Culture of Eloquence: Oratory and Reform in Antebellum America

By James Perrin Warren | Go to book overview

2 :
"Ferries and Horses"

Emerson's Theory of Eloquence

A wealth of evidence from sermons, lectures, essays, addresses, journals, and notebooks indicates that throughout Emerson's career language shaped his ideas on a wide variety of subjects. The indexes to the Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks, for example, contain lengthy entries under the headings "Language," "Rhetoric," and "Eloquence," and almost any one of the sixteen volumes of the Journals will yield a dozen or more entries relating to linguistic topics.1. Nor was Emerson's interest merely that of a professional man of letters, for it contributed to his fundamental conceptions of nineteenth-century America as a nation in need of constant reform. My interpretation of Emerson's eloquence takes part in a rereading of his position within antebellum American culture, one that tends to emphasize his role as an engaged, public intellectual.2 As I

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1
A good way to appreciate Emerson's nearly lifelong study of language is to consult his "Index Headings and Topics," listed under his name in the indexes to the Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks, ed. William H. Gilman et al., 16 vols. ( Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960-82). After 1830, the entries "Eloquence," "Language," "Names," and "Rhetoric" yield a host of important passages. In addition, the reader should see the topical notebooks under the titles "Rhetoric", "Theory of Poetry", and "Philosophy", in The Topical Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. 2, ed. Ronald A. Bosco ( Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1993), 142-96, 256-384. The cumulative index to The Complete Sermons of Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Albert J. von Frank et al., 4 vols. ( Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1989) also has entries on pertinent topics and figures
2
Recent works that argue this view include Len Gougeon, Virtue's Hero: Emerson, Antislavery, and Reform ( Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1990); Joel Myerson and Len Gougeon, eds., Emerson's Antislavery Writings ( New Haven:Yale University Press, 1995); Mary Kupiec Cayton, "The Making of an American Prophet: Emerson, His Audiences, and the Rise of the Culture Industry in NineteenthCentury America", American Historical Review 92 ( 1987): 597-620; Cayton, Emerson's Emergence: Self and Society in the Transformation of New England, 1800- 1845 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989); Peter Carafiol, The American Ideal: Literary History as a Worldly Activity ( New York: Oxford

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