The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.

IX. Emerson

§ 9. Its Significance

Emerson had come to the inevitable conclusion of New England individualism; he had, in a word, “come out.” Edwards had denied the communal efficacy, so to speak, of rites, but had insisted on inner conformity with an established creed. Emerson disavowed even a conformity in faith, demanding in its stead the entire liberty of each soul to rise on its own spiritual impulse. He was perspicacious and honest enough to acknowledge to himself the danger of such a stand. “I know very well,” he wrote in his journal at the time of his decision, “that it is a bad sign in a man to be too conscientious, and stick at gnats. The most desperate scoundrels have been the over-refiners. Without accommodation society is impracticable.” But, he adds, he could “not go habitually to an institution which they esteem holiest with indifference and dislike”; and again, looking deeper into his heart, “This is the end of my opposition, that I am not interested in it.”