Can anyone disagree that Ralph Waldo Emerson is the central figure in American literary and intellectual history? Virtually whatever subject concerns us, Emerson has been there already. Religion, philosophy, the spiritual life, mysticism, poetry, literary criticism, society and solitude, nature and politics, fate and freedom—Emerson’s capacious mind has interrogated and absorbed them all. In memorable aphorisms that have entered the public consciousness, Emerson spoke the language of the poet; and in doing so he enfolded—one might even say in vexation—all of the irreconcilable diversities of life into a benign Oneness, figured as the platonic All or Over-Soul. A central figure in his own lifetime, Emerson has attained in our era a preeminence reflected in the excellent scholarship and criticism published in the past two decades. Harvard University Press has accorded Emerson a “definitive”...


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