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The collected works of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

X. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Uncollected Prose Writings, ed. Ronald A. Bosco, Joel Myerson, and Glen M. Johnson (Belknap-Harvard UP, 2013), cxxiii + 970 pp., $95.

"I find it a great & fatal difference whether I court the Muse, or the Muse courts me. That is the ugly disparity between age and youth." (Journal July 1866)

The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson closes with Uncollected Prose, a volume that contains 110 prose pieces Emerson published but never re-used. It is the volume destined to generate the most discussion, for it makes significant changes in the Emerson "canon." The first nine volumes of the edition follow the order and titles set by the Riverside edition of 1883-1893 (save for the addition of "A Variorum Edition" to the title of volume nine). Uncollected Prose, however, takes the place of the final three volumes of the Riverside and Centenary editions. The editors keep faith with the controlling editorial principles that have guided the edition through its first nine volumes: they present only those works over which Emerson had editorial control.

We have seen already how the Emerson family enlisted the aid of James Elliot Cabot to bring Letters and Social Aims to its publication in 1875, and we have seen how he, with the help of Ellen and Edward Emerson, created essays from Emerson's vast trove of lecture manuscripts. (7) The editors of the Harvard edition base their judgment that the book was Emerson's on the fact that he had at least nominal control of it and that he was alert enough to make decisions when requested, even to write the occasional sentence needed to complete a transition. Beyond that date, the evidence is conclusive that he was incompetent either to write anything original or to make a meaningful decision about the creation of a lecture or essay from what he had written earlier. For that reason, Cabot and the Emersons continued to work as they had to create lectures for Emerson to read and essays that could and would be published under his name, though he had no part in their final shape. In addition to the pamphlet Fortune of the Republic, Cabot and the Emersons created and published in magazines, "Demonology," "Perpetual Forces," "The Sovereignty of Ethics," "The Preacher," "Impressions of Thomas Carlyle in 1848," and "The Superlative." Cabot published all of these in Lectures and Biographical Sketches, save for Fortune of the Republic, which he saved for Miscellanies. None is accepted into Uncollected Works.

Cabot continued his work after Emerson's death in 1882 when he edited the Riverside edition and added to the nine volumes of Emerson's already in print, a tenth, Lectures and Biographical Sketches, and an eleventh, Miscellanies. Then, ten years later in 1893 Cabot made his last contribution to the Emerson canon by creating and publishing Natural History of the Intellect. In each of the three new volumes Cabot mixed essays and lectures that Emerson had published with those that Cabot had compiled, often with the help of the Emersons. Lectures and Biographical Sketches contained eighteen essays, only six of which are now counted as Emerson's alone. Miscellanies had twenty-three essays, seven of which had been published by Emerson; and Natural History of the Intellect had thirteen essays, ten of which are Emerson's. So, by 1893 fifty-four new "Emerson" essays had come into print since his death, though only twenty-three of them are included in the Collected Works.

Cabot died in 1903, but the story of Emerson's canon was not yet complete, for Edward Waldo Emerson took on the responsibility for editing the 1903-1904 Centenary edition for Houghton Mifflin. Edward accepted the twelve volumes as defined by Cabot, but he added to each of the three posthumous volumes: to Lectures and Biographical Sketches Edward added one short essay; to Miscellanies he added seven, only two of which were completed by his father; and finally, and most importantly, he added five essays to Natural History of the Intellect, none of which we can now accept as Emerson's. As Ronald Bosco points out in the Historical Introduction to Uncollected Prose, the expansion of Natural History of the Intellect by the creation of essays under the rubric of "Natural History of the Intellect" probably "exerted a greater impact on his father's intellectual reputation than all the new works combined that were created for the Centenary Edition" (CW 10:xci). Cabot had created an essay "Natural History of the Intellect" for his volume, an essay Edward re-titled "Powers and Laws of Thought," and he kept Cabot's "Memory." Edward then created two new essays: "Instinct and Inspiration," and "The Celebration of Intellect." These four essays erroneously created the impression that they were the finished product of Emerson's "New Metaphysics." They were, in fact, scattered pieces from several lectures, all brought together and smoothed by Edward Emerson. Thus, in 1903, the total now stood at sixty-seven new essays. The editors of Uncollected Works accept only twenty-five of them. (8)

Bosco and Myerson give a full account of their decision to exclude the essays. The majority of them were demonstrably created by Cabot and the Emersons ("Demonology" and "The Natural History of the Intellect," e.g.); one cannot be confidently ascribed to Emerson at all ("Humboldt"), and a number are published speeches over which Emerson is thought to have had no control ("Abraham Lincoln. Remarks at the Funeral Services of the President" or "Remarks by Ralph Waldo Emerson" at Theodore Parker's memorial service). There is, however, one remaining category of exclusion to mention, a group of prose writings that the editors call "Special Cases." These are candidates for inclusion in Uncollected Works that fall outside the previous instances: "Thoughts on Art," a Dial piece, was revised by Emerson for inclusion in Society and Solitude as "Art"; "Tantalus," another Dial essay later incorporated into "Nature" in Essays. Second Series; the surviving manuscript for "General Introduction to the Work" for The Hundred Greatest Men is entirely in the hand of Cabot and Ellen Emerson Forbes; "Memoir of John M. Cheney," published in 1888, was assembled by Edward Emerson; "Washington in Wartime," published in the Atlantic Monthly, was drawn only from Emerson's journal; "Father Taylor," also from the Atlantic, was assembled by Edward. There remains but one other exclusion, and it is a notable one: Emerson's two, possibly three, chapters he wrote for Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli, the memorial volume Emerson wrote and edited with James Freeman Clarke and William Henry Channing in 1852. Myerson admits that there is a good argument for including this material in Uncollected Works, even though it contains a large quantity of quotations from Fuller's writings. Emerson's chapters would, however, have expanded the Uncollected Works volume by some 42,000 words or about 100 pages, an expansion that would be too much for a volume already containing 970 pages. It is, however, the only exclusion not based on a scholarly argument. If regrettable, the decision is understandable.

Before we leave the status of the new Emerson canon, we might pause for a moment to consider where we are. Probably many of the now-excluded essays will scarcely be missed. I hardly think the omission of "Remarks at the Meeting for Organizing the Free Religious Association" will cause much concern, nor the loss of "Walter Scott," both from Miscellanies. However, the disappearance of the "Natural History of the Intellect" essays or of "Historic Notes of Life and Letters of New England" probably will be felt as real losses. I accept the editorial principles and practice of the Collected Works, but I also know that the now-disfavored works still exist in libraries. How shall we view them? Simply as bogus works and assume they do not exist? As somehow the writings of Emerson? and if so, what kind of "writings"? One is tempted to see them as genuine Emerson paragraphs, much as one would read a journal passage (albeit an undated journal entry divorced from what comes before or after). The trouble with that is that a reader cannot be sure if a given paragraph is Emerson's words alone. Had Cabot, or Ellen, or Edward meddled with the words? Given the evidence cited in the Collected Works and in Simmons' essay, there probably is little that is not Emerson; but even the "little" taints the work. Although Cabot and company were much better editors by our lights than many in their century (Clarke and Channing editing Fuller are counter-examples), and though they were doing what Emerson himself did to create his own lectures and essays, they were not Emerson. Our understanding of principled editing demands that we emend as little as possible and always be transparent when we do. It does us intellectual harm if we do not take this seriously. Still, I will miss the brilliant image from "Historic Notes" that "The young men were born with knives in their brain" (Emerson Lectures and Biographical Sketches 329). Nevertheless, it goes.

We need now to turn to the contents of Uncollected Prose. When we do, we find 110 pieces ranging from the 1822 "Thoughts on the Religion of the Middle Ages," to the 1875 "Address" at the unveiling of the Minute-Man statue in Concord. Of the 110 items, nineteen of them are printed from a manuscript copy-text. While some of the contents is trivial (advertising blurbs, e.g.), several are substantial essays, not to be ignored: "Michael Angelo" (1837), "Milton" (1838), "War" (1849), "Thoreau," (1862), and "Character" (1866) among them. The volume contains all of Emerson's prose contributions to the Dial, as well as several book reviews and biographical sketches. It is useful to have all his Dial essays in one place and in the order in which they appeared, and Uncollected Prose makes it easy for a reader to consider Emerson as a reviewer of contemporary writing.

A brief examination of four of the essays--on Michael Angelo and Milton, and the essays "War" and "Character"--will give a sense of the value of the collection. The two biographical pieces are revisions of lectures--"Michel Angelo Buonaroti" in 1835 and 1836, and "Milton" in 1835, which he delivered only once. Emerson revised both, albeit reluctantly, for publication in the North American Review in 1837 and 1838. Here, in his early work, Emerson dwells only on their virtues, with no hints of either personal or public shortcomings, as he was later to do in Representative Men. His Michael Angelo is the master of all the arts poetry, architecture, painting, and sculpture; his Milton is the embodiment of "manly character" (CW 10:81). Emerson had the advantage of actually seeing Michael Angelo's works when he travelled in Italy, so he was speaking from experience. Despite the advantage, he could not wholly free himself from abstractions in reaching for a right description of the Italian: "are we not authorized to say, that this man was penetrated with the love of the highest beauty, that is, goodness; that his was a soul so enamoured of grace that it could not stoop to meanness or depravity" (CW 10:72-73). But when Emerson uses detail from Michel Angelo's life he is concrete and convincing. The narrative is direct and to the point.

Emerson's "Milton" is a portrait of the man he thought the most accomplished of English writers, perhaps of all the writers in the Western world after the Greeks. Emerson describes Milton's personal grace and accomplishments as the groundwork for his continued successes with the English language. Most of the discussion centers on Milton's prose with scant references to Paradise Lost. In part it is apparent that Emerson is creating a portrait of Milton that would be most attractive to an American audience. He emphasizes Milton's defense of religious freedom as well as political, his defense of unlimited toleration, "literary liberty," and "domestic liberty." (Emerson goes out of his way to defend Milton's support of divorce.) He sought, says Emerson, "absolute truth, not accommodating truth" (CW 10:90). The essay is an homage to a writer who had deeply impressed Emerson. As biography, however, it lacks the depth he attained in his best work in Representative Men. His first attempts at biography were not to be his last. The call of greatness was too strong to resist, early and late.

The essay "War," another re-worked lecture, dates from the same period as the biographical essays (1838), but it was revised and published a decade later in 1848 in Elizabeth Peabody's one-issue Aesthetic Papers. The magazine also contained Thoreau's "Resistance to Civil Government," which ought to be read together with Emerson's "War" as examples of a potent strain of American political thought appearing at the very time that Europe burst into revolution. In "War" one can see Emerson using the rhetorical strategy found lacking in the biographical essays, a strategy prominent in his writings after about 1844: he first lists the advantages war has for a culture (it develops the individual will as well as the body; it values good sense and quick wits, e.g.). But Emerson quickly shifts to the opposite point of view, the one that is central to the essay: war "is a juvenile and temporary state" (CW 10:354). He takes the stance that civilization, expressed in such things as trade and the decline of piracy, as well as the fact that the "art of war" embodied in gunpowder has made "battles less frequent and less murderous" (CW 10:354). It is now, of course, impossible to read this line without knowing that in only thirteen years the United States was to explode into battles more fierce than any they had ever known and to introduce the world to modern war, the results of which yet haunt us with nightmare visions. Emerson's faith, however, is his familiar one: once entertain the thought of peace, once introduce it into the mind, it will at last triumph. This, though, is not quite enough for him, for it is too "passive." Emerson looks for a nation who will act, who will refuse to declare war, refuse to bear arms, who will be active for peace. He rehearses the objections to his philosophy (as he often does as a rhetorical strategy in his essays) and finally locates power not in "public opinion," which he scorns, but in private conviction in "private, dear, and earnest love" (CW 10:361). He closes the essay by noting that the large class of young people who show a dedication to intellectual and religious freedom is a foretaste of the possibility of renouncing war. It is a gruesome fact that many of those young men died from 1861 to 1865.

I find "Character" to be the most interesting essay in Uncollected Prose. It is a spirited, often acerbic attack on organized and formal religion, a credo of sorts by a man who hated creeds. Little that Emerson says in the 1866 essay is "new," for he had been saying much the same since his electric address to the senior class at the Harvard divinity school in 1838. However, seldom had he been so direct and pungent as he now felt free to be. Myerson tells the story of the unusual progress of the essay that was urged upon Emerson by his good friend James T. Fields, the owner and editor of the Atlantic Monthly. Emerson undertook a revision of the lecture he had been giving and sent it to Fields in installments in the summer of 1865. Fields set it in type, and Emerson reviewed at least some of the proofs. Then, suddenly, Fields backed out, apparently deciding that the essay would be read as "blasphemous" and thus ruin the magazine. For the only time in his career, Emerson had been rejected--and by a close personal and professional friend. The story is a startling and gripping one.

After Fields backed out, Charles Eliot Norton and James Russell Lowell, editors of the North American Review (which, ironically, Fields also owned) very quickly solicited the essay and then published it in 1866. Myerson quotes from an unpublished letter (a continued virtue of the Harvard edition is the editors' use of archival manuscripts) in which Norton said that the essay "'will cause the hair to stand on end of every clergyman in the land'" and that it would "'bring down the religious press with the most animated rage'" (CW 10:814). Norton may have overstated the case, but probably he was more right than not. "Every nation," Emerson says, "is degraded by the goblins it worships" and goes on to name the "vindictive mythology of Calvinism" as an example of religious perversion (CW 10:454). Implicit in Emerson's argument is a rejection of the divinity of Jesus. "Character" for Emerson was a perfect form of self-possession, an absolute reliance on self that occurs only rarely in human experience, so rarely that "the memory and tradition" of such men "is preserved in some strange way by those who only half understand him, until a true disciple comes" (CW 10:453-54). Very specifically "the establishment of Christianity in the world does not rest on any miracle," says Emerson (returning for a moment to the question that roiled the Unitarian establishment in 1838) (CW 10:455). Finally, in defending the "deeper truth" that Jesus preached, Emerson says that "in his disciples, admiration of him runs away with their reverence for the human soul, and they hamper us with limitations of person and text" (CW 10:460).

Emerson sees in the society around him a tendency to value the individual, a tendency that points toward an attainment of genuine "Character," which for him is an emanation of the "universal mind," to which all individuals belong. This is a version of the experience he describes in Nature, when he speaks of the "transparent eyeball"; it is the pure being that lies beyond appearance; it is "God," though Emerson prefers not to use the name because it has too many traditional associations. This universal mind is the true source of power that we approach through our individuality only to learn that there is no individuality: "We belong to it, not it to us. It is in all men, and constitutes them men" (CW 10:448). One regrets that "Character" is not so well known as others Emerson wrote earlier in his life. It is in many ways a summation of his philosophy, one that has the vigor and imaginative reach of the earlier work. Emerson was undoubtedly too modest to claim himself as one of those men who "appear from time to time who receive with more purity and fulness these high communications," but he was such (CW 10:452).

Myerson's headnotes contain a wealth of information about the publication of the several pieces in Uncollected Prose. I have already referred to his discussion of the genesis of "Character," but the reader ought to read each note. For example the ten-page headnote to Emerson's "Historical Discourse" delivered on the occasion of Concord's 1835 bicentennial is full of information about the occasion, about Emerson's preparation for it, and the controversy it plunged Emerson into with his fellow townsman and local historian, Lemuel Shattuck. The story is as entertaining as Emerson's essay. Nor should the reader fail to take stock of the textual notes describing the manuscripts which form the copy-text for many of the essays, for they allow the reader to see how hard Emerson labored to polish and make exact his language. I quoted above his condemnation of vindictive Calvinism, but one would not suspect that passage needed heavy alterations of cancelations and revisions, so that Emerson had to resort to a separate page to get the conclusion of the paragraph to satisfy him (CW 10:828).

Uncollected Prose Works is by its nature a miscellany spread across Emerson's entire career. There is no unifying theme, though most of his favorite topics emerge from the book. In many ways, the volume shows Emerson deeply engaged in his contemporary world as he reviews books for the Dial, as he eulogizes dead friends and speaks in support of John Brown. For instance, in the final nineteen paragraphs of "American Civilization," the paragraphs Emerson omitted from the essay when he published it as "Civilization" in Society and Solitude, shows him deeply concerned about immediate events. The restored paragraphs are lively, angry responses to Southern intransigence. "Why," says Emerson, "cannot the best civilization be extended over the whole country, since the disorder of the less civilized portion menaces the existence of the country?" (CW 10:404). The essay shows clearly how responsive Emerson could be to sectional strife. It is Emerson in an arena of public debate, which we see quite clearly in this volume of otherwise disconnected essays.

Turning to the edition as a whole, I think that all too often the scholarly apparatus goes unremarked and perhaps unused, but that would be a mistake. The value of the Historical Introductions is obvious, and so is that of the Textual Introduction to each volume. The back of the book apparatus, however, ought to concern us, so let us look more carefully at the emendations and at the Parallel Passages. The tables of emendations, both those accepted and those refused, have several sorts of information --changes in the accidentals (punctuation and capitalization), in wording, in phrasing, and by adding or deleting whole passages. The emendations are more extensive for the first two volumes, for those were the ones, as we have previously noted, that Emerson himself edited. As the volumes proceed there are fewer emendations, for there were fewer recorded changes to be made (one exception comes for essays whose copy-text is a manuscript, for then there are likely to be more discrepancies between it and the published text). Before we look at examples it is well to note that the editors do more than list, they sometimes comment, as they do in Essays: First Series when they explain the effect of adding or deleting dashes (CW 2:267), or when they discuss the effect that Emerson created in 1847 by his deletion of "strong, absolute adverbs and adjectives, such as 'all,' 'always,'" and the like. This was his "effort to modify somewhat the tone" of the book (CW 2:266). Other emendations have a bigger effect, and readers should familiarize themselves with the range of differences.

Let us begin with Nature, Lectures and Addresses, the volume I find least satisfactory because of its emendation principle. Again, remember that the copy-text is the 1836 Nature, emended as follows: "Our principle is to present the fullest version of the early writings. Hence when later corrections cut the copy-text they are refused.... When the revision added to the original by expansion or clarification, it is accepted." They continue with this caveat: "When the change was of a word or phrase substituted for precision of diction or to avoid clumsy repetition, it is adopted" as well as corrections of obvious flaws in grammar (CW l:xxxii-xxxiii). How then, does this play out? A few examples from Nature will make their work concrete. In an important line in the chapter "Spirit," Emerson wrote in 1836, "Once inspire the infinite, by being admitted to behold the absolute natures of justice and truth, and we learn that man has access to the entire mind of the Creator, is himself the creator in the finite." In 1849 he revised the line to read, "Once inhale the upper air, being admitted to behold the absolute natures of justice and truth, and we learn that man has access to the entire mind of the Creator, is himself the creator in the finite" (CW 1:287, 38; underscore added to facilitate reading). One cannot quarrel here, for while "inspire" does mean "breathe in," its other meaning easily gets in the way for the reader. The 1849 reading is precise. But, a few pages later in "Prospects," the editors emend from the 1870, 1876 and Riverside editions to present: "in a cabinet of natural history, we become sensible of a certain occult recognition and sympathy in regard to the most unwieldy and eccentric forms of beast, fish, and insect." The copy-text 1836 and the revised 1849 edition had: "In a cabinet of natural history, we become sensible of a certain occult recognition and sympathy in regard to the most bizarre; unwieldy and eccentric forms of beast, fish, and insect" (CW 1:40, 287-88). If their aim is to reject cuts, this emendation fails the test. Emerson's first version is the more careful, and the triple adjectives are parallel with the triple fauna.

Two further examples from emendations they reject are equally interesting. First, in the opening chapter, "Nature," the editors choose the 1836 reading, "The rays that come from those heavenly worlds, will separate between him and vulgar things," over the 1849 revision: "The rays that come from those heavenly worlds, will separate between him and what he touches" (CW 1:8, 288). This is a good example of choosing the shorter over the longer choice. It does, however, change the meaning. "Vulgar things" is a general locution; "what he touches" is quite precise, and thus preferable. A more glaring problem emerges from a very well-known passage, the one where he is "Crossing a bare common." The editors accept the original response: "I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. Almost I fear to think how glad I am." The 1849 text is the one most often quoted, and, I am sure, the most familiar: "I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear" (CW 1:10, 288). From the clumsy inexactitude of his first try he moves to the exacting, marvelous figure of speech, but the editors reject it.

Let us take a quick look at Essays: First Series where, although the emendation principle is sounder and consistently applied, there are still interesting choices. In "History" Emerson wrote in the original 1841 essay: "[A man's] faculties refer to natures out of him, and predict the world he is to inhabit, as the fins of the fish foreshow that water exists, or the wings of an eagle in the egg presuppose a medium like air. Insulate and you destroy him. He cannot live without a world." In 1847 he tightened the sentence to read: "[A man's] faculties refer to natures out of him, and predict the world he is to inhabit, as the fins of the fish foreshow that water exists, or the wings of an eagle in the egg presuppose air. He cannot live without a world" (CW 2:274, 20). The first sentence becomes more compact; the omitted second sentence eliminates a repetition, "He cannot live without a world" says much the same thing. Still, there is a difference. I don't think the emendation in any way "wrong," but it is an insight into Emerson to read the original. One more short example of a familiar locution helps us see the differences in texts. In "Self-Reliance" Emerson in 1841 boldly exhorted his reader to "do your thing," but in 1847 made it less colloquial by urging "do your work" (CW 2:280, 32). Perhaps it is only the several decades of hearing students champion "doing my thing," that makes the prosaic "work" more attractive.

My final example is an extreme one. At one point in "History" Emerson describes the reality that underlies myth. He concludes a list of examples in the emended Collected Works: "Apollo kept the flocks of Admetus, said the poets. When the gods come among men, they are not known." This accepts the 1847 revision in place of a long 1841 passage: "Apollo kept the flocks of Admetus, said the poets. Every man is a divinity in disguise, a god playing the fool. It seems as if heaven had sent its insane angels into our world as to an asylum and here the will break out into their native music and utter at intervals the words they have heard in heaven; then the mad fit returns and the mope and wallow like When the gods come among men, they are not known" (CW2:18, 273). Without doubt the revision makes the prose more concise. The two short sentences are right to the point. The rejected 1841 sentences are aggressive and perhaps digressive, but to lose such startling figures of speech is a shame: "a god playing the fool," "insane angels" who "mope and wallow like dogs"! In 1841 Emerson was willing to say such things, and I'm glad he did. The rowdy language seems quite in keeping with his iconoclastic rejections of conventional piety and his fierce pursuit of a fresh understanding of human existence. He did after all moderate himself in 1847 at some cost.

As I said, the first two volumes, edited by Emerson, have more extensive and potentially interesting emendations, but later volumes have their examples. In the seventh paragraph of "Illusions," the essay that closes The Conduct of Life, Emerson originally published a longer paragraph in the Atlantic Monthly. For the book he cut a significant use of Thackeray and Vanity Fair, which he calls "pathetic in its name," as examples of how men accommodate themselves to a world of illusions and live "practically in homage and obedience to these illusions" (CW 6:353). Again, I have no objection to the decision to use the 1860 revision for the book, but Emerson so seldom refers to fiction that it is a loss to have this use of Thackeray disappear. Unless you read the notes, however, you miss the connection between the two.

One final example, this one from Society and Solitude, shows again how Emerson edited his own work. The editors have the manuscript for the essay "Domestic Life," and their notes show us that the opening paragraph of that manuscript did not make it into print. In the paragraph Emerson boldly says that the real objects of understanding the world are close at hand, that it is the body of facts close by that "most pique the curiosity." It closes with a question: "Can any topic take precedence in a reasonable mind of the topic of Domestic Life?" (CW 7:298). The published essay dives right into examples of domesticity without a preamble. There is no setting of a line of thought; the thought immediately commences. As with other emendations of extensive passages, this one is worth knowing, if only for the way in which Emerson framed his topic.

The "Parallel Passages" let the reader go below the surface of the published essay to take stock of its origins. The early thoughts and language Emerson caught in his journal and lectures make it possible for a reader to see more clearly how fragmented ideas were developed, and understand a larger context for his ideas as well as to see otherwise masked presences lurk in the essays. I will take for my example paragraph 59 of "Fate," the opening essay in The Conduct of Life. The paragraph begins with typically concise, startling figures of speech:

History is the action and reaction of these two,--Nature and Thought;--two boys pushing each other on the curbstone of the pavement. Everything is pusher or pushed: and matter and mind are in perpetual tilt and balance, so. Whilst the man is weak, the earth takes up him. He plants his brain and affections. By and by he will take up the earth, and have his gardens and vineyards in the beautiful order and productiveness of his thought. (CW 6:23)

The passage was first conceived in late July or early August 1851 in Emerson's journal "CO" (JMN 11:404). (9) The wording in "Fate" is only slightly revised: instead of "pavement," Emerson had originally written "sidewalk," though more importantly, instead of "in the beautiful order and productiveness of his thought" he originally wrote simply "in his brain." That change emphasizes the pleasure and potency of thought. It gives more weight to the brain's activity.

The paragraph continues directly:

Every solid in the universe is ready to become fluid on the approach of the mind, and the power to flux it is the measure of the mind. If the wall remain adamant, it accuses the want of thought. To a subtler force, it will stream into new forms, expressive of the character of the mind. (CW6:23)

This passage comes from the same journal, 118 pages later, probably written in late August or early September 1851. This time Emerson slightly tamed the journal passage, which reads:

I take it to be law <of the universe> that every solid in the universe is ready to become volatile on the approach of the mind; and that the power to volatilize is the measure of the mind. Whilst the wall remains adamant, it accuses the want of thought. To a subtler force, <will> the adamant will peel off in laminate, will exhale in gas. (JMN 11:437; words in angle brackets are Emerson's cancellations)

To make "volatile" become "fluid" and "volatilize" become "flux" is to soften the disruptive power of the mind, but the revision of the closing clause, while more abstract in losing "laminate" and "gas," actually makes a larger claim than that of the journal: the "wall" in its new forms expresses the plastic character of the mind.

Then comes an extended passage apparently composed for the essay, one not in the journal nor in the surviving lecture "Fate":

What is the city in which we sit here, but an aggregate of incongruous materials, which have obeyed the will of some man? The granite was reluctant, but his hands were stronger, and it came. Iron was deep in the ground, and well combined with stone; but could not hide from his fires. Wood, lime, stuffs, fruit, gums, were dispersed over the earth and sea, in vain. Here they are, within reach of every man's day-labor,--what he wants of them. The whole world is the flux of matter over the wires of thought to the poles or points where it would build. The races of men rise out of the ground preoccupied with a thought which rules them, and divided into parties ready armed and angry to fight for this metaphysical abstraction. The quality of the thought differences the Egyptian and the Roman, the Austrian and the American. The men who come on the stage of one period are all found to be related to each other (CW6:-23-24).

Here Emerson composes concrete examples of how the mind actually uses the inert natural world to its larger ends. He emphasizes the connection between "flux" and "mind." His catalogue of human accomplishment defines the power of the mind.

Then, once more Emerson reaches back into his journal for the next part of the paragraph, this time further back, to February 1850. The essay reads:

Certain ideas are in the air. We are all impressionable, for we are made of them; all impressionable, but some more than others, and these first express them. This explains the curious contemporaneousness of inventions and discoveries. The truth is in the air, and the most impressionable brain will announce it first, but all will announce it a few minutes later. So women, as most susceptible, are the best index of the coming hour. (CW6:24)

For this, Emerson took only one paragraph from a longer journal entry (one that coincidentally follows the journal entry that he used in the opening of the essay):

Certain ideas are in the air. We are all impressionable, for we are made of them. We are all impressionable, but some more than others, & these first express them. So Women, as most impressionable, are the best index of the coming hour.

I am part of the solar system. Let the brain alone & it will keep time with that as the shell with the sea-tide.

We are made of ideas. Let the river roll which way it will, cities will rise on its banks. (JMN 11:218)

While Emerson used the first journal paragraph and passed over the two following, each of the discarded thoughts would easily fit into the ideas in "Fate." Each dramatizes the "brain," each has Emerson's typical imaginative language, yet for whatever reason, only the first was useful, and it had to be expanded by inserting "This explains the curious contemporaneousness of inventions and discoveries. The truth is in the air, and the most impressionable brain will announce it first, but all will announce it a few minutes later." This is a good example of how Emerson revised preliminary thoughts into a larger context. There is a process of discovery going on in the essay that controlled what did and did not get used from the journal.

The paragraph in the essay concludes:

So the great man, that is, the man most imbued with the spirit of the time, is the impressionable man,--of a fibre irritable and delicate, like iodine to light. He feels the infinitesimal attractions. His mind is righter than others, because he yields to a current so feeble as can be felt only by a needle delicately poised. (CW 6:24)

Again Emerson takes part of a journal entry, this one from the spring of 1850, to mold into essay sentences:

The great man is the impressionable man, most irritable, most delicate, like iodine to light, so he feels the infinitesimal attractions. He obeys the main current, that is all his secret, the main current is so feeble a force as can be felt only by bodies delicately poised. He can orient himself. In the woods, I have one guide, namely, to follow the light,--to go where the woods are thinnest; then at last I am sure to come out. So he cannot be betrayed or misguided, for he knows where the North is, knows painfully when he is going in the wrong direction. (JMN 11:240)

Emerson compresses the journal's description of the "great man" by focusing on the fact that "his mind is righter." The little exemplum that ends the journal passage is interesting, but the rejected sentences would only take the reader away from the main point of the essay's paragraph: the mind is the center of human power in a contest between mind and matter. What one sees in the Parallel Passages is that Emerson revised carefully. He used journal phrases when they fit, edited them when they did not, and carefully resisted the temptation to over-use the journal passages.

This paragraph from "Fate" is a fair example of how Emerson used his journal, and a quick tally of the evidence in the "Parallel Passages" apparatus shows the reader that the essay contains 130 such borrowings from the journal and the Topical Notebooks. But the composition process of selecting and revising is but part of the story, and perhaps not the most important, for the context of the journal entries reveal a larger, more challenging understanding of Emerson's mind at work. Of the 130 previously written passages, 62, almost half, come from Emerson's journals RS, TU, AZ, BO, and CO, written between October 1848 and November 1851 (now published in JMN 11), a period unusually turbulent for Emerson. When one examines closely the surrounding journal matter for the entries used in paragraph 59 of "Fate," one sees that much was on Emerson's mind when he turned to his journal. First, Daniel Webster, long a living hero to Emerson, had spoken in the Senate in support of the Compromise of 1850, which reaffirmed the constitutional mandate to return fugitive slaves to their masters. Emerson was outraged by what he thought a betrayal of deep principal. Next, in July, Margaret Fuller and her family drowned off Fire Island on their return to the United States. Both events were deeply troubling to Emerson, and each found its way into his journal. Then, in April 1851, Thomas Sims, an escaped slave, was arrested in Boston and returned to his owner. That spring, Emerson erupted furiously, first in his journal, then in the first of his "Fugitive Slave" speeches. In his journal he began simply: "Bad times." But he went on and on, page after page, declaring that "All I have, and all I can do shall be given & done in opposition to the execution of the law." Over and over, Webster is his foul example:

The word liberty in the mouth of Mr Webster sounds like the word love in the mouth of a courtesan. (JMN 11:343,344, 346)

Taking them in order, the passages in "Fate" that we have looked at reveal these contexts: the first, from November 1851 is embedded in a running string of acerbic comments on Webster, (10) one entry immediately describes "this stupid iron Whiggery," which can only refer to Webster; two pages later Emerson specifically says of Webster that "morals he has none, but a hole in his head" (JMN 11:404, 405). When, still in November, Emerson again wrote the image of the two boys wrestling, the passage comes five pages after a recorded memory of Margaret Fuller. (11) Two pages later he notes "The malignity of parties" represented by "these rich Whigs & these organized vulgarities called the Democracy" (JMN 11:451). The second passage, from late summer 1851 is followed a few pages later by another reference to Fuller. The two journal entries from the winter of 1850 have no specific references to Webster, but the last one dates from the time of Webster's speech.

It is clear that in early 1860, when Emerson was writing "Fate" for the book, he revisited an earlier time, the period from mid-1850 to late 1851, when both Daniel Webster and Margaret Fuller were unacknowledged examples of the working of fate in daily life. In 1860 they became the ghostly presences of "Fate," examples, real if unnamed, of painful truths that fate had inflicted on Emerson. In part the whole of "Fate" is a defense against the anger and grief he had lived through, an example of how deeply the mind could respond to blows and turn itself to the language of affirmation. The pain Webster and Fuller inflicted helped him build his "altars to the beautiful Necessity" that is fate (CW 6:26). The Parallel Passages information makes it possible to come to these conclusions, and they invite further probing. This is not the only way to understand Emerson, but it is one way that has distinct advantages. As is true for all of the editorial apparatus throughout the Collected Works, the editors have opened the way. What remains is to take advantage of the many opportunities.

The Collected Works has been scantily reviewed, yet another example of the sad state of book reviewing in the scholarly community. Even the reliable American Literary Scholarship missed noting Essays: Second Series. Nature, Addresses and Lectures was reviewed briefly by Gay Wilson Allen in American Literature, where he mentioned the history of the Cabot and Emerson family activities and briefly described the contents of the volume, concluding that it served both the mythical "general reader" as well as "the most serious Emerson scholar" (Allen 119). John Broderick in American Literary Scholarship compared the volume to the then recently published Princeton edition of Walden, though he also noted the textual problems raised by the revised 1849 edition. He concluded by claiming that the Harvard volume "restores the 'radical' or 'infidel' Emerson of the 1830s," though that ignores the number of emendations accepted from the 1849 edition (Broderick 4). E.J. Rose, in Dalhousie Review, takes exception to the decision to hew to the 1836 edition, citing the loss of his aphorisms as an example of what goes wrong (Rose 699, 701). The longest, most penetrating (and pugnaciously entertaining) review came from Carl Bode in The Yearbook of English Studies, where, in a review encompassing the ninth volume of the JMN and the third volume of Early Lectures, he generally scoffs at textual editing, especially that based on the Gregg principles. Of Nature, Addresses and Lectures he is acidly "convinced that the editorial method the editors have worked out is a persistent attempt to make accurate machinery out of inaccurate humanity. What a waste of human resources!" (Bode 312). Bode is critical of what he sees as the attempt to freeze Emerson at his first printing. Admittedly, the confused textual principles of that volume could lead him astray. He sees the editors' attempt to select some later revisions but not others as an attempt to "improve" Emerson, an idea he likens to Frank Sanborn's editing of Thoreau.

The second volume in the series drew no serious reviews. There were the usual, perfunctory notices in AB Bookman and Choice, as well as ones in the Christian Century and American Literature and one by Richard Francis in Journal of American Studies. Volume three, however, fared better. Wendell Glick summarized the editing at some length in American Literary Scholarship and Philip Gura provided a substantial review in Resources for American Literary Study. Gura sets Essays: Second Series in its biographical context and discusses briefly their contemporary reception. He briefly describes the edited volume and praises both the Historical and the Textual Introductions. It is, Gura says, "vintage Emerson" (Gura 220).

The best review of Essays: Second Series is also one of the best review of any of the ten volumes, the one by David Van Leer in The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. It is the sort of review any editor would want, for it not only looks in depth at the actual editing, but it raises philosophical questions about editing and focuses the reader on the need to be aware of what the edited text actually is. "To read this volume without attention to the apparatus," says Van Leer, "may be more dangerous than to accept an earlier, less scrupulously edited text; and only the indolent will treat the Harvard Emerson as the final (or even an easy) solution to the textual problems of the works" (Van Leer 523). Van Leer praises the volume for its apparatus, one that is "convenient and necessary," a "welcome aid to scholars" (522). He looks deeply into the volume to note some minor variants the editors drop, and he examines questions about punctuation and its emendations. One seldom finds such detailed reviewing, and the point is not to fault the editors but to remind the reader that "this is a scholarly edition and cannot be read innocently" (523). Van Leer takes pains to point out that an edited text is just that: edited, one that cannot be the author's ideal text. The review combines the Works volume with that of the first of the Library of America collection of essays and speeches. Van Leer explores the differences between the two and says that both "fulfill superbly their separate functions" (524).

With some notable exceptions, the reviews of the following volumes of the Collected Works thin out dramatically. Representative Men got only a descriptive paragraph in American Literary Scholarship, and brief notices in American Literature and The Virginia Quarterly Review, none of which really engaged the volume. Volume 5, English Traits fared better. William Vance in International Journal of the Classical Tradition analyzed Emerson's ideas about conversation and contradictions. He takes special note of Robert Burkholder's notes and says that the volume "demonstrates the survival of humane and disinterested scholarship in an age of self-displaying and tendentious criticism" (Vance 490). Robert D. Habich in ANQ also praises Burkholder's work on the notes, which he calls "miniature essays that lend richness to the text" (Habich ANQ 49). Habich also notes at length the nature of the volume, and describes not only the copy-text but the editorial apparatus. It is another review that pays unusually full and welcome attention to the editing.

The next two volumes, The Conduct of Life (Volume 6) and Society and Solitude (Volume 7) got necessarily brief reviews from David Robinson in American Literary Scholarship and more extensive ones in Emerson Society Papers. Robinson says of The Conduct of Life that it will move forward a reconsideration of Emerson's later work. He notes Barbara Packer's positioning of the book in the political life of the 1850s. Jennifer Gurley in Emerson Society Papers devotes herself to the editing. She describes the editing principles and says that they enable "us to appreciate this Emerson forever revising his writing and his views" (Gurley 14). Robinson sees Society and Solitude also furthering an interest in Emerson's later work, and he singles out Ronald Bosco's Introduction for praise, while Robert Habich in Emerson Society Papers notes the scrupulously edited text established by Douglas Emory Wilson.

Volmne 8, Letters and Social Aims, was well-reviewed, first by William Rossi in American Literary Scholarship, where he summarizes the complicated origins of the book, and then by Helen Deese in Emerson Society Papers, by Richard Deming in Documentary Editing, and by Laura Dassow Walls in the on-line review site "Review 19." Deese points out the value of Bosco's biographical introduction, which she calls "informative and compelling" (Deese Emerson Society Papers 12). Deming calls the volume "the most important" of the edition to date, for it contains "some of the finest, most necessary thinking" of Emerson's career (Deming 120). He also vigorously champions Emerson's "insights into how human beings discover that Nature and human nature are intertwined" (123). Walls, too, points out the accomplishment of Bosco's biographical analysis as well as Joel Myerson's textual work as well as the substance of the Emerson essays themselves. It is, says Walls, "really two books in one--or perhaps even three." She notes for consideration Emerson's "Inspiration," "Social Aims," "Immortality," and most notably "Poetry and Imagination," which she calls the "greatest" of the essays in the book. (12)

Finally, Poems: A Variorum Edition was described by R.T. Prus in Choice, by Saundra Morris in Emerson Society Papers, by Helen Deese in Documentary Editing, and by William Rossi in American Literary Scholarship, where he defends it as a truly definitive scholarly edition and praises the impeccable scholarship upon which it is built. Morris praises the volume, calling it "the single most valuable contemporary scholarship on Emerson's poetry" (Morris 6). Deese looks at length at the editing in which she reviews the standards and shows how the editors faced difficult choices but made sound choices. Finally, Branka Arsic in the New England Quarterly says the volume is a "landmark study" and praises at length Albert J. von Frank's analysis of the "philosophical and poetic ideas that helped shape Emerson's poetry" (Arsic 550). She describes the copy-text principles at length and shows how a reading of the variants reveals the way in which the poems grew more formal over time. The combined work of von Frank and Wortham is, Arsic says, an "astonishing editorial enterprise" (552). In short, the Collected Works have been almost universally praised for its scholarly integrity. After the first, troubled volume, reviewers find few faults and much to praise. Only a handful of reviewers look closely at the editing, and those that do, judge it to be superior.

There is but one "competitor" to the Harvard Collected Works: the volumes published by the Library of America. The Essays & Lectures volume prints the first six volumes of Emerson's works plus an early sermon and 36 pieces from the Dial. The texts are from "the first printings in book form" (Emerson Essays & Lectures 1307), save for Nature; Addresses, and Lectures, which is printed from the revised 1849 edition, and Essays: First Series, which is printed from the revised 1847 edition. Emerson's sermon "The Lord's Supper" is printed from its first appearance in Octavius Frothingham's Transcendentalism in New England, and the Dial pieces from their appearance there. Joel Porte, the editor, preserves the original spellings and punctuation, but he does not emend the texts save to correct "obvious" typographical errors, which he lists. Following the Library of America format, there is a useful "Chronology" of Emerson's life, but the notes are sparse and thus quite inadequate.

Collected Poems and Translations prints 233 poems published by Emerson and 450 poems, fragments, and translations that were unpublished. The editors use the 1847 Poems and the 1867 May-Day and Other Pieces as their copy-texts, supplemented by the original sources for several other poems. For the unpublished poetry and translations they present the texts from The Poetry Notebooks, the Topical Notebooks and the JMN. The volume also includes Emerson's translation of Dante's Vita Nuova from an edition done by J. Chesley Mathews. It is a work that is little noticed. The Library of America editors create clear texts from the genetic texts in the originals. Again, the notes are minimal.

The Library of America volumes are good ones for their intended audience, and one is glad to have them, but the Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson should be the standard for writing about Emerson in scholarly works. There are two obvious reasons: first, they provide the scholar with a wealth of information, some of it biographical, some of it historical, some of it compositional. If we attend closely to these volumes, we come to understand more clearly what was happening in Emerson's life, how he was responding, and the circumstances moving him toward publication of the works. The explanatory notes flesh out Emerson's endless quotations and allusions; they bring the historical setting into focus and return us to the specificity of Emerson's thinking. The parallel passages allow us to return to Emerson's journals. This is the scholarly background necessary for a full reading of the individual works. It seems obvious that if one is genuinely committed to understanding the essays one will want to absorb this material that is directly related to the texts. Second, it is unavoidable that these volumes should be the source of quotations, for the texts have been subjected to exacting standards of accuracy and completeness. The editors have weeded out as many printing errors as possible, and, in the case of the later volumes they have undone the work of other editorial hands. One should not, however, read these volumes "innocently," as David Van Leer has cogently warned (Van Leer 523). What one has is an edited text, aimed at creating as far as is possible the final version of the work that Emerson intended. One might prefer a text that is the first intention, but the transparency of the editorial decisions in the Collected Works makes it possible to go back to the first printing. One can read either way: first or final. The Library of America volumes don't allow for that flexibility.

It goes without saying that the only scholarly choice is the Collected Works--except that it does need to be said, for too often serious scholars fail to use it. A random sampling of sixteen books devoted to Emerson published from 2000 to 2013 shows that four of them cite some other edition, most commonly the Library of America (though one used the 1906 Riverside edition). I think 75% is not a respectable figure. Things get worse, however, when we look at books devoted to thematic discussions where Emerson has only a chapter (or less). Eight such books published since 2000 show only three who use the Harvard edition. Three use the Library of America, one uses that volume plus the Penguin paperback, and one uses the Modern Library Emerson. Things are no better with journal publication. Another random examination of 13 essays published in refereed journals between 2007 and 2012 shows seven that cite the Collected Works, three that cite the Library of America, and three that cite other editions. (13) From this I conclude that neither the readers for the journals nor the editors bothered to ask for the best possible documentation. Clearly, those of us working in the nineteenth century need to tighten our standards. I suspect that many a graduate student receives little or no direction about choosing texts from which to work. The easy access to the Library of America volumes, which are themselves quite good and more than ordinarily well done, does not relieve us from the necessity to quote from the most scrupulous source--and that source is now the Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The problem does not resolve itself quite so easily, however, for there is another somber fact: embarrassingly few research libraries have complete (or even near-complete) sets of the Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. My on-line search of 60 research libraries shows that only 17 have a complete 10-volume set of the Collected Works. Being generous, one might think that it is too soon for everyone to order and catalogue the recently-published Volume 10, we can add another 11 libraries that have the first nine volumes. That, however, does not get the total to 50%. I have earlier made it clear that I think Poems: A Variorum Edition (Volume 9) and Ronald Bosco's biographical monograph that is the Historical Introduction to Letters and Social Aims (Volume 8), are especially important additions to Emerson scholarship, so it is distressing to find that 22 of the libraries lack Volume 8, and 29 lack Volume 9. There are good reasons why we find so few citations to the Collected Works: the volumes are so expensive as to be beyond the salaries of many professors (the current list price from Harvard University Press is $1,081). Thus, many have to depend on library holdings. However, if one's library does not have the volumes, how are we to do our work? Interlibrary loan is slow and cumbersome. If we expect to hold ourselves to the best scholarly standards, the faculty need to be sure that our libraries order the books, a tough enough prospect in these days of economic distress. (14)

After a half century of first-class editing, where do we find ourselves with Emerson? Does it all matter? Well, of course it does. No other writer in the first half of the nineteenth century had the effect on American literature and thought as Emerson. His writing leads directly to Whitman's poetry and thence to the rest of the free-verse tradition. He articulated and performed a robust theory of symbolism. He is an exemplar of American individualism, at once a stinging critic and a champion of the American culture out of which he sprang. He vigorously defended religious insights while scathingly rejecting the church and all its traditions. He wrote aphorisms that remain fresh and compelling to this day. He urged a new, independent American literature that dared to be bold. Think for a moment on an Emerson essay. It is not a narrative in the strict sense, for it is probably a series of declarative statements: "Life is a search after Power"; "There is one mind common to all men"; "We have a great deal more kindness than is ever spoken." The voice we hear speaks with quiet authority. He is assured, we immediately see, that he is "right." The essay continues, with perhaps rhetorical questions, with perhaps objections from an antagonist voice, with perhaps a quotation, or two, or three. Perhaps we find a personal anecdote, perhaps a small fable or exemplum designed to drive home a point. We do not necessarily find an observable structure moving inexorably to a conclusion, for the voice is likely to bend back to an earlier point and restate it or to provide fresh examples. He sometimes says "I," but more often is likely to say "we," "our," "us," thus drawing the reader into the claims. What, we ask, is he assuming here? That we do not "see" what he sees, or "believe" what he believes? Have we forgotten something we ought to remember? The speaker tries always to bring a fresh definition of something familiar or to show us something we have not yet understood. He is always a step ahead of us. He knows; we learn.

The key assumption he makes is that our lives can change. For Emerson we are not of necessity locked into the understanding or opinion or "truth" of the moment; the lives we have brought to the essay might be made better. Possibility exists, and the speaker intends to exploit that possibility, though it is not certain how he intends to accomplish that change. He appears not to rely on logic, on syllogisms. He is not trying to drive us into a corner by reasoning us out of our old ideas. He seems more to be enticing us to think along with him about this or that abstraction--Love, History, Power, Art, there are many--until it is no longer abstract. Most obviously he is "essaying"--that is, attempting something.

We ought to attend to the important fact that he is writing. Even when he was lecturing he was reading his writing aloud--it was not an extemporaneous event. Emerson's faith in the written word emerged early in his life. When he was 23, he wrote his brother Charles that in writing, one gets "the pure intellect that speaks," that from the writer you "get the measure of his soul." Emerson then brashly tells Charles, "write, that I may know thee" and thus reveal "the secret history of that sanctuary you call yourself (Emerson, Letters 1:191). In many ways Emerson was quite a private man who shunned controversy (though he often prompted it) and who was distinctly uneasy with Margaret Fuller's emotional energy. But: he was willing to open the "sanctuary" of his "self' by writing. Words that were crafted, chosen, arranged, judged, and finally accepted were his means of revelation and stimulation. What he needed above all was readers, individuals who would attend carefully to his language and who would be moved and changed by it. Language was power, but the language of the written word was most powerful of all.

Despite the existence of artifacts and monuments, the past exists mostly as writing. What we know most about "then" is what we read about it. Emerson had a complicated relationship with the past, understanding as he did that it often exerts a ruinous tyranny over us. He was more interested in the fact that the past contains a wealth of liberating ideas and experiences. He knew that when we hew too closely to the written word (as in a literal interpretation of scripture) we lose our lives. He much preferred a use of the words of the past to enliven our minds. Thus, quotation could be a tool of liberation to counter those who used words to imprison. In such essays as those of Representative Men he was "essaying" his own being--and thus tempting us to follow his example--by using the past lives of those men.

The word most often associated with Emerson--to my mind, almost erroneously--is "nature," for not only is it the title of his most famous essay, it is the cliche that swaddles his fellow Transcendentalists, thanks mostly to Thoreau, for whom "nature" was indeed central. Emerson is, of course, devoted to "nature," as he often says, but it is not, finally, the individual's relationship to the material world that most concerns him; it is some form of "power," a power emanating from the individual "self" (another cliche, but one that cannot be avoided) and located most precisely in the human mind or intellect (he seems to use the terms interchangeably). Emerson's claim is that the individual can grow into an increased power insofar as one trusts oneself. This self-reliance is his primary psychological necessity, and one that is subject to the human will that emanates from the intellect. As we think, so we are.

Underneath this human capacity lies another fact, one even more fundamental, the primary perception that drives all of Emerson's writings--the existence of a "universal mind," or to use another of his words, an "over-soul." This universal reality is beneficent, all-encompassing, and divine. Other thinkers would call it "God," but not Emerson, for he was too intent on reforming our language to free it of the associations so long built up around the word "God." To put it slightly differently, there is a divine reality from which our individuality appears to have been separated, while in reality there is no absolute separation. "We" and "it" are one. Upon this rock Emerson builds a lifetime of lecturing and writing. Rather surprisingly, he does not often appeal overtly to the authority of the "universal mind" for his claims; he just makes the claims. However, taken as a whole, his writing flows from this ecstatic, "mystical" if you will, perception. Here is the final "power" from which we draw ours; here is the final "mind" of which ours is a vital part; here is the ultimate joy in a world dominated by pain and disappointment. "Up again, old heart!--it seems to say,--there is victory yet for all justice" (CW 3:49). Emerson is famous for his optimism, and rightly so: he is unabashedly affirmative. He assumes a teleology that ends in success; he has no truck with skepticism or nihilism. He would not understand Ishmael, though I'll bet he would understand Ahab!

Let us, however, object. What if he is wrong and there is no "universal mind," no ultimate benevolence in the universe? What if time is absolute and death a true end? Does that make Emerson unreadable to us who live in an age dominated by real possibilities of annihilation and by the memory of mass murder? Not at all. If this life is all there is, then all the more reason why we should make better use of it. If pain and disappointment come all too freely to each of us, then let us find those places where we can genuinely rejoice. Our culture rather curiously and consistently divides activity into "academic" or "intellectual," and "real world," as if there was nothing "real" about reading, writing, and thinking. We easily and wrongly think that to read, say, an Emerson, is to retreat from real life until such time as we must emerge and pay the bills and wash our faces. But reading is living: it is intense activity that changes us both within and without. From the printed page we can be moved to throw a bomb or clasp a foreign hand. Speaking becomes writing (as it habitually did for Emerson); writing becomes

conviction; conviction becomes action. Jesus spoke, but wrote not a word; Paul, however, wrote much, and so we have a Christian scripture and from it a theology. The writing of gospels, of revelations, causes history to move in one direction or another.

But why should an Emerson bereft of his "universal mind" command our attention? Because his language has power. He knew and practiced the art of creating figures of speech that were at once the act of and testimony to the power of creativity. To make language such as he did is to create in the real world. Like a poet, Emerson in his prose makes language command our attention and cause us to re-imagine what we might be. He firmly believed that our imagining had direct results for our lives. Thus, he aimed to make his prose have the "tart, cathartic" quality he knew was needed. He called himself an experimenter, and we ought to take him seriously. Emerson modeled a venturesome mind that thought what a different life would be like. He creates a language commensurate with that vision. He shows us a creative consciousness in action. Despite the fact that a lecture turned into an essay became frozen into a "final" form, that essay is not the last word. There is always the possibility of one to follow and one to follow that. His rebukes of our easy slide into materialism are fresh to us, who slide daily; his criticisms of traditional religion ring true at a time when the perils of fundamentalism among all the world's major religions rise to threaten us. When we fall into the habit of thinking that organizations will save us, it is healthy to be reminded that one must first and last trust oneself. The herd mentality would be less powerful if fewer listened to the herd. Emerson's good friend, occasional handyman and townsman, Henry Thoreau, asked the fundamental question in Walden: "Why do you stay here and live this mean moiling life, when a glorious existence is possible for you?" (Thoreau 222). Emerson's essays are built on exactly that question: "why?" He begins by assuming that a question asked can be a question answered, and that questioning itself unites the writer with the reader. Like Thoreau, Emerson envisions alternatives to the "mean moiling life," but those alternatives come into existence only through an exercise of the human mind.

The individual has enough powers to make an affirmative response to Emerson and Thoreau: we too can experiment; we too can learn new ideas; we can by effort assuage the power of the past. There may be no nirvana awaiting us, but there is no excuse for making our present life more difficult because we scare ourselves into submission. Emerson loved to quote, so I will quote William James, the American thinker who was most naturally Emerson's successor:

Our acts, our turning-places, where we seem to ourselves to make ourselves and grow, are the parts of the world to which we are closest, the parts of which our knowledge is the most intimate and complete. Why should we not take them at their face-value? Why may they not be the actual turning-places and growing-places which they seem to be, of the world--why not the workshop of being, where we catch fact in the making so, that nowhere may the world grow in any other kind of way than this? (James 138)

The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson is the record of a "workshop of being."

One must be deeply grateful for a half-century of excellent scholarship that brings us the ten volumes of The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. We now have the works edited into reliable form; we have the historical context laid out for us, and we have the editorial apparatuses to enable us to look as deeply as we wish in several directions. Emerson's developing style, his own judgment about his work in large and small detail, his relationships with editors and publishers--all of this is open for our critical analyses. For no other literary figure do we have the resources that we have for Emerson. With the completion of The Collected Works, we now have 50 volumes of his public and private writings. (15) Not only that, but the editing of those 50 volumes is of the highest quality. From Ralph Rusk in 1939 onward, Emerson has been well served by his editors. We must single out the work of The Collected Works' last Editor-in-Chief, Ronald A. Bosco, for since assuming the position in 2003, he has overseen the publication of the final four volumes of the edition (and is the volume editor for three of them). We owe Bosco and Joel Myerson (not forgetting Albert J. von Frank and Thomas Wortham's work on the poems) a deep debt of gratitude for bringing a landmark edition to a superb close.

Claremont Graduate University

Works Cited

Allen, Gay Wilson. Review of Nature, Addresses, and Lectures. American Literature 45 (1973). 118-20.

American Literary Scholarship: An Annual. Ed. James Woodress et al. Duke UP, 1966-. ("ALS" in notes.)

Arsic, Branka. Review of Poems: A Variorum Edition. The New England Quarterly 85 (2012), 550-52.

Bode, Carl. Review of Nature, Addresses, and Lectures. Yearbook of English Studies 5 (1975), 312-14.

Bosco, Ronald A. "'His Lectures Were Poetry, His Teaching the Music of the Spheres': Annie Adams Fields and Francis Greenwood Peabody on Emerson's 'Natural History of the Intellect' University Lectures at Harvard in 1870." Harvard Library Bulletin n.s. 8 (1997), 1-79.

Broderick, John C. Review of Nature, Addresses, and Lectures. ALS 1971.3-5.

Cole, Phyllis. "Emerson at 200." Review of The Conduct of Life. Resources for American Literary Study 30 (2005), 317-30.

Deese, Helen R. Review of Letters and Social Aims. Emerson Society Papers 21 (Fall 2010), 12.

--. Rev. of Poems: A Variorum Edition. Documentary Editing 34 (2013). http://www.scholarlyediting.org/2013/reviews/review.Emerson. html

Deming, Richard. "The Lion in Winter." Review of Letters and Social Aims. Documentary Editing 32 (2011), 120-25.

Emerson, Mary Moody. The Selected Letters of Mary Moody Emerson. Ed. Nancy Craig Simmons. U of Georgia P, 1993.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Collected Poems and Translations. Ed. Harold Bloom and Paul Kane. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1994.

--. The Correspondence of Emerson and Carlyle. Ed. Joseph Slater. Columbia UP, 1964.

--. The Early Lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ed. Stephen E. Whicher, Robert B. Spiller, and Wallace E. Williams. 3 Volumes. Belknap-Harvard UP, 1961-72.

--. Essays & Lectures. Ed. Joel Porte. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1983.

--. The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ed. William H. Gilman et al. 16 Volmes. Belknap-Harvard UP, 1961-82. ("JMN" in the text.)

--. The Later Lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ed. Ronald A. Bosco and Joel Myerson. 2 Volumes. U of Georgia P, 2001.

--. Lectures and Biographical Sketches. Ed. Edward Waldo Emerson. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1906.

--. The Letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ed. Ralph L. Rusk and Eleanor M. Tilton. 10 Volumes. Columbia UP, 1939; 1990-1995.

--. The Poetry Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ed. Ralph H. Orth, Albert J. von Frank, Linda Allardt, and David W. Hill. U of Missouri P, 1986.

--. The Topical Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ed. Susan Sutton Smith, Ronald A. Bosco, and Glen M. Johnson. 3 Volumes. U of Missouri P, 1990-94.

Gura, Philip. Review of Essays: Second Series. Resources for American Literary Study (1983), 218-20.

Gurley, Jennifer. Review of The Conduct of Life. Emerson Society Papers 18 (Fall 2007), 13-14.

Habich, Robert D. Building Their Own Waldos: Emerson's First Biographers and the Politics of Life-Writing in the Gilded Age. U of Iowa P, 2011.

--. Review of English Traits. ANQ 10 (1997), 47-49.

--. Review of Society and Solitude. Emerson Society Papers 21 (Spring 2010), 8.

James, William. Pragmatism. Ed. Fredson Bowers and Ignas K. Skrupskelis. Harvard UP, 1975.

Morris, Saundra. Rev. of Poems: A Variorum Edition. Emerson Society Papers 23 (Spring 2012). 6.

Ross, E.J. Review of Nature, Addresses, and Lectures. Dalhousie Review 52 (1972): 699, 701.

Simmons, Nancy Craig. "Arranging the Sibylline Leaves: James Elliot Cabot's Work as Emerson's Literary Executor." Studies in the American Renaissance 1983. Ed. Joel Myerson. UP of Virginia. 335-89.

Tanselle, G. Thomas. "The Editorial Problem of Final Authorial Intention." Selected Studies in Bibliography. UP of Virginia, 1979. 309-54.

--. "Gregg's Theory of Copy-Text and the Editing of American Literature." Selected Studies in Bibliography. UP of Virginia, 1979. 245-308.

Thoreau, Henry D. Journal Volume 4: 1851-1852. Ed. Leonard N. Neufeldt and Nancy Craig Simmons. Princeton UP, 1992.

--. Walden. Ed. J. Lyndon Shanley. Princeton UP, 1971.

Vance, William L. Review of English Traits. International Journal of the Classical Tradition 4 (1998): 487-90.

Van Leer, David M. Review of Essays." Second Series. Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 108 (1984), 522-24.

Walls, Laura Dassow. Rev. of Letters and Social Aims. Review 19 (2010). On-line www.anbol-19.org.

Notes

(1) See G. Thomas Tanselle, "Gregg's Theory of Copy-Text and the Editing of American Literature" and "The Editorial Problem of Final Authorial Intention."

(2) See "Statement of Editorial Principles," CW 2:xxxiv-xxxvii. The editorial principles for CW 1 were different, as we shall note. The principles announced in Essays: First Series were the ones guiding the remaining volumes of the edition.

(3) "Emerson is too grand for me--He belongs to the nobility & wears their cloak & manners--is attracted to Plato not to Socrates" (Thoreau, Journal Volume 4: 1851-1852, 309). The entry is for 31 January 1852.

(4) Simmons continues: "Often introductions and conclusions were lacking; or one bundle might contain two or more introductions used at different times. The renumberings of the manuscript sheets (some leaves contain as many as six different numbers in ink, pencil, and crayon) helped only slightly in ascertaining the original order" (Simmons 343). Readers should consult her essay to supplement the work of Myerson and Bosco.

(5) The closest we can come to understanding Emerson on this topic is to read The Later Lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Note specially the 1848-1849 series, "Mind and Manners of the Nineteenth Century" (1:129-89) and the 1858 series, "Natural Method of Mental Philosophy" (2:43-129). See also Bosco, "'His Lectures Were Poetry, His Teaching the Music of the Spheres.'"

(6) When Mark Twain used the group as a vehicle for his satire in his "Whittier Birthday Speech" in 1877, Emerson was a prominent member of the cast.

(7) See also Habich, Building Their Own Waldos for an extended discussion of the relationship between Cabot and Edward Emerson.

(8) These are the rejected publications: from Lectures and Biographical Sketches: "Demonology," "Aristocracy," "Perpetual Forces," "Education," "The Superlative," "The Sovereignty of Ethics," "The Preacher," "The Man of Letters," "The Scholar," "Historic Notes of Life and Letters in New England," "Mary Moody Emerson," "Carlyle." From the expanded Miscellanies the editors omit: "The Lord's Supper," "Letter to President Van Buren," "The Fugitive Slave Law--Address at Concord," "The Fugitive Slave Law - Lecture at New York," "Theodore Parker," "Abraham Lincoln," "Harvard Commemoration Speech," "Address to Kossuth," "Woman," "Consecration of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery," "Robert Burns," "Shakspeare," "Humboldt," "Walter Scott," "Remarks at Organization of Free Religious Association," "Speech at Second Annual Meeting of Free Religious Association," and "The Fortune of the Republic." From Natural History of the Intellect they omit: "Powers and Laws of Thought," "Instinct and Inspiration," "Memory," "The Celebration of Intellect," "Country Life," "Concord Walks," "Boston, "and "Art and Criticism."

(9) The image of the wrestling boys stayed in Emerson's mind, for he rewrote it a few months later, in November, where it introduces a passage on the "victorious intellect" that Emerson used in "Culture," another essay in The Conduct of Life. The later image of the boys is, however, explicitly political: "Two boys pushing each other on the curb stone, two races contending like Celt & Saxon, two ideas like Feudalism & Democracy, Everything is mover or moved, and each in turn is moved ..." (JMN 11:450).

(10) And not only on Webster but on Henry Thoreau: "H.T. will not stick he is not practically renovator. He is a boy, & will be an old boy.... I fancy it an inexcusable fault in him that he is insignificant here in the town" (JMN 11:404). Emerson shows an all-encompassing anger in this stretch of his journal. Webster's apostasy seems to have tainted his emotions.

(11) He had, in fact, been writing his portion of the Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli the previous summer. She was much on his mind.

(12) Begun in 2009 this on-line review site should become well known, for it serves a need created by the paucity of reviews of scholarly books. One hopes for more genuinely scholarly on-line sources.

(13) One cites the Riverside edition, one the Modern Library, and one, the worst of all, cites not only the Modern Library, but an anthology of Transcendentalist writings, and quotations from other critics who quote Emerson. Most depressingly, this essay appeared in the New England Quarterly, a top journal in the field.

(14) Your reviewer admits with embarrassment that his own university's library has an incomplete set, a situation soon to be remedied.

(15) In addition to the volumes named in the bibliography following, one needs to add The Complete Sermons of Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Albert J. von Frank et al., 4 Volumes (U of Missouri P, 1989-1991).
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Date:Sep 22, 2013
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