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American Literature Ralph Waldo Emerson
by
Robert Habich

Introduction

Ralph Waldo Emerson (b. 1803–d. 1882) was born in Boston to a family with deep roots in New England history. One of five brothers who survived childhood, he grew up in modest circumstances, and his mother was forced to take in boarders after the death of her husband in 1811. Following his graduation from Harvard in 1821, Waldo (as he preferred to be called) pursued careers as a teacher, divinity student, minister, and, finally, a writer and lecturer—a series of vocations all united by the power of words. He knew tragedy early, losing his first wife, Ellen, in 1831, two brothers in 1834 and 1836, and his firstborn son in 1842, and he struggled throughout his life with tuberculosis, vision problems, and aphasia; yet, his work is known for its hard-won optimism about the possibilities of “the first person singular,” as he called his particular brand of individualism. He married again in 1835, to Lydia Jackson of Plymouth (whom he called “Lidian”), returned to his ancestral hometown of Concord, Massachusetts, began a family, and settled into a role that he virtually invented, that of the public intellectual. His first major publication was the slim book Nature (1836), which laid out his view of an integrated universe with humanity and nature in an “original relation” dependent on the creative vision of each individual. His iconoclastic view of authority and institutions, expressed in such early public statements as “The American Scholar” and the “Divinity School” addresses in 1837 and 1838, gave him the unsought reputation as the leader of a loosely knit group of idealist thinkers called transcendentalists, a position solidified by the writings that followed: Essays: First Series (1841), Essays: Second Series (1844), Poems (1846), and Representative Men (1850). By the 1850s, his latent social conscience now fully engaged with antislavery and other reform movements, Emerson emerged as a respected voice for liberty and social justice. While continuing the lecturing that sustained him financially, he published English Traits (1856), The Conduct of Life (1860), Society and Solitude (1870), and Letters and Social Aims (1876), which seemed to some readers evidence of a more pragmatic turn in his thinking. His later lectures, however, reveal a bedrock belief in individualism that ties together his entire career. By the Civil War, Emerson seemed to embody the virtues of the emergent Union: balance, wisdom, decorum, morality, and domesticity. As the “Sage of Concord” and “The Wisest American,” Emerson in his last years became a national icon. He died, after a long mental decline, in 1882.

General Overviews

Although studies abound of discrete aspects of Emerson’s achievement—his politics, for instance, or his poetics—there are relatively few overviews of his works that are not primarily biographical, perhaps because Emersonian studies have always struggled with the integration of his life and his writing. Buell 2003 is a challenging analysis of Emerson’s intellectual achievement that repays careful reading. Sacks 2003 presents “self-reliance” as the integrating idea of Emerson’s thinking and art, while Hughes 1984 addresses the central issue of Emersonian optimism. Collections such as Porte and Morris 1999 and Myerson 2000, both cited under Collections of Essays, offer insightful essays introducing individual aspects and works. Emerson and Gougeon 2010 is an outstanding resource written for nonscholarly readers seeking to apply Emersonian principles to their own lives; Yannella 1982 is dated but still of use for first-time readers, though it perpetuates the view that Emerson’s effective career ended with The Conduct of Life (1860). Mathiessen 1941 inaugurated a new attention to Emerson’s artistry, while Poirier 1987 returns to Emerson’s language in response to post-structuralist concerns with the cultural work of literature.

  • Buell, Lawrence. Emerson. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2003.

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    Analyzes six key topics—self-reliance, poetics, religion, philosophy, reform, and mentoring—as part of Emerson’s commitment to “reimagining the position of the scholar, or man of culture, in relation to a public sphere,” which he considers “obdurately philistine” (p. 104). A thought-provoking reevaluation by a major scholar of transcendentalism.

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  • Emerson, Ralph Waldo, and Len Gougeon. Emerson’s Truth, Emerson’s Wisdom: Transcendental Advice for Everyday Life. Hartford, CT: Transcendental Books, 2010.

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    An illuminating introduction to Emerson’s thinking for the general reader; couples a generous selection from the major essays and poems with commentary about Emerson’s life and the continuing relevance of Emersonian wisdom.

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  • Hughes, Gertrude Reif. Emerson’s Demanding Optimism. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1984.

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    Examines the major texts from Nature (1836) through The Conduct of Life (1860) for the interplay of affirmation and confirmation. Argues that experience and even suffering tended to strengthen Emerson’s optimism, not destroy it.

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  • Mathiessen, F. O. American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman. New York: Oxford University Press, 1941.

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    A landmark study of the ways Emerson struggled to create “a form that would express his deepest convictions” (p. 5), historically important for redirecting attention from Emerson’s philosophy to his aesthetics. Though limited by its selection of authors (no Dickinson, virtually no Poe), Mathiessen’s book redefined mid-19th-century American literature.

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  • Poirier, Richard. The Renewal of Literature: Emersonian Reflections. New York: Random House, 1987.

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    Considers Emerson and his “associates” (Whitman, William James, Frost, and Stevens) in a manifesto that privileges language rather than culture as the essence of literature. Emerson’s genius is his ability to affirm the authority of language at the same time he calls it into doubt (p. 69).

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  • Sacks, Kenneth S. Understanding Emerson: “The American Scholar” and His Struggle for Self-Reliance. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003.

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    Taking as his starting point the position that Emerson’s “American Scholar” address of 1837 was “the fountainhead of his engagement with humanity” (p. 3), Sacks develops the historical context for the address, as well as Emerson’s own difficulty in overcoming his emotional dependence on relationships and the opinions of others.

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  • Yannella, Donald. Ralph Waldo Emerson. Twayne’s United States Authors 414. Boston: Twayne, 1982.

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    A biocritical introduction for general readers.

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Handbooks and Encyclopedias

Emerson’s immersion in a growing circle of friends, books, ideas, and social causes makes it difficult to recapture the specific narratives that shaped his life and writing. Mott 1996a and Mott 1996b—the biographical dictionary and the encyclopedia—are invaluable first stops for identifying the figures and ideas in Emerson’s world. Wayne 2010 is a reliable guide most useful for students and other, less practiced readers. Myerson, et al. 2010 is a major reconsideration of the transcendental movement, in fifty original essays, virtually all of them with Emerson at their center. Carpenter 1967 remains useful for Emerson’s intersections with world literatures.

  • Carpenter, Frederic Ives. Emerson Handbook. New York: Hendricks House, 1967.

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    A useful though dated source of information about Emerson’s life, prose and poetry, and ideas. First published in 1953.

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  • Mott, Wesley T., ed. Biographical Dictionary of Transcendentalism. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1996a.

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    A rich source of reliable information for over two hundred figures associated with the movement. Includes references for each entry.

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  • Mott, Wesley T., ed. Encyclopedia of Transcendentalism. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1996b.

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    A companion piece to Mott’s Biographical Dictionary, with entries related not just to New England transcendentalism but also to the movement’s manifestations worldwide. An accessible and reliable reference for events, concepts, texts, and people, and a useful gloss on Emerson’s ideas and times.

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  • Myerson, Joel, Sandra Harbert Petrulionis, and Laura Dassow Walls, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Transcendentalism. Oxford Handbooks. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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    A major reconsideration of the movement in fifty topical, interpretive essays that address native and international influences, social contexts, literary forms and achievements, intersections with other arts, intellectual movements, and “transcendental afterlives” today. Discussion of Emerson appears throughout.

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  • Wayne, Tiffany K. Critical Companion to Ralph Waldo Emerson: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work. Facts on File Library of American Literature. New York: Facts on File, 2010.

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    An alphabetical listing of texts, with synopses, critical commentary, and suggestions for further reading. Contains a brief biography, coverage of “related people, places, and topics,” and selected bibliographies of Emerson’s work and secondary sources. Most useful for newcomers to Emerson, it is a reliable single-volume reference for scholars as well.

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Indexes, Chronologies, and Documents

Though paper resources are rapidly being supplanted by electronic resources and searchable texts, certain finding aids and chronologies remain indispensable because they gather particular materials in a conveniently usable form. The annals of Emerson’s life are nowhere better laid out than in von Frank 1994. Both Bosco and Myerson 2010 and the Transcendentalists site present a visual record of Emerson and his contemporaries. Cameron 1963 and A Concordance to the Collected Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson are useful word finders, but neither is tied to modern editions of Emerson’s work. Charvat 1961 provides a useful though incomplete listing of Emerson’s lecture engagements, while Harding 1967 lists the books in Emerson’s private library, though not necessarily all that he read. The Ralph Waldo Emerson Society website, managed by the academic society, is a growing resource that also includes up-to-date annual bibliographies and a twenty-year index to the contents of the society’s journal, Emerson Society Papers.

Collections of Essays

Focused collections addressing particular aspects of Emerson’s thought and writing are listed in the sections titled Politics, Philosophy, and Friendship. The more eclectic gatherings listed here each offer an example of critical orientations. Mott and Burkholder 1997 focuses on Emerson’s constructions of self and his influence on specific contemporaries, relying on empirical, primarily biographical evidence. Myerson 2000 includes essays on Emerson and social history that parallel the “sweeping changes in a rapidly developing young nation” with Emerson’s own “personal and intellectual changes” (p. 5). Bosco and Myerson 2006 “defines where Emerson studies stand at the beginning of the third century” (p. xv) with original essays that are primarily historical and critical. Tharaud 2006 features a variety of essays by leading Emerson scholars on his philosophy and times. The essays in Tharaud 2010 take a transnational perspective, looking ahead to the likely trajectory of Emerson studies and tying Emerson’s positions, especially his activism, to later incarnations in global thought and politics. Porte and Morris 1999 remains the most readable single-volume introduction, with essays that treat his texts as open ended and evolving, in keeping with current critical theory that values Emerson as “multifaceted and unresolved” (p. xv). Arsić and Wolfe 2010 problematizes the assumptions that readers take for granted but that Emerson himself treated with philosophical scrutiny, such as “ethics, politics, subjectivity and identity” (p. xvi).

  • Arsić, Branka, and Cary Wolfe, eds. The Other Emerson. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010.

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    Ten essays, most previously published, that offer provocative reevaluations of Emerson on three key issues: Emerson and subjectivity, Emerson and the political, and Emerson and philosophy.

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  • Bosco, Ronald A., and Joel Myerson, eds. Emerson Bicentennial Essays. Papers presented at the Emerson Bicentennial Conference, held 25–26 April 2003 at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Massachusetts Historical Society Studies in American History and Culture 10. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2006.

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    Thoughtful essays occasioned by the 200th birthday celebration in 2003. Topics include the construction of Emerson, Emerson’s audience, Emerson the reformer, Emerson the poet, and Emerson and the world of ideas.

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  • Mott, Wesley T., and Robert E. Burkholder, eds. Emersonian Circles: Essays in Honor of Joel Myerson. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 1997.

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    A miscellany of solid, original essays, most of them historically or biographically based, on Emerson and his contemporaries.

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  • Myerson, Joel, ed. A Historical Guide to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Historical Guides to American Authors. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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    Essays by leading scholars explore Emerson’s connection with individualism, natural science, religion, antislavery activity, and women’s rights. Includes a solid biographical essay, chronology, and selected bibliography.

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  • Porte, Joel, and Saundra Morris, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Cambridge Companions to Literature. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

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    Original essays that provide solid introductions to his writings, philosophy, influences, and relationships.

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  • Tharaud, Barry, ed. Ralph Waldo Emerson: Bicentenary Appraisals. Mosaic 27. Trier, Germany: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag, 2006.

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    In English. Published previously as a special issue of Nineteenth-Century Prose 30.1–2 (Spring–Fall 2003). Includes a preface by Lawrence Buell anticipating the future directions of Emerson studies.

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  • Tharaud, Barry, ed. Emerson for the Twenty-First Century: Global Perspectives on an American Icon. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2010.

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    Essays on Emerson as a world figure, organized in four sections: his transatlantic influence, his intersections both with science and with philosophy, and his social activism and abolitionist activity.

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Primary Bibliographies

The corpus of Emerson’s published works—essays, poems, addresses, printed lectures, and books—has been expertly established in Myerson 1982 and its supplement, Myerson 2005.

  • Myerson, Joel. Ralph Waldo Emerson: A Descriptive Bibliography. Pittsburgh Series in Bibliography. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1982.

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    Scrupulously prepared bibliography of writings by Emerson, with full bibliographic descriptions and title-page reproductions of “all printings of all editions in English and other languages through 1882, the year of Emerson’s death, and all editions and reprintings in English through 1980” (p. xiii). Arranged chronologically within sections. Fully indexed by title, publisher, and editors’ names. Supplemented by Myerson 2005.

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  • Myerson, Joel. Supplement to Ralph Waldo Emerson: A Descriptive Bibliography. Pittsburgh Series in Bibliography. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005.

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    Updates Myerson 1982, using identical organization but bringing the English-language entries up to date through 2003.

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Secondary Bibliographies

As guides to the ever-expanding secondary criticism, Burkholder and Myerson 1985 and its supplement, Burkholder and Myerson 1994, list and annotate (with very helpful author and keyword indexes) the annual production of articles and books since the 1830s; the most up-to-date annotated lists appear annually in the Fall issue of Emerson Society Papers (Robinson and Rossi 1991–). Cameron 1986 supplements the academic sources with newspaper mentions and foreign-language accounts. The annual essays in American Literary Scholarship (Harding, et al. 1965–) are perceptive guides, organized by topic and critical conversation. Burkholder and Myerson 1984, though necessarily dated, remains the single best overview and evaluation of resources for the study of Emerson.

  • Burkholder, Robert E., and Joel Myerson. “Ralph Waldo Emerson.” In The Transcendentalists: A Review of Research and Criticism. Edited by Joel Myerson, 135–166. Reviews of Research. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1984.

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    A comprehensive, evaluative essay on the primary and secondary resources, superseding earlier efforts. Sections include bibliographies, manuscripts, editions, biography, criticism, sources, thought, writings, and influence.

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  • Burkholder, Robert E., and Joel Myerson. Emerson: An Annotated Secondary Bibliography. Pittsburgh Series in Bibliography. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1985.

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    Lists books, articles, reviews, and book chapters about Emerson that appeared between 1816 and 1979, organized by year and briefly annotated. Excluded are items with only passing reference to Emerson and many newspaper notices (for which see Cameron 1986). Extremely valuable for its listing of hard-to-find sources.

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  • Burkholder, Robert E., and Joel Myerson, comps. Ralph Waldo Emerson: An Annotated Bibliography of Criticism, 1980–1991. Bibliographies and Indexes in American Literature 18. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1994.

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    An update of Burkholder and Myerson 1985, following the same format.

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  • Cameron, Kenneth Walter. The Emerson Tertiary Bibliography with Researcher’s Index. Hartford, CT: Transcendental Books, 1986.

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    Lists over 1,600 entries not included in Burkholder and Myerson 1985, including foreign-language criticism, journalism, material in which Emerson is included but not mentioned in the title, and articles from other than literary or religious venues. Alphabetical, with a topical index.

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  • Harding, Walter, Philip F. Gura, David M. Robinson, and William Rossi. “Emerson, Thoreau, and Transcendentalism.” American Literary Scholarship: An Annual. 1965–.

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    Annual essays (beginning with coverage of the year 1963) under the auspices of the Modern Language Association, appraising the year’s work on Emerson and his circle, later broadened to include Margaret Fuller.

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  • Robinson, David M., and William Rossi. “An Emerson Bibliography.” Emerson Society Papers (1991–).

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    Appears annually in the fall issue of Emerson Society Papers, beginning in 1991, with the latest year reproduced on the website of the Ralph Waldo Emerson Society.

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Biographies

Emerson’s life and work have from the beginning been closely associated. The reverence for an iconic Emerson made it difficult to justify including personal struggles or failings. Though they are not as uniformly laudatory as has been supposed, Holmes 1884 and Cabot 1887 represent the most comprehensive of the early studies. Later biographies such as McAleer 1984 and Baker 1996 help recover Emerson’s important social connections. Richardson 1995 and Gougeon 2007 restore an emotional component to Emerson’s overintellectualized image. Rusk 1949 remains an accurate source of details, though Emerson’s writing is treated sparingly. The “inner life” presented in Whicher 1953, influential for decades, is now discredited but should not be ignored by specialists.

  • Baker, Carlos. Emerson among the Eccentrics: A Group Portrait. New York: Viking, 1996.

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    A decade-by-decade examination of Emerson’s life, beginning in the 1830s, as shown through his changing relationships with friends and family. Emphasizes Emerson both as man of the world and head of the household, with lively narratives of his relationship with his children and his nonliterary friends. Focuses mainly on Concord and its development as an intellectual and literary community.

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  • Cabot, James Elliot. A Memoir of Ralph Waldo Emerson. 2 vols. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1887.

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    The family’s authorized biographer and Emerson’s literary executor, Cabot wrote this life-and-letters study with the intention of letting Emerson speak for himself. Emphasizes Emerson as philosopher, using the private documents sparingly. Republished as recently as 2004 (Honolulu: University Press of the Pacific).

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  • Gougeon, Len. Emerson & Eros: The Making of a Cultural Hero. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007.

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    Examines Emerson’s growing awareness of the internalized life force he called “Eros” and its effect both on his writing and his transcendental ideas about social reform, both of which are central to his cultural heroism. Like Richardson 1995, a landmark study in the trend toward appraising Emerson’s emotional life.

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  • Holmes, Oliver Wendell. Ralph Waldo Emerson. American Men of Letters. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1884.

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    Part of Houghton, Mifflin’s American Men of Letters Series, Holmes’s Emerson was the best-selling early biography. Emphasizing Emerson’s literary achievements at the expense of his philosophy and social conscience, Holmes creates a portrait of a psychologically complex but ultimately “balanced” man. Republished as recently as 2010 (Memphis, TN: General Books).

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  • McAleer, John. Ralph Waldo Emerson: Days of Encounter. Boston: Little, Brown, 1984.

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    A gracefully written biography examining Emerson’s formative relationships with individual friends and family. The result is an episodic narrative that shows a deeply human Emerson, rich in detail about Emerson’s social connections while minimizing attention to his writing and thought.

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  • Richardson, Robert D., Jr. Emerson: The Mind on Fire. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

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    An important study that coordinates Emerson’s emotional and intellectual lives with his reading. Charts Emerson’s responses to various emotional watershed moments, showing how his reading of de Stael, Cousin, Carlyle, and especially Goethe provided “kindling ideas” for his own and helped precipitate compensatory victories over tragedy.

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  • Rusk, Ralph L. The Life of Ralph Waldo Emerson. New York: Charles Scribner’s, 1949.

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    The first modern biography to draw upon the massive Emerson family papers—including Rusk’s own edition of the Emerson Letters—this reliable and fact-filled account remains the standard source for the details of Emerson’s life. Republished as recently as 1995 (Norwalk, CT: Easton).

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  • Whicher, Stephen E. Freedom and Fate: An Inner Life of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1953.

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    Argues that Emerson reacted to the emotional challenges of time and circumstance by moving from optimism (characteristically expressed in “Self-Reliance”) through skepticism (in “Experience”) and finally to acquiescence (in “Fate”). An influential thesis in its time, now qualified by the wealth of newly edited, later material and changing emphases in Emersonian criticism. Second edition reprinted as recently as 1979.

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Reminiscences and Family History

Emerson’s family and friends constitute a unique source of information about his life and interests. Bosco and Myerson 2003 provides an interesting guide to Emerson’s private reputation, as recorded by those who knew him. Carpenter 1980 is an informative though subjective biography, ably annotated, of his second wife, Lydia (Lidian) Jackson Emerson. Emerson 1987 depicts his domestic life as revealed in Lidian’s selected letters, which also reveal her own strong views, sometimes incompatible with her husband’s. Gregg 1962 presents Emerson’s first marriage, to Ellen Tucker, through her letters to him, while Pommer 1967 constructs a narrative of the relationship and its influence on Emerson’s second marriage. Gregg 1982 is a very selective reprinting of Emerson’s daughter Ellen’s letters (additional letters are housed at the Houghton and the American Antiquarian Society libraries), which nonetheless form a detailed seriatim history of the family. An influential study of the extended family is Cole 1998, which establishes the impact of Mary Moody Emerson on her nephew Waldo’s thinking. Bosco and Myerson 2006 shows the intellectual dynamic among the four brothers.

  • Bosco, Ronald A., and Joel Myerson. The Emerson Brothers: A Fraternal Biography in Letters. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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    A narrative based on some 1,200 previously unpublished letters by Waldo’s brothers William, Edward, and Charles, offering another view of the relational Emerson, whose personal and intellectual development was invigorated by his correspondence with family members.

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  • Bosco, Ronald A., and Joel Myerson, eds. Emerson in His Own Time: A Biographical Chronicle of His Life, Drawn from Recollections, Interviews, and Memoirs by Family, Friends, and Associates. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2003.

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    Some fifty contemporaneous accounts and anecdotes, many of them from obscure or manuscript sources, that “create an image of a highly complex figure whose personal and intellectual reach was extraordinary for its time and place” (p. xi). The introduction surveys Emerson’s changing reputation among family, friends, and admirers.

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  • Carpenter, Delores Bird, ed. The Selected Letters of Lidian Jackson Emerson. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1987.

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    Dating from 1813 to 1885, these letters illuminate the domestic and reformist concerns of Emerson’s second wife, from childrearing to antislavery to animal rights. Though the notes and introduction are carefully done, the edition is somewhat compromised by its selectivity and the frequent ellipsis of content within individual letters.

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  • Cole, Phyllis. Mary Moody Emerson and the Origins of Transcendentalism: A Family History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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    More than a cumulative history of the Emerson family—though it is that—this study establishes the intellectual vitality of Mary Moody Emerson and her influence on the thinking of her nephew Waldo. A landmark book, meticulously grounded in mostly unpublished records.

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  • Emerson, Ellen Tucker. The Life of Lidian Jackson Emerson. Edited by Delores Bird Carpenter. Twayne’s American Literary Manuscripts. Boston: Twayne, 1980.

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    The most revealing picture we have of life in the Emerson home, a discursive, anecdotal, and detailed biography by Waldo and Lidian’s elder daughter. Portrays the domestic intimacies of the Emerson family: their illnesses, visitors, conversations, and finances. Expertly edited from manuscript, with a narrative introduction, chronology, and substantial notes.

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  • Gregg, Edith E. W., ed. One First Love: The Letters of Ellen Louisa Tucker to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1962.

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    Clear-text edition of the letters written by Emerson’s first wife, 1828–1829. (Waldo’s letters to her do not survive.) Also included are Ellen’s letters to Mary Moody Emerson, a selection of poems written by Ellen, and verse by Waldo Emerson about Ellen.

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  • Gregg, Edith E. W., ed. The Letters of Ellen Tucker Emerson. 2 vols. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1982.

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    A generous selection of letters, this edition chronicles the daily domestic life of the Emerson household, filtered through the perspective of his elder daughter. The index is restricted to “well-known” friends and omits family members and others mentioned frequently, and the absence of explanatory notes is a serious drawback.

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  • Pommer, Henry F. Emerson’s First Marriage. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967.

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    Examines not only Emerson’s first marriage, to Ellen Tucker, but also the aftermath, particularly his grieving and his marriage to Lydia Jackson in 1835. Makes stark and perhaps unfair comparisons between the passion of the first marriage and the practicality of the second.

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Letters, Journals, and Notebooks

Emerson often made nearly seamless transitions between his private and published writing, with the essays and lectures—for instance—often drawing heavily on journal entries. One of the singular achievements in Emerson studies is the availability of his letters, journals, and notebooks, now published in responsibly edited and annotated texts. A major achievement in Emerson studies, Gilman and Orth 1960–1982 is a genetic edition of the journals and notebooks, meticulously edited and cross-referenced to his essays and lectures; through it, readers may trace Emerson’s borrowings and creative processes, and the maturation of his thought. The edition of fourteen topical notebooks, Orth, et al. 1990–1994, reveals much of Emerson’s thinking during his middle and later years, as he used the topical notebooks to organize his thoughts and mined them for material for his later essays and lectures. Orth, et al. 1986, an edition of the poetry notebooks, provides resource information for students explicating individual poems, as well as for the scholar tracing the development of Emerson’s craft. Rusk and Tilton 1939–1995 provides accessible texts of Emerson’s letters and comprehensive notes.

  • Gilman, William H., and Ralph H. Orth, eds. The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson. 16 vols. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1960–1982.

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    Emerson’s self-styled “storehouse” of ideas, carefully edited and annotated in a genetic text. A record of Emerson’s thoughts, interests, activities, and reading and the building blocks of his essays and lectures, invaluable for tracing the arc of Emerson’s perspectives and career. A major scholarly achievement.

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  • Orth, Ralph H., general editor; Susan Sutton Smith, Ronald A. Bosco, and Glen M. Johnson, eds. The Topical Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson. 3 vols. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1990–1994.

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    Emerson began keeping topical notebooks in the 1850s, which included collections of rewritten journal entries, quotations, notes on his reading, and other records of his thoughts and activities.

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  • Orth, Ralph H., Albert J. von Frank, Linda Allardt, and David W. Hill, eds. The Poetry Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1986.

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    Meticulously edited genetic transcription of Emerson’s nine poetry notebooks at the Houghton Library, Harvard, spanning almost fifty years of his life and revealing Emerson’s craft as he revised his verse. Includes a textual introduction to each poem, as well as a brief analysis.

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  • Rusk, Ralph L., and Eleanor M. Tilton, eds. The Letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson. 10 vols. New York: Columbia University Press, 1939–1995.

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    Scrupulously transcribed and fully annotated, the Letters joins the Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks (Gilman, et al. 1960–1982) as the record of Emerson’s developing ideas. Volumes 7 to 10 add newly discovered letters and reproduce the hundreds of previously printed ones that Rusk omitted, with the exception of Slater 1964, the Emerson-Carlyle correspondence.

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  • Slater, Joseph, ed. The Correspondence of Emerson and Carlyle. New York: Columbia University Press, 1964.

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    A clear-text edition of the important correspondence omitted from Rusk and Tilton 1939–1995. Slater’s introduction is a perceptive analysis of the enduring friendship of these two iconic writers.

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Lectures, Addresses, Sermons, Poetry, and Essays

As with the private writings, the editing of Emerson’s public texts, begun in the 1960s, has revolutionized views of his complexity and range. Both public and private writings are available in ways that clearly show the synergy between the two. Emerson’s public texts are typically produced in clear-text formats to better represent their original occasion, while the private texts are produced in genetic text formats to represent the evolution with respect to composition and Emerson’s evolving position on a work’s specific topic. Ferguson, et al. 1971–2013, the Harvard edition of his collected works, restores Emerson’s published texts in editorially responsible versions, with splendid historical and textual introductions. Other collections make accessible various selections of Emerson’s writings organized by genre or purpose. Gougeon and Myerson 1995 gathers his work on abolition, ethnicity, and race. Von Frank, et al. 1989–1992 presents Emerson’s sermons in responsible editions. The record of Emerson’s lecture career—his primary means of making a living—is an extremely important register to his changing ideas. Whicher, et al. 1959–1972 gathers his lectures to midcareer, while Bosco and Myerson 2001 brings to light the last decades of Emerson’s lecture career and, in so doing, has prompted a reevaluation of an intellectual trajectory now seen as extending into the 1870s, not ending (as has been widely assumed) before the Civil War. Emerson 1903–1904 has now been superseded in Ferguson, et al. 1971–2013. Online collections such as Ralph Waldo Emerson—Texts, while searchable electronically, are based on earlier, less authoritative texts.

  • Bosco, Ronald A., and Joel Myerson, eds. The Later Lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1843–1871. 2 vols. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2001.

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    Clear-text versions from manuscript of forty-eight unpublished lectures delivered during Emerson’s middle and late career. Valuable introduction to Emerson’s lecture career. Textual notes for the book are available on the Ralph Waldo Emerson Society website, as is a complete concordance.

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  • Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. 12 vols. Centenary ed. Notes and biographical introduction by Edward Waldo Emerson. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, 1903–1904.

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    Now superseded by Ferguson, et al. 1971–2013, but valuable for the thoughtful notes and introduction by Emerson’s son.

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  • Ferguson, Alfred R., Joseph Slater, Douglas Emory Wilson, and Ronald A. Bosco, general eds. Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. 10 vols. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1971–2013.

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    The definitive edition of Emerson’s published works (i.e., excluding sermons, lectures, journals, and letters), the “Harvard Edition” is a clear-text version with variants listed separately. Each volume contains an introduction and textual history, and each essay is prefaced by a bibliographical history.

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  • Gougeon, Len, and Joel Myerson, eds. Emerson’s Antislavery Writings. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995.

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    Collects Emerson’s speeches, lectures, and essays on antislavery and Native American rights, many of them available only in manuscript or in hard-to-find newspaper accounts. Carefully edited texts, with a comprehensive historical and biographical introduction.

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  • Ralph Waldo Emerson—Texts.

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    Searchable versions of the major published essays and addresses, though based on earlier, out-of-copyright texts.

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    • von Frank, Albert J., Teresa Toulouse, Andrew H. Delbanco, Ronald A. Bosco, and Wesley T. Mott, eds. The Complete Sermons of Ralph Waldo Emerson. 4 vols. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1989–1992.

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      Clear-text edition from manuscript of Emerson’s 178 surviving sermons. Each volume contains a chronology and textual introduction; Volume 1 contains a detailed historical introduction. Genetic texts are available online.

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    • Whicher, Stephen E., Robert E. Spiller, and Wallace E. Williams, eds. The Early Lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson. 3 vols. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1959–1972.

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      A clear-text version with variants listed separately, the Early Lectures presents Emerson’s lectures organized by series according to the order in which he first gave them, beginning with Science in 1833 and ending with The Times in 1842. Provides allusions to other texts and to parallel passages in Emerson’s journals.

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    Reception and Reputation

    The reception of Emerson’s work has from the beginning been bound up with the reputation of Emerson the man. Wider 2000 examines the reviews and reactions over the course of Emerson’s career and remains the best guide to the vagaries of his reception. Konvitz 1972 is a useful selection of 19th-century published commentary that should be supplemented by the much fuller selection in Bosco and Myerson 2003 (cited under Reminiscences and Family History). McMillin 2000, Mitchell 2009, and Richardson 2002 provide carefully researched interpretations of the ways an iconic Emerson was constructed and appropriated for various social needs. Sowder 1966 remains the best study of Emerson’s reception in the United Kingdom. O’Neill 2008 and Habich 2011 explore how celebrity, genre, and commerce influenced the construction of Emerson’s reputation and his early biographies.

    • Habich, Robert D. Building Their Own Waldos: Emerson’s First Biographers and the Politics of Life-Writing in the Gilded Age. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2011.

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      Examines the multiple constructions of Emerson by his six major biographers in the 1880s, contextualized in the generic, commercial, and personal circumstances in which they wrote. Argues that Emerson’s iconic image was contradicted by the book-length biographies, which depicted him in emotionally and socially complicated ways.

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    • Konvitz, Milton R., ed. The Recognition of Ralph Waldo Emerson: Selected Criticism since 1837. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1972.

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      A collection of critical responses from the beginnings through 1971, but primarily pre-1900. Useful for charting Emerson’s reputation among his contemporaries. Drawn exclusively from previously published sources.

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    • McMillin, T. S. Our Preposterous Use of Literature: Emerson and the Nature of Reading. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

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      Joins Mitchell 1997 in accounting for the (mis)uses of Emerson, beginning with biographical interpretations that “re-member” Emerson by substituting the man for his work and ending with the academic practice of “selfish reading” (p. 75), which privileges consumption and mastery, instead of “natural reading” (p. 74), which would approach Emerson’s texts openly.

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    • Mitchell, Charles E. Individualism and Its Discontents: Appropriations of Emerson, 1880–1950. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2009.

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      Thoughtful account of the anxieties and challenges of Emersonian individualism, from the “tradition of Emerson worship” (p. 21) that made Emerson seem bland and irrelevant to the positive redefinitions of William James, Dewey, Du Bois, and William Carlos Williams. Originally published in 1997.

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    • O’Neill, Bonnie Carr. “‘The Best of Me Is There’: Emerson as Lecturer and Celebrity.” American Literature 80.4 (2008): 739–767.

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      By reexamining lecture audience expectations and Emerson’s physical and intellectual presence on the podium, O’Neill explores how “Emerson’s celebrity expresses the difference between his audience’s sense of his significance and his own ambitions for the secular ministry of his lecture career” (p. 754). Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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    • Richardson, Todd Hardy. “Emerson’s Canonization and the Boston Periodical Press: 1872–1903.” PhD diss., University of South Carolina, 2002.

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      Illuminating study of Emerson’s appropriation by four Boston periodicals with distinct social agendas, illustrating the ways magazines hastened his reconstruction as a cultural hero.

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    • Sowder, William J. Emerson’s Impact on the British Isles and Canada. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1966.

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      A detailed history of Emerson’s reception in the United Kingdom and Canada, on the basis of extensive study of reviews in newspapers and magazines. Facsimile edition published in 1996 (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Books on Demand).

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    • Wider, Sarah Ann. The Critical Reception of Emerson: Unsettling All Things. Studies in English and American Literature, Linguistics, and Culture. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2000.

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      Traces the criticism of Emerson chronologically through the end of the 20th century. Takes a dialogic approach to the changing terms and critical assumptions with which Emerson and his writing have been judged, with particular attention to the “uneasy and unsettled divide between critical and appreciative studies.”

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    Criticism

    Criticism of individual works is listed in Burkholder and Myerson 1985 (and supplement Burkholder and Myerson 1994, both cited under Secondary Bibliographies), as well as the other sources included in Secondary Bibliographies. Much of the most useful criticism appears in topical discussions (of his philosophy, for instance, or his views of social reform), not in analysis of individual works.

    Nature and Addresses

    Though he had produced a rich body of sermons and two lecture series prior to 1836, it was the publication of his little book Nature (1836) and the delivery of the Phi Beta Kappa address (“The American Scholar”) and the Divinity School Address (“An Address Delivered before the Senior Class in Divinity College, Cambridge”) in 1837 and 1838 that established Emerson’s early reputation as an unsettler of conventional thinking and led to the so-called “miracles controversy” in the late 1830s (for which see Biographies and Religion). No discussion of Emerson is complete without attention to these early statements of principle and dissent. Sealts and Ferguson 1979 remains a useful gathering of sources on Nature. Richardson 1999 connects Nature with Nature and the other essays. Burkholder 1986 and Habich 1992 provide context for the Divinity School Address in its social and educational climate, while Robinson 1989 examines its religious significance.

    • Burkholder, Robert E. “Emerson, Kneeland, and the Divinity School Address.” American Literature 58.1 (1986): 1–14.

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      Examines the social threat represented by Abner Kneeland, tried and imprisoned for blasphemy in 1838, and its similarities to Emerson’s religious unorthodoxy in his Divinity School address. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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    • Habich, Robert D. “Emerson’s Reluctant Foe: Andrews Norton and the Transcendental Controversy.” New England Quarterly 65.2 (1992): 208–237.

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      Situates the controversy over Emerson’s Divinity School address in the social upheaval of the summer of 1838, particularly dissention among Harvard students, the institutionalization of Jones Very, and efforts by Andrews Norton to influence Harvard politics and return to the Divinity School faculty. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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    • Richardson, Robert D., Jr. “Emerson and Nature.” In The Cambridge Companion to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Edited by Joel Porte and Saundra Morris, 97–105. Cambridge Companions to Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

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      A solid analysis of the argument of Nature that shows how the connection between nature and mind is an “unwobbling pivot” (p. 102) on which all of Emerson’s work turns; for Emerson, physical nature is foundational to his theology and ethics.

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    • Robinson, David M. “Poetry, Personality, and the Divinity School Address.” Harvard Theological Review 82.2 (1989): 185–199.

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      Examines how Emerson develops a “poetic conception of the ministry” (p. 188) in his address. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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    • Sealts, Merton M., Jr., and Alfred R. Ferguson, eds. Emerson’s Nature: Origin, Growth, Meaning. 2d ed. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1979.

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      A sourcebook, still valuable for its compendium of criticism from 1836 to 1967 and for Sealts’s essay on the composition of Nature. First published in 1969 (New York: Dodd, Mead).

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    Sermons and Lectures

    Emerson’s sermons, often considered anomalous evidence of an earlier, discarded orthodoxy, have now been given the attention they deserve as intellectual and artistic creations. Robinson 1982 and Mott 1989 analyze the thematic continuities among the sermons, while Roberson 1995 examines them for evidence of Emerson’s inner life. Bosco and Myerson 2001, the edition of the later lectures cited in Lectures, Addresses, Sermons, Poetry, and Essays, has not yet been fully examined by critics; Hudspeth 2006 is an excellent example of how the later lectures can be integrated into discussion of the printed works.

    • Hudspeth, Robert N. “Later Emerson: ‘Intellect’ and The Conduct of Life.” In Emerson Bicentennial Essays. Edited by Ronald A. Bosco and Joel Myerson, 405–431. Massachusetts Historical Society Studies in American History and Culture 10. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2006.

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      Traces Emerson’s growing preoccupation with intellect (“fate’s antithesis, the claim of human power” [p. 423]) in two later lecture series, “Mind and Manners” (1848) and “Natural Method of Mental Philosophy” (1858), and in Conduct of Life (1860).

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    • Mott, Wesley T. “The Strains of Eloquence”: Emerson and His Sermons. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1989.

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      An analysis of representative sermons through the late 1830s to show Emerson’s “fundamental connection . . . between speech and character” and between eloquence and heroism (p. 140). Concludes with an epilogue (pp. 185–195) on the creation of “Saint Emerson,” the “nondenominational prophet” enshrined after his death (p. 185).

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    • Roberson, Susan L. Emerson in His Sermons: A Man-Made Self. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1995.

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      Treats Emerson’s surviving sermons as “a serial autobiographical narrative” (p. 4) that documents Emerson’s progress from early self-doubt to “independence and autonomy” (p. 209).

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    • Robinson, David. Apostle of Culture: Emerson as Preacher and Lecturer. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982.

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      An outstanding early study of the sermons and early lectures (before the publication of the Complete Sermons or Later Lectures) that pursues two related theses: the thematic continuity of self-culture and the “sermonic habits of composition” (p. 166) that shaped the distinctive style and form of Essays: First Series in 1841.

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    Essays

    Cavell 1989 (cited under Philosophy) writes, “An Emerson essay is a finite object that yields an infinite response” (p. 101). While the Secondary Bibliographies include numerous explorations of individual essays, the most-useful orientations both to Essays: First Series and Essays: Second Series and later collections remain comprehensive treatments such as Packer 1982 or Robinson 2000 (the latter cited under Religion). Francis 1982 and von Frank 1999 offer sustained analysis of the individual collections of essays as coherent statements of Emerson’s developing thinking. Lauter 1961 and Johnson 1980 are useful for understanding Emerson’s craft in the writing of Essays: First Series. Ellison 1999 explores the links among domesticity, authorship, and politics in the 1840s, when Emerson was at work on Essays: Second Series; Francis 1982 examines in the same collection Emerson’s developing concept of the self. Larson 2001 traces the concept of “ethical individualism” (p. 993) in “History” and elsewhere in the essays, to show “why attempts to interpret the meaning of Emerson’s texts should so often center on their seeming unintelligibility” (p. 995).

    • Ellison, Julie. “Tears for Emerson: Essays, Second Series.” In The Cambridge Companion to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Edited by Joel Porte and Saundra Morris, 140–161. Cambridge Companions to Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

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      Sensitive examination of Emerson’s response to the death of his son. Particularly useful discussion of the ways Emerson came to value domestic spaces as conducive to writing. Draws a distinction between the essay, in which Emerson celebrates the escape from social and domestic events, and the poems, letters, and journals, in which he sympathizes with them.

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    • Francis, Richard Lee. “The Poet and Experience: Essays: Second Series.” In Emerson Centenary Essays. Edited by Joel Myerson, 93–106. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1982.

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      Traces the “somewhat egocentric” conception of the self in “The Poet” to the “more restrained, more qualified consideration” of the individual’s social place in “Experience” (p. 106).

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    • Johnson, Glen M. “Emerson’s Craft of Revision: The Composition of Essays (1841).” In Studies in the American Renaissance. Edited by Joel Myerson, 51–72. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1980.

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      Examines the way Emerson transfers passages from the journals and lectures into the essays; most of these revisions are for presentation, rather than content, serving the rhetorical function of increasing the communication between writer and reader.

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    • Larson, Kerry C. “Individualism and the Place of Understanding in Emerson’s Essays.” ELH 68.4 (2001): 991–1021.

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      Explores “the most elusive paradox of Emerson’s thought, the connection between his hostility to conventional forms of authority and his enthusiasm for an all-encompassing formalism” (p. 1016). Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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    • Lauter, Paul. “Emerson’s Revisions of Essays (First Series).” American Literature: A Journal of Literary History, Criticism, and Bibliography 33.2 (1961): 143–158.

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      Careful examination of the changes Emerson made in his 1847 version of Essays: First Series, both of style and of sense. Shows how these revisions reveal not only Emerson’s maturation as a writer but also his “growing awareness of man’s limitations” (p. 149). Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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    • Packer, B. L. Emerson’s Fall: A New Interpretation of the Major Essays. New York: Continuum, 1982.

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      Influential reading of the published essays and addresses, from Nature to Representative Men, as addressing the fallen nature of mankind, and Emerson’s four “fables or formulas” for explaining it.

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    • von Frank, Albert J. “Essays: First Series (1841).” In The Cambridge Companion to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Edited by Joel Porte and Saundra Morris, 106–120. Cambridge Companions to Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

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      Argues for the coherence of the individual essays, which are anticipated by the “theoretical preface” of Nature and closed by the essay “Art,” in which art is shown to be a creative, organizing force that reveals “the underlying unity of nature” (p. 119).

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    Poetry and Aesthetics

    Emerson wrote to Lidian in 1835 that he was “born a poet” (Rusk and Tilton 1939–1995, cited under Letters, Journals, and Notebooks, Vol. 1, p. 435), an assertion his critics have questioned ever since. Not until the later 20th century was there more than passing attention to or appreciation for the distinctive qualities of Emerson’s verse. Anderson 1971 and Francis 1966 are good introductory studies; Morris 1999 offers perceptive close readings of the major poems, as well as a strategy for reading the others. Waggoner 1974 and Yoder 1978 are appreciative examinations of Emerson’s influence on American poetry. Liebman 1981 provides a contrast to Emerson’s later, more progressive aesthetic. Of the broader studies of Emerson’s aesthetic, Buell 1973 remains the gold standard, though it somewhat overstates the rebellion of transcendentalism against Unitarianism. Richardson 2009 explores Emerson’s ideas about the practice of writing.

    • Anderson, John Q. The Liberating Gods: Emerson on Poets and Poetry. Coral Gables, FL: University of Miami Press, 1971.

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      An introductory study of Emerson’s views on the nature and function of the poet, poetic form and subject matter, and poetic theory, on the basis of the essays and journals.

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    • Buell, Lawrence. Literary Transcendentalism: Style and Vision in the American Renaissance. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1973.

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      Situates transcendental aesthetics—the “ways in which the demands of vision and the demands of expression reinforce and qualify each other” (p. 14)—in relation to Unitarianism and examines how Emerson seeks to unite insight and expression. A groundbreaking study that removed transcendentalism from strictly religious or philosophical contexts. Second printing in 1985.

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    • Francis, Richard Lee. “Archangel in the Pleached Garden: Emerson’s Poetry.” ELH 33.4 (1966): 461–472.

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      Examines Emerson’s difficulty in reconciling two conflicting impulses in his poetry, the lyrical and the philosophical. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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    • Liebman, Sheldon W. “Poetry and Idealism: Emerson’s Literary Theory, 1817–1826.” American Transcendental Quarterly 49 (Winter 1981): 35–54.

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      A rare examination of the early, conservative views of poetry that Emerson would later repudiate in favor of a more romantic aesthetic.

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    • Morris, Saundra. “‘Metre-Making’ Arguments: Emerson’s Poems.” In The Cambridge Companion to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Edited by Joel Porte and Saundra Morris, 218–242. Cambridge Companions to Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

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      A thoughtful defense of the place of his poetry in Emerson’s canon. Develops the concept of “threshold poems,” such as “The Sphinx,” which initiate and structure the essays that follow them.

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    • Richardson, Robert D. First We Read, Then We Write: Emerson on the Creative Process. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2009.

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      An analysis and appreciation of Emerson’s views on writing, organized by topic and theme: “keeping a journal,” “practical hints,” “emblem, symbol, metaphor,” “audience,” and more.

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    • Waggoner, Hyatt H. Emerson as Poet. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974.

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      A spirited defense of Emerson’s best poetry, on aesthetic grounds. An expansion of Waggoner’s chapter in American Poets from the Puritans to the Present (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1968; rev. ed., Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1984), in which he argues for the centrality of Emerson’s poetic influence on Whitman, Dickinson, Robinson, and Frost.

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    • Yoder, R. A. Emerson and the Orphic Poet in America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978.

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      Analyzes Emerson’s oracular poems—especially those dealing with “secret knowledge [or] an inexplicable paradox” (p. 95)—and examines lines of Emersonian influence into the 20th century.

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    Emerson and Other Writers

    The most mature work comparing Emerson with other writers remains focused on his contemporaries: Loving 1982 on Whitman, Porte 2004 on Thoreau, Van Cromphout 1990 on Goethe, and Williams 1991 on Melville. Strauch 1970 and Thompson 1928 examine how Emerson’s poetry continues the legacy of Milton, Wordsworth, and Coleridge; Emerson’s influence on later American writers appears in Levin 1999, Waggoner 1974, and Yoder 1978 (the latter two cited under Poetry and Aesthetics). Studies listed in Politics and Philosophy connect him to non-aesthetic writers, while those listed in Friendship examine his personal connections with some influential contemporaries. Of the biographies, McAleer 1984 and Baker 1996 (both cited under Biographies) have chapters on individual writers and Emerson’s relationships with them.

    • Levin, Jonathan. The Poetics of Transition: Emerson, Pragmatism, and American Literary Modernism. New Americanists. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999.

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      Traces the metaphorical use of “transition” in the American pragmatic tradition, from Emerson through Henry James, Gertrude Stein, and Wallace Stevens. Considers how contradictions and paradoxes reflect the creative imagination that Levin calls Emerson’s “pragmatic idealism” (p. 17). Useful for its integration of aesthetics and philosophy.

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    • Loving, Jerome. Emerson, Whitman, and the American Muse. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982.

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      Shows the parallel development of Emerson’s and Whitman’s views of poetry and the poet; each writer begins his career associating poetry with individualism but ends by emphasizing the poet as representative, a view “in which the law of the group is more important than the freedom of the individual” (p. 190).

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    • Porte, Joel. Consciousness and Culture: Emerson and Thoreau Reviewed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004.

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      A collection of reprinted essays that, taken together, reexamine Porte’s earlier opposition of Emerson and Thoreau by showing each writer’s “double consciousness” (p. x)—that is, the ability to function both in “the mundane world of the ‘understanding’ and the more exalted world of ‘the soul’” (p. x).

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    • Strauch, Carl F. “The Mind’s Voice: Emerson’s Poetic Styles.” ESQ 60 (Summer 1970): 43–59.

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      Traces the influence of Milton and Coleridge on Emerson’s form and language and illustrates Emerson’s colloquialism and humor, through an explication of a variety of his poems.

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    • Thompson, Frank T. “Emerson’s Theory and Practice of Poetry.” PMLA 43.4 (1928): 1170–1184.

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      A detailed examination of Emerson’s use of the poetic theory of Wordsworth and Coleridge. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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    • Van Cromphout, Gustaaf. Emerson’s Modernity and the Example of Goethe. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1990.

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      Examines Goethe’s ideas about nature, idealism, the visual arts, literature, and history and biography as they provided inspiration for Emerson’s own views. Focuses on parallels between Goethe’s concept of the developing Charakter (for Goethe, both “character” and “identity”) and Emerson’s concept of self-reliance.

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    • Williams, John B. White Fire: The Influence of Emerson on Melville. Long Beach: California State University Press, 1991.

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      A revisionist study that explores how Melville “encountered Emerson’s ideas, responded to them in his early novels, then partly rejected them after Moby-Dick in rebelling against the literary establishment, only to reassert them in his last novel, Billy Budd” (p. xi).

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    Politics

    Debates over whether Emerson’s individualism made his politics a moot point have now given way to discussions of how individualism and his politics inform each other. The political focus varies widely. Cayton 1989 examines the effects of national commerce on Emerson’s thinking, and Cadava 2010 explores the way Emerson “ventriloquizes” (p. 121) the political discourse of proslavery propaganda in order to critique issues of race, politics, and violence. Arguing against prevailing views of Emerson as proto-Nietzschean and pragmatic, Dolan 2009 offers a more traditional argument for political liberalism as antiauthoritarian and optimistic about our capacity to improve, with Emerson emerging as an enthusiastic but realistic herald of America as a “symbol of world-historical progress” (p. 283). Gougeon 2010 marshals historical evidence that Emerson specifically (and the transcendentalists generally) were militant in their response to slavery. Levine and Malachuk 2011, besides offering various perspectives on Emerson’s broader politic, presents the single-best introductory account of his growing political awareness. The study of Emerson’s conservatism in Milder 1999 remains convincing, despite the trend toward seeing him as politically radical.

    • Cadava, Eduardo. “The Guano of History.” In The Other Emerson. Edited by Branka Arsić and Cary Wolfe, 101–129. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010.

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      A provocative analysis of the “figurative association between laborers and manure” (p. 123) that animates the commercial and political dialogues over slavery and in which Emerson’s “Experience” and “Fate” play a significant role.

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    • Cayton, Mary Kupiec. Emerson’s Emergence: Self and Society in the Transformation of New England, 1800–1845. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989.

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      Well-researched study of Emerson’s philosophy as a response to changing political and economic conditions; argues that his attention shifted from political republicanism to a “culture of bourgeois individualism” (p. 239) as he critiqued the effects of commerce on the national character.

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    • Dolan, Neal. Emerson’s Liberalism. Studies in American Thought and Culture. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009.

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      A strenuous argument for the development of Emerson’s political liberalism, defined generally as a concern with the uprooting of tradition, from the early journals through later works such as The Conduct of Life (1860) and “The Fortune of the Republic” (1863).

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    • Gougeon, Len. “‘Only Justice Satisfies All’: Emerson’s Militant Transcendentalism.” In Emerson for the Twenty-First Century: Global Perspectives on an American Icon. Edited by Barry Tharaud, 485–512. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2010.

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      Argues that Emerson’s transcendentalism was never pacifistic and that the later social activism of the transcendentalists was rooted in the earlier thinking of the movement.

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    • Levine, Alan M., and Daniel S. Malachuk, eds. A Political Companion to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Political Companions to Great American Authors. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2011.

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      Essays on various aspects of Emerson’s politics. Includes a lucid introductory essay establishing Emerson’s political engagements and debunking the persistent myth that Emersonian self-reliance meant apolitical isolationism.

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    • Milder, Robert. “The Radical Emerson?” In The Cambridge Companion to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Edited by Joel Porte and Saundra Morris, 49–75. Cambridge Companions to Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

      DOI: 10.1017/CCOL052149611XSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Points out the flaws of revisionist thinking about Emerson’s radical politics and examines his essential conservatism in matters of economics (where he was often “a laissez-faire apologist” [p. 67]) and politics (where he advocated “revolution-by-consciousness” [p. 59]). Concludes that “the question of Emerson’s radicalism need not and assuredly cannot be settled” (p. 73).

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    Religion

    A minister by training and vocation who yet could muse in his journals that “in order to be a good minister it was necessary to leave the ministry” (Gilman, et al. 1960–1982, cited under Letters, Journals, and Notebooks, Vol. 4, p. 27), Emerson has prompted varied discussion both of his religious views and their relationship to religious history. Ahlstrom 1985 and Robinson 2000 are excellent introductions to the issues. Hutchison 2005 (first published in 1959) places Emerson in the tradition of dissent against Unitarianism. Packer 2007 and the essays in Kane 2009 all address in intriguing ways larger questions of Emerson’s spirituality, while Van Anglen 1998 argues against the secularization of Emerson and the transcendentalists, which can blind us to the fundamentally religious contexts of their belief and writings. Stievermann 2007 examines the religious and philosophical problem of imitation in an author most known for originality and iconoclasm.

    • Ahlstrom, Sydney E. “Ralph Waldo Emerson and the American Transcendentalists.” In Nineteenth Century Religious Thought in the West. Vol. 2. Edited by Ninian Smart, John Clayton, Steven T. Katz, and Patrick Sherry, 29–67. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

      DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511520235.002Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      A sound though dated historical introduction to Emerson as a religious reformer, not only in the tradition of Swedenborg and Hegel but also in the context of other transcendentalist thinkers such as Thoreau, Parker, and Fuller.

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    • Hutchison, William R. The Transcendentalist Ministers: Church Reform in the New England Renaissance. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005.

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      A standard historical account (first published in 1959), grounded in sectarian politics, of the religious dimensions of transcendentalism as a reaction to Unitarian rationalism. Emerson is treated largely in the context of the miracles controversy in the 1830s, following his Divinity School address.

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    • Kane, Paul, ed. “Special Ralph Waldo Emerson Issue.” Religion & Literature 41.1 (Spring 2009).

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      Essays that take an integrated approach to Emerson’s religiosity, considering it along with his politics, metaphysics, and ethics. A challenging collection more appropriate for the specialist than for the beginner.

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    • Packer, Barbara. “Signing Off: Religious Indifference in America.” In There before Us: Religion, Literature, and Culture from Emerson to Wendell Berry. Edited by Roger Lundin, 1–22. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2007.

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      Argues that spiritual “unbelief,” in the sense of religious indifference, was replaced for Emerson and other midcentury reformers by the moral challenge of the Fugitive Slave Law; antislavery reform restored for Emerson the comforting sense that he belonged once again to a community of believers.

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    • Robinson, David M. “Emerson and Religion.” In A Historical Guide to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Edited by Joel Myerson, 151–177. Historical Guides to American Authors. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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      Condensed narrative of the historical development of Emerson’s religion, which is based on his belief in “the presence and power of the soul” (p. 151). A mature, scholarly, yet accessible introduction.

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    • Stievermann, Jan. Der Sündenfall der Nachahmung: Zum Problem der Mittelbarkeit im Werk Ralph Waldo Emersons. Beiträge zur Englischen und Amerikanischen Literatur 24. Paderborn, Germany: Schöningh, 2007.

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      Translates as The Original Fall of Imitation: The Problem of Mediacy in the Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. An in-depth study of the essays, sermons, and lectures, examining the issue of imitation and authenticity. In German.

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    • Van Anglen, Kevin. “Reading Transcendentalist Texts Religiously: Emerson, Thoreau, and the Myth of Secularization.” In Seeing into the Life of Things: Essays on Literature and Religious Experience. Edited by John L. Mahoney, 152–170. Studies in Religion and Literature 1. New York: Fordham University Press, 1998.

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      A critical survey of studies that impose a “secularization model” on the transcendentalists; argues that the writing of Emerson and others in his circle reveals “the ebb and flow of religious belief” (p. 166), not the abandonment of it. Includes comprehensive bibliographical footnotes.

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    Race and Ethnicity

    Emerson’s views on race and ethnicity are particularly complicated, given his age’s openly racist attitudes about miscegenation, its “scientific” support for racial difference, and Emerson’s own limited contact with racial and ethnic diversity. Nicoloff 1961 is a reminder of the ways race, ethnicity, and nationality informed each other in the 19th century. The continuity of Emerson’s thinking about race is the subject of Patterson 1997 and Schneider 2010. Pioneering work such as Dolan 2012 exposes Emerson’s ethnocentrism in ways that have been largely downplayed.

    • Dolan, Neal. “Spite at Home: Emerson and the Irish.” Paper presented at “Conversazioni in Italia: Emerson, Hawthorne, and Poe,” 10 June 2012, Florence.

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      Categorizes and analyzes Emerson’s disparaging comments about Irish American immigrants.

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    • Nicoloff, Philip L. Emerson on Race and History: An Examination of English Traits. New York: Columbia University Press, 1961.

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      A lively and even-handed examination of Emerson’s sometimes disturbing views of race as it was conceived in the middle 19th century, an identification based not just on biology but on culture and geography. Less important as an analysis of English Traits than in its examination of the book’s sources in the racialized philosophy and science of the time.

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    • Patterson, Anita Haya. From Emerson to King: Democracy, Race, and the Politics of Protest. W. E. B. Du Bois Institute. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

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      Explores Emerson’s “double consciousness” regarding racial and national identities and his influence on the thinking of W. E. B. Du Bois and Martin Luther King Jr.

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    • Schneider, Ryan. The Public Intellectualism of Ralph Waldo Emerson and W. E. B. Du Bois: Emotional Dimensions of Race and Reform. Cognitive Studies in Literature and Performance. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

      DOI: 10.1057/9780230105652Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      An original analysis of the ways Emerson and Du Bois seek to evoke in their audiences emotional responses to issues of race that enable social change.

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    Social Reform

    The dismissive belief in Emerson’s aloof divorce from public affairs has now been firmly challenged, part of the supposed “de-transcendentalizing” of Emerson. Rose 1981 situates Emerson particularly, and the transcendentalists generally, in the climate of anti-institutional social activism in midcentury America. Gougeon 1990 explores Emerson’s at-times-difficult journey to abolitionism, revolutionizing our view of him as socially engaged. Cole 2006 and chapters in Garvey 2001 explore his commitment to women’s issues. Miller 2011 is a brief but solid introduction to the largely ignored topic of Emerson’s views of education, while Schulz 2012 examines in more depth the relationship between education and philosophy as Emerson came to understand education as “an agent of liberation” (p. 96).

    • Cole, Phyllis. “The New Movement’s Tide: Emerson and Women’s Rights.” In Emerson Bicentennial Essays. Edited by Ronald A. Bosco and Joel Myerson, 117–152. Massachusetts Historical Society Studies in American History and Culture 10. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2006.

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      A detailed historical analysis of Emerson’s developing views on the “woman question.” Though he was always considered an ally of the women’s rights movement, throughout his life he treated the issue “with open interest but considerable inner resistance” (p. 146).

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    • Garvey, T. Gregory, ed. The Emerson Dilemma: Essays on Emerson and Social Reform. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2001.

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      New examinations of Emerson’s views on women’s rights, antislavery, and nationality.

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    • Gougeon, Len. Virtue’s Hero: Emerson, Antislavery, and Reform. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1990.

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      A landmark study that corrects long-standing myths about Emerson’s principled removal from the arena of social reform. Uses a wealth of archival and historical documents to trace Emerson’s activities and writings about antislavery and abolition, as well as the philosophical reasons behind them. Republished in 2010.

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    • Miller, John P. “Ralph Waldo Emerson: Awakening the Soul.” In Transcendental Learning: The Educational Legacy of Alcott, Emerson, Fuller, Peabody and Thoreau. By John P. Miller, 15–28. Charlotte, NC: Information Age, 2011.

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      Positions Emerson in the context of holistic learning, promoted by the transcendentalists generally. Argues that Emerson identified four goals for education—self-trust, awakening of the soul, connectedness, and accuracy—but did not offer specific advice for achieving them. Considers Emerson’s views on “the soul-to-soul connection between teacher and student” (p. 25).

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    • Rose, Anne C. Transcendentalism as a Social Movement, 1830–1850. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1981.

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      Argues that the transcendentalists’ disappointment with existing civil and clerical institutions led them not to renounce social reform but to embrace it, by creating alternative social relations in education, marriage, friendship, and community. Grounded in primary sources, but at times more convincing for the movement than for Emerson in particular.

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    • Schulz, Dieter. “‘A Man Is a Method’: Emerson as Educator-Philosopher.” In Emerson and Thoreau, or Steps Beyond Ourselves: Studies in Transcendentalism. By Dieter Schulz, 74–97. Heidelberg, Germany: Mattes Verlag, 2012.

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      Translation and expansion of “Emerson als Erzieher,” [“Emerson as Educator”], in Erziehungsideale in englischsprachigen Literaturen (Ideals of Education in English Literature), edited by Thomas Kullman and Dieter Schulz (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1997), pp. 215–230. Explores Emerson’s ideas about the role of the teacher, pedagogy, and “the pragmatic and medial function of education” in America (p. 96).

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    Philosophy

    Emerson is most closely associated with the individualistic turn of mind called transcendentalism, which he famously called “Idealism as it exists in 1842.” But as Robinson 1993 points out, since the 1980s “a generation of scholars has come to read Emerson as a philosopher of power” (p. 1), a position associated with the supposed “de-transcendentalization” of Emerson. While Hughes 1984 (cited under General Overviews) and Jacobson 1993 see a coherent system in Emerson’s writing, discussions of his thought usually revolve around two more specific philosophical questions: whether his experimental forays and dramatizations constitute philosophical thought, and whether he inaugurated the pragmatism of the later 19th century or defied it. Surely the most articulate defender of the first position is Stanley Cavell, who in a series of important studies maintains that Emerson is a moral perfectionist whose “philosophicality” lies in language rather than system. An early statement, Cavell 1989 presents Emerson’s philosophy as a response to skepticism. Cavell 2003 complicates the second question by distinguishing Emerson’s patience and passion from John Dewey’s practice and action. In various ways, Albrecht 2012, Jacobson 1993, Kateb 1995, and especially Robinson 1993 position Emerson within a pragmatic tradition. West 1989 considers Emerson foundational not just for the pragmatic tradition but also for the inescapable connections among philosophy, politics, and cultural criticism. Robinson 2010 examines the influence of natural science on Emerson’s increasing attention to “the power of instinct” (p. 296) in his later career.

    • Albrecht, James M. Reconstructing Individualism: A Pragmatic Tradition from Emerson to Ellison. American Philosophy. New York: Fordham University Press, 2012.

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      A detailed and sweeping reinterpretation that places Emerson at the head of “a pragmatic reconception of individualism” (p. 8) emphasizing relationalism, social implication, and pluralistic ethics over solitude, antisocialism, and absolutism. Argues that Emerson “locates value in active experience” and “morality in behavior and not in codes, laws, or institutions” (p. 110).

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    • Cavell, Stanley. This New Yet Unapproachable America: Lectures after Emerson after Wittgenstein. Frederick Ives Carpenter Lectures. Albuquerque, NM: Living Batch, 1989.

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      Emerson’s thinking anticipates Hegel and Wittgenstein, an American inflection on philosophy defined in opposition to foundations and inherited structure.

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    • Cavell, Stanley. “What’s the Use of Calling Emerson a Pragmatist?” In Emerson’s Transcendental Etudes. Edited by David Justin Hodge, 215–223. Cultural Memory in the Present. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003.

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      Contrasts John Dewey’s pragmatist call for intelligent action with Emerson’s insistence on “the necessity of patience or suffering in allowing ourselves to change” (p. 223), which Cavell considers a distinctly transcendental concept.

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    • Jacobson, David. Emerson’s Pragmatic Vision: The Dance of the Eye. Literature and Philosophy. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993.

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      Using the major essays through The Conduct of Life (1860), the author develops the argument that Emerson’s “The Method of Nature” (1841) signaled a shift in his orientation “from a spiritualist faith in the creative thought of the individual to a philosophy of obedience” (p. 2) and a doctrine of fate (p. 195).

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    • Kateb, George. Emerson and Self-Reliance. Modernity and Modern Thought 8. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 1995.

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      Develops the concept of democratic individuality to reconcile self-reliance and social commitment. Shows how Emerson’s concept of self-reliance manifests itself in religion, friendship and love, identity, politics, and society. Argues the compatibility of Emerson with Nietzsche and his philosophical heirs.

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    • Robinson, David M. Emerson and the Conduct of Life: Pragmatism and Ethical Purpose in the Later Work. Cambridge Studies in American Literature and Culture 70. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

      DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511527173Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Develops “Emerson’s struggle to translate his earlier commitment to vision into a more enabling valuation of ethical work” (p. 3), with reference to a broad range of texts through Society and Solitude (1870); considers Emerson an ethical philosopher who recognized “the value of the present moment, and the necessity of acting within it” (p. 175).

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    • Robinson, David M. “British Science, the London Lectures, and Emerson’s Philosophical Reorientation.” In Emerson for the Twenty-First Century: Global Perspectives on an American Icon. Edited by Barry Tharaud, 285–300. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2010.

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      Traces the shift in Emerson’s thinking “from transcendental vision toward pragmatic action” (pp. 286–287) and argues that the latter orientation was prompted by Emerson’s encounters with British scientists during his 1847–1848 lecture tour. Their study of natural processes prompted his growing interest in what he later called “the natural history of the intellect.”

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    • West, Cornel. “The Emersonian Prehistory of American Pragmatism.” In The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism. By Cornel West, 9–41. Wisconsin Project on American Writers. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989.

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      Argues that Emerson is a cultural critic whose moral influence was exerted primarily over the bourgeoisie. A significant revisionist study.

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    International Influences

    Tharaud 2010 (cited under Collections of Essays) is a timely collection that considers not only transatlantic but global intersections, but most other studies approach the enormous terrain of internationalism with more limited focus, prompted by Emerson’s frequent references to global writers, religions, and texts.

    Asia

    Of those works that examine Emerson and Asia, Versluis 1993 and Hodder 2010 are cogent overviews of Emerson’s immersion in Eastern culture; the first is focused on religions, while the second emphasizes literature. More-specific examinations include Adisasmito-Smith 2010, which focuses on Indian culture; Dunston 2010, a thoughtful study of Emerson’s interest in historical Persian poets; Goto 2007, a careful examination of the transcendentalists’ intersections with Confucianism; and Rudy 2001, on Buddhist parallels in Emerson’s writing.

    • Adisasmito-Smith, Steven. “Transcendental Brahmin: Emerson’s ‘Hindu’ Sentiments.” In Emerson for the Twenty-First Century: Global Perspectives on an American Icon. Edited by Barry Tharaud, 131–164. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2010.

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      Argues for Emerson’s long-standing immersion in the literature, religion, and philosophy of India. Emerson integrated Indian thought in his ethics, politics, and utopian vision “while conspicuously maintain a dualistic Orientalizing discourse about Indian culture in other respects” (p. 156).

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    • Dunston, Susan L. “East of Emerson.” In Emerson for the Twenty-First Century: Global Perspectives on an American Icon. Edited by Barry Tharaud, 107–130. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2010.

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      Explores the distinction between Western monotheism, which Emerson found unable to explain the oneness of existence, and Eastern monism, to which he gravitated for its affirmation of unity in variety. Outlines Emerson’s attraction to the ecstatic vision of the Sufi poets (or Persian poets, as Emerson called them) of the 11th through the 14th centuries.

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    • Goto, Shoji. The Philosophy of Emerson and Thoreau: Orientals Meet Occidentals. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 2007.

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      Discusses the connections between transcendentalism and Confucianism.

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    • Hodder, Alan. “Asian Influences.” In The Oxford Handbook of Transcendentalism. Edited by Joel Myerson, Sandra Harbert Petrulionis, and Laura Dassow Walls, 27–37. Oxford Handbooks. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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      Situates Emerson’s “waxing estimations of Asian literature” (p. 30) in the 1840s within the general intersections of transcendentalism and Eastern thought.

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    • Rudy, John G. Emerson and Zen Buddhism. Studies in American Literature 42. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 2001.

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      Detailed readings of the major essays and addresses in light of two schools of Zen meditation, the Rinzai and the Soto, showing Emerson’s articulation of a voidist spirituality similar to that of Buddhism. Not a source study but an analysis of the commonalities between Emerson’s thought and the precepts of Zen.

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    • Versluis, Arthur. American Transcendentalism and Asian Religions. Religion in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

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      Contextualizes Orientalism’s influence on the transcendentalists’ views of progress. Traces Emerson’s developing interest in Asian religious texts, as he took from them both ethical doctrine and “literary religion” in the form of “inspiration, or self-transcendence” (p. 51).

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    Europe

    Van Cromphout 1990 (cited under Emerson and Other Writers) is a study of Emerson and German literature. Barish 1989 explores the psychological dimensions of Emerson’s first Italian tour, while Koch 2012 ably examines how his experience of British and French revolutionary activity during his 1847–1848 lecture tour influenced his social thinking. Stievermann 2007 considers Emerson among his philosophical contemporaries on the European continent. Walls 2010 (see Emerson Transcendentalized), more than just an overview, offers a provocative redefinition of transcendentalism as a global phenomenon that includes thinking in science and politics.

    Friendship

    Emerson’s views on friendship are complicated by his real-life relationships with friends such as Thoreau, Fuller, and Alcott and by his philosophical individualism, which seems to mitigate against the compromises called for by relationships with others. The essays in Lysaker and Rossi 2010 examine Emerson’s philosophical views of friendship and the ways they were tested in real life, while Shealy 1997, Steele 1999, and Strauch 1968 offer biographical accounts of his friendships.

    • Lysaker, John T., and William Rossi, eds. Emerson & Thoreau: Figures of Friendship. American Philosophy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010.

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      A collection of essays focusing less on the troubled friendship between Emerson and Thoreau than on larger philosophical and biographical aspects of transcendental relationships.

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    • Shealy, Daniel. “Singing Mignon’s Song: The Friendship of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Louisa May Alcott.” In Emersonian Circles: Essays in Honor of Joel Myerson. Edited by Wesley T. Mott and Robert E. Burkholder, 225–235. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 1997.

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      A detailed case study focusing on the forty-year friendship between Emerson and Alcott, who despite her reservations about transcendentalism had great devotion to Emerson himself.

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    • Steele, Jeffrey. “Transcendental Friendship: Emerson, Fuller, and Thoreau.” In The Cambridge Companion to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Edited by Joel Porte and Saundra Morris, 121–139. Cambridge Companions to Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

      DOI: 10.1017/CCOL052149611XSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Examines Emerson’s, Fuller’s, and Thoreau’s paradoxical theories of friendship, which “made it impossible to be faithful both to one’s ideas and to one’s feelings” (p. 136).

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    • Strauch, Carl F. “Hatred’s Swift Repulsions: Emerson, Margaret Fuller, and Others.” Studies in Romanticism 7.2 (1968): 65–103.

      DOI: 10.2307/25599701Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      An early biographical study of the complicated friendship of Emerson, Fuller, Caroline Sturgis, Anna Barker, and Samuel Ward, distinguished by good use of manuscript sources but with an overemphasis on Emerson’s “coldness.” Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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    Emerson Transcendentalized

    No movement is as closely associated with Emerson as transcendentalism, a term so slippery that one of its supposed adherents joked that it was a union of the like-minded in which no two of them thought alike. Histories of the movement—surprisingly few—are similarly diverse in their thinking. Earlier studies such as Frothingham 1876 and Goddard 1908 emphasize the group’s collective philosophy (and thus tend to downplay Emerson’s “leadership”). Later studies such as Gura 2007 and Packer 2007 define the movement against the interplay of politics, religion, and personality in the United States. Walls 2010 broadens the term to encompass both globalism and cosmopolitanism.

    • Frothingham, Octavius Brooks. Transcendentalism in New England: A History. New York: G. P. Putnam’s, 1876.

      DOI: 10.1037/12858-000Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      An early, sympathetic study of the historical antecedents (especially European) and “tendencies” of transcendentalism. Treats Emerson not as the leader of transcendentalism but as the “prince of idealism” and as a seer who avoided public action but whose “faith in ideal justice and love never blenches [sic]” (pp. 226, 245). Republished as recently as 2008 (Whitefish, MT: Kessinger).

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    • Goddard, Harold Clarke. Studies in New England Transcendentalism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1908.

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      Treats transcendentalism largely as a philosophical movement, addressing the question of whether transcendentalism means “transcending common sense.” Considers Emerson representative in his contradictions: modest in his personal life but expressing a “Delphic finality” in his work (p. 134), both a saint and seer and “the plain citizen of Concord” (p. 176). Republished as recently as 1969 (New York: Humanities Press).

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    • Gura, Philip F. American Transcendentalism: A History. New York: Hill and Wang, 2007.

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      Perceptive and lively study of two generations of the movement. An attempt to realize the promise of American democracy, transcendentalism was torn between individualists (of whom Emerson was the most articulate spokesperson) and social activists.

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    • Packer, Barbara L. The Transcendentalists. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2007.

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      The single-best introduction to the movement, from its Unitarian roots to the “antislavery years” of the early 1860s. Sees “the centrality of the individual” (p. 1) as transcendentalism’s hallmark, with Emerson as its most articulate expositor. Excellent on the play of personalities within the group.

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    • Walls, Laura Dassow. “Global Transcendentalism.” In The Oxford Handbook of Transcendentalism. Edited by Joel Myerson, Sandra Harbert Petrulionis, and Laura Dassow Walls, 513–523. Oxford Handbooks. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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      Argues for the movement’s “achievement in global, planetary, and even cosmic terms” (p. 514), primarily but not exclusively through its intersections with new science and world economics.

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    Emerson De-Transcendentalized

    The “de-transcendentalization” of Emerson continues as a major scholarly debate, fueled, as Lopez 1996 notes, by the “frequent allegations that Emerson possesses no historical sense, no sense of the constraints and complications of social life” (p. 55). Because transcendentalism is so easily dismissed as opposed to any sort of individual obligation to authority, de-transcendentalization spills over into politics, religion, reform, and other aspects of social engagement. Surveys of criticism in Buell 1984 and Lopez 1988 examine much of the same scholarship while reaching significantly different conclusions. Walls 2003 is a major revisionist study that erases the “two cultures” divide between science and literature and shows Emerson to be not only an advocate for science but also an interpreter of it who presented science as indispensable to the understanding of truth.

    • Buell, Lawrence. “The Emerson Industry in the 1980’s: A Survey of Trends and Achievements.” ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance 30.2 (1984): 117–136.

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      A survey of the state of criticism in the early 1980s; famously identifies the trend toward “the de-Transcendentalization of the Emerson image,” which entails seeing Emerson as “the realist and analyst of the social system (rather than Emerson the prophet of Nature of the Soul)” (p. 124).

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    • Lopez, Michael. “De-Transcendentalizing Emerson.” ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance 34.1–2 (1988): 77–139.

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      Responds to Buell 1984 by situating Emerson in more general romantic contexts where contradiction and inconsistency were always part of the movement; argues that “Emerson’s texts and the Transcendental Emerson image . . . have co-existed, for a century and a half now, profoundly at odds with one another” (p. 79).

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    • Lopez, Michael. Emerson and Power: Creative Antagonism in the Nineteenth Century. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1996.

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      Capitalizes on the affinity with Nietzsche and recasts Emerson’s worldview from one essentially transcendental and idealist to one pragmatic and experiential, where “all varieties of relationships . . . may be defined in terms of our capacity to use or be used” (p. 56).

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    • Walls, Laura Dassow. Emerson’s Life in Science: The Culture of Truth. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003.

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      Aligns Emerson’s search for a synthetic explanation of humanity and nature with the new scientific culture of truth exemplified by the empirical studies of Herschel, von Humboldt, Lyell, and others. Argues for the affinities between science and transcendentalism.

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    LAST MODIFIED: 09/30/2013

    DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199827251-0091

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