Society and Solitude

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Essays by Emerson, based on lectures delivered as early as 1858, revised and published in 1870. The subjects are “Society and Solitude,” “Civilization,” “Art,” “Eloquence,” “Domestic Life,” “Farming,” “Works and Days,” “Books,” “Clubs,” “Courage,” “Success,” and “Old Age.”

The title piece is concerned with the individual's problem of social conduct. For those who have originality and a sense of personal integrity, the necessity for solitude is deeply felt and “organic.” Constant social friction is wearing and difficult, and one naturally seeks to be alone. “But this banishment to the rocks and echoes … is so against nature, such a half-view, that it must be corrected by a common sense and experience.” A man can live significantly only through contact with his fellows; sympathy and cooperation make possible the advancement of common causes; “the benefits of affection are immense”; and, moreover, “society cannot do without cultivated men.” On the other hand, “the people are to be taken in very small doses.” Overmuch company is degrading, since “men cannot afford to live together on their merits, and they adjust themselves by their demerits.” The remedy is to strike a balance between social and solitary ways of living, “and a sound mind will derive its principles from insight, with ever a purer ascent to the sufficient and absolute right, and will accept society as the natural element in which they are to be applied.”

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

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

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