Friday, July 29, 2005

The idea yesterday was to read a hefty chunk of Emerson Among the Eccentrics. I want to finish Part Two, the section on the 1840s, before I read Emerson's essays from that decade: "History," "Self-Reliance," "The Over-Soul," etc.

I read "Waldo Minor," the chapter on the death of Emerson's five-year-old son and the months of mourning that follow--Emerson's emotional numbness, Lidian's overwhelming grief, adopted family member Thoreau suffering also from the loss of his brother to lockjaw, and how Margaret Fuller comes to spend 40 days with the family and makes Lidian feel even more desolate than before. Emerson appears to have done nothing to ease Lidian's jealousy and puts Fuller off at the same time he's telling her the "soul knows nothing of marriage, in the sense of a permanent union between two personal existences. The soul is married to each new thought as it enters into it." (Okay, I do wish Jon Stewart had quoted a little Emerson to Rick Santorum the other night but how inappropriate for Emerson to be going on about this at such a time.)

How could I go on to the next chapter on an entirely new character, Theodore Parker? I read the new Serenity comic book (eh), I read "Threnody," I checked the index in Susan Jacoby's Freethinkers for any references to Emerson (he blurbed Leaves of Grass. Robert Ingersoll (who?) delivered Whitman's eulogy. Both Ingersoll and Whitman's father were great admirers of Revolutionary pamphleteer Thomas Paine). I settled down with Emerson's 1855 essay "Woman" because I can't get out of my mind the absence of appreciation in Emerson for his two little daughters, Ellen and Edith, who is just a couple months old at the time of Waldo's death, in "Waldo Minor," and I don't know if that is Baker's lack of interest in the girls or his own (Waldo was "the far shining stone that made home glitter to me when I was farthest absent. . .Yet the other children may be good babes yet—I will breathe no despair on their sweet fortunes. Nelly is a good little housewife and that Lidianetta may come to great heart and honor in the months and years to come." Ugh, ugh, ugh).

"Woman" leaves me feeling most conflicted. Yes, he is progressive enough to believe women should have the right to vote, he does say, "Let the laws be purged of every barbarous remainder, every barbarous impediment to women. Let the public donations for education be equally shared by them, let them enter a school as freely as a church, let them have and hold and give their property as men do theirs." But he is also awfully patronizing in his views of "the best women," "the truest women," and I decide I've had my fill of Emerson for the day.

At the library I gather the collected works of Thomas Paine and the miscellaneous works from the 12-volume set of Robert Ingersoll. I read portions of "Common Sense" and the story of Paine's life as outlined in the introduction. I turn to the hodgepodge of views covered in Ingersoll, I read a couple websites of Ingersoll quotes and an anti-Ingersoll site that concludes that Ingersoll the man (not his ideas) is worthy of no respect, and I read from Ingersoll's essay on Paine and the attacks and slanders leveled against him, and then I read this: "Theodore Parker attacked the Old Testament and Calvinistic theology with the same weapons and with a bitterness excelled by no man who has expressed his thoughts in our language."

So today I'm back to Emerson Among the Eccentrics and the chapter on Theodore Parker.

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