Ralph Waldo Emerson’s name is one that almost everyone knows, English major or not,
as he was one of the first individuals to promote Transcendentalism and very openly go against the grain of society’s norms. He wrote many essays throughout his years, detailing his thoughts on the importance of embracing nature and being self-reliant, and he is still considered one of the greatest scholars in history. This is not only due to his way with words, but also to his willingness to stand out and promote thoughts that were typically not accepted or popular during his time.
In The American Scholar, Emerson states, “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.” Putting the patriarchal language aside, this line tends to strike a chord with the reader– especially one interested in writing their own pieces– as it still very much applies to anyone who aspires to get their work published.
As we discover new authors and ideas as well as look back on the classics, we tend to forget that they were once in our shoes, striving to get their thoughts down on the page and convey some sort of meaning to others. Although their legacies have grown to seem insurmountable, they were all once where we are. This is very important to realize today, especially for younger writers who feel as though they could never measure up to other well known figures, both past and current.
Similarly, Emerson believed that we must discover the world for ourselves and not rely
on the words and experiments of others as our only resource for knowledge. Instead, we should supplement our lives with the work of others, but still rely only on ourselves and our abilities. If we focus too heavily on others’ efforts, we fail ourselves. This holds true in today’s society, as we study famous works such as Emerson’s to expand our minds and knowledge, but we do not accept them as the single truth of the world. Instead, we use them as inspiration and guidance as we continue moving forward and discovering.
Emerson’s message is definitely one that aspiring writers should pay attention to,
especially those in college who are surrounded by peers who have the same ambitions as they do. It is easy to get caught up in insecurities and to have doubts about your abilities, but the most important thing to remember is that we all have original thoughts and ideas, and we should use them as we see fit. Just as Emerson did with his works, we take risks by putting our thoughts out into the world, especially if they differ from what society would consider normal or proper, and having the courage to do so is something he would likely admire and encourage.
by Megan Corkery