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."
This lesson prepares the instructor--even at the college level--to teach Emerson. It provides important context, explanations, and glosses of Emerson's dense but famous essay. Emerson's work is challenging for students, even at the college level, because his writing does not appear to be transparent or follow the form of a logical, traditional argument. This lesson provides openings and important instruction into how to approach AND understand Emerson. It is designed in such a way that students (and professors/teachers) have the tools they need to engage with his philosophical ideas, as well as with his style and rhetoric. Indeed, this lesson makes Emerson relevant by requiring students to consider and then respond to the basic tenets of "Self-Reliance." The nod to Twitter in the activity is creative and fun. My only suggestion would be to consider in what ways Emerson and his ideas and work have come to occupy a hallowed space in American culture and the American literary imagination.