Great Works Vs. Action & Belief

Throughout Ralph Aldo Emerson’s oration on August 31,1837, “The American Scholar” a constant theme arises, take action and listen to your beliefs. His speech was kind of a bizarre way to reach out to the Phi Beta Kappa society which were the elite members at the top of their class at Harvard.

“Yet hence arises a grave mischief. The sacredness which attaches to the act of creation, — the act of thought, — is transferred to the record. The poet chanting, was felt to be a divine man: henceforth the chant is divine also. The writer was a just and wise spirit: henceforward it is settled, the book is perfect; as love of the hero corrupts into worship of his statue. Instantly, the book becomes noxious: the guide is a tyrant. The sluggish and perverted mind of the multitude, slow to open to the incursions of Reason, having once so opened, having once received this book, stands upon it, and makes an outcry, if it is disparaged. Colleges are built on it. Books are written on it by thinkers, not by Man Thinking; by men of talent, that is, who start wrong, who set out from accepted dogmas, not from their own sight of principles. Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views, which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon, have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries, when they wrote these books.” (Emerson,13).

In this paragraph in particular Emerson has a way of kind of challenging what these students have been taught their whole college careers. Action versus reading books. Emerson is very insistent that just because great leaders of the past have shared their intellect via books and novels doesn’t mean that these are guides on how to go about leading your life. Emerson states that the ones who first wrote these “great pieces of work” were just young men like yourselves sitting in a library, challenging other great works and the authors who wrote those books. Great works are only great works because they are viewed that way. By reading great works they are suppose to inspire you and ignite the creation from within, not create a “bookworm” who accept the views of another person.

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