+0
When the mind is braced by labor and invention, the page of whatever book we read becomes luminous with manifold allusion. Every sentence is doubly significant, and the sense of our author is as broad as the world. We then see, what is always true, that, as the seer’s hour of vision is short and rare among heavy days and months, so is its record, perchance, the least part of his volume. The discerning will read, in his Plato or Shakspeare, only that least part, - only the authentic utterances of the oracle; - all the rest he rejects, were it never so many times Plato’s and Shakspeare’s.


Of course, there is a portion of reading quite indispensable to a wise man. History and exact science he must learn by laborious reading. Colleges, in like manner, have their indispensable office, - to teach elements. But they can only highly serve us, when they aim not to drill, but to create; when they gather from far every ray of various genius to their hospitable halls, and, by the concentrated fires, set the hearts of their youth on flame.

http://www.bartleby.com/268/8/33.html
1 2
Comments  
Hi Pructus,

I never could make much sense out of Emerson. I think he's saying that a busy man who is clever enough to pick out the most important parts, won't bother to read the rest. Emerson wishes this didn't happen so often when people are reading the great masters. (Perhaps you knew this, or perhaps I'm way off base.)

I think the answer to your last question is, "No." I think he just means that it's a shame more people don't get to read the complete works of Shakespeare and Plato.

But really, with Emerson, for me, that's just a guess. Some of our more experienced readers may be able to make it out. It's sometimes hard to believe he was an American. My music comp. professor used to quote Emerson, "The work of genius is made up things which ordinary men reject as too simple." or something like that. Anyway, that one I like.

Best wishes, - A.
AvangiEmerson wishes this didn't happen so often when people are reading the great masters.
Avangi I think he just means that it's a shame more people don't get to read the complete works of Shakespeare and Plato.
He calls these people who cherry-pick the best bits "discerning", so it doesn't seem to me as if he's criticising them.

As for "were it never so many times Plato’s and Shakspeare’s", I'm not sure. "Were it never so" is an archaic expression that I always thought meant "even though it is ever so". Perhaps he's saying something like "even though it's very much the work of Plato and Shakspeare", but, like you, I'm just guessing.
Students: We have free audio pronunciation exercises.
pructusWhen the mind is braced by labor and invention, the page of whatever book we read becomes luminous with manifold allusion. Every sentence is doubly significant, and the sense of our author is as broad as the world. We then see, what is always true, that, as the seer’s hour of vision is short and rare among heavy days and months, so is its record, perchance, the least part of his volume. The discerning will read, in his Plato or Shakspeare, only that least part, - only the authentic utterances of the oracle; - all the rest he rejects, were it never so many times Plato’s and Shakspeare’s.
My goodness! This has to be translated into English!
My guess:
If our minds are working overtime, perhaps being a little too inventive, what we read seems to be full of all kinds of tangential meanings. Every sentence has both the author's intended meaning and the meaning we read into it. We act as if the author knew everything about everything in the world. But we eventually realize that, just as the author may have had only brief moments of insight within his comparatively long life, he has probably written down only these brief bits of wisdom. Even though the author may have been quite a visionary, he has only written down a small part of his vision. Those readers who are able to understand this will read carefully, realizing that Plato or Shakespeare, for example, has only written down a small part of his thoughts. They will accept as Plato's or Shakespeare's thoughts only exactly what is written, careful not to attribute their own personal thoughts to the author -- which can happen if they add to what is written by the erroneous use of their own imaginations. Such a discerning reader will recognize when he is adding more to the texts than is really there, and will reject these personal interpretations -- even if they genuinely may have been in many cases, by coincidence, the author's thoughts as well.
____
I interpret never as ever. And it refers back to all the rest.

So I interpret were it never so many times ... as even if all the rest were, in many cases (genuinely/authentically) ...

so many times = multiply = in many cases
CJ
Disclaimer: I am not an Emerson scholar, so I may be mistaken. Emotion: smile
CalifJimBut we eventually realize that, just as the author may have had only brief moments of insight within his comparatively long life, he has probably written down only these brief bits of wisdom. Even though the author may have been quite a visionary, he has only written down a small part of his vision. Those readers who are able to understand this will read carefully, realizing that Plato or Shakespeare, for example, has only written down a small part of his thoughts.

I have to say that I had a rather different interpretation of the thrust of some parts of this. I thought he was saying that since even great authors/thinkers have only a few moments of great inspiration (a short "hour of vision" among "heavy days and months"), their works necessarily contain lot of less inspired material padding out the few nuggets of wisdom. The discerning reader will skip over the padding and concentrate on the nuggets, even though the rest of it is no less the work of the great author.
That's as good an interpretation as any! I found the whole thing very difficult to follow.
CJ
Teachers: We supply a list of EFL job vacancies
I thought you both did very well - a mere stretch o' th' legs brain.

I'm leaning toward the cherry-picking regrets, and wishing there were a comma after "so." Would that it were not so, in many cases, the works of the masters.

Wordy - People are often accused of misapplying their talents, receiving praise and condemnation in the same breath.

- A.
I'm beginning to lean that way myself, and yet I can't seem to wrap my brain around this.
its record [is] ... the least part of his volume.

What is its record? The record of what?
Could Emerson really mean that the masters hardly ever wrote anything of significance, in effect recommending the Spark Notes version of their works?
CJ
CalifJim What is its record? The record of what?
The record of his [hour of] vision? (Brahms destroyed 75% of his completed works.)

I originally misinterpreted "seer," thinking it meant the reader rather than the author. I think your analysis of that portion is right on.

- A.
Site Hint: Check out our list of pronunciation videos.
Show more