Emerson: The Mind on Fire

Front Cover
University of California Press, Apr 5, 1995 - Literary Criticism - 684 pages
15 Reviews
Ralph Waldo Emerson is one of the most important figures in the history of American thought, religion, and literature. The vitality of his writings and the unsettling power of his example continue to influence us more than a hundred years after his death. Now Robert D. Richardson Jr. brings to life an Emerson very different from the old stereotype of the passionless Sage of Concord. Drawing on a vast amount of new material, including correspondence among the Emerson brothers, Richardson gives us a rewarding intellectual biography that is also a portrait of the whole man.

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.

What people are saying - Write a review

User ratings

5 stars
12
4 stars
3
3 stars
0
2 stars
0
1 star
0

Review: Emerson: The Mind on Fire

User Review  - Goodreads

Robert D. Richardson also wrote a biography on Thoreau that got great reviews. Indeed, Richardson knows what he is talking about. His facts are solid, and his story clear. I finished the reading with ... Read full review

Review: Emerson: The Mind on Fire

User Review  - Goodreads

After the reading of this book and number of essays, Emerson has assumed the number one place on my list of heroes. Inspired ever more by each wonderfully small successive chapter. Read full review

Other editions - View all

About the author (1995)

Robert D. Richardson Jr., Adjunct Professor of Letters at Wesleyan University, is also the author of Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind (California, 1986), which won the Melcher Prize in 1987. Barry Moser is one of the foremost wood engravers and book illustrators in America.

Bibliographic information