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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