Ralph Waldo Emerson, the man and thinker, will be fully revealed for the first time in this new edition of his journals and notebooks. The old image of the ideal nineteenth-century gentleman, created by editorial omissions of his spontaneous thoughts, is replaced by the picture of Emerson as he really was. His frank and often bitter criticisms of men and society, his “nihilizing,” his anguish at the death of his first wife, his bleak struggles with depression and loneliness, his sardonic views of woman, his earthy humor, his ideas of the Negro, of religion, of God—these and other expressions of his private thought and feeling, formerly deleted or subdued, are here restored. Restored also is the full evidence needed for studies of his habits of composition, the development of his style, and the sources of his ideas. Cancelled passages are reproduced, misreadings are corrected, and hitherto unpublished manuscripts are now printed. The text comes as close to a literal transcription as is feasible. A full apparatus of annotation, identification of quotations, and textual notes is supplied. Reproduced in this volume are twelve facsimile manuscript pages, many with Emerson’s marginal drawings.
The first volume includes some of the “Wide Worlds,” journals begun while Emerson was at Harvard, and four contemporary notebooks, mostly unpublished. In these storehouses of quotation, juvenile verse, themes, and stories are the first versions of Emerson’s “Valedictory Poem,” Bowdoin Prize Essays, and first published work. Together they give a faithful picture of Emerson’s apprenticeship as an artist and reveal the extent of his hidden and frustrated ambition—to become a writer.
[In these early journals and notebooks,] Emerson was not writing for posterity. He was straightening out his own thoughts and accumulating his ‘savings Bank’ (as he said) which he could draw on for his published work. The manuscripts contain everything, from college essays, notes on lectures, and commonplace book jottings to accounts, lists of books to be read, indexes, and jokes. The editors have placed first things first. They will print all the journals, by which they mean ‘those volumes which consist predominantly of Emerson’s prose records of his experiences and thoughts.’ As for the miscellaneous notebooks, priority will be given to those which contain ‘personal, literary, and intellectual records.’ …That the editors have been able to order this fascinating chaos is a tribute to their patience, intelligence, and skill. There will never have to be another edition.
[W]e want the fullest possible picture of the mind of a great Representative Man, and writer, like Emerson. This the new edition of the journals will do much to furnish. These earliest journals, boyish and immature as they are…have very decidedly the interest that, not only for the student, attaches to the spectacle of a young and potentially creative mind struggling to free itself from convention and commonplace and to arrive at its own idiosyncrasy of insight and truthtelling.
These papers reveal how the mighty affirmations grew out of struggle, suffering, sorrow, and doubt, as well as the ecstasies of his poetic life. Older editions of these journals and notebooks were incomplete, sometimes inaccurate, selected to prettify the real story. Now…we shall have everything (including illustrations of Emerson’s gifted doodling)… Beautifully manufactured for permanence, this book represents the magnificent enterprise of some of our major University Presses.
The editorial work is a marvel to behold. Never have we seen an edition that so clearly and definitively represents a manuscript with all its cancellations, interlineations, and so on. It is a model of editorial practice. It is to be hoped that scholars and libraries will do their best to encourage the efforts of the editorial board.
- 480 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
From this author
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