cover image Solid Seasons: The Friendship of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson

Solid Seasons: The Friendship of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson

Jeffrey S. Cramer. Counterpoint, $26 (368p) ISBN 978-1-64009-131-3

Cramer (The Quotable Thoreau) intelligently examines the bond between two famous authors in an admirable volume that mixes biography with selections of their writing. Cramer, curator of collections at the Walden Woods Project’s Thoreau Institute, makes his way surely through the “intricacies and intimacies” of their sometimes fraught but ultimately rewarding quarter-century of friendship. They met in 1837 after Thoreau graduated from Harvard, and ever-generous Emerson, 14 years older, almost immediately began to mentor the younger man. Cramer draws generously on primary documents, such as a vivid description by Sophia Hawthorne, Nathaniel’s wife, of a skating party in which Thoreau “made dithyrambic dances and Bacchic leaps—very remarkable, but very ugly, methought” while a “weary” Emerson went “pitching headforemost, half lying on the air.” After the book’s narrative section, which takes up about one-third, Cramer presents two sections, approximately equal in length, devoted to, respectively, Thoreau and Emerson’s writings on the theme of friendship, ending with Emerson’s remarkably evocative and loving eulogy for Thoreau, in which he remarks, “It was a pleasure and a privilege to walk with him.” The 19th-century language is not always easy to parse, but the words offer inquisitive readers encouragement to refresh their acquaintance with Emerson and Thoreau through this “new view of an old story.” (Apr.)