By Lawrence Rosenwald
This primary prolonged literary description and research of Emerson's journals, argues that they, and never his essays, are Emerson's masterpiece, constituting one of many maximum commentaries on nineteenth-century the USA via certainly one of our so much acute formal intelligences. First constructing the serious technique had to research the magazine shape, a style lengthy ignored by means of literary students, Rosenwald is going directly to ponder how Emerson the diarist came across his shape and what shape he stumbled on. incorporated are comparisons among the journals and Emerson's lectures and essays, different Transcendentalist journals, the German aphorism-book, and books of citation by way of Montaigne and Eckermann. eventually, the writer supplies an account of ways, in his previous age, Emerson misplaced his mastery of the shape.
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Two exceptions: on books of table talk see F. P. Wilson, "Table-Talk," Huntington Library Quarterly 4: 1940, pp. 27-46; on commonplace books see Ruth Mohl, John Milton and his Commonplace Book (New York: Ungar, 1969), pp. 11-30. 24 / E M E R S O N AND THE ART OF THE D I A R Y death, through loss of interest, through change of character or circumstances, through weakness—and Barbellion's gloomy prayer is most often offered in vain: Day after day I sit in the theatre of my own life and watch the drama of my own history proceeding to its close.
Most obviously in the numerous self-reflective passages of the journal; but these require some discussion. They are not really in Mary Moody Emerson's vein; they are not occupied with the moral status of Emerson's soul. They never predominate in the journal, nor are they consistently more interesting than passages concerned with other topics. Emerson excels neither in self-deception nor in selfknowledge; he has his reserves and his rhetorical evasions, and in the talent of honesty Boswell and Pepys are his evident superiors.
But no—the paper wouldn't have enough room," writes Julien Green. "And then, how to retrace the thread of thoughts so numerous and so rapid? 22 But perhaps this impossible task is not necessary. Perhaps diarists can find the self by attending only to what is genuinely important, by responding not to the calendar but to the rhythms of their own lives, by giving every event its proper treatment and amplitude. Perhaps, but eventually this approach too meets impassable obstacles. The first is the feeling, not specific to the moment but endemic to the enterprise, of having botched the job: Is it possible to keep a journal that gives even an approximately accurate idea of its author?