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Nature is the first in time (since it is always there) and the first in importance of the three.Nature’s variety conceals underlying laws that are at the same time laws of the human mind: “the ancient precept, ‘Know thyself,’ and the modern precept, ‘Study nature,’ become at last one maxim” (CW1: 55).He influenced generations of Americans, from his friend Henry David Thoreau to John Dewey, and in Europe, Friedrich Nietzsche, who takes up such Emersonian themes as power, fate, the uses of poetry and history, and the critique of Christianity.
The scholar’s education in original experience and self-expression is appropriate, according to Emerson, not only for a small class of people, but for everyone. Only when we learn to “walk on our own feet” and to “speak our own minds,” he holds, will a nation “for the first time exist” (CW1: 70).
Emerson returned to the topic of education late in his career in “Education,” an address he gave in various versions at graduation exercises in the 1860s.
Without it, thought “can never ripen into truth” (CW1: 59).
Action is the process whereby what is not fully formed passes into expressive consciousness.
Self-reliance appears in the essay in his discussion of respect.
The “secret of Education,” he states, “lies in respecting the pupil.” It is not for the teacher to choose what the pupil will know and do, but for the pupil to discover “his own secret.” The teacher must therefore “wait and see the new product of Nature” (E: 143), guiding and disciplining when appropriate-not with the aim of encouraging repetition or imitation, but with that of finding the new power that is each child’s gift to the world.
Emerson’s essay helped push me to pursue my boldest creative goal. But that wasn’t as clear when I started writing it, or when I blogged the story as a serial after countless publishers rejected it.
In 2014, I wanted to write a book of literary science fiction, called but shorter, futuristic, and based on my work on Google’s legal document review team. I wrote the book—despite my many doubts, and those of others—because I was heeding Emerson’s warning that I’d be scooped if I held off.
Great books are mere records of such inspiration, and their value derives only, Emerson holds, from their role in inspiring or recording such states of the soul.
The “end” Emerson finds in nature is not a vast collection of books, but, as he puts it in “The Poet,” “the production of new individuals,…or the passage of the soul into higher forms” (CW) The third component of the scholar’s education is action.