Ralph Waldo Emerson’s life from 1826 to 1832 has a classic dramatic structure, beginning with his approbation to preach in October 1826, continuing with his courtship, his brief marriage to Ellen Tucker, and his misery after her death, and concluding with his departure from the ministry.
The journals and notebooks of these years are far fewer than those in the preceding six years. Emerson noted down many ideas for sermons in his journals, but as time went on he wrote the sermons independently. Occasionally he wrote openly about family matters, but except for the passionate response to Ellen and her death the journals tell little about the impact upon him of other people and outside events. The pattern is consistent with the earlier journals: Emerson used them mainly to record his thought, to develop and express his ideas. His religious and intellectual interests were undergoing significant changes in orientation or emphasis. He was less concerned with the existence of God than with the nature and influence of Christ. He continued to reassert the truth of Christianity, but in his growing unorthodoxy he came to show less and less sympathy with the church, with forms and ritual, with convention. And he began to wonder whether it is not the worst part of the man that is the minister.
During these years, Emerson read more in Madame de Staël, Wordsworth, Gérando, and Coleridge, less in Milton, the Augustans, Dugald Stewart, and Scott. In style, he moved from a rambling, bookish rhetoric to the tautness and the cadences that mark his later Essays.
The journals (the editing of them is brilliant) are the workshop of a mind. It is amusing to find the young man of 22 writing: ‘My years are passing away. Infirmities are already stealing on me…’; it is tragic to read the husband’s poem beginning ‘And Ellen, when the greybeard years Have brought us to life’s Evening hour’; It is interesting to know he visited Concord prison and went into the cells; but the value of the journals lies in their revelation of Emerson’s mental and spiritual growth. Here is his reading, here are his reflections; here are the germs of his sermons. He is keeping company with Shakespeare and Donne, Montaigne, and Johnson, Wordsworth and Coleridge. Such a volume will command more than one reading.
The present volume covers the period 1826–1832, during which Emerson passed through two major crises in his life—his wooing of, and brief marriage to Ellen Tucker, who died soon after, and his short service in the ministry before deciding that the calling was not for him. Among the pieces included are sermons and notes for sermons…but there is also verse and personal reflection… As in the earlier volumes, the editors compel admiration for the manner in which they have assembled and organized so disparate a selection of literary notes and scraps.
- 416 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
From this author
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