EMERSON by Jr. Richardson

EMERSON

The Mind on Fire
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A reverential biography that presumes rather than inquires into Emerson's greatness. Richardson (Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind, not reviewed) offers a readable, well-researched account of Emerson's life journey: education at Harvard; work as a teacher, minister, lyceum lecturer, and essayist; marriages to Ellen Tucker and Lydia (renamed Lidian) Jackson; travels, notably his first trip to Europe, when he met Samuel Coleridge, Jane and Thomas Carlyle, and William Wordsworth, and his second, when the Revolutions of 1848 gave him ``an important lesson in politics''; and relationships with friends and relatives, including Mary Moody Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, and Bronson Alcott. Even as he lays out these relationships, however, Richardson undermines the assumption that Emerson might owe a significant debt to some of his sources by reducing all people, books, and events to things on which the Sage exercised his ``genius for skimming.'' Although the brief preface ambitiously promises a ``portrait of the whole man,'' this is a promise the book cannot meet; in fact, it merely makes more evident the portrait's intriguing lacunae. What kind of husband, for example, was the man who wrote to Lidian in August 1843, ``I wish I had never been born. I do not see how God can compensate me for this sort of existence''? Richardson observes that later in life the chronically sickly Lidian took a turn for the better, and ``as Emerson's powers and energies declined...those of Lidian revived...Emerson's decline made room for Lidian.'' Unfortunately, this glancing allusion refers to an intriguing pattern we could fully understand only if we knew more about either husband or wife or both. Worthwhile, though excessively careful not to knock any chips from the Great One's pedestal. (21 b&w illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-520-08808-5
Page count: 680pp
Publisher: Univ. of California
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1995




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