Emerson: The Mind on Fire

Robert D. Richardson, Author
Robert D. Richardson, Author University of California Press $50 (684p) ISBN 978-0-520-08808-5
Paperback - 684 pages - 978-0-520-20689-2
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The maverick intellectual life of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82) is the focus of this imposing, highly erudite biography. In 1832, Emerson resigned his Boston ministry to pursue a career as an essayist, orator and poet, delivering more than 1500 lectures in his lifetime, including ``The American Scholar'' (1837), and publishing essays such as Nature (1836) and Representative Men (1850). As America's foremost prophet of individual experience, he was also a founder of the Transcendentalist Club, editor of the transcendentalist magazine, The Dial, and spokesman for many reformist causes. Drawing on unpublished personal journals, correspondence and lectures, Richardson (Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind) charts, in exacting detail, the minutia of Emerson's daily life in Concord, Mass., and extensive travels; the literature and philosophy he read over several decades and how his reading shaped his steadily evolving intellect. Although the nuances of Emerson's personality are eclipsed by textual analysis, Richardson balances the often chilling puritanism of Emerson's writing with a portrait of the man as hungry for friendship, maintaining close relationships with Carlisle, Thoreau, Bronson Alcott and Margaret Fuller; and whose icy doctrine of individualism reflects the loneliness caused by the premature deaths of his beloved first wife, his two younger brothers and numerous friends. (May.)
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