Related Overviews

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803—1882) American philosopher and poet



More Like This

Show all results sharing this subject:

  • Literature


Show Summary Details

Quick Reference

Essay by Emerson, published in Essays, First Series (1841); also, a poem by Emerson, published the same year.

The idea of compensation is implicit in Emerson's thought, and involves his concept of the “Over-Soul”: “An inevitable dualism bisects nature, so that each thing is a half, and suggests another thing to make it whole.” Although the malicious are apparently rewarded rather than punished, the view that justice will be meted out in an afterlife is erroneous, for it “is not postponed.… What we call retribution, is the universal necessity by which the whole appears wherever a part appears.… Every act rewards itself.” The necessary conditions that life involves may not be avoided: “Our action is overmastered and characterised above our will by the law of nature.… Our strength grows out of our weakness.” But the author does not counsel indifference. “Under all this running sea of circumstance … lies the aboriginal abyss of real Being.” Wisdom and virtue involve no penalty, but are qualities of being; “in a virtuous action, I properly am.” The individual, trusting instinct, acts in accord with a divinely balanced justice, and “the changes which break up at short intervals the prosperity of men, are advertisements of a nature whose law is growth.”

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.