January 3, 2009

Emerson: The Mind on Fire

Emerson: the mind on fire
Robert D. Richardson, Jr.


(January 3, 2009)

Emerson, above all, was a reader, and Richardson discusses just about every book that Emerson read. Drawing heavily on Emerson’s numerous notebooks and journals, this chronicle of a reading life forms amazing tour of an intellectual era.

What I miss here, despite the book’s magisterial size, is sufficient attention to Emerson’s material circumstances. Emerson played a vital role is funding people; he gave them money, rented them houses, gave them room and board. Richardson mentions in passing that, in some periods Emerson’s journal is filled with financial schemes and worries, but we hear few details. Many of Emerson’s successes and failures — his famous lecture series, the Transcendentalist magazine The Dial — were business startups, I'd like to know how they worked, whether the business plans made sense, how they stacked up to contemporary enterprises.