Essay by Emerson, published in Essays, First Series (1841). The Over-Soul is “that great nature in which we rest … that Unity within which every man's particular being is contained and made one with all other.” This Platonic concept, first stated in Emerson's early lectures and in such works as Nature and the “Divinity School Address,” is here developed as a basic principle in the thought of Transcendentalism.
“We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of the whole.” Perceptible only through intuition and not to be communicated through words, this divine spirit is the source of all moral and intellectual growth, for “the heart, which abandons itself to the Supreme Mind, finds itself related to all its works and will travel a royal road to particular knowledge and powers.” The revelations of truth received by various original thinkers and teachers proceed from “an influx of the Divine mind” into their minds. “The nature of these revelations is always the same: they are perceptions of the absolute law.” What we call genius is simply the true insight derived from an influx of this “same Omniscience … into the intellect.” This universal and benign omnipresence is neither “our god of tradition” nor “our god of rhetoric,” but a God known to men only in moments of mystic enthusiasm, whose visitation leaves them altered, self-reliant, and purified of petty aims. The man who has received intimations of the “Highest Law” in this fashion “will weave no longer a spotted life of shreds and patches, but he will live with a divine unity.”