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Mr. Emerson's Revolution

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Jean McClure Mudge

Public and Private Revolutions

2.1 The “New Thinking”: Nature, Self, and Society, 1836-1850

David M. Robinson

Texte intégral

There is victory yet for all justice; and the true romance which the world exists to realize will be the transformation of genius into practical power.
Emerson, “Experience,”
Essays II, 1844

Spokesman for the New Age

  • 1 The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 16 vols., eds. William H. Gilman, (...)
  • 2 For discussions of Emerson’s visit to the Jardin des Plantes and its impact, see David M. Robinson, (...)

1Leaving for Europe in late 1832, having resigned his pulpit and still in grief over the loss of his wife Ellen, Emerson sought to renew his severely tested faith and optimism. He began his recovery in an unexpected place, the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, where Antoine Laurent de Jussieu’s Cabinet of Natural History presented an array of plants arranged by botanical classification. To Emerson’s hungry eye, this display suggested interconnection, transformation, and all-encompassing unity, the verities that his recent crisis had brought into question. He saw vitality in this collection of living plants, the constantly transmuting yet interwoven processes of the natural world, a unified cosmos defined by its perpetual energy and unending metamorphosis. “I feel the centipede in me — cayman, carp, eagle, & fox,” he wrote in his journal. “I am moved by strange sympathies, I say continually ‘I will be a naturalist.’”1 Before returning to America, he began to make notes for a philosophy of nature, and on his arrival he began to fulfill his “naturalist” ambition with lectures on “The Uses of Natural History” and “Water” at the Boston Society of Natural History.2 These early lectures, and the powerful insight that he experienced in Paris, became the foundation of his first book Nature, which established him as the exponent of an era of self-awareness and social renewal.

2.1 Nature, Emerson’s first book, 1836.

  • 3 The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 10 vols., eds. Robert E. Spiller, et al. (Cambridge, Ma (...)

2With increasing clarity Emerson became aware that the tangible natural world could be the most accessible entry into an intangible realm of the spirit. For him, there could be no division between a scientific perspective and a religious one. Scientific advances strengthened his belief in a unified cosmos, the manifestation of a single force or energy. “Every natural fact is a symbol of some spiritual fact,” he declared. To study the processes and development of nature was also to penetrate the transcendent laws that governed the spiritual and moral realms.3

  • 4 CW 1: 10.
  • 5 CW 1: 10 and 35.
  • 6 JMN 5: 203.

3Although Nature did not conform to the expected format of a theological or philosophical treatise, Emerson’s prose-poem explored the deepest religious questions, combining reasoned argument with poetic insight to decipher the natural world as a code of fundamental laws that defined the purpose of human experience. The full range of human awareness — observation, reason, aesthetic sensitivity, and emotion — was necessary to comprehend the bond between nature and the human. At the outset, Emerson recounted a dramatically revelatory moment “in the woods” in which he felt “uplifted into infinite space,” and freed of “all mean egotism.” His vision was transformed, and the natural and spiritual worlds opened to him: “I become a transparent eye-ball. I am nothing. I see all. The currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.”4 In other passages, he seemed to become part of the natural world itself, speaking of “an occult relation between man and the vegetable,” and proclaiming, “I expand and live in the warm day like corn and melons.”5 These were moments of unburdened freedom from material reality, but they were paradoxically triggered by a deep sensual immersion within it. Emerson’s exuberant responsiveness to nature traversed the barriers between world and soul, each of which was encompassed in “the immutable laws of moral Nature.”6

  • 7 See Frederick DeWolfe Miller, Christopher Pearse Cranch and his Caricatures of New England Transcen (...)

4Such exuberance can be infectious, but it can also evoke wry amusement. Christopher Pearse Cranch, one of Emerson’s most ardent devotees, seized on Emerson’s weirdly striking images of the transparent eyeball and the occult vegetables for several gently satiric caricatures which circulated among friends in his day, but went unpublished until 1951.7

2.2 C. P. Cranch, caricature of Emerson’s transparent eyeball, c. 1838-1839.

  • 8 CW 1: 7.
  • 9 CW 1: 18.

5However odd they may have seemed, Emerson’s evocations of his encounters with natural events suggested that thoughtful interactions with nature would awaken a fulfilling and purposeful life. But to activate this potential, one must renounce settled doctrines and conventions. “Let us demand our own works and laws and worship,” he declared.8 His sustaining faith was that every individual had access to a greater spirituality through contemplation, self-examination, and attention to the suggestions of the natural surroundings. “Who looks upon a river in a meditative hour and is not reminded of the flux of all things?” he asked. “Throw a stone into the stream, and the circles that propagate themselves are the beautiful type of all influence. Man is conscious of a universal soul within or behind his individual life, wherein, as in a firmament, the natures of Justice, Truth, Love, Freedom, arise and shine.”9

  • 10 CW 1: 26. British ethical philosophers Lord Shaftesbury (1671-1713), Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746), (...)
  • 11 See Richardson, 65-69; quotations from 65-66. Emerson withdrew Henry More’s Divine Dialogues (1668) (...)
  • 12 For important studies of the impact of the British Romantics on Emerson, see Barbara L. Packer, The (...)
  • 13 Packer, The Transcendentalists, 40.

6Nature began as a hymn to the beauty of the woods and streams, but Emerson steered his argument toward the transformative beauty of nature, the capacity of creation to evoke a new energy within the human psyche. “All things are moral; and in their boundless changes have an unceasing reference to spiritual nature,” he asserted in the chapter “Discipline,” a pivotal chapter in his argument. Drawing on the eighteenth-century concepts of the moral sense, and a longer tradition of Platonic idealism, he depicted a cosmos whose deepest self-expression was concordant, harmonious action. “Every natural process is but a version of a moral sentence. The moral law lies at the centre of nature and radiates to the circumference. It is the pith and marrow of every substance, every relation, and every process.”10 Plato, and his many later followers, maintained that a deeper source of ideas gave the apparent world its material form. Plato was, as Robert D. Richardson explained, “the single most important source of Emerson’s lifelong conviction that ideas are real because they are the forms and laws that underlie, precede, and explain appearances.” Early discussions with his Aunt Mary Moody Emerson piqued his interest in Platonic idealism, and he was introduced to later versions of neo-idealism by his reading of the seventeenth-century English “Cambridge Platonists,” Ralph Cudworth and Henry More.11 His preferred contemporary writers, the British Romantics William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Thomas Carlyle, had also reformulated a version of Platonism, seeing it as a liberating alternative to the dry empiricism of John Locke and the skepticism of David Hume.12 Emerson regarded the Romantics’ resurrection of a modern form of idealism as a revolutionary turn in modern thinking, and as Barbara Packer noted, their powerful message, especially that of Carlyle, was a call to action. “If Carlyle preached a new gospel, how were his American disciples to put it into practice?”13

  • 14 CW 1: 37.
  • 15 CW 1: 34.
  • 16 CW 1: 35.
  • 17 CW 1: 45.

7For Emerson, idealism breathed new life into the physical world, transforming it from lifeless matter into energy, and giving it vast religious dimensions. “Idealism saith: matter is a phenomenon, not a substance,” he wrote in Nature, reaffirming his Parisian insight that creation was not static and unmovable but changing and malleable, a cycle of energies and interactions.14 This leap from “substance” to “phenomenon” was crucial to Emerson because it resolved the dualism of body and spirit through the unifying agency of the event. To recognize that both matter and soul were continually revealed in the processes of nature was also to see those processes as expressions of a vital, evolving unity. “A spiritual life has been imparted to nature” and “the solid seeming block of matter has been pervaded and dissolved by a thought,” he wrote.15 He redefined religion as the enactment — the making real — of idealism, “the practice of ideas, or the introduction of ideas into life.”16 This is the reason that Emerson concluded Nature with a call to action. Proclaiming Nature’s ultimate message through the voice of an “Orphic Poet,” Emerson emphasizes “building” rather than “seeing” or “understanding” as the conclusive wisdom. “Build, therefore, your own world,” the Orphic Poet proclaims. “As fast as you conform your life to the pure idea in your mind, that will unfold its great proportions. A correspondent revolution in things will attend the influx of the spirit.”17

Concord Life and the Emergence of Transcendentalism

8The ebullient mood of Nature and its message of world-building reflected the domestic and interpersonal world that Emerson was creating for himself in Concord.

2.3 Emerson house, 10 May 1903.

9In October 1834 he relocated from Boston to Concord, where he had familial roots. He was drawn by its rural seclusion and ready access to the New England countryside.

2.4 Concord and Vicinity.

2.5 Concord Village and Walden.

  • 18 Bliss Perry, Emerson Today (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1931), 47. For an important (...)
  • 19 For an informative study of the Transcendental Club, see Joel Myerson, “A Calendar of Transcendenta (...)
  • 20 For a study of Emerson’s long-developing conception of the scholar, one of his central concerns, se (...)
  • 21 Perry, 54.

10There in 1835, he brought a new wife, Lydia Jackson of Plymouth, who had been following his career as pastor and lecturer. The first of four children, Waldo, was born in Concord in 1836, the month after Nature was published. As Bliss Perry explained in his still indispensable portrait of Emerson’s domestic life, his neighbors “welcomed him as a true son of Concord into the ordinary life of the village. They put him on the School Committee. He taught in the Sunday School. He joined the Fire Company, and the Social Circle.”18 His home thus became not only a retreat for study and writing but a literary headquarters for the emerging American Transcendentalists. His door was open to frequent visitors, and through a combination of his Concord hospitality and his frequent forays into Boston, he built a network of like-minded friends. He played an important role in the gatherings of the “Transcendental Club,” a group of rebellious Unitarian ministers who supported each other in dissent from what they regarded as the exhausted structures of their church. The club met thirty times in Boston, Concord, and other nearby places between 1836 and 1840, and became a rallying point for the Transcendental new views.19 Even though he had resigned his Boston pulpit in 1832 before traveling to Europe, he resumed week-to-week supply preaching at a nearby church in East Lexington. This job required no ministerial duties except the one he preferred — preaching — and he had carefully preserved his stock of manuscript sermons (now held in the Houghton Library at Harvard). Throughout this busy Concord life Emerson continued to be remarkably productive and creative in his work as a “scholar.”20 He was a vigorous writer with a steely discipline, who conducted extensive correspondence and generated a continual flow of lectures, essays, and poems. Most crucially, he maintained a voluminous journal that was the taproot of all of his work. He was able to accomplish all this, Bliss Perry explains, through “the long, inviolable mornings in his study,” which began early and were sustained by “two cups of coffee and — it must be owned — a piece of pie.”21

11Foremost among his projects in the middle and late 1830s were annual winter lectures in Boston, performances that developed a local following and eventually enabled Emerson to expand his travels into other areas in the Northeast and the growing Midwest. His Boston lectures were a testing ground for his newest thinking, and served as the basis for the essay collections, published in the early 1840s, that became the cornerstone of his literary career. Two controversial public addresses at Harvard accelerated his rise as a public figure; these remain among his best known and most enduring cultural legacies. The first was a provocative address to the 1837 meeting of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, traditionally a celebration of “The American Scholar.”

2.6 “American Scholar Address,” 1837.

  • 22 CW 1: 69.

12Emerson used the title as a vantage for critique rather than celebration, charging that “the spirit of the American freeman is already suspected to be timid, imitative, tame. Public and private avarice make the air we breathe thick and fat. The scholar is decent, indolent, complaisant.”22

  • 23 CW 1: 56.
  • 24 CW 1: 57 and 56.
  • 25 CW 1: 56. For an important study of the background and impact of the address, see Kenneth S. Sacks,(...)

13Applying the primary message of Nature to the literary and creative life, he urged original independence rather than passive compliance. While books were presumably the scholar’s chief concern, Emerson called them dangerous when they stood in the way of independent thinking. “Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon, have given; forgetful that Cicero, Locke and Bacon were only young men in libraries when they wrote these books.” Each new generation, he argued “must write its own books,” using the past for inspiration, but testing all received values against the conditions of the present.23 “Books are for the scholars’ idle times,” he declared, cautioning against imitative, passive, or merely receptive reading that leads not to “Man Thinking” but instead to “the bookworm.”24 He urged the scholar — he might have said the “author,” “the artist,” or “the builder,” or anyone of a creative and critical mind — to return to the primordial energy of nature to become original and authentic. “The one thing in the world of value, is, the active soul.”25

  • 26 Richardson, 263.
  • 27 Oliver Wendell Holmes, Ralph Waldo Emerson (Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin, 1885), 115. For reacti (...)
  • 28 CW 1: 52.

14As we view it now, this appears to be the moment when Emerson emerged into public prominence. Controversial to some of his listeners because of its hard-edged critique of American intellectual culture, “The American Scholar” was nevertheless memorable. As time passed,” Richardson observed, “the talk became famous, even legendary.”26 He cites Oliver Wendell Holmes’s enduring claim that “The American Scholar” was “our intellectual Declaration of Independence,”27 a characterization that addressed America’s deep-rooted sense of literary and artistic inferiority in the face of Europe. Emerson frankly disparaged the feebleness of American writing, a pursuit that seemed to falter “amongst a people too busy to give letters” serious attention.28 When, unexpectedly, he received a second invitation to keynote a public event at Harvard, he was given the opportunity to assess the doctrines of Christianity and the state of the church, the most sacrosanct of his culture’s foundations.

  • 29 On the background and setting of the Divinity School Address, see Conrad Wright, “Emerson, Barzilla (...)

15In the spring of 1838 the graduating students from Harvard Divinity School, the stronghold of New England Unitarianism, invited Emerson to speak at their commencement the next July. These beginning ministers numbered only seven, but the ceremony in the chapel at Divinity Hall was filled with close to a hundred alumni, faculty members, local pastors, friends, and family. Several key figures in the Unitarian establishment were there, including the erudite Biblical scholar Andrews Norton; Divinity School Dean John Gorham Palfrey, later prominent as an antislavery politician and historian; and Henry Ware, Jr., a Harvard faculty member who had been Emerson’s predecessor and mentor in the pulpit at Boston’s Second Church.29 In “The American Scholar,” Emerson had applied the principles of originality and direct experience to literature, scholarship, and action. In what became known as his “Divinity School Address,” he measured religion and contemporary worship by this same standard. He argued that the religious spirit itself was being stifled by the routine performance of empty ceremony and rote creed.

  • 30 CW 1: 77.
  • 31 CW 1: 79.

16Emerson called his listeners back to the “sentiment of virtue,” an inherent “delight in the presence of certain divine laws.” To assure them that he was not opening a conventional theological exposition, he explained that “these laws refuse to be adequately stated,” but are instead revealed through direct experience, what we encounter daily “in each other’s faces, in each other’s actions, in our own remorse.”30 Such experience was, he believed, innate, the sign within us of the same ceaseless energy that coursed through nature. “This sentiment,” he explained, “lies at the foundation of society, and successively creates all forms of worship. The principle of veneration never dies out.”31

2.7 “Divinity School Address,” 1838.

  • 32 CW 1: 81.

17Emerson wanted to return the church and its ministers to the direct, experiential roots of religion and thereby free them from the hollow forms of belief and worship that were now too common. He audaciously rejected the significance of Biblical miracles, and explained Jesus’s claim to be the son of God as an arresting metaphor for his sense of a divinity within every man and woman. Jesus demonstrated an inner spiritual power that was not unique, but potentially universal. “Alone in all history, [Jesus] estimated the greatness of man,” Emerson maintained.32 While he showed a reverence for Jesus, he by no means granted him a divine or supernatural character, as it was broadly understood in the 1830s.

  • 33 CW 1: 82.
  • 34 On Emerson’s stance of openness and change, his essay “Circles” (CW 2: 177-90) is of particular imp (...)

18Making himself more explicit, and more shocking, Emerson also denied the personhood of God in his description of the shortcomings of his religious tradition. “Historical Christianity has fallen into the error that corrupts all attempts to communicate religion. As it appears to us, and as it has appeared for ages, it is not the doctrine of the soul, but an exaggeration of the personal, the positive, the ritual. It has dwelt, it dwells, with noxious exaggeration about the person of Jesus. The soul knows no persons.”33 Uneasy with the theological use of anthropomorphic terms such as “Father,” Emerson saw the personification of God as a false projection of limited human qualities onto an unfathomable power. His rejection of the personhood of God was one of his most disquieting ideas, inviting the strong criticism of his former ministerial mentor, Henry Ware. Ware insisted that an impersonal God lacked religious value. But Emerson held that to personalize God was to limit one’s access to deeper sources of religious energy. Emerson sometimes used the word “God,” in his journal and in his published work, but he constantly searched for other ways to express this originating energy: “Soul,” “Over-Soul,” “World Soul,” “Spirit,” “One,” “Moral Sense,” and “Moral Law.” Emerson’s conception of a continually developing deity corresponded with his belief in the potential for a continually growing spiritual awareness of the individual, and provided the basis for a revitalized spirituality, stripped of religious mythology and churchly traditions.34

  • 35 CW 1: 86.

19Emerson himself was a product of the tradition that he was so frankly condemning. He revered the eloquent preaching of William Ellery Channing, whose landmark sermon of 1819, “Unitarian Christianity,” had separated Unitarians from the Calvinist-grounded Congregationalism that had been New England’s dominant theology for two centuries. The Unitarians dismissed the concept of original sin and affirmed the spiritual resources of every individual. They advocated a life of disciplined self-examination and continuing spiritual development. But Emerson’s skepticism about Biblical miracles and Jesus as a supernatural figure touched sensitive points of Christian belief that were still dear to most Unitarians. He asked this graduating class — and by extension their professors and everyone gathered — not to accept these cherished precepts without intense scrutiny. Only through their witness to a direct experience of the holy might they preach with influence to their churches, and “convert life into truth.”35

2.8 Walden Pond from Emerson’s Cliff, 1903.

  • 36 For Norton’s initial response, see Andrews Norton, “The New School in Literature and Religion,” Bos (...)
  • 37 For the reaction to the Divinity School Address, see McAleer, 247-65; Packer, The Transcendentalist (...)

20While the “American Scholar” had ruffled some of its listeners, this attack on both Christian doctrine and church practice provoked a storm of controversy. A week after the address was published, a Boston newspaper brought out a stinging attack against it by Harvard’s leading Biblical scholar, Andrews Norton, who himself had been a leader in the Unitarian break with Calvinism. A year later, at a meeting of Divinity School alumni, Norton expanded his attack on Emerson’s Address with a fiery rebuttal, “A Discourse on the Latest Form of Infidelity.”36 Norton spoke for those Unitarians who viewed Emerson’s ideas as a dangerously subversive abandonment of the key elements of Christianity. Cranch, ever loyal to Emerson, lost no time caricaturing Norton in an outrage and circulated the cartoon among his transcendentalist friends. Although ruffled, Emerson refused to engage his critics directly in public debate, rejecting a pamphlet war that would drain his energies for the campaign that he wanted to continue.37

  • 38 CW 1: 77.

21Emerson believed that these conflicts were signs of much more than a theological schism. They registered a wider divergence of perspective and values in his culture, and they held the promise of a significant cultural transformation. “The two omnipresent parties of History, the party of the Past and the party of the Future, divide society to-day as of old,” he argued in his series “Lectures on the Times, 1841-1842.” He could feel the progressive currents of egalitarian change and predicted that “the present age will be marked by its harvest of projects, for the reform of domestic, civil, literary, and ecclesiastical institutions.”38 In this atmosphere of contending parties, Emerson and his allies recognized that stronger efforts to spread their views were needed, and that one of their most pressing needs was a journal of Transcendentalist opinion and artistic expression. In July 1840, Emerson, Margaret Fuller, George Ripley, and others launched a new quarterly, The Dial.

  • 39 CW 10: 96, 98.

22In its first issue, Emerson provided a rationale for the journal as a voice in “the progress of a revolution” in New England, challenging the adequacy of present forms of literature, religion, and education. Its sources would be innovative, as Emerson described them in “The Editors to the Reader,” not the familiar work of established authors, but rather “the discourse of the living, and the portfolios which friendship has opened to us.”39 Fuller served as The Dial’s first editor, making her among the earliest American women to edit a literary journal.

2.9 The Dial, wrapper, No. 1, July 1840.

  • 40 See Joel Myerson, The New England Transcendentalists and the Dial: A History of the Magazine and It (...)
  • 41 On the reception of Alcott’s “Orphic Sayings,” see Joel Myerson, “’In the Transcendental Emporium’: (...)
  • 42 Myerson, N. E. Transcendentalists and the Dial, 95, 96. For an overview of The Dial, see Susan Bela (...)

23The Dial became particularly important to aspiring poets such as Cranch, Jones Very, Ellen Sturgis Hooper, and Caroline Sturgis Tappan, whose work may not have been easily placed in more conventional journals. Access to The Dial was also vital for Fuller, whose work is now recognized as pioneering on several counts. Of particular importance were her 1841 essay “Goethe,” the most perceptive early American critical assessment of this literary master, and her epochal defense of women’s rights, “The Great Lawsuit.” Fuller expanded this article into Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845), a book that brought her to prominence and became a founding document for the women’s rights movement in America. Thoreau’s early essays on nature and Emerson’s defining lecture on “The Transcendentalist” also first reached print via The Dial.40 Bronson Alcott’s “Orphic Sayings,” aphoristic prose-poems that seemed impenetrably abstract to many readers, were among its most controversial pieces.41 One of the magazine’s most forward-thinking projects, jointly promoted by Emerson and Thoreau, was a series of “Ethnical Scriptures,” translations of ancient Hindu, Buddhist, and Confucian religious texts. This pioneering effort disseminated knowledge about world religions, encouraging a modern, comparative view of Christianity, and suggesting its place as one faith tradition among the world’s religions. Both Emerson and Thoreau remained keenly interested in Asian beliefs, finding links between their radical explorations in spirituality and these classic non-Western traditions. Although The Dial was publishing what we now recognize as historically important texts, its subscribers never exceeded about 300, and Emerson, busy with other matters, was finally forced to cease publishing it. But its four-year run had given his friends important encouragement and a common purpose in addressing America’s need for a cultural revolution.42

2.10 Emerson’s four volumes of The Dial.

  • 43 CW 2: 30, 31, 35. Essays was renamed Essays: First Series after Emerson published Essays: Second Se (...)

24Emerson’s ever-enlarging journal and his rich backlog of public lectures were the foundations for the work that would assure his place in the global literary canon: Essays I (1841). Characterized by its sharp-edged aphorisms and epigrammatic turns-of-phrase, this book established Emerson as a stylistic innovator and an influential voice of wisdom and ethical guidance. He spoke directly to a rapidly shifting religious climate in which the findings of modern Biblical research and emerging science generated doubt and anxiety, and proposed fresh and revitalizing approaches to spiritual questions. He urged his readers to higher levels of integrity and ethical awareness, and offered them desperately needed freedom from tightly sanctioned limits on their thought and behavior. The best known of his remedies for doubt and anxiety was an essay that codified his own early struggle for self-acceptance and social confidence. He entitled it “Self-Reliance.” “Trust thyself; every soul vibrates to that iron string.” “Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.” “What I must do, is all that concerns me, not what the people think.” “Let us affront and reprimand the smooth mediocrity and squalid contentment of the times.”43 These and other lasting affirmations were vivid reminders of the code of courage and balanced self-possession necessary to resist modern society’s crushing demands for acquiescence and conformity.

  • 44 JMN 5: 28.

25Emerson contended that the self-reliant individual gained strength not from external social approval but from inner resources — spiritual trust and recognition of the moral sentiment — that built and sustained character. Emerson’s belief that the self was grounded in a greater Self discouraged egotism on the one hand, and social anarchy on the other. But such trust was hard to achieve and to retain. The distinctive tone of high confidence and optimism in his writings actually disguised his ongoing inner struggle with self-doubt and pessimism. “In the dark hours our existence seems to be a defensive war,” he privately recorded in 1835, “a struggle against the encroaching All which threatens with certainty to engulf us soon, & seems impatient of our little reprieve.”44 This voice of insecurity stayed largely hidden in Emerson’s speeches and published works, where he regularly put forward a self-assured and resolute persona. But a long history in his own experience with building courage lay behind “Self-Reliance,” making his words apply first to himself, then to his readers.

  • 45 CW 2: 124; 119. For a discussion of Emerson and friendship, see the essay collection Emerson & Thor (...)

26“Self Reliance” was one of twelve essays in this first collection, which included subjects ranging from “History” to “Friendship” to “Art.” Together they constitute a loosely structured theory of human culture and the ethical life. While “Self-Reliance” attained cultural significance through its articulation of the presumably characteristic national value of individualism, its answering essay, “Friendship,” has garnered wider recent attention, as readers of Emerson have come to recognize the social dimensions of his work more deeply. For Emerson, friendship and self-reliance are not mutually exclusive qualities. Each virtue depends on the other for its completion. Friendship must not be taken as a denial of self-reliance, Emerson cautions: “we must be our own, before we can be another’s.” But true friendship demands careful cultivation and what he terms “a long probation,” or period of testing and trial. But its achievement stands as one of the greatest of human fulfillments, the sign of an aware and ethically purposeful life. Friendship is “the nut itself whereof all nature and all thought is but the husk and shell.”45 Emerson’s discourse on friendship, with its careful analysis of interpersonal bonds, is a crucial indicator of the social trajectory of Emerson’s work in the 1840s and 1850s, which is more directly engaged with the daily conduct of life, its social contexts, and the imperatives of political reform.

2.11 Emerson house, front hallway looking north.

2.12 Second floor nursery, Emerson house.

Self-Reliance and the Challenge of Reform

27By the early 1840s Emerson was becoming more engaged in social criticism, developing a more relational theory of the self, and responding to the increasingly rancorous national political climate. Deep personal tragedy reinforced this shift of perspective. In January 1842, soon after the his success with the publication of Essays I, his first child Waldo, age five, developed scarlet fever and, within days, died.

  • 46 JMN 8: 205.
  • 47 On Emerson’s intellectual evolution, see Stephen E. Whicher, Freedom and Fate: An Inner Life of Ral (...)

28“I comprehend nothing of this fact but its bitterness,” he confided in his journal. “Explanation I have none, consolation none that rises out of the fact itself; only diversion; only oblivion of this & pursuit of new objects.”46 No stranger to disappointment, injustice, uncertainty, and loss, the death of the cherished Waldo affected him much more deeply than the earlier losses of his father, three brothers, and even his beloved first wife Ellen. Waldo’s sudden absence jarringly refocused his attention on the meaning of life’s major reversals. The loss accentuated the fragility of life and the tenuous stability of its moods and perspectives, and encouraged openness and patience, virtues that clarified the limits of the self. Stunned by the loss, Emerson’s grief-guided search for a response pointed him toward determined engagement in this world, and quickened his already discernible turn toward the pragmatic. Meaningful life and true character demanded purpose, will, discipline, stoical patience, and active involvement.47

2.13 Waldo Emerson, Jr. (30 October 1836-27 January 1841).

  • 48 CW 9: 295, 297.
  • 49 CW 3: 49.
  • 50 CW 3: 49. On the labyrinthine structure of “Experience,” see Robinson, Emerson and the Conduct of L (...)
  • 51 CW 3: 49.

29Compelling evidence of this change is Emerson’s poem “Threnody,” an elegy for Waldo written over many months. It registers Emerson’s tortuous passage from blank despair to a renewed worldly purpose. His guide out of this morass is the voice of a “deep Heart” that responds to his personal pain with the assurance that death does not erase abiding values and affections: “Hearts are dust, hearts’ loves remain;/Heart’s love will meet thee again.”48 The poem’s companion piece was “Experience,” now regarded as the greatest of his essays. A complex meditation that blends surrealistic imagery with a succession of gripping voices and shifting moods, the essay records Emerson’s voyage from numbed bewilderment to a tempered determination to rise “up again” and confront experience.49 Strikingly candid in its portrayal of personal loss, “Experience” also sets the direction for the later public phase of his work. Beginning half-way up the stairway of life, Emerson depicts his dazed effort to find his way in a chaotic and misfortune-filled world. “Experience” poses a labyrinthine series of dilemmas in which the resolution of one adversity leads inevitably to another. In contrast with the earlier epiphany in the Jardin des Plantes, or the ecstasy of the transparent eyeball image of Nature (only eight years in the past), Emerson now dramatizes the loss of energy, desire, and self-confidence that darkens every purpose. His way forward is less to heal or redeem the private self than to envision the eventual emergence of a more communal justice. He calls for patience, resilient courage, and a conviction that “there is victory yet for all justice.”50 The antidote to misfortune is “the transformation of genius into practical power,” the resolute application of one’s intellectual resources and ethical commitments with reasoned, persistent effort.51 Devastated by tragedy, Emerson turned mourning into a motivation for dedicated service.

  • 52 Emerson’s letter of protest is included in Emerson’s Antislavery Writings, eds. Len Gougeon and Joe (...)
  • 53 Larry J. Reynolds, European Revolutions and the American Literary Renaissance (New Haven, CT: Yale (...)
  • 54 L 2: 370.
  • 55 Albert Brisbane, The Social Destiny of Man (Philadelphia, PA: C.F. Stollmeyer, 1840). For a study o (...)

30This evolution toward a larger role in public affairs was not an easy one for Emerson. In 1838, concerned friends and family called on him to protest President Van Buren’s order forcing the Cherokee nation to leave Georgia for the West. He wrote a blistering condemnation of the policy as a moral outrage to American civilization. But privately, he recorded his unhappiness at entering this debate over public policy, expressing his inner conflict between his literary calling and his sense of a citizen’s public duty to advance progressive political causes.52 As his stature as a public figure grew, so did his recognition of his responsibility to use his influence productively, especially as the national crisis over slavery and other abrasive issues intensified in the 1840s and 1850s. The revolutionary currents of the 1840s in Europe also began to be felt in the United States, and as Larry J. Reynolds has shown, those ideas had a profound impact on Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Walt Whitman, and other American writers.53 One important sign of the political turn among the Transcendentalists was a growing interest in the philosophy of Charles Fourier, a French utopian social theorist whose work was translated in 1840 by Albert Brisbane. Fourier’s complex and sometimes bizarre theories focused on the formation of small communes or “phalanxes” that could create liberating alternatives to the competitive market economy. Emerson’s friends George and Sophia Ripley urged him to join them in launching Brook Farm, one of the best known communal experiments of the era, but Emerson demurred. “I think that all I shall solidly do, I must do alone,” he wrote to Ripley, remaining sympathetic but skeptical of communal alternatives to familial life.54 In one sense he was right — the communes did not last long. Brook Farm, though a rewarding experience for many of its members, disbanded after six years in financial failure. Another close friend, Bronson Alcott, launched Fruitlands, an even more short-lived communal experiment that disbanded when facing its first winter.55 Despite their clear failures as enduring institutions, these efforts were nevertheless valuable expressions of dissent, as Emerson recognized. Their formation signaled important opposition to the powerful new America that was coming into being.

  • 56 JMN 7: 207. For an informative discussion of Emerson’s relationship with the social reform advocate (...)
  • 57 Len Gougeon, “‘Only Justice Satisfies All’: Emerson’s Militant Transcendentalism.” Emerson for the (...)
  • 58 CW 1: 147.

31The search for a more harmonious and cooperative form of social organization reflected a deep concern about the nation’s hypocritical professions of democracy and its egregious social injustices. In an 1839 journal entry Emerson observed that “the number of reforms preached to this age exceeds the usual measure,” an indicator, he believed of “the depth & universality of the movement which betrays itself by such variety of symptom.” He offers a brief list of these oppositional groups, suggesting that they address almost every dimension of modern life: “anti-money, anti-war, anti-slavery, anti-government, anti-Christianity, anti-College; and, the rights of Woman.”56 But among these many reform efforts, the antislavery movement would quickly move to prominence, both in Emerson’s thinking and on the national scene. One of the pieces that Emerson contributed to The Dial was an 1841 speech to the Mechanics’ Apprentices’ Library Association in Boston, entitled “Man the Reformer.” Len Gougeon called attention to one moment in the speech in which Emerson lauded abolitionism for showing Americans their “dreadful debt to the Southern negro.”57 The goods produced by slave labor provided consumers in the North, even those opposed to slavery, with items of comfort and luxury. “We are all implicated, of course, in this charge,” Emerson asserts. “It is only necessary to ask a few questions as to the progress of the articles of commerce from the fields where they grew, to our houses, to become aware that we eat and drink and wear perjury and fraud in a hundred commodities.”58

  • 59 Richardson, 395.
  • 60 CW 3: 167.
  • 61 EAW 73.
  • 62 For a discussion of Emerson’s changing views of race, see Philip L. Nicoloff, Emerson on Race and H (...)

32Emerson remained an advocate of the reform movements, including antislavery, over the next few years, but a somewhat distanced one. He concluded Essays: Second Series with the 1844 lecture “New England Reformers,” a text that Richardson describes as “calm and qualifying,” and containing little mention of the antislavery movement.59 A brief sentence near the end of that lecture, however, provides an important clue to his attitude about his public role as a spokesman for reform: “Obedience to his genius is the only liberating influence.”60 Emerson was reluctant to leave the path he had set for himself as a “scholar” of philosophy and literature. To put it more bluntly, he was wary of becoming enslaved to antislavery, and thereby losing what he felt was his particular voice and mission. Well after he had entered the antislavery effort unreservedly, he would express his misgivings in these arresting words: “I do not often speak to public questions;— they are odious and hurtful, and it seems like meddling or leaving your work. I have my own spirits in prison;— spirits in deeper prisons, whom no man visits if I do not.”61 But as the national political crisis over legal slavery simmered, he realized that the epitome of social injustice was the slave, the man or woman robbed legally of self-possession and the right to act and choose freely. The slaveholder had no right to oppress another individual who was by right his equal. The slave came to represent for him the greatest moral contradiction of modern civilization.62

  • 63 “An Address... on... the Emancipation of the Negroes in the British West Indies,” (also known as “E (...)
  • 64 EAW 10. For Emerson’s sources on the history of British abolitionism, see Joseph E. Slater, “Two So (...)

33A pivotal moment for Emerson came in the summer of 1844 when he was invited by the Concord Female Anti-Slavery Society to speak on the tenth anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the British West Indies. Urged onward at home by his wife Lidian, and by other women friends, he began to research the history of the slave trade as well as the British parliamentary debates and legislation leading to the abolition of slavery in the Caribbean. This assiduous homework resulted in one of his most stirring addresses in which he described the horrors of slavery in detail and made a powerful case, emotionally and intellectually, that slavery was a moral violation.63 Emerson’s reading had given him a wider understanding of the slave trade and of the physical conditions of slavery in the Caribbean, and had moved him to portray slavery, in vivid terms, as a viscerally moral issue: “The blood is moral: the blood is anti-slavery: it runs cold in the veins: the stomach rises with disgust, and curses slavery.”64 The speech signaled an intensified concern with social and political issues, and was a major step in Emerson’s adaptation of his identity as a scholar to that of an engaged public commentator and social critic.

International Fame and National Crisis

  • 65 For an informative account of Emerson’s lecture career and his style and impact as a lecturer, see (...)

34Increasingly in demand as a lecturer, Emerson traveled extensively on the expanding lyceum circuit, an important source of his income from the 1840s onward.65

  • 66 JMN 10: 79.

35His itineraries first focused on New England, expanding to the greater Northeast and the Middle Atlantic States, and then after 1850 following the nation’s westward expansion to include frontier cities and towns. Conditions for travel were often arduous, and though some audiences were thirsty for culture, others were less than receptive. But Emerson persisted, combining a need for new audiences and continuing income with a desire to bring the life of serious thinking to all who would listen. Emerson clearly wanted to know his country, as his unremitting travels show. But he was a frank and incisive observer, and was often disappointed in what he saw. “Great country, diminutive minds,” he noted with disgust in a June 1847 journal entry on “eager, solicitous, hungry, rabid, busy-body America.” His lament for American culture centered on its scattered attention and aimless energy. “Alas for America as I must often say, the ungirt, the diffuse, the profuse, procumbent, one wide ground juniper, out of which no cedar, no oak will rear up a mast to the clouds! it all runs to leaves, to suckers, to tendrils, to miscellany. The air is loaded with poppy, with imbecility, with dispersion, & sloth.”66 A little over three months later he was on his way to a lecture tour in Great Britain, where his writings had gained a substantial following.

2.14 Emerson at 43, May 1846.

2.15 Emerson in Great Britain and France, 1847-1848.

  • 67 Richardson, 441.
  • 68 On Emerson’s lecture tour in England, see von Frank, An Emerson Chronology, 218-37; McAleer, Emerso (...)

36Obviously he was seeking new stimulation, and a respite from the monotonous mediocrity that defined American culture. The ten-month journey to Britain was an eventful and transformative one for Emerson. As Richardson so expressively put it, “England jolted Emerson. Everything seemed different, bigger, faster, heavier.... All was bustle and activity in England.”67 Lecturing in Liverpool, Manchester, and cities in the Midlands, he got a close look at England in the midst of its Industrial Revolution, and spoke to a varied audience that included workingmen’s groups. He had Thomas Carlyle’s assistance in London, and met literary celebrities such as Tennyson, George Eliot, and Dickens. Yet the England that Emerson visited was also an anxious nation, concerned about its own stability as it witnessed continental Europe erupt in political revolution in 1848. In a three-week interlude during the spring of 1848, he traveled to Paris where he witnessed the barricaded city in open revolution. He corresponded with Margaret Fuller, then in Italy, who had become an ardent proponent of the Italian Risorgimento led by Giuseppe Mazzini.68 This tense political atmosphere kept him in constant thought about the divided, rancorous America to which he would return. In this sense, Emerson was a tourist with a double vision; he wanted to see and understand the new Britain that was rising as the world’s greatest commercial and industrial power, and he also wanted the perspective that this other nation could give him on America. These questions were at the heart of his 1856 volume, English Traits, a work that combined descriptive aspects of the travel narrative with social analysis directed ultimately at the prospects of American advancement.

  • 69 Nicoloff, 118-23.
  • 70 CW 5: 27. For a more detailed discussion of the impact of Emerson’s tour of Great Britain and his t (...)

37The future of America, he recognized, would be determined by how it responded to the slavery crisis, a question deeply rooted in the issue of race. Emerson’s initial reaction to England’s remarkable industrial growth and commercial power was to attribute it to the power of the Saxon “race.” The category of race was a large one in the 1840s, much under scientific discussion, and it was a form of classification that included a variety of peoples, as Philip F. Nicoloff has written.69 Drawn to racial explanations of British power initially, Emerson was forced to look into theories of race more deeply, and ultimately rejected one of the central ideas of the day, the fixity of the races. “The limitations of the formidable doctrine of race suggest others which threaten to undermine it, as not sufficiently based,” he wrote in the chapter on “Race” in English Traits. “The fixity or incontrovertibleness of races as we see them, is a weak argument for the eternity of these frail boundaries, since all our historical period is a point to the duration in which nature has wrought.” In appealing to the vastness of historical time, Emerson dissolved the “frail boundaries” of racial division, and clarified the grounds of human equality upon which the essential moral objection to slavery rested.70

2.16 Emerson’s study, 1972.

  • 71 LL 1: 129-89. On Emerson’s London lectures see Laura Dassow Walls, “‘If Body Can Sing’: Emerson and (...)

38Emerson’s English tour had another powerful impact on him. He saw not only the growing industrial economy of England, but also the history-making achievements of its scientists. The most crucial evidence of this impact can be found in the set of new lectures that he wrote and delivered in London in the early summer of 1848, “Mind and Manners of the Nineteenth Century.” Addresses he heard by the prominent paleontologist Richard Owen and the renowned theorist of electricity Michael Faraday stimulated Emerson to return to key questions that he had pursued in his own early natural history lectures, and in his first book Nature. Published from manuscript in 2001 in Joel Myerson and Ronald A. Bosco’s edition of Emerson’s Later Lectures, the “Mind and Manners of the Nineteenth Century” series has proven to be an extremely important addition to the Emerson canon. The lectures clarify the impact of modern science on Emerson’s later thinking, bringing out a further dimension of his interest in the pragmatic, the material, and the empirical. This scientific bent, which Emerson sought to merge with his earlier commitment to idealism, evolved into a recurring project over the later phase of his career.71

2.17 Emerson’s pocket globe (terrestrial and celestial).

2.18 Emerson’s penknife, bottle-opener/hook, and scissors.

2.19 Emerson at 45, 1848.

  • 72 JMN 10: 339.

39Emerson returned home in July 1848 to a nation in deepening political crisis over slavery. Once back, he acknowledged having allowed himself “freely to be dazzled by the various brilliancy of men of talent,” but found himself in “no way helped.”72 The journey had, however, shown him America from a new critical perspective, and he would need that perspective in the coming decade.

2.20 Period Map of U. S. in 1848, railroad timetable.

40Freshly appreciative of America as a young nation with hopeful ideas, he was also reminded of his nation’s faults and areas of blindness. The political crisis accelerated on the 7th of March, 1850, when New England’s most respected political figure, Daniel Webster, delivered the speech that enabled passage of the Fugitive Slave Law, an integral part of the Compromise of 1850. This law required the institutions, and the citizens, of the Northern states to cooperate in returning escaped slaves to their legal owners. Infuriated by this betrayal, Emerson watched as the law began to take effect and escaped slaves were returned to their bondage in the South.

2.21 Emerson at about 47, c. 1850.

  • 73 JMN 11: 344.

41In 1851, with “that detestable law” on his mind, he entered this pledge in his journal: “All I have, and all I can do shall be given & done in opposition to the execution of this law.”73

Notes

1 The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 16 vols., eds. William H. Gilman, et al. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1960-1982), 4: 200. Hereafter JMN.

2 For discussions of Emerson’s visit to the Jardin des Plantes and its impact, see David M. Robinson, “Emerson’s Natural Theology and the Paris Naturalists: Toward a ‘ Theory of Animated Nature,’” Journal of the History of Ideas, 41 (1980), 69-88; Elizabeth A. Dant, “Composing the World: Emerson and the Cabinet of Natural History,” Nineteenth-Century Literature 44 (June 1989), 18-44; Robert D. Richardson, Jr., Emerson: The Mind on Fire (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1995), 139-42; and Lee Rust Brown, The Emerson Museum: Practical Romanticism and the Pursuit of the Whole (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997). For the texts of his early lectures on natural history, see The Early Lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 3 vols., eds. Robert E. Spiller, et al. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1959-1972), 1: 1-83. Hereafter EL.

3 The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 10 vols., eds. Robert E. Spiller, et al. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971-2013), 1: 18 (Nature ). Hereafter CW. For helpful interpretive discussions of Nature, see Sherman Paul, Emerson’s Angle of Vision: Man and Nature in American Experience (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1952); Barbara Packer, Emerson’s Fall: A New Interpretation of the Major Essays (New York: Continuum, 1992); David M. Robinson, Apostle of Culture: Emerson as Preacher and Lecturer (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982); David Van Leer, Emerson’s Epistemology: The Argument of the Essays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986); Alan D. Hodder, Emerson’s Rhetoric of Revelation (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1989); and David Greenham, Emerson’s Transatlantic Romanticism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

4 CW 1: 10.

5 CW 1: 10 and 35.

6 JMN 5: 203.

7 See Frederick DeWolfe Miller, Christopher Pearse Cranch and his Caricatures of New England Transcendentalism (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1951).

8 CW 1: 7.

9 CW 1: 18.

10 CW 1: 26. British ethical philosophers Lord Shaftesbury (1671-1713), Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746), and David Hume (1711-1776) principally developed the concept of the moral sense, an innate human capacity for moral discrimination and benevolent action. Hutcheson’s work, in particular, directly influenced one of Emerson’s key mentors, William Ellery Channing, minister of the Federal Street Unitarian Church in Boston. Closely connected to it was the concept of “self-culture,” an important doctrine of Channing and other Unitarian thinkers of the generation preceding Emerson. For information on the tradition of Unitarian ethical thinking that shaped Emerson, see Daniel Walker Howe, The Unitarian Conscience: Harvard Moral Philosophy, 1805-1861 (1970; reprint, Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1988); and Robinson, Apostle of Culture.

11 See Richardson, 65-69; quotations from 65-66. Emerson withdrew Henry More’s Divine Dialogues (1668) from the Boston Athenaeum on November 19, 1830. He acquired Ralph Cudworth’s The True Intellectual System of the Universe (1678) on April 23, 1835. See Albert J. von Frank, An Emerson Chronology (New York: G. K. Hall, 1994), 54, 101. For further information on the Cambridge Platonists and their impact on American Unitarianism and Transcendentalism, see Daniel Walker Howe, “The Cambridge Platonists of Old England and the Cambridge Platonists of New England,” in American Unitarianism, 1805-1861, ed. Conrad E. Wright (Boston, Mass.: Massachusetts Historical Society and Northeastern University Press, 1989), 87-120.

12 For important studies of the impact of the British Romantics on Emerson, see Barbara L. Packer, The Transcendentalists (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2007), 20-45; Patrick J. Keane, Emerson, Romanticism, and Intuitive Reason: The Transatlantic “Light of All Our Day” (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2005); and Greenham, Emerson’s Transatlantic Romanticism.

13 Packer, The Transcendentalists, 40.

14 CW 1: 37.

15 CW 1: 34.

16 CW 1: 35.

17 CW 1: 45.

18 Bliss Perry, Emerson Today (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1931), 47. For an important study of the family context of Emerson’s work and career, written from the perspective of women’s history and family history, see Phyllis Cole, Mary Moody Emerson and the Origins of Transcendentalism: A Family History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).

19 For an informative study of the Transcendental Club, see Joel Myerson, “A Calendar of Transcendental Club Meetings,” American Literature 44 (May 1972): 197-207. The origin of the name Transcendentalism seems to be obscure, but was most likely used first as a pejorative description. Emerson offered an explanation of the movement in his 1841 essay “The Transcendentalist” (CW 1: 201-16). For a thoughtful analysis see Charles Capper, “‘A Little Beyond’: The Problem of the Transcendentalist Movement in American History,” Journal of American History 85 (September 1998): 502-39.

20 For a study of Emerson’s long-developing conception of the scholar, one of his central concerns, see Merton M. Sealts, Jr., Emerson on the Scholar (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1992).

21 Perry, 54.

22 CW 1: 69.

23 CW 1: 56.

24 CW 1: 57 and 56.

25 CW 1: 56. For an important study of the background and impact of the address, see Kenneth S. Sacks, Understanding Emerson: The American Scholar and His Struggle for Self-Reliance (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003).

26 Richardson, 263.

27 Oliver Wendell Holmes, Ralph Waldo Emerson (Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin, 1885), 115. For reactions to the address, see Bliss Perry, “Emerson’s Most Famous Speech,” in The Praise of Folly and Other Papers (Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin, 1923), 81-112; John McAleer, Ralph Waldo Emerson: Days of Encounter (Boston, Mass.: Little, Brown & Co., 1984), 234-39; Sealts, Scholar, 97-110; Richardson, 262-65; and Sacks, 12-20.

28 CW 1: 52.

29 On the background and setting of the Divinity School Address, see Conrad Wright, “Emerson, Barzillai Frost, and the Divinity School Address,” in his The Liberal Christians: Essays on American Unitarian History (Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, 1970); and Wright, ‘“Soul is Good, but Body is Good Too,’” Journal of Unitarian and Universalist History 37 (2013-2014): 1-20.

30 CW 1: 77.

31 CW 1: 79.

32 CW 1: 81.

33 CW 1: 82.

34 On Emerson’s stance of openness and change, his essay “Circles” (CW 2: 177-90) is of particular importance. See David M. Robinson, “Emerson and Religion,” Historical Guide to Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Joel Myerson (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 165-67.

35 CW 1: 86.

36 For Norton’s initial response, see Andrews Norton, “The New School in Literature and Religion,” Boston Daily Advertiser (August 27, 1838), 2, http://bit.ly/1E9IslN; reprinted in Joel Myerson, ed., Transcendentalism: A Reader (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 246-50. For his address to the Divinity School alumni a year after Emerson’s Address, see A Discourse on the Latest Form of Infidelity (Cambridge, Mass.: John Owen, 1839), excerpted with an informative discussion of the controversy, in Perry Miller, ed., The Transcendentalists: An Anthology (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1950).

37 For the reaction to the Divinity School Address, see McAleer, 247-65; Packer, The Transcendentalists, 121-29; David M. Robinson, “Poetry, Personality, and the Divinity School Address,” Harvard Theological Review, 82 (1989): 185-99; Richardson, 295-300; and Lawrence Buell, Emerson (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003), 165-69.

38 CW 1: 77.

39 CW 10: 96, 98.

40 See Joel Myerson, The New England Transcendentalists and the Dial: A History of the Magazine and Its Contributors (Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1980).

41 On the reception of Alcott’s “Orphic Sayings,” see Joel Myerson, “’In the Transcendental Emporium’: Bronson Alcott’s ‘Orphic Sayings’ in The Dial,” English Language Notes 10 (1972): 31-38.

42 Myerson, N. E. Transcendentalists and the Dial, 95, 96. For an overview of The Dial, see Susan Belasco, “The Dial” in The Oxford Handbook of Transcendentalism, eds. Joel Myerson, et al. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 373-83.

43 CW 2: 30, 31, 35. Essays was renamed Essays: First Series after Emerson published Essays: Second Series in 1844.

44 JMN 5: 28.

45 CW 2: 124; 119. For a discussion of Emerson and friendship, see the essay collection Emerson & Thoreau: Figures of Friendship, eds. John T. Lysaker and William Rossi (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2010).

46 JMN 8: 205.

47 On Emerson’s intellectual evolution, see Stephen E. Whicher, Freedom and Fate: An Inner Life of Ralph Waldo Emerson (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1953); Joel Porte, Representative Man: Ralph Waldo Emerson in His Time (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979); Packer, Emerson’s Fall; and David M. Robinson, Emerson and the Conduct of Life: Pragmatism and Ethical Purpose in the Later Work (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

48 CW 9: 295, 297.

49 CW 3: 49.

50 CW 3: 49. On the labyrinthine structure of “Experience,” see Robinson, Emerson and the Conduct of Life, 58-70.

51 CW 3: 49.

52 Emerson’s letter of protest is included in Emerson’s Antislavery Writings, eds. Len Gougeon and Joel Myerson (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002), 1-5. Hereafter EAW. For an insightful discussion of the work and its context, see Richardson, 275-79.

53 Larry J. Reynolds, European Revolutions and the American Literary Renaissance (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988).

54 L 2: 370.

55 Albert Brisbane, The Social Destiny of Man (Philadelphia, PA: C.F. Stollmeyer, 1840). For a study of the rise of Fourierism in America, see Carl J. Guarneri, The Utopian Alternative: Fourierism in Nineteenth-Century America (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994). On Brook Farm, see Joel Myerson, ed., The Brook Farm Book: A Collection of First-Hand Accounts of the Community (New York: Garland, 1987); Richard Francis, Transcendental Utopias: Individual and Community at Brook Farm, Fruitlands and Walden (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997); Richard Francis, Fruitlands: The Alcott Family and Their Search for Utopia (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010); and Sterling F. Delano, Brook Farm: The Dark Side of Utopia (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004).

56 JMN 7: 207. For an informative discussion of Emerson’s relationship with the social reform advocates of his day, see two essays by Linck C. Johnson: “Reforming the Reformers: Emerson, Thoreau, and the Sunday Lectures at Amory Hall, Boston,” Emerson Society Quarterly: A Journal of the American Renaissance 37 (4th Quarter 1991): 235-89 (hereafter ESQ ); “‘ Liberty is Never Cheap’: Emerson, ‘ The Fugitive Slave Law,’ and the Antislavery Lecture Series at the Broadway Tabernacle,” New England Quarterly 76 (December 2003): 550-92. For an insightful analysis of Emerson’s complex and hesitant support of the women’s rights movement, see Phyllis Cole, “Woman Questions: Emerson, Fuller, and New England Reform,” in Transient and Permanent: The Transcendentalist Movement and its Contexts, eds. Charles Capper and Conrad E. Wright (Boston, Mass.: Massachusetts Historical Society and Northeastern University Press, 1999), 408-46.

57 Len Gougeon, “‘Only Justice Satisfies All’: Emerson’s Militant Transcendentalism.” Emerson for the Twenty-First Century: Perspectives on an American Icon, ed. Barry Tharaud (Newark, Del.: University of Delaware Press, 2010), 496.

58 CW 1: 147.

59 Richardson, 395.

60 CW 3: 167.

61 EAW 73.

62 For a discussion of Emerson’s changing views of race, see Philip L. Nicoloff, Emerson on Race and History: An Examination of English Traits (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961), 123 and 142-46; and Gougeon, Virtue’s Hero, 178-86.

63 “An Address... on... the Emancipation of the Negroes in the British West Indies,” (also known as “Emancipation in the British West Indies” in earlier editions of Emerson’s works) has become increasingly central to the Emerson canon. See EAW 7-34. Key essays in the burgeoning scholarly discussion of Emerson and antislavery include Gougeon, Virtue’s Hero; Albert J. Von Frank, The Trials of Anthony Burns: Freedom and Slavery in Emerson’s Boston (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998); Gary Collison, “Emerson and Antislavery,” Historical Guide to Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Joel Myerson (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 179-209; Phyllis Cole, “Pain and Protest in the Emerson Family,” in The Emerson Dilemma: Essays on Emerson and Social Reform, ed. T. Gregory Garvey (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2001), 67-92; Len Gougeon, “Emerson’s Abolition Conversion,” The Emerson Dilemma, 170-96; Sandra Harbert Petrulionis, “’Swelling That Great Tide of Humanity’: The Concord, Massachusetts, Female Anti-Slavery Society,” New England Quarterly 74 (2001), 385-418; Gregg D. Crane, Race, Citizenship, and Law in American Literature (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002); and Buell, Emerson, 242-87.

64 EAW 10. For Emerson’s sources on the history of British abolitionism, see Joseph E. Slater, “Two Sources for Emerson’s Fist Address on West Indian Emancipation,” ESQ 44 (1966), 97-100.

65 For an informative account of Emerson’s lecture career and his style and impact as a lecturer, see McAleer, 486-503; Richardson, 418-22; and the editors’ “Historical and Textual Introduction” to The Later Lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson, eds. Ronald A. Bosco and Joel Myerson (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2001), xvii-lxxi. Hereafter LL. For Emerson’s detailed lecture travels year-by-year, see von Frank, An Emerson Chronology.

66 JMN 10: 79.

67 Richardson, 441.

68 On Emerson’s lecture tour in England, see von Frank, An Emerson Chronology, 218-37; McAleer, Emerson, 428-77; and Richardson, 441-56. On Emerson’s experience in Paris, and Fuller’s in Italy, see Reynolds, 31-36 and 54-78.

69 Nicoloff, 118-23.

70 CW 5: 27. For a more detailed discussion of the impact of Emerson’s tour of Great Britain and his thoughts on race and American politics, see Robinson, Emerson and the Conduct of Life, 112-33.

71 LL 1: 129-89. On Emerson’s London lectures see Laura Dassow Walls, “‘If Body Can Sing’: Emerson and Victorian Science,” Emerson Bicentennial Essays, eds. Ronald A. Bosco and Joel Myerson (Boston, Mass.: Massachusetts Historical Society and University Press of Virginia, 2006), 334-66; David M. Robinson, “Experience, Instinct, and Emerson’s Philosophical Reorientation,” Emerson Bicentennial Essays, 391-404; and David M. Robinson, “British Science, The London Lectures, and Emerson’s Philosophical Reorientation,” in Emerson for the Twenty-First Century: Globalism and the Circularity of Influence, ed. Barry Tharaud (Newark, Del.: University of Delaware Press, 2010), 285-300.

72 JMN 10: 339.

73 JMN 11: 344.

Table des illustrations

Légende 2.1 Nature, Emerson’s first book, 1836.
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Légende 2.2 C. P. Cranch, caricature of Emerson’s transparent eyeball, c. 1838-1839.
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Légende 2.3 Emerson house, 10 May 1903.
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Légende 2.4 Concord and Vicinity.
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Légende 2.5 Concord Village and Walden.
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Légende 2.6 “American Scholar Address,” 1837.
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Légende 2.7 “Divinity School Address,” 1838.
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Légende 2.8 Walden Pond from Emerson’s Cliff, 1903.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/2291/img-8.jpg
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Légende 2.9 The Dial, wrapper, No. 1, July 1840.
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Légende 2.10 Emerson’s four volumes of The Dial.
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Légende 2.11 Emerson house, front hallway looking north.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/2291/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 24k
Légende 2.12 Second floor nursery, Emerson house.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/2291/img-12.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 20k
Légende 2.13 Waldo Emerson, Jr. (30 October 1836-27 January 1841).
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/2291/img-13.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 16k
Légende 2.14 Emerson at 43, May 1846.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/2291/img-14.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 28k
Légende 2.15 Emerson in Great Britain and France, 1847-1848.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/2291/img-15.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 40k
Légende 2.16 Emerson’s study, 1972.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/2291/img-16.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 32k
Légende 2.17 Emerson’s pocket globe (terrestrial and celestial).
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/2291/img-17.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 16k
Légende 2.18 Emerson’s penknife, bottle-opener/hook, and scissors.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/2291/img-18.jpg
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Légende 2.19 Emerson at 45, 1848.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/2291/img-19.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 12k
Légende 2.20 Period Map of U. S. in 1848, railroad timetable.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/2291/img-20.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 28k
Légende 2.21 Emerson at about 47, c. 1850.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/2291/img-21.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 41k

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