Saturday, August 26, 2006

a new college: Emerson's diary for August 26, 1823

From the Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Continuing the narrative of his walk from Boston the Amherst, Emerson's travel diary for the evening of August 25, 1823, contains some strained witticisms revealing pretty clearly that (a) he intended to share the diary with his family and (b) that he felt a strong need to impress his brothers; by implication that (as he says elsewhere) he felt less accomplished, capable, or intelligent than they were.

Thus, having arrived in the town of Amherst, he writes: "I sit here ninety miles from home, and three from the Institution [Amherst College], and have the pleasure and eke the honour, to waft, on the winged steeds of a wish, my best regards to the lords and ladye who sit at home [i.e. his mother and brothers]; to the majesty of Tartary, chiefest of men, calling the young satraps to order from the elbow chair and secretly meditating golden schemes in an iron age; then to the young lion of the tribe (to change the metaphor) now resting and musing on his honourable oars; ..." [see note at bottom]

His diary entry for a Thursday early in September, catches us up:

Thursday, August [actually September; if a Thursday early in the month, probably the 4th]

Tuesday morning [August 26] I engaged Mr. Bartlett to bring me to Mrs. Shepard's and I think the worthy man returned with some complacent recollections of the instructions and remarks he had dropped on the way for the stranger's edification. Our wagon ride was somewhat uneasy from below, but its ups and downs were amply compensated by the richness and grandeur visible above and around. Hampshire County rides in wagons. In this pleasant land I found a house full of friends, -- a noble house, very good friends. In the afternoon I went to the College. Never was so much striving, outstretching, and advancing in a literary cause as is exhibited here. ... [Emerson writes about how the local people supported the college] About three years ago, ... when the cornerstone of the South College was laid, the institution did not own a dollar. A cartload of stones was brought by a farmer in Pelham, to begin the foundation; and now they have two large brick edifaces, a President's house, and considerable funds. ... A poor one-legged man died last week in Pelham, who was not known to have any property, and left them four thousand dollars to be appropriated to the building of a chapel, over whose door is to be inscribed his name, Adams Johnson. ...

Note: Waldo's brother William is the "Majesty of Tartary." He had begun the school for young ladies where Waldo then taught and he was about to leave Waldo in charge of the school so he could train for the ministry in Germany. The "lion of the tribe" is younger-brother Edward, a rising senior at Harvard. The entry also refers to Waldo's friend Robert Bulkeley and his youngest brother Charles. {Source: Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson, with annotations, edited by Edward Waldo Emerson and Waldo Emerson Forbes (Boston : Houghton Mifflin Co., 1909).

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