From Library Journal
From the day they met in 1837, an intimate friendship developed between Emerson and Thoreau despite a 14-year age gap. Independent scholar Smith draws deeply on their journals and letters to chronicle the evolution of their friendship. The two drew so close, Smith maintains, that Thoreau began to "talk like Emerson and to use the same gestures," while Thoreau declared that they were "like gods to each other." From 1837 to 1847, writes Smith, this camaraderie fueled the creative and intellectual fires of both men. In spite of their closeness, however, their friendship suffered as well. Thoreau tired of Emerson's insistence on mentoring him, and Emerson grew impatient with Thoreau's contentiousness. Moreover, Emerson's low opinion of Thoreau's writing fed Thoreau's animosity. The rift was healed, though, in 1858 when Emerson experienced a serious illness and Thoreau rushed to his side. Smith's study provides an instructive glimpse into the ways that the seeds of personal relationships produce the fruits of intellectual endeavor. Recommended for large public and academic libraries.AHenry L. Carrigan Jr., Westerville P.L., OH
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
The classic literary mentoring tale is fully imagined, through graceful writing and the right amount of psychologizing. Although the American Renaissance is temptingly rife with material, independent scholar Smith never breaks his focus on Emerson and Thoreau's difficult three-decade friendship. Moving from the pair's meeting at Harvard, where Emerson was a teacher and Thoreau a young student, to Thoreau's residence at Emerson's home and year at the Emerson-owned Walden site, to Thoreau's death from consumption, Smith charts the men's lives and minds without inducing claustrophobia. Frequent quotes from Emerson's and Thoreau's journals provide psychological insights, and Smith's judicious interweaving of crucial characters like wife Lidian Emerson and competitors for Emerson's attention Waldo Giles and Ellery Channing provides relief. Smith's quiet takes on the familiar story are also refreshing, such as his assessment of daughter Ellen Emerson's fate as her parents' caregiver. The book vividly re-creates the hardscrabble life of the writer: familiar to many authors will be Thoreau's fruitless attempts to gain paying literary work (and his refusal to write for a ladies' magazine). Emerson's endless lecture tour of popular works provided income but left little time for new writing and made him so little seen by his young son that the boy asked Thoreau to become his father. Thoreau, with his periods of depression, reclusiveness, and ``fragile'' sexual identity, both complemented and was at odds with Emerson's drive, charisma, and ability to find solutions. Similarly, they learned from each other's writing styles, methods of observation, and literary aims. ``We are attracted toward a particular person, but no one has discovered the laws of this attraction,'' concluded Thoreau. Smith's gift is making the ambiguities, nuances, and importance of this friendship come alive. If only Emerson and Thoreau had been Edwardian women, Masterpiece Theatre would have its next miniseries. (10 illustrations, not seen) -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.