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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XXIII. Education

§ 47. Ralph Waldo Emerson

The most important contributor to the lyceum type of education and its chief adornment was Emerson, an essayist because he was a lecturer, rather than a lecturer because he was an essayist. His livelihood for a considerable period depended upon his professional activity upon the platform. Though the remuneration of these lecturers seems absurdly small when compared with the extravagant earnings of Chautauqua favourites, yet they were sufficient for the simple life of that period. The lecture had to be adapted to a mixed audience; it had to be limited to an hour’s time; it had to be varied and stimulating; and it had to conform to certain literary or technical forms. Nevertheless there was a freedom in this literature given for the occasion and the people which bespeaks the educational character. Emerson himself said: “I preach in the lecture room, and there it tells, for there is no prescription. You may laugh, weep, reason, sing, sneer, or pray, according to your genius.” The stimulating and illuminating idealism of Emerson’s essays is an indication of the high purpose, if not an index of the normal ttainment, of the adult educational endeavour of this generation. For his Self Reliance, Compensation, Prudence, Intellect, The Over-Soul not so much moulded the beliefs of his generation as expressed the unformulated thought and the highest aspiration of the New England Puritanism of his day.