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review 2016-05-11 20:36
Friendship by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Oh, what flowery and majestic rhetoric flows from the pen of Ralph Waldo Emerson in this essay on friendship!  Emerson was a transcendentalist and his views colour nearly every sentence of this beautiful yet perhaps rather hyperbolic essay on friendship.

Wikipedia's definition of transcendentalism states:

Transcendentalism is a religious and philosophical movement that developed during the late 1820s and '30s[1] in the Eastern region of the United States as a protest against the general state of spirituality and, in particular, the state of intellectualism at Harvard University and the doctrine of the Unitarian church as taught at Harvard Divinity School. 
Among the transcendentalists' core beliefs was the inherent goodness of both people and nature. They believe that society and its institutions—particularly organized religion and political parties—ultimately corrupt the purity of the individual. They have faith that people are at their best when truly "self-reliant" and independent. It is only from such real individuals that true community could be formed.

I knew almost nothing about Emerson before I read this essay.  I had the vague idea that he was a naturalist and perhaps a deist, and the only thing I knew for sure was that he was one of Pa Ingalls favourite authors.  I had expected his writing to be rather sparse and serious, so l was rather amazed at the waxing lyrical prose to which I was treated!

Good Friends (1927)
Norman Rockwell
source Wikiart

This essay on friendship, I believe, was written by Emerson in honour of his dear friend, Henry David Thoreau.  Emerson's rhapsodic sentences impact the reader right from the start, as he elevates friendship to the platform of one of the greatest gifts of life.   As soon as we're drawn into the bonds of deep friendship, our soul is engaged and we function almost on a different plane.

“Delicious is a just and firm encounter of two, in a thought, in a feeling.  How beautiful, on their approach to this beating heart, the steps and forms of the gifted and true!  The moment we indulge our affections, the earth is metamorphosed: there is no winter, and no night: all tragedies, all ennuis vanish;  -- all duties even; nothing fills the proceeding eternity but the forms all radiant of beloved persons …”

While Emerson lauds the benefits of friends, he also is cognizant of the fluctuations in friendship, but rather than lamenting over the lows, we should see them as a natural rhythm of life.

“ …. Thou art not my soul, but a picture and effigy of that.  Thou hast come to me lately, and already thou art seizing thy hat and cloak.  Is it not that the soul puts forth friends, as the tree puts forth leaves, and presently, but the germination of new buds, extrudes the old leaf?  The law of nature is alternation forevermore …..  The soul environs itself with friends, that it may enter into a grander self-acquaintance or solitude; and it goes alone, for a season, that it may exalt its conversation or society ……”


Portrait of Two Friends (1522)
Jacobo Pontormo
source Wikipedia
Yet while one must treasure friendships and elevate them, one must not force their progression, as it would be an assault on their natural course.
“Our friendships hurry to short and poor conclusions, because we have made them a texture of wine and dreams, instead of the trough of the human heart.”
We must be patient as friendship ripens or we may find the friendship brought to a sharp conclusion.  Let nature have free-reign, and it will not disappoint. 
While society pressures us to be social, true friendship is not cultivated in numbers but in a one-on-one companionship.  The bud will not flower without the correct nurturing.
"But I find this law of one to one, peremptory of conversation, which is the practice and consummation of friendship.  Do not mix waters too much.  The best mix as ill as good and bad.  You shall have very useful and cheering discourse at several times with two several men, but let all three of you come together, and you shall not have one new and hearty word.  Two may talk and one may hear, but three cannot take part in a conversation of the most sincere and searchng sort ........ Now this convention, which good sense demands, destroys the high freedom of great conversation, which requires an absolute running of two souls into one." 
Emerson rejects dissimulation and false pretences in an effort appear prestigious or more worldly, claiming that truth and sincerity in friendship is utmost.  You may look insane with this approach, but it will win you the friendship and respect that are your greatest desires.  Go against society and show your face to your fellow man, instead of your backside!  
Sorry, but I just couldn’t resist teasing Emerson a little in my review.  His language is so flowery, occasionally trite and often exaggerated that I found myself struggling sometimes to take the essay seriously.  Yet he does have some wonderful points and hits on the important qualities of friendship and its worth to mankind.  

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review 2014-07-10 20:20
Living the mixed legacy of Puritans and Transcendentalists
Perfectly Miserable: Guilt, God and Real Estate in a Small Town - Sarah Payne Stuart

Part self-depreciating, scathingly honest, bitingly funny memoir, and part town history, author biography, literary critique, Perfectly Miserable mesmerized me with its multi-tiered perspective, frequent revelations, and consummate writing. Sarah Payne Stuart grew up in Concord, Massachusetts, and though she was perfectly miserable much of the time memory and desire are funny things. She hightailed it out of Concord as soon as she was old enough, but found herself deciding to move back when she had young children of her own, picturing for them an ideal childhood in the town where Thoreau, Emerson and the Alcotts lived, even though that was far from her own experience. Things, of course, didn’t work out exactly as planned, but then again neither did the lives those Transcendentalists.


The Puritans and Transcendentalists left a mixed legacy for the people of Concord, and Payne spends a good part of the book on their personal lives, which is fascinating, and on how their history and philosophies are still influential, especially in old New England families like hers, but not always with good results. I don’t have Payne’s real estate cravings, she moved her family every few years, usually by choice, always expecting social redemption, or parental approval, or a more exact approximation of the ideal New England lifestyle, but she and I brought up our children close enough in time that I can relate to many of her child-rearing choices (promote self-esteem! don’t burden them with meaningless chores!) and subsequent mishandlings. Even so, while reading along I sometimes couldn’t help but want to ask her in amazement why, why, why did you say that to your mother or child, or think that, or believe that tack would work, and yet she makes you totally see it too, and understand how it all made sense to her at the time.


Because Perfectly Miserable is about how Payne’s life has been affected by the literature and lives of Transcendentalists and Puritans the book it most nearly reminds me of is the also thoughtful and engrossing My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead, though the two books have very different tones. I first encountered this material in a shortened form as a New Yorker article--which oddly or not  was the same way I became aware of My Life in Middlemarch--and Payne’s article was so promising and fascinating it left me determined to read her book. In book form it is maybe a little overly long in the middle, or at least my interest diminished briefly, but the concluding chapters are strong again and most of the time I was reading I couldn’t put this book down.


Source: jaylia3.booklikes.com/post/926256/living-the-mixed-legacy-of-puritans-and-transcendentalists
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