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The Mind on Fire - Emerson Biography

Robert D. Richardson Jr.

For Emerson it is always the instructed eye, not the object seen, that gives the highest delight, that connects us with the world...’to an instructed eye the universe is transparent,’ he wrote in his journal this fall of 1833...”
— Richardson


A brilliant biography of Emerson. Richardson is also responsible for biographies of Thoreau & William James. He focuses on the intellectual & spiritual development of his subjects, sweeping readers up in what they were reading, and when, so that we feel how their regimes of study were situated in the chronology and personality of their lives.

To read this biography isn’t just to read Emerson, but to read what Emerson was reading, to inhabit the stretching space of his mind alongside the very influences that shaped him.

“This scientific taxonomy of human qualities, based (prematurely) on then current knowledge of the human brain and its functions, gave Emerson hope for a science of man that would provide a more solid basis for human life than, say, revelation.”