, and esthetic teachings,
religious, ethical, and esthetic components of experience itself asstrictly out of bounds?
accordingly applied himself to thebusiness of restoring to human life a whole range of experience