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Atlantic CitizensNineteenth-Century American Writers at Work in the World$
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Leslie Eckel

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780748669370

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748669370.001.0001

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Between Cosmos and Cosmopolis: Emerson’s National Criticism

Between Cosmos and Cosmopolis: Emerson’s National Criticism

(p.99) Chapter 4 Between Cosmos and Cosmopolis: Emerson’s National Criticism
Atlantic Citizens

Leslie Elizabeth Eckel

Edinburgh University Press

Ralph Waldo Emerson preferred to think in general and cosmic terms – a scale that he called ‘the old largeness’ – rather than restricting his thought to corruptible national forms. This chapter argues that Emerson’s fundamental concern was the development of individual consciousness, not the separation of American literature from ‘the courtly muses of Europe.’ His most nationally oriented book, English Traits (1856), actually rejects the pursuit of national identity in England as ‘narrow,’ reactionary, and deadly to individual personality. Emerson’s aversion to nationality grew out of his horrified response to the national institution of the Fugitive Slave Law, against which he lectured on several significant occasions during the 1850s. His admiration for the ‘poetic’ imagination that Abraham Lincoln displayed in his work of emancipation in the 1860s renewed his faith in the United States.

Keywords:   Emerson, Ralph Waldo, Lincoln, Abraham, Individuality, Nationality, English Traits, Lectures, Slavery, Emancipation

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