Shaking the Tent

His voice fell at the end of each sentence. At first he had placed the microphone on his shirt pocket, which only picked up the occasional bit of phrase or word. Sitting in the front, I could hear him without the aid of the microphone.

Yet Alex Green, owner of Back Pages Books, kept me rapt as he talked about Ralph Waldo Emerson.

When we think of thinkers and poets, we think of them at the end of their lives when we are able to see their work as a whole. We look at Emerson as the Concord intellectual, perhaps as the surly man who wrote disparagingly of how others misconstrued his work. We read “Nature” and “Self-Reliance” and see them as works of little moment.

Mr. Green took a different tack. He spoke about the first two sermons that Emerson delivered after his ordination, as a young man of twenty-three, the man with a family history of great ministers. “This is where it all started,” Mr. Green said. “You can see the seeds of his later works in these sermons. No, these works are uneven, he was still a young man and not in full control of his powers. But you can see so much in these two sermons.”

When we think of industrialization, of the Industrial Revolution, we often think of Lowell, Massachusetts. Mr. Green argued that we should look at Waltham, Massachusetts, first. “Studying the Industrial Revolution starting in Lowell is like studying the Civil War starting with the first battle that the Union Army won.” Rather than building a mill town from the ground as they did in Lowell, the first mills were built in Waltham, a farming community that some of the wealthy Bostonians used as their summer home.

And, when thinking of these sermons, it is important to remember that these wealthy citizens would have gone back to Boston in the fall. Emerson gave a bright burning speech. My memory cannot do it justice. But I shivered as I listened to Mr. Green read Emerson’s words.

During the question and answer period, I asked about the influences of Eastern thought and mysticism on Emerson, if he could see them in these early sermons. He said that he thought he sensed something there. In Emerson’s notebooks and journals, Mr. Green said, there are references to Byron and Shelley. “Although their works were caricatures or cartoons of Eastern thought, I think some of what filters down to Emerson comes straight from the English Romantic poets, particularly Byron.” The Romantics were fascinated with the East and some of the first translations of Eastern literature was becoming available.

Talking with him after his lecture, Mr. Green admitted he didn’t know as much about the roots of Emerson’s interest in Eastern thought. I reminded him of the reference in Walden about Thoreau sitting in contemplation, what we would now call meditation. We both wondered when, specifically, they began studying, what they read, and what they knew.

I think Mr. Green has found the topic of his next lecture on Emerson.

And when he presents, I will be there.

You May Also Like

Too Much Inspiration

by Matthew Koslowski on February 24, 2010
in Anecdotes

Last night, I saw Jonathan Kozol give this year’s inaugural lecture of the Civic Discourse Series, a joint venture of Suffolk University and the Boston Athenaeum.

A whirlwind of thoughts is twirling through my head, picking up other ideas along the way.

I found his speech was breathtaking. When it came to asking questions, although I was able to think of a question, there was so much to ask. I’m still thinking about it and still thinking of questions I want to ask.

And I want to do justice to his lecture. So, tomorrow I’ll publish a longer piece on it. Subscribe by email to get tomorrow’s essay emailed to you.

Letter from Birmingham City Jail

by Matthew Koslowski on January 20, 2010
in Essays

In honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

Read more..

Weekly Review: December 4th to December 10th

by Matthew Koslowski on December 11, 2009
in Weekly Reviews

This has been the first week that I’ve managed to keep to a form my dedication, made some weeks back, and worked on my Weekly Review several nights rather than just one. I am still overwhelmed by the streams of information that I am trying to swim in. I am learning to manage, though, and I think the quality of the Weekly Reviews is only going to increase in 2010.

These Things Caught My Eye

Read more..

Weekly Review: October 30th to November 5th

by Matthew Koslowski on November 6, 2009
in Weekly Reviews

The Weekly Reviews are a lot of fun to write. I enjoy scouring the web for interesting articles and blog posts. But, all the same, the project had begun to become a unmanageable. There are so many websites and blogs to check out everyday. I had been afraid that I was going to miss something.

What I repeatedly missed was my own deadline. You may have noticed that the past two weeks I had postponed my Weekly Review until Saturday.

I have been working hard but I haven’t been working very smart. Then I remembered a quote from one of my favorite writers:

Novels are written in the same way that farms are made productive, or houses are kept clean, or baseball penant races are won: with steady work each day.
–Andre Dubus

Substitute “Weekly Reviews” for “Novels” and you get the same concept. Rather than gathering up work throughout the week and then trying to throw something together slapdash on Thursday night, starting this week I will be working on the Weekly Review throughout the week.

Thursday afternoon I spent some time setting up a feed reader through Google. Though I’m not quite sure how I feel about it yet — unlike Gmail, the posts disappear after you’ve read them unless you ask them to stay — but I am glad to consolidate many of my different websites into one place.

In addition to that, I’ve also setup Literature&Literacy on You can now subscribe to Literature&Literacy through an RSS Reader or through email.

These Things Caught My Eye

Read more..

Next Page »