The Civil War is a pervasive presence in the journals in this volume. “The war searches character,” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote. Both his reading and his writing reflected his concern for the endurance of the nation, whose strength lay in the moral strength of the people. He read military biographies and memoirs, while turning again to Persian, Chinese, and Indian literature. The deaths of Clough, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and his aunt Mary Moody Emerson prompted him to reread their letters and journals, remembering and reappraising.
These were stirring, poignant years for Emerson. The times were hard, his lecturing was curtailed, and a new book seemed out of the question. He felt the losses, fears, and frustrations that come to those who believe in a cause they are too old to fight for. But his respected position as a man of letters brought him some unusual experiences, such as a trip to Washington in which he met President Lincoln, Secretaries Seward and Chase, and other key figures in the government. Inspecting West Point as a member of the Board of Visitors, he was deeply impressed by the character and spartan training of the cadets who were soon to see action.
At the war’s end, busy again with a heavy lecture schedule and feeling his age a little, he took a long look back at the conflict and concluded that war “heals a deeper wound than any it makes.”
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.
No American mind stands more influentially for creativity than Emerson’s. And these lifelong records, his journals particularly, provide unique glimpses into his growth… His journalizing was literary practice, but above all, it was a heritage from the unsparing Puritan self-examination of the spirit.
[Emerson’s journals] make the fullness of his humanity and his understanding of the country he was living in unmistakable. By contrast the published works proclaim the various stances he was driven to assume… In the journals he is both more hard-headed and more warm-hearted.
What appeals in this volume is the freshness and nearness of Emerson the person. A man so reserved and scrupulous is only to be known in his private journals. That his earlier editors Edward Waldo Emerson and Waldo Emerson Forbes made him less of a person is well known. This latest volume furthers the restoration of his wildness, his uncertainties, and his originality.
- 624 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
From this author
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