Emerson on Montaigne 2: The Considerer

Emerson calls the skeptic, calls Montaigne, the Considerer.  (See the quotation in EoM1.)  What does this mean?  It is tempting, I believe, to take it to mean something like judge.  But I do not think that is the meaning, or at least it is not the primary meaning of the term.  It is better to situate the term in contexts like this:  “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow…”  Kierkegaard, commenting on this scriptural passage, writes:  …[C]onsider them, that is, pay close attention to them:  make them the object, not of a hasty glance in passing, but of your consideration…Alas, how many are there who truly consider them in accordance with the Gospel’s instructions.”  I am not claiming that Emerson has Matthew 6 in mind when he chose the word ‘Considerer’, but I do think that he is using the word in that way, Kierkegaard’s way.  My point is that the Considerer does not understand himself as standing over and above what he considers.  No, he is enmeshed in what he considers, and his considering it is his way of learning how to cope in and with it all.  To consider them to to attentively submit to them, to let them impress themselves upon you.  But that only works to the extent that you are in sympathy and likeness to what you consider.  –And this is another useful point of comparison with Kierkegaard, since one upshot of his edifying discourse on “What We Learn from the Lilies of the Field and the Birds of the Air” is that the lilies and the birds can teach us nothing if we take ourselves to be nothing like them.

Of course, the drift of Emerson and Kierkegaard seems very different.  Emerson is describing something linked with prudence; Kierkegaard is describing something contrasted with prudence.  For Kierkegaard, the lesson of the lilies of the field and the birds of the air is that we are only independent in complete dependence on God.  To learn the lesson of that complete dependence is not merely to believe that it is so but to live out that complete dependence.  So do the lilies and the birds.  What we learn from them must be reduplicated in our lives, or we have not really learned it.  –But understood this way, the drift of Kierkegaard and of Emerson is not so very different, though sketching out the similarities would take more time than I have.  For now, let me just note this:  Each passage targets our vanity.  Kierkegaard, following scripture, tells us to learn from, submit to, the birds of the air.  Emerson, following his genius, tells us we are but poppinjays, little vulnerable conceited poppinjays.  Let us be Considerers–but not in vain.

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