|Ralph Waldo Emerson|
Ralph Waldo Emerson. (1803–1882). Essays and English Traits.
Vol. 5, pp. 5-15 of The Harvard Classics
Emerson was included in Dr. Eliot's recent selection of the world's ten greatest educators of all time. Here the great thinker discusses this force within man that makes him a scholar.
(Emerson delivers "American Scholar" lecture, Aug. 31, 1837.)
The American Scholar
An Oration Delivered before the Phi Beta Kappa Society, at Cambridge, August 31, 1837
MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN: I greet you on the recommencement of our literary year. Our anniversary is one of hope, and, perhaps, not enough of labor. We do not meet for games of strength or skill, for the recitation of histories, tragedies, and odes, like the ancient Greeks; for parliaments of love and poesy, like the Troubadours; nor for the advancement of science, like our contemporaries in the British and European capitals. Thus far our holiday has been simply a friendly sign of the survival of the love of letters amongst a people too busy to give to letters any more. As such, it is precious as the sign of an indestructible instinct. Perhaps the time is already come when it ought to be, and will be, something else; when the sluggard intellect of this continent will look from under its iron lids, and fill the postponed expectation of the world with something better than the exertions of mechanical skill. Our day of dependence, our long apprenticeship to the learning of other lands, draws to a close. The millions that around us are rushing into life cannot always be fed on the sere remains of foreign harvests. Events, actions arise, that must be sung, that will sing themselves. Who can doubt that poetry will revive and lead in a new age, as the star in the constellation Harp, which now flames in our zenith, astronomers announce, shall one day be the pole-star for a thousand years?