March 22, 2013

A newborn bard of the Holy Ghost

The theme at Goat Rope these days is the life and thought of Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose impact on 19th century American culture was pretty huge. I have a love/hate relationship with old Ralph. Some of his writings are really inspiring, others are totally unintelligible to me, while still others seem kind of idiotic.

At the moment, the focus is on his 1838 Harvard Divinity School Address, which was pretty controversial in its time (and much of which seems to lean to the loopy side to me).

One reason for this was his advice to would-be clergy to disregard the dogmas and rituals of the past and trust only in their own direct experience.

Let me admonish you, first of all, to go alone; to refuse the good models, even those which are sacred in the imagination of men, and dare to love God without mediator or veil. Friends enough you shall find who will hold up to your emulation Wesleys and Oberlins, Saints and Prophets. Thank God for these good men, but say, `I also am a man.' Imitation cannot go above its model. The imitator dooms himself to hopeless mediocrity. The inventor did it, because it was natural to him, and so in him it has a charm. In the imitator, something else is natural, and he bereaves himself of his own beauty, to come short of another man's.

Yourself a newborn bard of the Holy Ghost, — cast behind you all conformity, and acquaint men at first hand with Deity.
 I suppose prattle like this sounds inspiring to people with an overly exalted conception of their own internal hiccups, but the asylums and alleys of the world are full of sad and misguided souls who consider themselves to be the newborn bards of the Holy Ghost. It's one thing to oppose unthinking dogmatism but it's another to disregard tradition altogether and to mistake our internal chatter as the voice of God. The capacity for self doubt is a virtue, but the tendency to self-deification is a delusion.

WRONG TURN. Here's a good Gazette editorial on the tragic waste of the Iraq war.


TALE OF THE WHALE. Here's a great feature on Melville's Leviathan and its evolution.


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