I recently completed the fifth volume of the Harvard Classics and once again it has proven to be a valuable addition to my own education and a worthwhile piece of the Western Canon.
Ralph Waldo Emerson was a Unitarian lay minister in 19th century America. He marks part of the transition from Calvinist Puritans who originally settled America into groups of people who still exist today. Unitarian universalists, in short, believe in a single supreme divine being and deny trinitarian Christianity. While the recognize the importance of Christ’s message, they treat him as just a man, and also incorporate aspects from other faiths add they see fit. This sort of “Choose Your Own Adventure” approach to spirituality, in my opinion, is insufficient and full of hubris.
While practiced by a well read, reflective soul, this sort of thing won’t cause them to become a bad person, in the wrong hands it swiftly turns into the “holier than God”, narcissistic approach far too many people have today.
The content of “Essays”, a collection of 18 essays by Emerson on a variety of topics, consist of a primer on this type of philosophy, which is, in my reckoning, a distinctly American one. I personally found this work difficult to get through, as it covered the same ground over and over and I didn’t feel like I was getting much out of it.
However, the second work, “English Traits” is highly recommended for anyone wanting a glimpse of life in England at the peak of the British Empire at its height. Emerson traveled to England twice, once on a stopover when returning from Italy, and another time for a lecture tour. The book is interesting and insightful, and many famous English writers make guest appearances. The book is organized mainly by different traits the English people possess as a whole, and Emerson talks about how these traits effect the character of the empire as a whole.
Next up in my list of Harvard Classics is the poetry of Robert Burns, which may take awhile to get through, as poems make for slow reading and doubly so when they are written in Scottish.