Ralph Waldo Emerson Kindle Edition
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Top Customer Reviews
Joel Porte introduces the text, written in 1885, talking about the odd choice the rationalist Holmes must have seemed to the Transcendentalist canonisers who would have wanted a more sympathetic character. However, Holmes' overall personality made him an ideal biographer, with much more credibility in the end than a true-believing disciple of Emerson would have had in a similar biographical effort. Both Holmes and Emerson were seekers after truth, and in such had a similar spirit; both also had a good sense for the ridiculous, and managed to remain level-headed among otherwise unstable environments.
Holmes identifies Emerson as belonging to the New England 'Academic' race -- Emerson is a name that is common among academics and ministers generation after generation. This kind of inheritance is more than just cultural in Emerson's view, and in Holmes' view, who before addressing his subject, looks at the several generations back of Emerson's forebears.
Emerson finds inspiration in the things about him -- in nature, in society, and in himself. Emerson has a deep and abiding concern for the transcendent unity of all things, and that there is a spirit in the world that keeps the world together. Emerson was born into a society at a unique period, a coalescing of the first truly American generation of thinkers. While Emerson was not a particularly outstanding student in college, he nonetheless developed ways of writing, thinking and speaking that made him a prominent intellectual figure in his own time, and a mystical/religious figure as well.
Holmes had the advantage of having known Emerson enough to be able to render some personal and candid observations. After giving a general historical narrative of his life, complete with extracts from writings and correpondence, Holmes reflects on various aspects of Emerson's life, including his general personality and habits. Emerson's voice had charm both in personal conversation as well as in lecture and pulpit settings. Emerson often spoke with hesitation, according to Holmes, prefering the momentary silence to find the right word over using the wrong or less-appropriate word. These kinds of observations make Holmes' volume one of real value.
In discussing Emerson's mystical side, Holmes rarely has sympathy, but does not denigrate Emerson's own belief system. 'The knowledge, if knowledge it be, of the mystic is not transmissible,' Holmes states. It cannot be compiled and built upon by others, but is created anew in each seeker. Emerson's view of science is probably similar to Holmes' view of mysticism.
Overall, this is an excellent biography of Emerson, great at giving insight into the author, Holmes, as well.
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