American Goethe

“First, we had to find a publisher that was willing to make a very large investment in money and time in the project. Oxford University Press was our choice.” — general editor John A. Garraty

“It is the Earth that rotates, not the sun.” Well done, Copernicus. I can see that nothing gets past you. You’re all headlights. Continuing on with our quiz, then. I asked you to name the person who fits this description:

This beloved American writer, lecturer, preacher, and philosopher was inspiration to both Walt Whitman and Nietzsche. But when visiting Europe in the 1830s, he was more impressed with the scenery and old buildings than with his contemporaries Wordsworth and Coleridge! He was, however, friend and U.S. agent to Thomas Carlyle.

And you no doubt suggested something ridiculous like Billy Graham, you dear lickspittle. The 1830s and Nietzsche should have veered you from such nonsense: Graham may be old but he’s not immortal.

Ralph Waldo EmersonNo, it’s Emerson! Waldo Emerson, Transcendentalist friend of Alcott, Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller and that lot, and some might say the American Goethe! Once bailed that unkempt delinquent Thoreau out of jail, which is where they put regular people who don’t pay their taxes. Well, admittedly, his selection of friends was dubious. (Never, said Stevenson of Thoreau, trust a man who doesn’t drink coffee.) But he wisely outlived them.

Emerson’s nose was large enough to poke into most things, and disagree with them. Slavery. Religion. Communism. Science. It wasn’t that he held his sides of the day’s debates. He, very aptly, transcended them.

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