Robert Richardson on Emerson’s Apostasy

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This podcast is a short excerpt from Emerson Redux, a full hour show on Ralph Waldo Emerson from 2006.

Ralph Waldo Emerson followed his father’s footsteps into the Unitarian ministry after college, then broke out in his mid-thirties to become a lay-preacher for the rest of his life. He was a sort of performance artist on the talk circuit, a “diamond dealer,” somebody said, “in moral ideas.” The moment of transition was this speech to young ministers in July, 1838, in Cambridge, Massachusetts:


In this refulgent summer, it has been a luxury to draw the breath of life. The grass grows, the buds burst, the meadow is spotted with fire and gold in the tint of flowers. The air is full of birds, and sweet with the breath of the pine, the balm-of-Gilead, and the new hay. Night brings no gloom to the heart with its welcome shade. Through the transparent darkness the stars pour their almost spiritual rays. Man under them seems a young child, and his huge globe a toy. The cool night bathes the world as with a river, and prepares his eyes again for the crimson dawn.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1838



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  • David

    Has anyone noticed how the dude digressed? Very different from today’s writing.

  • Anthony Gifford

    How tragic that Emerson’s views are still in the minority and that Christianity has been hi-jacked by the fundamentalists. The few churches that might agree, even in part, with Emerson are so quiet, polite and inactive, they might as well not exist.
    There will, hopefully, soon be a time when some people will start to live a way that will put flesh to the words of Jesus, and of Emerson. Then and only then will our world have a chance to recover and survive.

  • Dan Emerson

    Chris, Bob,
    Just caught the last part of Chris’s program, well done. Chris’s observation during the program, along the line of R.W.E. being an exultant melancholic seems quite accurate as well a fine reminder of how complex we are.
    In the 21st century, those of us in the developed world are surrounded by as many, perhaps even more alluring sense based or mental/emotional distractions than the 19th century. Bob’s selection from R.W.E.s speech to the ministers captures my sense of Emerson’s remarkable openness and deeb abiding appreciation of the many wonders around us so easily overlooked amid such distractions.
    Of the deep thinkers and doers I’ve read and studied since growing up in Concord as a youth, Rudolf Steiner’s gifted insights into Emerson and the the realms accessed by Emerson rather frequently (briefly noted in Nature, his becoming ‘as a transparent eyeball’) make it clear that each of us has the capacity and ability to tap into those realms, while keeping our feet on the ground.
    Keep up the good work guys.