Summary and Analysis of The American Scholar Paragraphs 8-9


In these two paragraphs comprising the first section on how a scholar should be educated, Emerson envisions nature as a teacher that instructs individuals who observe the natural world to see — eventually — how similar their minds and nature are. The first similarity he discusses concerns the notion of circular power — a theme familiar to readers of the Nature essay — found in nature and in the scholar's spirit. Both nature and the scholar's spirit, "whose beginning, whose ending he never can find — so entire, so boundless," are eternal.

Order is another similarity — as it is in Nature — between the scholar and nature. At first, the mind views a chaotic and infinite reality of individual facts, but then it begins to classify these facts into categories, to make comparisons and distinctions. A person discovers nature's laws and can understand them because they are similar to the operations of the intellect. Eventually, we realize that nature and the soul — both proceeding from what Emerson terms "one root" — are parallel structures that mirror each other (Emerson's term for "parallel" may be misleading; he says that nature is the "opposite" of the soul). So, a greater knowledge of nature results in a greater understanding of the self, and vice versa. The maxims "Know thyself" and "Study nature" are equivalent: They are two ways of saying the same thing.