Waldo Emerson (Magill's Literary Annual 1982)
Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote that “all public facts are to be individualized, all private facts are to be generalized. Then at once History becomes fluid and true, and Biography deep and sublime.” Emerson spent much of his life generalizing from private facts to discover the deepest, sublimest truth, most universally to be applied. A modern biographer, however, could hardly get an advance worth the cost of a photocopy unless he or she promised plenty of specific individualizing details about the biography’s subject.
Gay Wilson Allen has certainly not failed in this promise, although this biography remains worthily “deep and sublime” as well. If not strictly a Freudian, and if generally more interested in intellectual conditions than psychological ones, he nevertheless gives a clear and detailed portrait of Ralph Waldo Emerson from earliest years to death, filling in all the corners with fascinating and valuable background material. Thus he richly explains the development of Emerson’s personality, thought, and work, and characterizes not only Emerson but also his times and the life and people around him.
This is the first Emerson biography since Ralph L. Rusk’s The Life of Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1949, and the change in title is significant. It may herald a new popular ranking of Emerson with the more revolutionary, two-name American writers such as Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville, and Mark Twain rather...
(The entire section is 2179 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 1982)
Book World. XI, October 18, 1981, p. 1.
Booklist. LXXVIII, September 1, 1981, p. 18.
Business Week. November 9, 1981, p. 22.
Christian Science Monitor. LXXIII, October 13, 1981, p. B2.
Library Journal. CVI, September 1, 1981, p. 1626.
The New Republic. CLXXXV, October 21, 1981, p. 21.
The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVI, November 1, 1981, p. 9.
The New Yorker. LVII, November 16, 1981, p. 237.
Saturday Review. VIII, October, 1981, p. 73.
(The entire section is 51 words.)