Friday, April 2, 2010

Emerson among the Eccentrics

Welcome to a discussion on Emerson among the Eccentrics by Carlos Baker.  I found this portrait of our young transcendentalist.  I also found what looks like another good site on all things Emerson.


  1. Thanks, Gintaras.

    As a general comment to get this started, this seems to be one of those instances when a number of unusual and unusually talented people ended up in a relatively small area. Emerson does seem to be the center of all that activity -- and urging it on -- but he also seems to be one of many in this group.

    I haven't yet read the Richardson biography, but may pick it up after I reach the end of Baker. Richardson made an interesting comment in the opening. He likes to read everything his subjects read and wrote as the basis for his biographies, but says that wasn't enough for Emerson because he was so much a member of a wider circle. (Bad paraphrase from something read a couple weeks ago, but that sort of gets at it I think.)

  2. A word comes to mind = serendipity.

    Just what or how is it that these historical characters came together all at once, same place, same time??

    What factors contributed to this (shall I call it) accident? event? coincidence? miracle?

  3. I think that's a good word for it.

    Plus, Emerson seems to have attracted "followers" through his preaching/lectures, so even when they didn't live in the area, they always seemed to go out of their way to see him. He must have been speaking to issues of the times.

    Also, people admired him so they encouraged their friends to look him up or encouraged him to look the friends up (as I recall that was how he first met Thoreau?).

    And then Emerson also encouraged others to move there, so he sort of surrounded himself with like-minded people as well. It may have had something to do with that New England geographical area, too. Interesting group.

    Gintaras, have you received your book yet? And Rick? How shall we start?

  4. Started reading today. Liked the chapter on his sojourn in Italy and his comment that people make such a big fuss about the box without seeing the jewel inside, in regard to religion. Interesting that he made such a profound shift in his spiritual views at a the time of the Second Great Awakening. Makes me think of Tolstoy.

  5. Interesting idea. I'll have to go back and reread.

    For me, I felt like I was reading Henry James. There was almost something novelistic about it, but so much of it comes from Emerson's own words that it can't be too fictionalized or imagined.

  6. Not exactly what I expected. More like a collection of individual portraits as they relate to one man. But, I'm enjoying it just the same. Baker has a mellifluous way of combining quotes and his own observations, as if he were peering in on his subjects rather than looking at them from a distance.

  7. Yes, that was my impression, too, Gintaras. But they all seem to come together as a group. Even Richardson says it's impossible to write about Emerson without also writing about his circle of friends.

  8. So what caused this convergence?

    I'm still trying to figure it out. First, these characters were all descended of Yankees most of whom came with the Mayflower. While some were bluestocking types, others lived lives of genteel poverty. Second, they were highly intellectual - writing/education provided them remuneration. Third, they believed in a form of pantheism despite their orthodox religious backgrounds. (Perhaps their pantheistic views provided the Hegelian antithesis to the thesis of religious orthodoxy then in practice and belief. The synthesis to this triad being the literature that remains a great influence in the USA and the world to this day.) Fourth, they lived close to the land and made their lifestyles from it to some extent. Fifth (and please don't take this the wrong way), they were all just a bit crazy so that they were predisposed to mingle with one another. Sixth, and perhaps last, was the fact that this was an era of idealism: socialism and reform in Europe, abolitionism in the USA, there was the industrial revolution, rise in feminist thought, religious fanaticism (Mormons, Millenialists, Shakers, Quakers), rise in immigration and Americanism.

    Times were a-changing. The heritage, proximity, and outside influences among these characters no doubt caused this convergence.

  9. Interesting list, Trippler. I go for the crazy one right off the top. There is something to that I think.

  10. I should add that my initial response to the idea of a "crazy" circle of friends is meant in a positive way. Creative circles tend to be that way.

    But thinking back, Emerson's family had serious mental and physical illnesses side by side with genius. And his aunt was a real character (one that I found particularly interesting).

    Maybe his family might be a good place to start?

  11. I liked the way Emerson decided to become a "Naturalist," looking on nature in a broader sense, although he seemed to adhere to the Biblical timeline. There was also an interesting passage on how Emerson and Alcott saw the stars. It will be interesting to see in later chapters how much Lyell's and Darwin's theories affected the Transcendentalists.

  12. "Naturalist"

    Anyone remember this ancient gem?

    It enjoyed a huge revival in the 60s up to the early 70s. I was rather intrigued by it but, alas, found its promises to be terribly shortcoming. I was reminded of it upon reading that RWE and others partook of the Pythagorean diet.

    From wiki:

    "The Pythagoreans were well-known in antiquity for their vegetarianism, which they practised for religious, ethical and ascetic reasons, in particular the idea of metempsychosis - the transmigration of souls into the bodies of other animals. "Pythagorean diet" was a common name for the abstention from eating meat and fish, until the coining of "vegetarian" in the nineteenth century.

    The Pythagorean code further restricted the diet of its followers, prohibiting the consumption or even touching of any sort of bean. It is probable that this is due to their belief in the soul, and the fact that beans obviously showed the propensity for life. This is similar to the Buddhist diet. But the reason is unclear some, for example Cicero, say perhaps the flatulence beans cause, perhaps as protection from potential favism, perhaps because they resemble the genitalia, but most likely for magico-religious reasons, such as the belief that beans and human beings were created from the same material. Most stories of Pythagoras' murder revolve around his aversion to beans. According to legend, enemies of the Pythagoreans set fire to Pythagoras' house, sending the elderly man running toward a bean field, where he halted, declaring that he would rather die than enter the field - whereupon his pursuers slit his throat.


    Speaking of naturalism, did anyone read of that girls night/day out as they walked the streets of Portland, Maine topless? It got a lot of attention throughout much of the USA. That's understandable, of course.

  13. Don't remember that book, but I like the title.

    I haven't gotten to the part where they all become vegans. Emerson just met Thoreau and a lifelong friendship was formed on the spot. I like the way Emerson is drawn to persons that challenge him.

    Fascinating chapter on his arguments with Margaret Fuller, the rifts, the healings, makes you think they were in love with each other.

    Seems Jones Very was cut from the same tree as Thoreau.

    Too bad I missed that Portland girls' night out.

  14. Not only did the Transcendentalists (hereafter, the T's) practice vegetarianism, they believed the pseudo-medical quakery known as homeopathy:

    Unfortunately, Thoreau believed in this bogus treatment and used it for his tuberculin condition. Sadly, it did not begin to give even the slightest relief from his condition. Ultimately he succumbed to it after having undergone tormentous agony.

    I admired the T's for their efforts to bring justice to society by way of social reform, education, more opportunity to others, and their struggles for abolitionism. But as idealistic as they were, more often than not they were dreamers who could not develop pragmatic solutions to the problems faced by society. Still they did promote thoughts and ideals that did improve society somewhat from its stagnation and which continue to influence us to this day. We live in a better world because of their efforts.

  15. The term "Ishmaelite" is repeated several times in the book and I could not quite understand what this meant. A review of a dictionary website revealed that many years ago the term meant "outcast". When you consider how different those folks were, the word Baker used now makes sense!


  16. Ah, that's what he meant! Interesting. Thanks.

    This is such an interesting group of oddballs and downright crazy people that in many ways it's amazing that they ever became known, much less revered in American culture.

    Every time I pick up the book, I wonder who will join the group next. Endlessly fascinating.

  17. I'm up to about p 320 at the moment.

    Another recurrent theme or aspect of the T's lives is the matter of contradiction. Contradiction in character, personal dealings, religious views, lifestyles. The first such paradoxical person in RWE's circle was his aunt Mary. While she was seemingly religous and tried to inculcate such values in her nephews, she remained a religious skeptic. Her veneration was not for Jesus but for various religious denominations thought to be sacriligious or pagan. This, no doubt, was a big influence on RWE's views as he left the ministry and venerated what our Founders called "Nature's God" which emphasized personal revelation and individual conscience. Like her nephew, Mary would lose patience with her friends, was highly idiosyncratic, and very disputatious. Imagine sleeping in a coffin every night like she did! But if there was any difference between her and RWE it was that her writings had repeated images of death while her nephew's views were far more life affirming. Still, it was her long contradictory life that made RWE what he became. And for that we are thankful!

    pp 12,13, 17-22

  18. Interesting comparison of the two, Trippler.

    I found the aunt fascinating, albeit odd. Clearly she had an impact on Emerson, in that she pushed him to think outside the box (while she slept in one -- I'd forgotten about that). All young people could use an eccentric aunt like that in their lives.

    She became more and more quarrelsome and difficult as she got older, but Emerson seems to have accepted her nonetheless. And now that I think of it, it may have been why he so readily accepted people like Very into his life. They may have even seemed almost normal to him.

  19. Homeopathy is fine for colds and other assorted mild ailments, but it certainly isn't going to cure TB, but then there wasn't much help for it at that time, and most everyone suffered horribly from the disease.

    In reading this account, it seems the T's were a continuation of the various Utopian societies of the time. Robert Owen had tried to start an idyllic community of New Harmony in Indiana, after the previous Harmonists had moved back to Pennsylvania. It didn't achieve its towering aspirations, but floated along for 3 or 4 years,,_Indiana

  20. While there are various medications that work well for allergies, the one I use started out as a homeopathic remedy from the Boiron company (Canada). It has a belladonna base and works well. But if I suffered from TB or some other horrible condition, I would NEVER use anything associated with homeopathy!

  21. George Ripley, T member and founder of Brook Farm utopian community in Roxbury, MA:

    Ripley was a Unitarian minister who believed that hard work, pastoral living, and social equality were ideals that would transform the world. While most utopian communities were of religous origin, BF was secular as it was influenced by soclaist idealism that was growing at that time. As with most, it fell apart after only a few years due to financial problems, disunity among its membership, and due to a smallpox outbreak.

  22. I'm only a little over half way through the book so this may be premature, but the way Baker writes about them makes it hard to pin these characters down.

    There were, as you note, many Utopian groups that formed during this era -- I've always been very interested in them -- and their members seemed to drift in and out of Emerson's circle. But I didn't get the impression that he was all that interested in being a joiner. Isn't it New Harmony that he turns down, so members from there come to him?

    And yet, Emerson seems to have a strong desire to draw his friends to him, offering them places to stay, arranging housing for others, getting poetry and essays in print. So he was building his own little unofficial community of like-minded people. Very interesting group.

    It reminds me of some of my writer friends when they were younger. They also seemed to want to congregate, if not form an official alliance. And then all sorts of others would pass through the group from time to time from other areas, which kept the group fresh for at least a decade.

  23. Or was it Brooks Farm? I'll have to go back now and look.

    Emerson also believed in hard work. He thought that's what Alcott needed -- and it just about killed him in the process!

  24. RWE liked nonconformity - so long as everyone conformed to his view of what was a good and contributive citizen. Open-minded. Yet terribly judgmental. Tolerant. But only up to a point. He was a living paradox. But that's what made him so unique!

  25. Father Taylor - fire and brimstone preacher.

    His church:

    bio data:

    Conventional churches carried the day in old Boston whether they were Methodist, Congregationalist, or old order Calvinist. But a change was underway and Unitarianism started to make inroads into the the religious scene. Father Taylor was a natural for this new religion. He made what had to have been a revolutionary move by bringing sailors into the front pews of his church when this was usually reserved for the wealthier classes in town! So ardent were his sermons that he "absolutely dominated the the assemblage by the total 'infusion of his soul' into their minds and hearts". "My voice is thunder" and he shook his fists in the air as he preached. Some of his congregants were drunken sailors and he would tame them if they dared speak out when he preached. Indeed, he was very ardent about temperance which was a movement just gaining popularity in those days. Yet, it appears from the narrative, and from other readings I have made, that Taylor was not highly literate in biblical teaching. It was his strong personality and strange ways that made him the successful preacher he was.

    As RWE said, "he was a string of rockets all night". While I don't have much patience and usually fall asleep if a lecture lasts too long, I would have given anything to attend one of his sermons.

  26. A fictional story about Lidian:

    First, the painting of Lidian in a sexy gown is laughable since she would never qualify as a sex symbol in any age. Second, I am not aware of any accounts of her as a possible adulteress and wonder if any of you have encountered any such ideas before. True, history does show that perhaps RWE spent too much time away from home. But this does not mean Lidian had any character flaws that would have driven her away from home and hearth.


    A few years ago I read another bio of the Emersons and it gave this account of their marriage:

    RWE spent some time grieving over the loss of his first wife. After about a year, he met Lidian, courted her but she decided to play coquette (a role she was most unsuited for). Since she would not accept his offer of marriage he sent her a note thanking her for her past attentions and indicated he would move on with his life without her. Upon receiving this note, Lidian immediately sent him a note indicating that she regretted playing coquette and that, quite the contrary, she found his attentions most flattering and would be honored to accept his proposal if it was still OK with him.

    They married. Every morning she insured he had a breakfast of piping hot coffee with pie which is what he always liked. And she continued to call him "Mr Emerson" for the rest of his life.

    An adulterous woman who wore sexy gowns and flirted with young men? Not our Lidian!

  27. This sounds very far out..... But she was extremely jealous of Emerson, so it wasn't like she was a passive observer either.

    I found Emerson's friendships -- assuming that was all they were -- with women very interesting. They seemed to have been accepted as intellectual equals. Since most universities didn't accept women, his circle was no doubt a rarity, but it's still refreshing to read about. Plus, they participated fully in their publishing world as well.

    Reminds me of some of the intellectual groups in London that Wollstonecraft frequented a few years earlier.

  28. Women in the life of RWE and the T's deserves an entire book on the subject. Aside from Lidian, the primary focus should be on the tragedy of Margaret Fuller. The word "tragedy" is especially appropriate considering her life as well as her death.

    Years ago when I was in high school (some time back in the Dark Ages) we read of the Aristotilian "tragic figure". In order for a character to fit this descrption, he had to fall into the following categories:

    1) had to be of regal background

    2) had a great quest

    3) but was obstructed by a great adversary

    4) he problem is so great that death clearly is imminent

    5) that despite the imminence of death s/he affirms life as an example to all

    Margaret Fuller would fit the Aristotilian character if she was a fictional person.

    She was regal and was "like the QUEEN of some parliament of love ... with a retinue ...(whom) she addressed queen-like. [T]his imperious dame ... {said} I take my natural position always, and the more I see the more I feel it is regal.- Without throne, sceptre, or guards, still a queen". [p 58]

    She had a great quest which was to love, to learn, to teach, to nurture, and to grow.

    But she had a great adversary which was the "darker dispensation" of Providence. [p 64]

    Despite all that obstructed her plans for love, growth, and all, she pressed on by travelling to Europe where she studied and reported on the travails in Italy.

    And then, disaster!

    While not stated so much in this narrative, in another reading I saw where she clung on to the boat with as much fervency as she could. Ultimately she lost her life with Baron Osoli and child.

    She was "regal", had a quest, a great adversary, and despite the imminence of death whether in Italy or off the shore, she pressed on to her death. Thus, Margaret Fuller was, indeed, a tragic figure.

  29. Is there a book on Fuller? There must be. She was too interesting to not have a biographer or two.

  30. I don't associate it with Aristotle but what you say about Fuller brings to mind a bit of what I recall of the tragic figures in Greek drama: they had to be larger than life (royalty, or as you say "regal"), possessed of great gifts and one tragic flaw (usu. hubris) that was their undoing.

    I remember reading something about Fuller back in the nytimes books forums days. Thanks for reminding me that I'd like to read more about her.

  31. Not surprisingly there is a Margaret Fuller Society,

    replete with bibliography.

  32. There was so much more to the multi-faceted Fuller. Perhaps it can all be summed up by Elizabeth Hoar's tribute to her:

    "Her wit, her insight into characters ... the rapidity with which she appropriates all knowledge, joined with habits of severe mental discipline ... her passionate love of beauty, her sympathy with all noble effort; then her energy of character and the REGAL manner in which she takes possession of society wherever she is ... all these things keep me in full admiration ... and inspire me with new life, new confidence".

    Emerson said he was "enriched" through her "talent, memory, with, stern introspection, poetic play ... gifts". Her "opulence" enriched all in her circle of friends.

    pp 118, 119

  33. I think the tragic hero and the epic hero are being confused above.

  34. I think if Fuller had a fatal flaw it was that she was born a woman. That will bring you down every time!

  35. Margaret Fuller was certainly cut from a different cloth than other women of her time. Quite a chapter on her bisexuality, noting both the men and the women in her life. Seems like Emerson was simultaneously attracted and repelled by her, but the fact that they had such extensive communication shows he overcame what ever misgivings he might have had about her.

  36. ~~ epic hero ~~

    I don't believe parallels can be drawn between Margaret Fuller and Beowulf or Roland but it was nice if someone tried.


  37. "The Dial" which was edited by Fuller:

    It's purpose:

    'The purpose of this work is to furnish a medium for the freest expression of thought on the quesitons which interest earnest minds in every community.

    It aims at the discusison of principles, rather than at the promotion of measures; and while it will not fail to examine the ideas which impel the leading movements of the present day, it will maintain an independent position with regard to them.

    The pages of this Journal will be filled by contributors, who possess little in common but the love of intellectual freedom, and the hope of social progress; who are united by sympathy of spirit, not by agreement in speculation; whose faith is in Divine Providence, rather than in human prescription; whose hearts are more in the future than in the past; and who trust the living soul rather than the dead letter. It will endeavor to promote the constant evolution of truth, not the petrifaction of opinion.

    Its contents iwll embrace a wide and varied range of subjects, and combining the characteristics of a Magazine and Review, it may present something both for those who read for instruction, and those who search for amusement.

    The general design and character of the work may be understood from the above brief statement. It may be proper to add, that in literature, it will strive to exercise a just and catholic criticism, and to recognise every sincere production of genius; in philosophy, it will attempt the reconciliation of the universal instincts of humanity with the largest conclusions of reason; and in religion, it will reverently seek to discover the presence of God in nature, in history, and in the soul of man.

    The DIAL, as its title indicates, will endeavor to occupy a station on which the light may fall; which is open to the rising sun; and from which it may correctly report the progress of the hour and the day.'

    "The Dial" online:

    This includes reincarnations of the publication.

  38. "love much and be forgiven"

    You might recall that I used that phrase as my signature on our old forum. I got it from Margaret Fuller's goodbye letter to Sam Ward. Strangely, I could not trace the original idea behind this phrase except that it appears to be based on the New Testament story of Jesus and the penitent woman of Luke 7:36-50.

    "A Sinful Woman Forgiven"

    36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

    41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, HER SINS, WHICH ARE MANY, ARE FORGIVEN - FOR SHE HAS LOVED MUCH. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among [1] themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

    Don't know for certain if this is the actual source of Margaret Fuller's declaration to Ward. But it sounds like a good story, anyways ...

  39. The DIAL, as its title indicates, will endeavor to occupy a station on which the light may fall; which is open to the rising sun; and from which it may correctly report the progress of the hour and the day.......

    (Sun)DIAL! Cool.

  40. I made a new post for the first volume of The Dial. Thanks for the link, trippler!

  41. Thanks for posting that Dial site, Gintaras. I shall have to read some of those gems some day.


    Perhaps one last note on Fuller - like Aristotle's tragic figure, she did have a premonition of her death:

    "I am absurdly fearful ... various omens have combined to give me a dark feeling ... Yet my life proceeds as regularly as a GREEK TRAGEDY, and I can but accept the pages as they turn ... I shall embark in my merchant ship, praying fervently that it may not be my lot to lose my babe ... Osoli ... and I."

    p 318

    To quote Emerson, "farewell my once beautiful genius!"

  42. "I think if Fuller had a fatal flaw it was that she was born a woman. That will bring you down every time!"


    You need to say more on this.

    The T's featured many prominent women. It appears to me that their prominence was not fully recognized until many decades (or perhaps a full century) later. From your reading of Baker, was there some character flaw in these women that caused it or would you attribute that to social prejudices against scholarly women?

  43. Amos Bronson Alcott

    Looking back at the 1960s, I remember how Thoreau was viewed as the Big Rebel of the T's and of the American Renaissance. It was said he started the tax rebellion, started the anti-war movement, was a naturalist, and the man who iconoclasm would serve as the model of the rebellious youth of the 60s generation.

    But from my reading of Baker, and of others, it appeared that Alcott was the true leading rebel of his time. That while Thoreau certainly created many ideas that would influence the future generations, it was Alcott who originated much of them.

    Margaret Fuller equated him with Socrates because he discussed topics with much depth. Indeed, he was a self taught teacher whose teaching methods were revolutionary to say the very least. He was full of contradictions: he was exuberant, but lived in poverty and was said to be frequently ailing (perhaps from psychosomatic disorders??) - yet he lived to be 88 years of age! There was a spiritual dimension to his thoughts, yet he did not subscribe to religious orthodoxy. In fact, contemporary religious teachers accused him of sacrilege. He started a school but it failed financially - indeed, none of his ventures proved to be profitable. Luckily, he could rely on RWE to defend him and his peculiar ways as well as financially.

    He tried to create a utopian paradise called Fruitlands but he was not made for the pastoral life. He was jailed for failing to pay taxes. I suppose his biggest fault was that he was a thinker, not an actor. One given to reflection, not to constructive action which is why he was called "the magnificent dreamer" [p 224].

    That's about as eccentric as anyone can get!

  44. I used the term character flaw in line with your comment about tragic heroes, who are usually burdened with pride or flaunting their hubris in the face of the gods or whatever.

    Obviously, Fuller and the others couldn't do anything about their gender, although she really did push the envelope on what was considered "acceptable" for a woman's place in American society. Clearly, if she had been born a man, she'd have been the president of Harvard College or Emerson himself.

    This is yet another fascinating aspect of this group. The total acceptance of women as equals in their circle, although didn't Fuller have to work for awhile as one of Walcott's school "secretaries?"

    I haven't read this yet, but want to:

  45. Alcott did work at yeoman's wages as well. Therefore, the seemingly menial work was not in itself a sign of character weakness. If anything it shows that the T's tried to practice the type of social egalitarianism they preached about in their speeches and writings.

    But it is without question that opportunities for advancement were limited for women in those days unless they married into or inherited wealth. One is forced to wonder how Fuller would have fared as a professor at Harvard or Yale or Dartmouth. Makes me wish she would have been appointed as an instructress at City College (then know as the Free Academy) which was founded just before her death. Her contributions to the betterment of humanity would have been immeasurable.

  46. Thoreau

    As with Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln you may refer to him by last name. Only very special people (for better or worse) are referred to in such a manner. We can do with him both for his contributions to humanity's advancement and because of his eccentric nature.

    My doctor is a modern day disciple (to some extent) of Thoreau. He is close to 70 years of age, has a beautiful singing voice, has a waistline that most ballerinas would envy, works many hours a day, runs to keep in shape, is as high energy a person as you will see anywhere, speaks excellent Spanish like a true Renaissance man, and, if keeps this up, will live to be a 100 or more before he decides to hang up the old stethoscope. I better not say more or people will recognize who I'm talking about.

    The one area where he veers from the Thoreau line of thinking is his use and practice of allopathic medicine as opposed to homeopathic medicine.

    Back in the 60s Thoreau was the guy many hippies looked to as hero, role model, and social rebel. At city College he was revered back in those days.

    ... more to follow ...

  47. Thoreau's cabin:

    Walden Pond:


  48. Thoreau had been inspired by another T in Ellery Channing to "build yourself a hut". He did so on property owned by RWE, used wood from felled trees on that land, and grew greens from it as well. The hut was modestly furnished so that the narrative described him as "ascetic" [ p 264]. But I wonder if that term is appropriate as he frequently dined at RWE's home, conducted lectures at the hut which included numerous picnics, leeched off of land that wasn't his, and refused to pay taxes while having someone else pay his fare (there was even some talk that his library was composed of books leeched from his father's library). While Emerson said "nothing can give you peace but the triumph of principles" [p 267], Thoreau was a walking contradiction in that he allowed others to pay his way while seemingly living the life of sweet independence. Well, he wasn't called an eccentric for nothing! ;)

  49. I never expect much of poets in their private lives. They burn up all their fuel in the act of creation.

  50. I got the impression from somewhere that Thoreau went home for Sunday dinners at mom's, too. Have no idea if that's so or not--maybe somebody here does.

  51. Maybe you got that impression at

    It often seems to me that many people would rather make comments about Thoreau -- the squirrelly looking guy who was within walking distance of neighbors and friends -- than think about what he says in a book like Walden. And the comments are always cynical.

  52. I like Thoreau. He was definitely eccentric -- Baker makes him seem even more so -- but no more eccentric than the others. And I think he's sort of good looking. I"m sure he would have been very attractive in person.

    Not to be cynical about him, but I do think that the popular view of him gives the false impression that he went off into the wilderness to live alone. And I think that's where the dinner with mama stories comes from (the one I always heard was the laundry to Mrs. Emerson).

    But they all came to visit him at his cabin, and he walked into visit others. As for wilderness, he didn't much care for it as his writings from Maine attest. I think he preferred a level of solitude and quiet (and simplicity) most of the day. I can relate to that.

  53. I had never heard of so just looked. There's a dog named Sallie who has read hundreds of books and another named Ron who has read only 23.

    And the best books of all times include the Book of Mormon, the Lord of the Rings, and Twilight (is that one of those vampire books?).

    I don't think that's our kind of place, Rick.

  54. is . . . disheartening.

    There is a certain level of mythologizing about Thoreau that obviously doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Nonetheless, what he did was quite radical -- or maybe New Age -- and I always find his observations on the kind of social solitude he practiced thought provoking.

    My favorite Thoreau myth concerns some last questions fielded while on his death bed. Someone supposedly asked him, "Have you made your peace with God?" To which HD replied, "We never quarrelled." Then he was asked if he had given any thought to the next life. His reply: "One life at a time."

  55. Those are great comments.....

    Baker uses them, too.

    Right up there with either that wallpaper or I will have to go.

    Never can tell if they are true or not, but they seem to capture the spirit of the person, if not the actual words.

  56. Every society has its own version of John Q Public, Joe Blow, Joe Beercan, John Doe, etc.

    Well, in Puerto Rico (my birthplace) we have quite a few of these as well. Perhaps our most famous was Fulano which existed as a fictional person way back in Spain. It has a Sefardic Jewish origin and is probably still used in the old country. Well, there are other names as well such as Juan Bobo, La Casa de Polo, and a most peculiar person whose correct spelling is something I don't know but whose name is pronounced "EEEmerson" or "Yermeson".

    That is, the first letter E is pronounced very strongly, almost as if it was three E's (in English) or three I's (in Spanish). Or it can be pronounced with a "Yer" sound. I tried to find a source for this peculiar anonymous name but my search was fruitless.

    We know Emerson and his brother spent time in Borinquen as shown in Baker. I always wondered if there was some connection between those eccentrics and this cultural anonymous name. Perhaps someone else may find a good source to show if there is such a connection. I am very curious to know the pertinent source.

  57. What an interesting connection.

    I don't know why, but I found the fact they went to Puerto Rico for their health surprising. It seems worlds away at the time. But I guess if Europe doesn't work, you try somewhere else.

  58. Theodore Parker

    Religious zealot but not necessarily an eccentric by today's standards. Perhaps by yesteryear's standards he is rightly viewed as eccentric because he questioned traditional Christian views as to what god is or is supposed to be. He said people saw the divinity via "intuitive consciousness" which suggests that personal revelation (with divinely inspired good works) as opposed to sermonizing is the true source of salvation. He called this "real Christianity" and said, "it is not by Christ who lived so blameless ... that we are saved, but by the Christ we form in our hearts and daily lives that we save ourselves". Thus, 'salvation' is obtained through service to humanity, not through endless praise and worship of a god.*** All this being in great contrast to religious fanatic Jones Very. What attracted him to RWE was his view that the latter was "the most American" writer and free thinker whose ideas were an "ennobling influence" and personally liberating to all of good conscience.

    Parker was fiercely abolitionist and made numerous speeches against the expansion of slavery. Later on he suffered tuberculosis and went to Italy where he passed away. Like Thoreau, he believed in homeopathic medicine which, unfortunately, failed to cure him of that dreaded disease.

    *** Years later I read Paul Tillich's religion-existential writings in college and wonder if he had been inspired in some way from Parker's teachings. The historical record shows MLK and Lincoln viewed him as one of their greatest influences.

  59. Sorry, everyone. I've been sick off and on since Easter and have three projects I'm trying to work my way through. I'm not ignoring the conversation. I just don't have the energy right now to jump in. Although there are so many good stories..... like Hawthorne!

    As an aside, I did order the War Lovers. I hesitated until I heard the author interviewed on NPR -- he was a supporter of the invasion of Iraq and was trying to figure out how he could be so wrong. Another good example of how history really is about the present.

  60. I haven't been a very good reader either, but will make an effort to catch up this weekend. Thanks Trip, Av, Rick and NYT for keeping this discussion going.

  61. Ah, I was wondering why there hasn't been so much discussion on the book but now I know. I have about another 80 pages to go in it and, at present absolutely enthralled by the T20 International Cricket Championship. The T20 format is taking much of the world by storm in that it has become very popular in Asia, Africa, Aus-N Zealand, Europe, and the West Indies. It is far more enjoyable to me than is pro baseball.

    By the way, I recently read where the Indian T20 league pays its players on average a higher salary than does the Major Leagues. That's stunning! The Indian League is called IPL and has a channel on youtube where its matches are available for FREE.

  62. Never made the effort to figure out cricket, but always liked the atmosphere surrounding the game, especially in tropical countries.


    Nathaniel Hawthorne was another in RWE's 'flock of odd/wayward geniuses'. While both were visionaries with ideas about how the world should be shaped, there was a personality conflict between them. Both were seekers of truth. But their approaches were such that neither found any concreteness in each other's writings or ideas. Because of that, Hawthorne abandoned the idyllic community in Concord and kept his distance from RWE. Two like minded people whose temperament interfered in what could well have been a very rewarding relationship!

  64. Gintaras,

    You hit the nail on the head! Cricket fans are the biggest partiers in the world. They dance, bang drums, sing, and party throughout the entire matches. And what characters they are!

    Who could ever forget the legendary King Dyal?

    "His Majesty" died in 1997 and his memory is still revered in Barbadoes.

    Some people call it "God's Sport". If you could watch some of these matches, you would see why!


  65. Trippler, I was quite taken with Hawthorne. Plus, this was the first time I'd seen a picture of him. Another good looking writer!

    So many of these people are just characters in my head, based on their books I guess, or the handful of stories I'd read.

  66. "Cricket fans are the biggest partiers in the world. They dance, bang drums, sing, and party throughout the entire matches."

    One of my favorite sporting events ever was a cricket match happened upon in a park in Trinidad. Super friendly players came off the field after each event even remotely justifying such, passed around beers to all and sundry, explained to the unknowing what had just occurred and what was to come, went back and played a bit, then repeated the educational session when something else prompted such.

  67. Reading another chapter on Jones Very, I am amazed with the incredible patience Emerson had for these eccentric characters and his efforts to get their works published at the expense of his own work.

  68. Hawthorne ~ RWE ~ Very

    Each wayward in their own way searching for Paradise. Or, at best, an idyllic place where all could converge which would ultimately evolve into a Heaven on Earth.

    All three of these characters descended of Mayflower travellers (some might this venture a ship of fools) who were seeking Paradise. Their Puritan ancestors sought to remake the world in their own image or what they supposed their god wanted that image to be. Alas, the New Israel did not turn out that way. The three "were aware of the surviving force of Puritanism in the internal lives of the citizens of 19th century Massachusetts". [p 232] But these wayward geniuses sought to reshape modern New England (and the world) into a new Paradise of their own. Despite all their efforts and personal sacrifices, they, too, failed to reshape the world as they hoped. Still, their work did have some influence over the events of the day and even to this day. For that, we are all grateful.

  69. A song for utopians everywhere - inspired by RWE and others:

  70. The Seekers -- perfect for this group! (ironic that their other big song listed there is Georgie Girl, since Lynn Redgrave just died)

  71. Emerson seemed to be in line with all of these other utopian seekers of the time, although he was not interested in joining a group but more drawing people to him, even the nuttiest of them like Very (what a name!).

    I wonder if there's a more analytical book that looks at some of these "seekers" as a group. They did seem to be breaking away from the mainstream in interesting ways.

  72. ~~ even the nuttiest ... of seekers ~~

    Hmmm. John Brown comes to mind.

    With the signing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act the Jayhawk state became a battle ground. Captain John Brown emerged as a champion of the fight against the extension of slavery though historians have questioned his methods and some his sanity. As seekers of a new world, the T's welcomed him into their fold because they all stood against what they called "the enemies of the human race". He was attracted to this fold because of his visions for the future, his crankiness, and his non conformance. Brown raised funds for his campaigns and lectured in New England where he was viewed by the T's as a biblical "apostle". Thoreau went so far as to equate him with Jesus!

    After he was captured, they said, "Brown will die like a martyr ... and a saint". The T's heaped great praise upon him both during his final weeks and even more so after his death.

    Interesting how the T's as non conformers praised Brown, the Italian rebels during their civil war, and the North during our Civil War. During the 30s they inspired Gandhi and those who practiced passive resistance. In the 60s they inspired many pacifists and hippies during the anti-Vietnam era. Yet, the record shows they supported wars and non peaceful methods of bringing about social change. Very ironic when you think about it.

  73. Another seeker who seems out of place with the T's was Walt Whitman. True, he was a nonconformist but while most T's affirmed traditional values, his life style was a tad different. "Emerson run wild" was how he was described by one. But they recognzed that he was a true poet who embodied certain American views or ways. This is why they called him "our American master".

    RWE tried to get him to expurgate or refine certain passages in 'Leaves'. Yet, it appears that he was only trying to assure commercial success rather than trying to get WW to tone down his public eccentricities. Thoreau and Alcott were fascinated by his contradictory character.

    Not stated in the book is Whitman's racism which is perhaps the reason why he was not a full member of the T's. In my past readings of WW's works, he used the N word and was not the ture social egalitarian they were. Still his eccentricities and pioneering ideas made him a candidate for that fold.

  74. By today's standards regarding racism, I find it difficult to believe that Emerson and the gang would not also be considered racists.

  75. It has been said that they were but only because people are applying modern standards to them. I do not recall seeing any historical accounts where they repeatedly used the N word to describe blacks as did Whitman. I have read where some may have regarded blacks as intellectually inferior and that Africa has contributed nothing to humanity's betterment. This was what others were teaching in that era. Furthermore, that twisted mentality was taught in academia as late as the early 1970s! I still recall readings from my college freshman days in 1970 which suggested that Western civilization began in Greece. This despite the fact that Herodotus (father of Greek history) wrote that it began in Egypt - and he wrote this in 600BC!

    In all fairness, I believe it is best to judge them (if we must) using the standards of their day. It is likely that all would have seen the world differently if they had the type of modern day scope we have.

  76. The communals did not pan out but late in life RWE was able to persuade a few fellow Yankees to join in his Saturday Club. These appeared to me more social gatherings rather than high brow exchanges as with the T's a little while earlier. Previously, RWE praised solitude. But now in his later life he affirmed that socializing with others made is what made life "delicious". He continued to write, lecture, and travel even though he was greatly troubled by memory lapses. Lidian stayed home to recover from her seemingly endless illnesses. Others provided him with the help he needed to complete his writings and speeches. His decline was a long one but he met his life's end with optimism and remarkable exuberance. The only reason why the eccentrics were not with him at the end was because he outlived them all. Perhaps it was that great sense of purpose and positiveness that is what made his life such a long and productive one.

  77. Norman Vincent Peale - generally acknowledged as one of the greatest preachers in the modern era:

    Greatly influenced by RWE.

  78. Others who met and were influenced by RWE:

    Louisa May Alcott, Moncure Conway, Henry Adams, Henry James, Caroline Sturgis Tappan, the Ripleys, and Longfellow.

    While hippies and other modern day rebellious types greatly admired this non conformist circle because of their rebellious ways, the T's were family oriented and supported each other financially and emotionally. If they were self reliant at all it is largely because they had financial means and were heirs to tillable land which enabled them to make a livelihood. At times, some of them were bankrupt and heavily indebted. Any other family would have been put into debtor's prison. Luckily, they were bailed out by friends and wealthier family members.

    A common thread that appears to run through the quoted poetry lines in the book is a theme of the "divine spark" within each person. It is not actually defined or illustrated except that it is said to be something innate within each person. It is found in nature, the forest, through work, through study, and initially it is said to be found in solitude. Thereafter, after RWE was of advanced age, it was said to be found in the company of good people. And he certainly was blessed with a very large circle of good friends whether eccentric or not.

  79. One final note:


    Luke 17:21

    This line greatly influenced Tolstoy and many others. The idea behind it was a integral part of RWE's philosophy. He wrote:

    "trust entirely to yourself ... to think is to receive ... to reflect is to receive truth immediately from God without any medium. This is living faith ... A trust in yourself is the height of piety, not pride. Trust thyself ... Democracy, Freedom, has its roots in the Sacred Truth that every man hath in him the divine Reason."

    This was thought to be quite revolutionary in those days. Yet, it was based on New Testament teaching. And it makes me wonder ~~ what would Jesus say about all this? I'd really like to know!

  80. Are you funnin'? "Based on New Testament teaching" I believe said teachings are supposedly the teachings of JC, are they not? If it was in Luke would it be Luke quoting JC? If so, it seems we do know.

  81. Well, RWE thought it was based on JC's teachings. But some preachers of his day did not and found them rather unusual to say the least.


  82. From Emerson's Journals:

    Journal, July 21, 1831

    Suicidal is this distrust of reason; this fear to think; this doctrine that 'tis pious to believe on others' words, impious to trust entirely to yourself. To think is to receive... To reflect is to receive truth immediately from God without any medium. That is living faith.

    I have not been able to find the remainder of that quote you attribute to him, Trippler. Can you help?

  83. Ach! I just returned the book to the library but I believe it was on p 15 or was it p 32?

    Sorry to say, my memory is about as useless as an umbrella in a windstorm. A google search turned up this:


    This fully explains RWE's intentions on this matter.

  84. I think you've gotten hold of something that someone thinks Emerson wrote and not what he actually wrote.

  85. Perhaps the author's work can direct you to the specific writings you are looking for. Most of my readings of RWE works were his almost infinite quotes (there are a couple of websites that have some), a few poems, and transcripts of his speeches. But I have not read his books or collection of personal letters.

    Maybe someday ...

  86. Holy smokes, Trippler. You are going out with a bang!

    Your memory was right. Indeed, he quotes the passage from the journal as showing where Emerson was in 1831:

    Suicidal is this distrust of reason; this fear to think ; this doctrine that 't is pious to believe on other's words, impious to trust entirely to yourself. To think is to receive. Is a man afraid that the faculties which God made can outsee God, can find more than he made, or different, can bring any report hostile to himself? To reflect is to receive truth immediately from God without any medium. That is living faith. To take on trust certain facts is a dead faith, inoperative. A trust in yourself is the height, not of pride, but of piety, an unwillingness to learn of any but God himself. It will come only to one who feels that he is nothing. It is by yourself without ambassador that God speaks to you. You are as one who has a private door that leads him to the king's chamber. You have learned nothing rightly that you have not learned so....

    The rest of those excerpts come from the rest of the chapter, though, which goes from 1831 to 1834.

    "/Democracy/Freedom/has its root in the Sacred truth that every man hat in him the divine Reason."

    This comes from the journals/notebooks of 1834 (hard to track the footnotes, but appears to be December). Richardson also quotes this passage on page 185.

    Hopefully this link will work. He puts it into a little more context.

    I have a tendency to skim over all of the religious speculations -- Emerson seemed to be struggling to find a way to accommodate his initial beliefs and work as a preacher with what he saw in the real world. Thus, I interpreted this as Emerson putting more emphasis on reason -- not the Bible or received wisdom or intermediaries -- to understand nature/the world/God.

  87. Thanks for taking the lead on keeping this conversation going. Sorry I flaked out at the end. Just cleared the desk of one deadline and now have another looming. It is good to be so busy right now, though, because I need the dough!

    Did we lose Gintaras?

  88. Having looked through Emerson's Journals, the quote "/Democracy/Freedom/has its root in the Sacred truth that every man hath in him the divine Reason" does indeed appear as part of an entry made on 9 Dec. 1834. The point he ultimately makes two sentences later is that "because every man has within him somewhat really divine therefore is slavery the unpardonable outrage that it is."

    The word "democracy" appears in Emerson's Journals fewer than ten times in 22 years. One of the more interesting instances is found in an entry dated 23 Sept. 1836:

    "When I spoke or speak of the democratic element I do not mean that ill thing vain & loud which writes lying newspapers, spouts at caucuses & sells its lies for gold, but that spirit of love for the General good whose name this assumes. There is nothing of the true democratic element in what is called Democracy; it must fall, being wholly commercial. I beg I may not be understood to praise anything which the soul in you does not honor, however grateful may be the names to your ear & your pocket."