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The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emersonby Brooks Atkinson
Synopses & Reviews
Introduction by Mary Oliver
The distinction and particular value of anything, or any person, inevitably must alter according to the time and place from which we take our view. In any new discussion of Emerson, these two weights are upon us. By time, of course, I mean our entrance into the twenty-first century; it is almost two hundred years since Emerson's birth in Boston. By place, I mean his delivery from the town of Concord, and his corporeal existence anywhere. Now he is only within the wider, immeasurable world of our thoughts. He lives nowhere but on the page, and in the attentive mind that leans above that page.
This has some advantage for us, for he is now the Emerson of our choice: he is the man of his own time--his own history--or he is one of the mentors of ours. Each of these possibilities has its attractions, for the man alive was unbelievably sweet and, for all his devotion to reason, wondrously spontaneous. Yet as time's passage has broken him free of all mortal events, we begin to know him more clearly for the labors of his life: the life of his mind. Surely he was looking for something that would abide beyond the Tuesday or the Saturday, beyond even his first powerful or cautionary or lovely effect. The office of the scholar, he wrote in The American Scholar, is to cheer, to raise, and to guide men by showing them facts amidst appearances. The lofty fun of it is that his appearances were all merely material and temporal--brick walls, garden walls, ripening pears--while his facts were all of a shifty vapor and an unauthored goodwill: the luminosity of the pears, the musics of birds and the wind, the affirmative staring-out light of the night stars. And his belief that a man's inclination, once awakened to it, would be to turn all the heavy sails of his life to a moral purpose.
The story of his life, as we can best follow it from its appearances, is as follows. Ralph Waldo Emerson was born in 1803; his father, William Emerson, died in 1811. The family--his mother, two sisters, and five brothers--were poor, devout, and intellectually ambitious. Death's fast or slow lightning was a too-frequent presence. Both girls and one boy died in childhood; Emerson's brothers William, Edward, and Charles survived only into early manhood. The only remaining brother was Robert, who was a man of childish mind. As the poet Walt Whitman for most of his life took responsibility for his child-minded brother, Eddie, so did Emerson keep watch over this truculent survivor.
Emerson graduated from Harvard College, then divinity school, and in 1829 he began preaching at the Second Church (Unitarian) in Boston. In that year he married the beautiful but frail Ellen Tucker. Her health never improved, and in 1832 she died. Emerson was then twenty-nine years old.
I think it is fair to say that from this point on, the greater energies of his life found their sustenance in the richness and steadfastness of his inner life. Soon after his wife's death he left the pulpit. He had come to believe that the taking of the sacrament was no more, nor was meant to be more, than an act of spiritual remembrance. This disclosure he made to his congregation, who perhaps were grateful for his forthrightness but in all honesty did not wish to keep such a preacher. Soon after, Emerson booked passage to Europe. He traveled slowly across the Continent and, finally, to Engl
Collects Emerson's well-known speeches, essays, and poetry that expressed the scholar's philosophy in transcendentalism and defined the American identity.
The definitive collection of Emerson's major speeches, essays, and poetry, The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson chronicles the life's work of a true "American Scholar." As one of the architects of the transcendentalist movement, Emerson embraced a philosophy that championed the individual, emphasized independent thought, and prized "the splendid labyrinth of one's own perceptions." More than any writer of his time, he forged a style distinct from his European predecessors and embodied and defined what it meant to be an American. Matthew Arnold called Emerson's essays "the most important work done in prose."--From publisher description.
Table of Contents
Nature — The American scholar — An address — The transcendentalist — The Lord's supper — Essays: first series : History ; Self-reliance ; Compensation ; Spiritual laws ; Love ; Friendship ; Prudence ; Heroism ; The over-soul ; Heroism ; Intellect ; Art — Essays: second series : The Poet ; Experience ; Character ; Manners ; Gifts ; Nature ; Politics ; Nominalist and realist ; New England reformers — Plato: or, the philosopher — Napoleon: or, the man of the world — English traits : First Visit to England ; Voyage to England ; Land ; Race ; Ability ; Manners ; Truth ; Character ; Cockayne ; Wealth ; Aristocracy ; Universities ; Religion ; Literature ; The "Times" ; Stonehenge ; Personal ; Result ; Speech at Manchester — Conduct of life : Wealth ; Culture — Society and solitude — Farming — Poems : Good-bye ; The problem ; Uriel ; The rhodora ; The humble-bee ; The snow-storm ; Ode ; Forbearance ; Forerunners ; Give all to love ; Threnody ; Concord hymn ; May-Day ; The Adirondacs ; Brahma ; Merlin's song ; Hymn ; Days ; Character ; Walden ; Lines to Ellen ; Self-reliance ; Webster — Ezra Ripley, D.D. — Emancipation in the British West Indies — The fugitive slave law — John Brown — The Emancipation Proclamation — Thoreau — Abraham Lincoln — Carlyle — Commentary.
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