Emerson Museum

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Overview

In 1832, Ralph Waldo Emerson had come to a critical pass. He had lost his wife and was on the brink of leaving his career as a minister. In this reduced state he traveled to New Hampshire, where he made his famous decision to pursue wholeness--in his life and in his writing. This book reveals how Emerson went about achieving this purpose--and how he conceived a uniquely American literary practice.

Central to this project were the aims and methods of natural science, which Emerson discovered in spectacular form at the Museum of Natural History (Jardin des Plantes) in Paris exactly a year after his momentous decision. Lee Rust Brown describes Emerson's use of these scientific techniques to integrate a disparate, constantly enlarging field of subject matter--ultimately, to reconceive himself as an institution of private research and public presentation not unlike the museum itself, methodically gathering specimens from the exotic frontiers of experience and setting them out, in their manifold affinities, on common ground.

The Emerson Museum shows how this undertaking transformed the legacy of European romanticism into a writing project answerable to American urgencies. The natural science of the time was itself informed by romantic demands for wholeness of prospect, and its methods offered Emerson a way to confront an American reality in which any manifestation of unity--literary, political, philosophical, psychological--had to embrace an expanding and fragmenting field of objective elements. In the experimental format of Emerson's essays, Brown identifies the evolution of this new approach and the emergence of wholeness as a national literary project.

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Editorial Reviews

Cross Currents

A piece of important and original scholarship. Brown's research into Emerson's experience of natural science in Paris is the most thorough study to date of this moment in Emerson's intellectual development. The thesis is intriguing: 'Emerson realized in the Museum that nature was natural history'...This museum-natural science context often proves to have supreme explanatory force (as when it explains Emerson's use of the term 'caducous' and corrects earlier interpretations of it)...The Emerson Museum is a significant contribution to Emerson scholarship and merits a careful reading.
— Mark Bauerlein

New England Quarterly

Brown argues that the style of Emerson's essays enacts [a] repeated drama of practical transcendence: each essay in a series, and every argument, paragraph, and even sentence within each essay stands as a partial view of reality which is gained only at the cost of other possible views and which in turn must be discarded to enable others. Brown insightfully traces a series of concepts that Emerson used to theorize this process of action—history, biography, character, succession, surprise, compensation, fate, criticism, skepticism, and belief—and in tracing these concepts Brown offers cogent readings of many provocative and intractable passages from Emerson's essays...The Emerson Museum presents a valuable new theoretical and historical approach to Emerson while grounding that approach in a supple and sophisticated responsiveness to the complex acts of writing through which Emerson's philosophy emerges.
— James M. Albrecht

American Studies in Europe [UK
In 1833, during his visit to Europe, Emerson visited the Jardin de Plantes in Paris, the Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle to give it its grander title...Brown's point is that the museum provides us with a way into certain of Emerson's central preoccupations; it acts as a case study, an image, even...The museum acts, one could say, as a visual embodiment of Emerson's whole theory of vision, which is what above all Brown wishes to explore in this illuminating and vigorously argued book.
— Richard Francis
American Studies International

The Emerson Museum is a significant contribution to the trend toward the interdisciplinary subjects in literary studies. In The Emerson Museum, Brown re-imagines the interrelation of literature and science and accomplishes a convincing fusion between contemporary cultural practice and Emerson's legacy. The Emerson Museum culminates at the compelling proposition that natural history served as Emerson's vehicle for converting European romanticism into a distinctly America ideology of science and economy.
— Thom Conroy

American Studies in Europe [UK]

In 1833, during his visit to Europe, Emerson visited the Jardin de Plantes in Paris, the Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle to give it its grander title...Brown's point is that the museum provides us with a way into certain of Emerson's central preoccupations; it acts as a case study, an image, even...The museum acts, one could say, as a visual embodiment of Emerson's whole theory of vision, which is what above all Brown wishes to explore in this illuminating and vigorously argued book.
— Richard Francis

Cross Currents - Mark Bauerlein
A piece of important and original scholarship. Brown's research into Emerson's experience of natural science in Paris is the most thorough study to date of this moment in Emerson's intellectual development. The thesis is intriguing: 'Emerson realized in the Museum that nature was natural history'...This museum-natural science context often proves to have supreme explanatory force (as when it explains Emerson's use of the term 'caducous' and corrects earlier interpretations of it)...The Emerson Museum is a significant contribution to Emerson scholarship and merits a careful reading.
New England Quarterly - James M. Albrecht
Brown argues that the style of Emerson's essays enacts [a] repeated drama of practical transcendence: each essay in a series, and every argument, paragraph, and even sentence within each essay stands as a partial view of reality which is gained only at the cost of other possible views and which in turn must be discarded to enable others. Brown insightfully traces a series of concepts that Emerson used to theorize this process of action--history, biography, character, succession, surprise, compensation, fate, criticism, skepticism, and belief--and in tracing these concepts Brown offers cogent readings of many provocative and intractable passages from Emerson's essays...The Emerson Museum presents a valuable new theoretical and historical approach to Emerson while grounding that approach in a supple and sophisticated responsiveness to the complex acts of writing through which Emerson's philosophy emerges.
American Studies in Europe [UK - Richard Francis
In 1833, during his visit to Europe, Emerson visited the Jardin de Plantes in Paris, the Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle to give it its grander title...Brown's point is that the museum provides us with a way into certain of Emerson's central preoccupations; it acts as a case study, an image, even...The museum acts, one could say, as a visual embodiment of Emerson's whole theory of vision, which is what above all Brown wishes to explore in this illuminating and vigorously argued book.
American Studies International - Thom Conroy
The Emerson Museum is a significant contribution to the trend toward the interdisciplinary subjects in literary studies. In The Emerson Museum, Brown re-imagines the interrelation of literature and science and accomplishes a convincing fusion between contemporary cultural practice and Emerson's legacy. The Emerson Museum culminates at the compelling proposition that natural history served as Emerson's vehicle for converting European romanticism into a distinctly America ideology of science and economy.
New England Quarterly
Brown argues that the style of Emerson's essays enacts [a] repeated drama of practical transcendence: each essay in a series, and every argument, paragraph, and even sentence within each essay stands as a partial view of reality which is gained only at the cost of other possible views and which in turn must be discarded to enable others. Brown insightfully traces a series of concepts that Emerson used to theorize this process of action--history, biography, character, succession, surprise, compensation, fate, criticism, skepticism, and belief--and in tracing these concepts Brown offers cogent readings of many provocative and intractable passages from Emerson's essays...The Emerson Museum presents a valuable new theoretical and historical approach to Emerson while grounding that approach in a supple and sophisticated responsiveness to the complex acts of writing through which Emerson's philosophy emerges.
— James M. Albrecht
Cross Currents
A piece of important and original scholarship. Brown's research into Emerson's experience of natural science in Paris is the most thorough study to date of this moment in Emerson's intellectual development. The thesis is intriguing: 'Emerson realized in the Museum that nature was natural history'...This museum-natural science context often proves to have supreme explanatory force (as when it explains Emerson's use of the term 'caducous' and corrects earlier interpretations of it)...The Emerson Museum is a significant contribution to Emerson scholarship and merits a careful reading.
— Mark Bauerlein
American Studies International
The Emerson Museum is a significant contribution to the trend toward the interdisciplinary subjects in literary studies. In The Emerson Museum, Brown re-imagines the interrelation of literature and science and accomplishes a convincing fusion between contemporary cultural practice and Emerson's legacy. The Emerson Museum culminates at the compelling proposition that natural history served as Emerson's vehicle for converting European romanticism into a distinctly America ideology of science and economy.
— Thom Conroy
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674248847
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 4/25/1997
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 298
  • Product dimensions: 0.62 (w) x 6.14 (h) x 9.21 (d)

Meet the Author

Lee Rust Brown is Associate Professor of English at the University of Utah.
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Table of Contents

Abbreviations
Introduction: The View from the Notch 1
1 Ruins in the Eye 21
Coleridge and the Prospect of the Whole 21
Emersonian Transparency 43
2 The Emerson Museum 59
In the Gardens of Natural History 59
Paris and the Scientific Eye 128
3 Life's Writing 169
4 Practical Power 202
Compensation and Criticism 204
The Skeptical Return 222
True Romance 244
Notes 259
Index 279
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