- Emerson, Thoreau, Fuller, and Transcendentalism
With the approach of the Thoreau bicentennial scholars have begun celebrating with an outpouring of new material, including Thoreau at 200: Essays and Reassessments and Branka Arsić's Bird Relics: Grief and Vitalism in Thoreau. If the trend continues, 2017 will be a memorable year indeed. Philosophical considerations of individual writers and the movement as a whole remain strong, led by Joseph Urbas's Emerson's Metaphysics: A Song of Laws and Causes and Daniel S. Malachuk's Two Cities: The Political Thought of American Transcendentalism.
a. Editions and Reference
The publication of the second edition of Albert J. von Frank's An Emerson Chronology (Studio Non Troppo, two vols.) is welcome news for those who have had difficulty tracking down copies of the long out of print first edition. Roughly doubled in size, this new edition also includes brief biographical sketches of 64 of the most significant figures in Emerson's life, public and private; headnotes summarizing prominent themes and developments for each calendar year; a substantial index; and meticulous source notes. The Chronology is a necessary resource for scholars doing serious work on Emerson.
Jon M. Sweeny's Ralph Waldo Emerson: Essential Spiritual Writings (Orbis), published in the Modern Spiritual Masters series, assembles short selections that Sweeny believes most clearly express Emerson's [End Page 3] spiritual yearning and insight. The volume is designed for spiritual seekers coming to Emerson for the first time.
My annotated listing of major Emerson scholarship, "An Emerson Bibliography, 2015," appears in the Emerson Society Papers (27, ii: 16–18).
b. Biography and Contemporaries
A special issue of the Harvard Library Bulletin (27, i–ii) is devoted to Joel Myerson and Leslie Perrin Wilson's Picturing Emerson: An Iconography, with excellent color reproductions of every known photograph, painting, sculpture, and drawing of Emerson taken from life, as well as notes about the creators of items and commentaries by family and other contemporaries. Myerson and Wilson present newly discovered images, evidence for additional images that may still be located, and images reported to be of Emerson but considered at best apocryphal. In the course of their research they have followed every available lead in determining each image's provenance. Scholars of Emerson and 19th-century portraiture will want to peruse this material, which is also available as a Houghton Library paperback.
James Schlett's A Not Too Greatly Changed Eden: The Story of the Philosophers' Camp in the Adirondacks (Cornell) relates the story of the August 1858 camping expedition organized by landscape painter William James Stillman. Participants included Emerson, Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz, and James Russell Lowell, among others. (It famously did not include Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who declined the invitation on learning that Emerson would be carrying a gun, fearful that "someone [would] be shot.") Schlett characterizes the expedition as a great but final expression of antebellum New England culture, about to be forever altered by the Civil War and Darwinism. Nonetheless, Schlett also reads it as an important step in American conservationist thought. The book is especially valuable for the broad intellectual, historical, and biographical context given for Emerson's late career. (So far as we know, the expedition did not involve anyone getting shot.)
In "'I Liked the Town No Better at Our Second Interview': A New Emerson Letter from Charleston in 1827" (NEQ 89: 493–504) Joel Myerson and Michael C. Weisenberg reprint Emerson's previously unpublished letter to his uncle Samuel Ripley giving his unfavorable impression of Charleston's religious life. Myerson and Weisenberg's generous introduction historicizes the letter in the city's culture and slave economy. David Greenham's "Corresponding Natures: Ralph Waldo Emerson's Letters" pp. 319–31 in The Edinburgh Companion to Nineteenth-Century [End Page 4] American Letters and Letter-Writing, examines Emerson's correspondence from 1816 to 1842 for "the emergence of his central philosophical and literary concerns: self-reliance, the adequate response of the individual to nature, and the composition of poetry."
c. Philosophy and Religion
Emerson's philosophical thinking has received a remarkable level of original treatment this year. In Emerson's Metaphysics: A Song of Laws and Causes (Lexington), a...