Through a blitzkrieg of quotes and biographical minutiae, some of Emerson's more dreadful verse, and the author's own...

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RALPH WALDO EMERSON: Portrait of a Balanced Soul

Through a blitzkrieg of quotes and biographical minutiae, some of Emerson's more dreadful verse, and the author's own evaluative commentary, Wagenknecht zigzags to the ""essential"" Emerson -- but the reader is apt to get lost along the way. Wagenknecht defends his ""psychographic method"" -- the concentration on character and personality with material arranged topically rather than chronologically. He assumes Emerson was ""a man, not a syndrome."" Fair enough, but the difficulty here lies in the equal stress given the major works, scraps of oratory, letters, casual conversation, views of the Seer at work and play, and quips and cranks from contemporaries. The mix of mind and everyday matter just doesn't cohere. The huge, organic flux of Emerson's world/ cosmic view -- restless, amorphous at times, contradictory -- cannot be grasped by random soundings out of developmental or philosophic context, paralleled by dabs from his daily life. What, after all, does Emerson's clumsy gardening have to do with his construct on ""Nature""? And why does he refer to Emerson's subtle analysis of the dynamics of friendship (listening to a friend to study the ""self"" stimulated by the friend) as ""even worse"" than ""great nonsense?"" Better to turn to Boller's American Transcendentalism: 1830-1860.

Pub Date: May 23, 1974

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Oxford

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1974