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Transcendent Transcendentalist

June 2024
1min read

Emerson The Mind on Fire

by Robert D. Richardson, Jr., University of California Press, 656 pages.

On March 29, 1832, Ralph Waldo Emerson, twenty-eight, lonely, losing his faith, and generally desolate, went to open his wife’s tomb and see her remains. She had died the year before. He never wrote what he discovered peering into that abyss, but by the end of the year he had resigned his Unitarian pulpit, sold his furniture, boarded a ship for Europe, and launched into the lifelong search into the mysteries of life and faith that gave the world transcendentalism. Robert D. Richardson, a professor at Wesleyan and biographer of Thoreau, traces that life’s journey in a compelling, authoritative new biography. Emerson meets Wordsworth, Carlyle, and Coleridge, nurtures Thoreau, discovers and champions Whitman, immerses himself in classic Greek philosophy, ancient Eastern mysticism, and the newest science, always seeking, always approaching the world with an open heart and a tough mind and sharing what he finds, the great American public intellect. His life emerges as not only eventful but enduringly important, for what mattered to Emerson still matters to us. As Richardson puts it, “It is the ambition, if it has not yet been the fate, of transcendentalism to provide a soul for modern liberalism and thereby to enlarge the possibilities of modern life.”

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