An abundance of little-known details and disclosures graces Carlos Baker's last work of literary criticism, bringing to life not only Ralph Waldo Emerson the man, but also a whole cultural milieu known for its brilliance, artistic flowering, and progressive thinking. The portrait of Emerson emerges as if through a mosaic. We see him primarily through the eyes of others--their letters and journal entries--reminding readers that Emerson did not exist in a vacuum. The eccentrics of the title include such Concord transcendentalists as Thoreau
, and Bronson Alcott
, as well as many prominent intellectuals of the day (Margaret Fuller
, Walt Whitman
, and the abolitionist John Brown). Many will find the details of this venerable American life familiar--the impoverished boyhood and physical fragility, the breaking from orthodoxy as a clergyman, and the tragic loss of a spouse--but most readers will enjoy the complex picture of the man pieced together through his friendships. Emerson's prickly but persevering relationship with Margaret Fuller is described in both of their letters and journals, rounding out an often one-sided account. Fuller was a brilliant, self-assured, thoroughly modern woman--a trait that would continue to repel and baffle Emerson throughout the long life of their friendship; for that, he seemed never quite able to forgive her.
Still, Emerson redeemed himself with his revolutionary break from European culture and the calcified thoughts of those who preceded him. His was a unique and inimitable independence that would come to characterize American intellectualism; however, the stubborn optimism that would taint Emersonian philosophy still lingers.
Famed literary critic Carlos Baker, who died in 1987, has left a substantial yet thoroughly engaging antidote to our often craven, corrupt, corporate-driven world. Emerson Among the Eccentrics recreates both the voices and visions of one of America's most distinguished and accomplished cultural periods.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
This painterly, highly accessible and penetrating study of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) and his milieu was close to completion when Baker (Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story) died in 1987. Oddly truncated, it begins with Emerson's 28th year and lacks a well-rounded conclusion. Yet by focusing on the social Emerson, Baker shapes a more nuanced portrait of the American Renaissance poet, essayist and thinker than Robert Richardson's Emerson: The Mind on Fire (1995), which gave more weight to Emerson's intellectual side. The eccentrics of Baker's title are the idiosyncratic community of friends and family in Concord, Boston and Lennox, Mass., and in New York-the "veritable host of hobgoblins and nightbirds," in Hawthorne's satirical phrase-who perpetually surrounded Emerson. These included his bristly, paradoxical neighbor, Henry Thoreau; the mad poet, Jones Very; Margaret Fuller, whose many ardent, unrequited infatuations included Emerson; and Walt Whitman, "who cultivated eccentricity as if he had a patent on it." Quoting from the journals and letters of Emerson and his contemporaries, Baker sketches these and other mystics, poets and radicals over whom Emerson presided as an agent of stability, a householder and husband, an intellectually eclectic counselor, sage and critic, forever torn between the pull of society and a need for solitude. Baker's narrative is a lively balancing act, full of evocative set pieces, houses, landscapes and well-drawn scenes of intellectual contretemps.
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