Even those not well acquainted with the work of Emerson, New England essayist and procreative spark of the Transcendentalist movement, will find much to savor in this exhaustive, sensitive compilation. The poems chart the growth of a uniquely American sensibility, from the impressionable boy who toyed romantically with verse to the eloquent man who witnessed with ``joyful eye'' the ``genius of the whole.'' In his autobiographical laments, particularly ``Threnody,'' one sees how painfully the deaths of Emerson's first wife and first-born son affected him. Of great interest also are his gentlemanly versions of Dante. But the crowning moment of the collection comes when Emerson steeps himself in the poetry of Persian mystics. (His translations illustrate more the intense resonance he felt with the rapturous manner of the poet Hafiz, and less his mastery of poetic form.) While the voices of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Tennyson and others are periodically visible, the profound influence of the exotic saturates his every word. This welcome collection offers up poetic reiterations of Emerson's more popular essays, lyricizes Transcendentalism's celebration of the sublime in the human, and serves to re-open the case for Emerson as a poet. An introduction would have served readers well. (Aug.)
In the next lecture, on "Permanent Traits of the English National Genius," Emerson draws heavily on Sharon Turner's History of the Anglo Saxons (1799-1805) and emphasizes the impact of Anglo-Saxon life and culture on modern England and the English. Emerson was never willing, as this lecture demonstrates, to separate literature from the general culture that produced it. In the next lecture, "The Age of Fable," Emerson contrasts Greek fable with Gothic fable, the former having produced classical myth, the latter medieval romance. Emerson also praises English literature for its instinct for what is common. "The poems of Chaucer , Shakspear [ sic ], Jonson, Herrick, Herbert, Raleigh betray a continual instinctive endeavor to recover themselves from every sally of imagination by touching the earth and earthly and common things." Emerson devotes an entire lecture to Chaucer , whom he values for being able to turn everything in his world to literary account, so that his work stands not only for him but for his era. Chaucer 's numerous borrowings prompted Emerson to articulate a concept of literary tradition that was very modern. "The truth is all works of literature are Janus faced and look to the future and to the past. Shakspear [ sic ], Pope , and Dryden borrow from Chaucer and shine by his borrowed light. Chaucer reflects Boccaccio and Colonna and the Troubadours: Boccaccio and Colonna elder Greek and Roman authors, and these in their turn others if only history would enable us to trace them. There never was an original writer. Each is a link in an endless chain."
Emerson anonymously published his first essay, "Nature", on September 9, 1836. A year later, on August 31, 1837, he delivered his now-famous Phi Beta Kappa address, " The American Scholar ",  then entitled "An Oration, Delivered before the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Cambridge"; it was renamed for a collection of essays (which included the first general publication of "Nature") in 1849.  Friends urged him to publish the talk, and he did so, at his own expense, in an edition of 500 copies, which sold out in a month.  In the speech, Emerson declared literary independence in the United States and urged Americans to create a writing style all their own and free from Europe.  James Russell Lowell , who was a student at Harvard at the time, called it "an event without former parallel on our literary annals".  Another member of the audience, Reverend John Pierce, called it "an apparently incoherent and unintelligible address".