Ralph Waldo Emerson delivering The American Scholar address to Harvard

Dear Reader, What Do You Think?

On August 31, 1837, a speech was delivered to the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Harvard University that would become famous. The address was titled, The American Scholar, and it was given by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

He challenged the students of Harvard, along with all future thinkers (which include you and I), to realize that books are the best things – when they’re used well. But if they’re abused, they’re among the worst (56). Luckily, Emerson makes the distinction.

To abuse a book is to read it and then to parrot its knowledge. “Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the view which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon, have given; forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries when they wrote these books. Hence, instead of Man Thinking, we have the bookworm” (Emerson, 56).

At the time, Emerson shouted from the pulpit that it was a disgrace to be a bookworm only, to read great books and then to do nothing with them. Now, he shouts the same thing from his grave. Emerson wanted us to be “Man Thinking” and “Woman Thinking”. He wanted us take what we read, AND DO SOMETHING WITH IT.

There will always be more books to read and more things to learn. What if, instead of reading hundreds of titles this year, we read 10 and we apply their teachings? What if we wrote polemic papers against the books we disagree with? Or wrote an essay on why a particular book was insightful?

What if?

Until tomorrow, read slowly – take notes – apply the ideas.



Works Cited:

Emerson, Ralph Waldo, et al. The Portable Emerson. Rev. ed, Penguin, 1981.

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