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  • Emerson, Thoreau, Fuller, and Transcendentalism
  • David M. Robinson

Annus mirabilis! The year 2007 brought important additions to the Emerson Collected Works edition and the Princeton Thoreau edition; notable biographies of Fuller and of Bronson and Louisa May Alcott; a diverse and stimulating series of Emersonian intellectual genealogies; and, of particular note, an excellent new history of Transcendentalism and the welcome reissue of another.

i Scholarly Editions

Ronald A. Bosco and Douglas Emory Wilson's edition of Society and Solitude, volume 7 of The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (Harvard), adds further momentum to the interest in late Emerson. Bosco's comprehensive and insightful historical introduction and informative annotations make a persuasive case for Society and Solitude as the product of one of Emerson's most active and vigorous periods as a public intellectual, challenging the notion of the book as a genteel swan song. Bosco shows its kinship to The Conduct of Life as an expression of the pragmatically inflected ethical and social philosophy that Emerson began to work out in the mid-1840s. Initial plans for the volume were made in the early 1860s after the publication of The Conduct of Life, but Emerson's lecture commitments were prominent among several factors in delaying its publication until 1870. Bosco describes the book's autobiographical strands, citing "Old Age," an accomplished though [End Page 3] critically neglected essay, as a biographically revealing and intellectually subtle translation of Emerson's private experience into public instruction. This volume is founded on the textual work of the late Douglas Emory Wilson, and I urge all Emersonians to read Bosco's handsome tribute to Wilson in the preface.

Joseph J. Moldenhauer's edition of Thoreau's Excursions, a volume in The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau (Princeton), provides authoritative texts and instructive annotations for a volume that includes several crucial essays in the Thoreauvian canon. Moldenhauer's informative discussions of the sometimes complex textual and publication histories of the essays and of the circumstances of their composition provide essential biographical perspectives on Thoreau's compositional processes and on his sometimes trying efforts to publish his work. While Walden will remain an inexhaustible work for Thoreauvians, I believe that increasing interest will be devoted to works such as "Autumnal Tints" and "Wild Apples," and even to Thoreau's last major work, "An Address on the Succession of Forest Trees." These essays, read within the context of the Journal of the middle and late 1850s, show us a thinker engaged in a remarkably creative and far-sighted fusion of natural history and ethical theory. Jeffrey S. Cramer's I to Myself: An Annotated Selection from the Journal of Henry D. Thoreau (Yale) provides a generous selection from Thoreau's Journal, with extensive annotations. Cramer draws from the 1906 Houghton Mifflin edition and incorporates several other entries not included in that edition, including selections from the "lost" journal of 1840–41 published by Perry Miller in 1958. The volume sets Cramer's annotations alongside Thoreau's text for convenient reference. In his introduction Cramer makes a cogent distinction between the private diary and the semipublic nature of the 19th-century journal as Thoreau and other Transcendentalists practiced it, and notes the emergence of Thoreau's Journal as "a work in its own right" in 1851.

Bronson Alcott and Margaret Fuller pioneered the oral genre of the "conversation," a close relative of the lyceum lecture that cultivated audience participation in the formal discussion of a philosophical or political theme. Karen English has edited a useful selection of Alcott's public conversations in Notes of Conversations, 1848–1875 (Fairleigh Dickinson), a partial realization of Alcott's long-held desire to publish his conversations. The most polished transcriptions of these conversations are the work of Ednah Dow Cheney, who as English observes deserves recognition as a coauthor of them. Of particular interest are the series [End Page 4] "Parliament on the Times" and "Reform Spirit in New England" from early 1850 and 1851, with interactions among Alcott, Emerson, William Lloyd Garrison, and Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, among others. Alcott can be perceptive when describing the particular strengths of conversation: "All the beauty & advantage of Conversation is in its bold contrasts...


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