Cover image for Emerson
Buell, Lawrence.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
xii, 397 pages : portrait ; 21 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS1638 .B84 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PS1638 .B84 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



"An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man," Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote--and in this book, the leading scholar of New England literary culture looks at the long shadow Emerson himself has cast, and at his role and significance as a truly American institution. On the occasion of Emerson's 200th birthday, Lawrence Buell revisits the life of the nation's first public intellectual and discovers how he became a "representative man."

Born into the age of inspired amateurism that emerged from the ruins of pre-revolutionary political, religious, and cultural institutions, Emerson took up the challenge of thinking about the role of the United States alone and in the world. With characteristic authority and grace, Buell conveys both the style and substance of Emerson's accomplishment--in his conception of America as the transplantation of Englishness into the new world, and in his prodigious work as writer, religious thinker, and philosopher. Here we see clearly the paradoxical key to his success, the fierce insistence on independence that acted so magnetically upon all around him. Steeped in Emerson's writings, and in the life and lore of the America of his day, Buell's book is as individual--and as compelling--as its subject. At a time when Americans and non-Americans alike are struggling to understand what this country is, and what it is about, Emerson gives us an answer in the figure of this representative American, an American for all, and for all times.

Author Notes

Lawrence Buell is John P. Marquand Professor of English at Harvard University.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Ralph Waldo Emerson was a poet, essayist, and philosopher whose provocative thoughts transcend a variety of fields, including philosophy, literature, and politics, to name but a few, and have inspired scholars for generations. To coincide with the recent bicentenary of his birth, these two books, which differ in approach more than in objective, offer revealing glimpses into his remarkable life and career. Emerson scholar Buell (Ralph Waldo Emerson: A Collection of Critical Essays) offers a nontraditional analysis of Emerson's achievements. Instead of producing a narrative biography, Buell covers "key moments of Emerson's career" and "major facets of his thought" in topics, e.g., the making of a public intellectual, religious radicalisms, and Emerson as anti-mentor, and puts these concepts into the context of the politics of the time (both in America and abroad) and of how those concepts have resonated through to the present day. As Buell puts it, his book offers a "portrayal of Emerson as a national icon who at the same time anticipates the globalizing age." Wide-ranging in scope and meticulous in attention to detail, Emerson is best suited to the specialist but still accessible to the novice. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries. By contrast, Grossman (Choosing and Changing: A Guide to Self-Reliance), a psychotherapist and medical educator, is a dabbler (much as Emerson was) and a fan not only of the substance of Emerson's writing but of his style as well. His daybook gives quotes from speeches, journals, letters, and poems-some as brief as a line-to coincide with each day of the year. Some are glossed to provide context. Topics range from slavery, Mount Monadnock, and the temporal nature of beauty to grief at the death of his first wife and his musings on the young United States. Grossman feels that "the way to approachEmerson's mind is todip into him frequently, almost at random, to find precisely the stimulusthat perhaps only he could give." This book succeeds in offering the reader such an opportunity. Recommended for public libraries. [Several useful books on Emerson have come out this spring and summer to coincide with the bicentenary, including Ronald A. Bosco and others' Emerson in His Own Time: A Biographical Chronicle of His Life Drawn from Recollections, Interviews, and Memoirs by Family, Friends, and Associates and Laura Dassow Walls's Emerson's Life in Science: The Culture of Truth.-Ed.]-Felicity D. Walsh, Atlanta (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

In this book Buell (Harvard) distills a lifetime of study and teaching on Emerson. Its tone is easy and confident, friendly and inviting, and Buell's aim is to share his admiration for America's first public intellectual with a new generation of readers. The treatment is broadly biographical, covering all the topics one would expect--events (public and private), major themes and principal writings, friendships, conflicts, and influences. There are fresh analyses of Emerson's contributions to individualism, religion, literature, philosophy, and social reform. Unique are Buell's efforts to "globalize" Emerson, to explore and emphasize him as an international figure with cross-cultural resources. Not only is Emerson the representative American man of his time, but he is also a figure on the world stage with connections around the globe. Buell explores these connections in particular through linkages with Coleridge, Goethe, Kant, and Nietzsche. And he reinforces the vitality and relevance of Emerson by picturing him as a writer and thinker who did not maintain a set of haughty notions and values but continually challenged himself to explore ideas wherever they led, even at the risk of being thought odd or scandalous. ^BSumming Up: Essential. All collections; all levels. P. J. Ferlazzo Northern Arizona University

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. ix
Abbreviations Used in This Bookp. xi
Introductionp. 1
1. The Making of a Public Intellectualp. 7
2. Emersonian Self-Reliance in Theory and Practicep. 59
3. Emersonian Poeticsp. 107
4. Religious Radicalismsp. 158
5. Emerson as a Philosopher?p. 199
6. Social Thought and Reform: Emerson and Abolitionp. 242
7. Emerson as Anti-Mentorp. 288
Notesp. 337
Acknowledgmentsp. 383
Indexp. 385