Emerson: The Mind On Fire by Robert D. Richardson Jr. is a gem in the category of biographies and memoirs. I have read this book through three times and I am discovering more in each read through.
Richardson impresses me with the depth of his research and delving in to the mind of Emerson and even all the family, friends, and acquaintances. There is no speculation in the author’s approach but a deep understanding about Emerson, his personality and even the time period of the 19th century.
The thing that keeps me coming back to this work is Emerson’s readings of so many different works and the effect it had on his life and how it shaped his thought and his writing in his essays such as Self-Reliance, History and The Divinity School Address.
One of my favorite chapters is on Jones Very and how Richardson describes Very as one of the greatest writer of sonnets in the nineteenth century along with Longfellow. In six pages, I felt as if I knew Very intimately and knew all about his eccentricities. His powerful religious experience was given in detail and this I really loved because it explained how others outside the scope of the Emerson family handled it.
I love this excerpt from page 305 from Very’s biographer:
“Christ is in every man, not only in Jones Very, and needs only to be set free in them, as He had already been set free in himself. The Second Advent consists in the freeing of Christ. Therefore the Second Advent could be brought about, even in Emerson—provided he agree to follow the directions of John the Baptist as he (Very) interpreted them.”
Each and every chapter contains exhaustive research about Emerson and gives us in my opinion one of the greatest biographies that I have had the pleasure to read. It is one book that I will come back to time and time again.