Tony's Reviews > Selected Journals, 1820-1842

Selected Journals, 1820-1842 by Ralph Waldo Emerson
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Mar 26, 10

bookshelves: non-fiction-general
Read in March, 2010

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. SELECTED JOURNALS 1820-1842. (2010). ****. This is one of the latest issues from The Library of America, and came out with a companion volume that completed the selections from Emerson’s journals for the period 1841-1877. These are massive compilations distilled from the 16-volume scholarly edition published by Harvard University Press. I have to admit that I skimmed most of this volume, and will probably not read the second – the subjects are too dense to take all in without serious study. What these journals represented, however, was Emerson’s “savings bank” of thoughts and ideas that he later used to distill into his famous essays. I have a difficult time imagining this young man (he was only sixteen when he started the journals) and the society into which he joined. I can’t think of anyone in our current world who would match the degree of thinking and analysis that was present in his mind at the time. He enrolled at Harvard to ultimately become a minister – Harvard’s sole function at the time – and did indeed become so. He later renounced his faith, or, more correctly, amended his faith and became an advocate of Unitarianism. We learn of his marriage to Ellen Tucker, and her subsequent early death. We follow him as he travels to Europe, visiting Malta, Italy, Sicily, and England. We also learn of his involvement with the establishment of “The Dial,” and his subsequent participation in Utopian experiments like Fruitlands and Brook Farm. He became friends with most of the luminaries of his day: Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Thomas Carlyle, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Hawthorne and others. He became a key participant in the development of the Transcendental Movement. In all, he led a life of thought and meditation centered around his Christian beliefs initially, but late around his belief in the supremacy of man and his ultimate goodness. It would be hard to find a man who was more widely read, and who managed to understand the underlying meanings of all that he did read. This was my first exposure to Emerson’s Journals, and I appreciate Library of America for giving us this opportunity. Recommended.
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