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9780812975093

American Transcendentalists Essential Writings

American Transcendentalists Essential Writings
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  • ISBN-13: 9780812975093
  • ISBN: 081297509X
  • Publication Date: 2006
  • Publisher: Random House Inc

AUTHOR

Buell, Lawrence

SUMMARY

1. Mary Moody Emerson Letters to a Future Transcendentalist (1817--51) Mary Moody Emerson (1774-1863) was Ralph Waldo Emerson's aunt and first mentor. She was a striking figure in her own right. She impressed all who came into contact with her--which included most of the Transcendentalist circle--with her unsystematic brilliance, her spiritual intensity, her biting wit, and her eccentric force. The younger sister of Emerson's father, she became the family matriarch after his early death. She had high hopes that Ralph Waldo would distinguish himself in the ministerial career that the men in his family had pursued for six unbroken generations back to colonial times. She wound up driving him toward Transcendentalism even as she tried to warn him away. The many letters she sent him over more than forty years display her unique talents. They led Emerson, astonishingly, to praise her as one of the great prose stylists of her day, although she wrote almost nothing for publication. Both of them relished their correspondence. Many of Mary Emerson's turns of thought and even her turns of phrase resurface in his own later essays. They took a similar delight in the natural world, in ranging widely through Asian as well as western thought and literature, in moral and spiritual inquiry, and in a headlong free-associative style of thought and expression. Here are a dozen passages from Mary's letters to her nephew, starting with a comically extravagant letter of congratulation upon the start of his freshman year at Harvard at the tender but then typical age of fourteen. Often she responds pointedly to his own letters and compositions, from a juvenile proposal for "reform" of drama through high-minded literary criticism (item 4) to major work like his 1838 Divinity School Address (item 11), which took her aback, as it did most of his elders. Mary's oblique reflection on the controversy, her fable of Urah, may have suggested Emerson's poem "Uriel" (see Section V-B below). Too conservative to approve of Waldo's Transcendental turn, Mary Emerson nonetheless helped set him--and the movement--on the way. But no matter how famous he became, she never ceased to admonish him when she thought he deserved it. Her charge that wealth was a topic unworthy of him (item 12) is a prime example. SOURCE: The Selected Letters of Mary Moody Emerson, ed. Nancy Craig Simmons. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1993. Spelling as well as punctuation of these letters have been partially normalized for the sake of readability. (1) What dull Prosaic Muse would venture from the humble dell of an unlettered district, to address a son of Harvard? . . . In that great Assembly, where human nature is purified from its native dross & ignorance, may the name of my dear Waldo be inrolled. [NOVEMBER 4, 1817] (2) The spirits of inspiration are abroad tonight. I have rode only to go out & see the wonderous aspect of nature. . . . We love nature--to individuate ourselves in her wildest moods; to partake of her extension, & glow with her colors & fly on her winds; but we better love to cast her off and rely on that only which is imperishable. Shakespeare has admirably described the universal influence of the infinite Spirit by that of the sun, whose light & warmth brings to maturity the healthiest plant & the most poisonous--corrupts the corruptible, & nourishes the splendid tribe of flora with the same beam. What an illustration--and of what a truth! . . . Right and wrong have had claims prior to all rites--immutable & eternal in their nature . . . [JANUARY 18, 1821] (3) I have been fortunate this week to find a Visitor here from India, well versed in its litBuell, Lawrence is the author of 'American Transcendentalists Essential Writings', published 2006 under ISBN 9780812975093 and ISBN 081297509X.

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