EMERSON AND UNIVERSAL MINDby Richard G. Geldard
“A brilliant, forceful, cogent, eloquent and personal brief for the essential validity of the great Neoplatonic doctrine of ideas, and a wholly believable effort to place Emerson firmly in that tradition.”
ROBERT D. RICHARDSONAuthor of “Emerson, The Mind on Fire”
In 1870, the new young president of Harvard College, Charles Eliot, in an effort to expand and strengthen the study of philosophy, established what he called the University Lectures and invited Ralph Waldo Emerson, among others, to give a series of eighteen lectures of his own choosing. For Emerson, this was an opportunity to summarize his life-long vision of Idealism, a vision which had formed the central set of principles in what came to be known as New England Transcendentalism.
Emerson’s experience as part of this course was hardly comfortable. He was under tremendous pressure to work quickly and to fit his material into the overall series of lectures. As it turned out, his proposed series of eighteen became seven and the material itself was not a survey of world philosophy but a summation of Emerson’s theories on the nature of the mind.Over the years scholars have tended to minimize, even to the extent of total neglect, what remains of these late lectures, assuming that Emerson’s intellectual and expressive powers had diminished, rendering this material irrelevant. However, his good friend, editor, and biographer James Elliot Cabot, whose task it was to gather Emerson’s papers into some order, said this of Harvard’s invitation to lecture: “Emerson welcomed the proposal as an opportunity for taking up and completing his sketches of the ‘Natural History of the Intellect,’ which he appears to have regarded as the chief task of his life.”Given Cabot’s observation here, this commentary intends to give serious attention to what remains of these lectures in order to fill a valuable gap in Emerson’s attention to the laws of the mind and by extension also provides a more accurate and complete assessment of Transcendentalism as an important contribution to the history and influence of American philosophy._______________________ABOUT THE AUTHOR | RICHARD G. GELDARD is a full-time writer and lecturer living in New York City and the Hudson Valley. Before turning to writing he was an educator, teaching English and philosophy at both the secondary, undergraduate and graduate levels. His most recent appointment is the philosophy faculty of the University of Philosophical Research in their online Masters degree program. Prior to that he was onthe graduate faculty of the Pacifica Graduate Institute in California, and Yeshiva College in New York. He is a graduate of Bowdoin College, The Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College and Stanford University, where he earned his doctorate in Dramatic Literature and Classics in 1972. He has also studied at St. John’s College, Oxford. Dr. Geldard is the author of ten books, including studies of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Greek philosophy and culture, available at www.rgbooks.com.