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These pages present a young suitor, a grief-stricken widower, an affectionate father, and a man with an abiding genius for friendship. The great spokesman for individualism and self-reliance turns out to have been a good neighbor, an activist citizen, a loyal brother. Here is an Emerson who knew how to laugh, who was self-doubting as well as self-reliant, and who became the greatest intellectual adventurer of his age.
Richardson has, as much as possible, let Emerson speak for himself through his published works, his many journals and notebooks, his letters, his reported conversations. This is not merely a study of Emerson's writing and his influence on others it is Emerson's life as he experienced it. We see the failed minister, the struggling writer, the political reformer, the poetic liberator.
The Emerson of this book not only influenced Thoreau, Fuller, Whitman, Dickinson, and Frost, he also inspired Nietzsche, William James, Baudelaire, Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, and Jorge Luis Borges. Emerson's timeliness is persistent and striking: his insistence that literature and science are not separate cultures, his emphasis on the worth of every individual, his respect for nature.
Richardson gives careful attention to the enormous range of Emerson's readings--from Persian poets to George Sand--and to his many friendships and personal encounters--from Mary Moody Emerson to the Cherokee chiefs in Boston--evoking both the man and the times in which he lived. Throughout this book, Emerson's unquenchable vitality reaches across the decades, and his hold on us endures.
Library of Congress subject headings for this publication: Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 1803-1882, Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 1803-1882 Knowledge and learning, Authors, American 19th century Biography