I have spent more than a year studying the writings and the life of Ralph Waldo Emerson (since the end of December 2008). I have read a a lot his work and I have read a lot of biographical information on him.
I read that a lot scholars don't think his work was "systematic". I believe that his work was very systematic. I think he was one of the first systems thinkers. I believe he was an early person successful in looking at the whole systems and the interconnectedness of things.
A lot of people think that Thoreau eclipsed Emerson both in writing ability and in fame. While I view Thoreau as a brilliant writer, I view Emerson as being equally as brilliant.
I think Thoreau is for the young and idealistic, and Emerson, while still very idealistic is for the mature, and for those who've been through a bit of life.
I told a friend awhile back that I'd like to be able to write like Ralph Waldo Emerson. He said "who wouldn't".
But, I don't think he got my meaning. I'm not talking about writing as well as Ralph Waldo Emerson - I just don't think anyone could write that well again. I certainly don't believe that in five life times my writing could ever be that good.
I'm talking about writing LIKE him.
Writing about what is important. How to best live a good life. Writing about how all of us are interconnected. The search for God. That kind of thing.
Not so much about specific events (like health care reform, or the wars, etc), but about life.
When you read Emerson's writing, he doesn't usually talk about specific events. Certainly there were some big events in his life, most notably the Civil War and Slavery, and a whole lot of personal tragedy.
Emerson writes not specifically about events a lot of the time - you know the events are happening in the background because you know the history.
The events certainly must be on his mind, and they certainly must be influencing him.
There are always going to be events. One hundred years from now, the events that we have fretted over, and spent so much time thinking about and arguing about (sometimes with a vehemence that borders on hatred) are going to be something for the history books, and something for the people who come after us to study.
The people then will have all new issues.
But, the big questions will always be there no matter the events. In fact, sometimes I think believing in the importance of the events keep us from asking the bigger, important questions. We focus on the events, and think the events to be the important things, and not the questions.
We forget to keep asking the questions. What is the meaning of life? What is my purpose? Am I doing the right things? How can I be happy? Is being happy the most important thing, or is it living a good life? What does living a "good life" mean?
All of these and more.
A lot of the time over the past year, I feel like being able to dip into Emerson kept me sane and grounded.
It certainly was better for my psyche than anything Fox News, MSNBC or anyone else had to say.
I'll close with one of my favorite Emerson quotes, from his brilliant essay Self-Reliance:
"These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God today. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence."
Emerson goes on to say:
"But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time"