A successful author, whom I didn’t remember ever meeting, approached me at a conference and said, “You helped me get started as a writer.”
I’m in good company. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) also had that effect. Although he wrote a few well-known essays such as “The American Scholar” and poems such as “Concord Hymn,” his primary influence was to encourage American writers to stop following the “courtly muses of Europe.”
In his essay “Self Reliance,” he called on writers to develop their own intellect rather than rely on convention and tradition.
Emerson’s work didn’t garner many readers. He was better known as a lecturer. But he influenced writers like Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, and Walt Whitman, who had a strong impact on American literature.
He allowed Thoreau to build a cabin on his land next to Walden Pond, and he urged Thoreau to begin keeping a journal.
It’s great to be a widely known author. But if what really matters is reaching others with our message, and if someone we taught or influenced can do it better, then perhaps God has used us in a far greater way.
His Call to Break Out
Emerson was a Unitarian whose transcendental message most of us would not embrace. But his urging of others to break out of familiar patterns stimulated the minds of some great writers who, in turn, influenced many other writers.
Even today Ralph Waldo Emerson has a word for all of us who may be caught in traditional thinking: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
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