The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1838-1842

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Harvard University Press, 1969 - Literary Criticism - 606 pages

When Emerson began these journals in June of 1838, he "had achieved initial success in each of his main forms of public utterance. The days of finding his proper role and public voice were now behind him...and his...personal life had healed from earlier wounds." Now he was married to Lydia Jackson of Plymouth and was the father of a young son, Waldo. They lived in a large, comfortable house in Concord, only a half-day's drive from Boston but close to the solitude of nature. Still to come was the controversy he would create by his address to the graduating class at Harvard Divinity School an address in which he would say that the Divinity School trained ministers for a dead church. These journals record his responses to the severe criticism and trace his struggles as he overcame the stings of attack with a growing confidence in himself as a thinker, lecturer, and writer.

In addition to introspective writings, the journals contain Emerson's observations on his reading, on his country, especially during the presidential campaign of 1840, on Slavery' on art and nature, on religion and the need for a new understanding of its meaning, and on love. His relations with such close friends as Bronson Alcott and Margaret Fuller also are reflected here, as are his developing friendships with Thoreau, Jones Very, Samuel Ward, Caroline Sturgis, and William Ellery Charming, the poet.

During this period he gave three series of lectures and published his second book, Essays, which contains some of his greatest work-"Self Reliance," "Compensation," and "The Over-Soul." The major workshop for Essays, these journals are indispensable for the study of Emerson's creative processes. Many entries are published here for the first time, including experimental lists of topics for Essays and possibly the earliest draft of the poem "The Sphinx."

For Emerson, the journal was one of the most important of literary genres. His own journals not only formed his "artificial memory," but became "a living part of him." He later wrote, "The man is only half himself, the other half is his expression."


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About the author (1969)

Known primarily as the leader of the philosophical movement transcendentalism, which stresses the ties of humans to nature, Ralph Waldo Emerson, American poet and essayist, was born in Boston in 1803. From a long line of religious leaders, Emerson became the minister of the Second Church (Unitarian) in 1829. He left the church in 1832 because of profound differences in interpretation and doubts about church doctrine. He visited England and met with British writers and philosophers. It was during this first excursion abroad that Emerson formulated his ideas for Self-Reliance. He returned to the United States in 1833 and settled in Concord, Massachusetts. He began lecturing in Boston. His first book, Nature (1836), published anonymously, detailed his belief and has come to be regarded as his most significant original work on the essence of his philosophy of transcendentalism. The first volume of Essays (1841) contained some of Emerson's most popular works, including the renowned Self-Reliance. Emerson befriended and influenced a number of American authors including Henry David Thoreau. It was Emerson's practice of keeping a journal that inspired Thoreau to do the same and set the stage for Thoreau's experiences at Walden Pond. Emerson married twice (his first wife Ellen died in 1831 of tuberculosis) and had four children (two boys and two girls) with his second wife, Lydia. His first born, Waldo, died at age six. Emerson died in Concord on April 27, 1882 at the age of 78 due to pneumonia and is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts.

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