The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.
§ 1. The High Place of Emerson in American Letters
IT becomes more and more apparent that Emerson, judged by an international or even by a broad national standard, is the outstanding figure of American letters. Others may have surpassed him in artistic sensitiveness, or, to a criticism averse to the stricter canons of form and taste, may seem to be more original or more broadly national than he, but as a steady force in the transmutation of life into ideas and as an authority in the direction of life itself he has obtained a recognition such as no other of his countrymen can claim. And he owes this pre-eminence not only to his personal endowment of genius, but to the fact also that, as the most perfect exponent of a transient experiment in civilization, he stands for something that the world is not likely to let die.