The Selected Letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson

Joel Myerson, Author, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Author, Joel Myerson, Editor Columbia University Press $85 (480p) ISBN 978-0-231-10282-7
Emerson, who followed Montaigne in never overvaluing reading, is now interred under 38 volumes of lectures, letters, journals and notebooks. For those daunted by the Ralph L. Rusk edition of 4500 letters (also published by Columbia), Myerson has done a great service by compiling 350 of Emerson's most essential, which together form the outline of an illuminating intellectual biography. The most devoted reader of Emerson's essays can become exasperated by the gulf that separates the thrill of his rhetoric from the mundane necessity of everyday life; and the letters don't exactly bridge the gap. Even when most intimate, Emerson's letters reflect the distance of the Sage. Nonetheless, Emerson's life was touched repeatedly by terrible loss--the death of his first wife, the increasing mental debilitation of his brother Edward, the sudden death of his beloved son Waldo--and at every turn, that characteristic tone of hortatory anticipation deepens to comprehend it, ultimately reaffirming Emerson's abiding belief in the universe's unyielding principle of ""Compensation."" Emerson was a grumpy, reluctant traveler and generally preferred solitude, so his letters serve as a record of condition, rather than of incident. Nonetheless, they can be enthralling. The Byronisms of the undergraduate give way to the preachy and orotund Emerson of his twenties, until finally, in his early thirties, the Emerson we know appears: ""Purge off life's accidents,"" he writes a former student, advising him to obey ""the aboriginal truth--The Fall of man is the disesteem of man."" This is an indispensable resource for the student of Emerson. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 02/16/1998
Release date: 12/01/1997
Genre: Nonfiction
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