Ralph Waldo Emerson; The Making of a Democratic Intellectual

Overview

In this original and highly readable book, Peter Field explains how Ralph Waldo Emerson became the first democratic intellectual in American history. By focusing on his public career, Field contends that Emerson was a democrat in two senses: he single-handedly sought to create a vocation equal to his conviction that America represented the democratic promise of the Western world; and as importantly, he acted the part of the democrat by attempting to bring culture to all Americans. Utterly disaffected with the ...
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Overview

In this original and highly readable book, Peter Field explains how Ralph Waldo Emerson became the first democratic intellectual in American history. By focusing on his public career, Field contends that Emerson was a democrat in two senses: he single-handedly sought to create a vocation equal to his conviction that America represented the democratic promise of the Western world; and as importantly, he acted the part of the democrat by attempting to bring culture to all Americans. Utterly disaffected with the self-satisfied Boston Brahmin establishment into which he had been born, he set forth through the nation in order to assume the role of conscience, critic, and gentle exhorter to the people. More poet than philosopher, Emerson demands to be understood as a public intellectual. Peter Field deftly portrays Emerson as he attempted to create himself - as a unique ironic prophet to the American people.
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Editorial Reviews

New England Quarterly
Field's book is a welcome addition to the literature that examines Emerson as a product of his times and explores how, throughout his life, he attempted to situate himself as a spokesman for a particular issue or issues. . . . Field has produced an excellent, suggestive evaluation of the public Emerson—the one who continually refashioned himself as his ideas and venues changed—and a book that deserves to be placed among the best studies of Emerson's intellectual and professional development.
— Joel Myerson
H-Shear
Field does a convincing job of showing the growth of this public thinker, and his volume certainly adds to our understanding of the man and his times.
— Susan L. Roberson
Reviews In American History
As a brief for Emerson as a public intellectual, Field's book is valuable and has the virtue of offering readers a focused examination of the ways in which, from the years of his first ministry on, this seminal thinker understood that the age demanded a new kind of cultural critic.
— Philip F. Gura
The Weekly Standard
It is often said—and the claim is supported persuasively in Peter Field's fine study—that Emerson was America's first 'public intellectual.' But Field goes further than that, seeing in Emerson an especially prophetic exponent of the possibilities of democracy itself, a lone voice attributing American intellectuals' famous 'alienation from the crowd' not to the insufficiencies of the American people and the doleful effects of 'democratic leveling' but to the failures of the thinking class itself.
New England Quarterly - Joel Myerson
Field's book is a welcome addition to the literature that examines Emerson as a product of his times and explores how, throughout his life, he attempted to situate himself as a spokesman for a particular issue or issues. . . . Field has produced an excellent, suggestive evaluation of the public Emerson—the one who continually refashioned himself as his ideas and venues changed—and a book that deserves to be placed among the best studies of Emerson's intellectual and professional development.
Phyllis Cole
Field stands atop the current reassessment of Ralph Waldo Emerson's public voice with his fresh sense of all the relevant texts and contexts, from origins in the Boston ministry through national politics of the Civil War era. This book makes an admirable case for nineteenth-century America's most influential thinker.
H-Shear - Susan L. Roberson
Field does a convincing job of showing the growth of this public thinker, and his volume certainly adds to our understanding of the man and his times.
Conrad Edick Wright
None of Ralph Waldo Emerson's accomplishments was more important than his reinvention of himself. Peter S. Field persuasively traces Emerson's transformation from Unitarian minister to public intellectual in this able biography of one of the 19th century's most enduring figures.
Reviews In American History - Philip F. Gura
As a brief for Emerson as a public intellectual, Field's book is valuable and has the virtue of offering readers a focused examination of the ways in which, from the years of his first ministry on, this seminal thinker understood that the age demanded a new kind of cultural critic.
John F. Wilson
Peter Field's new study of Emerson portrays him in very human and compelling terms, searching for his self, finding his voice and vocation, and becoming America's prototypical 'public intellectual.' Emerson springs to life in its pages, engaged with the challenges facing his age. A wonderful introduction to the Sage of Concord.
John L. Thomas
A sharply-etched portrait of America's first public intellectual and his search for a vocation.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780847688425
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/20/2002
  • Series: American Intellectual Culture Series
  • Edition number: 272
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.26 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 0.79 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter S. Field teaches history at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. He is the author of The Crisis of the Standing Order: Clerical Intellectuals and Cultural Authority in Massachusetts, 1780-1833 and coauthor of The Promise and Paradox of American Freedom. He has previously taught at Columbia University and Vanderbilt University, and in 1998-99 he was a fellow at the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Abbreviations and Short Titles Used in Notes
Introduction 1
1 From Emerson to Emerson 11
2 Born to Be Educated 37
3 The Problem of Vocation 59
4 Unitarianism and Its Discontents 97
5 The Transformation of Genius into Practical Power 131
6 Abolitionism and the Strange Career of Emerson and Race 167
7 Assessing Emerson as Democratic Intellectual 209
Selected Bibliography 231
Index 243
About the Author 255
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