Finished Reading: Emerson: The Mind On Fire By Robert D. Richardson Jr.

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As I have stated earlier, This book is one of the best biographies and memoirs that I have ever read. As I was getting near the end of the book, I started thinking back on what a complex man that Emerson was. Richardson did a tremendous job in examining Emerson’s relationships with close friends, men, women and even acquaintances. Emerson was a man that was hard to pin down in understanding his emotions when he was placed in a difficult position.

On page 545, I ran across this paragraph which puts things in perspective in analyzing Emerson.

“The impression that there were two Emersons never quite goes away. James Russell Lowell discerned a dreamy seer living alongside a practical Yankee. Bliss Perry thought the two sides were physically reflected in the two quite different sides of Emerson’s face. Alfred Kazin is nearer the mark when he speaks of a private self concealed behind the public Emerson, a lower-case person who continually made discoveries that the upper-case Emerson could use. Emerson’s own sense of this crops out in his talk about his daemon and his attribution of certain home truths to ‘Guy’ or ‘Osman’. By the late 1850’s a third and new layer of complexity emerged in Emersons’s life. He was fast becoming an institution—his own lengthened shadow—and this growing reputation now preceded both the public and the private Emerson wherever he went.”

This paragraph made me consider: did Emerson really have a public side and a private side? As I think back on what I read, I realize that I believe that he did. Richardson laid it out wonderfully in how Emerson and his relationships at home and through his correspondence were totally in character with that private side and not wanting to give too much of himself unless he felt protected.

As Emerson became older, his public side became more uninhibited, in my opinion, in how he handled issues such as abolition, the Civil War, and his views on religion. He was more outspoken and not as guarded as his private side in dealing with female friends for example. As I think on this book somemore, I will add some other thoughts.


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