Robert D. Richardson

American historian

Robert D. Richardson (born 1934 Milwaukee, died June 16, 2020) was an American historian, and biographer.



Emerson: The Mind on Fire (1995)

  • The truth was that Emerson did not often refer to Scripture (after he announced the text, which was invariably from the Bible) because the Bible was no longer for him an object of study; it was an example for him for emulation. He was interested in his own primary, personal religious experience and that of his parishioners, not in repeating and deferring to the reported religious experiences of long departed historical personages. When he studied, say, the Book of Proverbs, he no longer thought of himself as a commentator, but as the potential author of a similar book.
    • p. 90
  • Now, as Emerson turned to the active ministry, he tried emphatically to recover the original fervor of a Paul. When he later came to a parting of the ways with the church, he would see himself as a modern Luther. This personal identification with the great is for Emerson at bottom a hunger for a religion by revelation to us—as he would say in Nature—and not just the history of someone else’s religion. He wished to feel Christianity with feelings as strong as Paul’s. He did not wish merely to report Paul’s feeling as though such things were impossible in the modern world.
    • p. 90
  • To the question "What is God?" he now replies, "the most elevated conception of character that can be formed in the mind. It is the individual's own soul carried out to perfection."
    • p. 97
  • If there is a single moment … to give meaning to Emerson's life, it would be this moment when he recognized that his proper response to the world must be astonishment, his proper expression celebration.

First We Read, Then We Write: Emerson on the Creative Process (2009)

  • If your journal consists of the best moments of your life and reading, then rereading it will be like walking a high mountain trail that goes from peak to peak without the intervening descent into the trough of routine. Just reading such a journal of high points will tighten your strings and raise your pitch.
    • p. 19
  • Each of these sides of Emerson—The Plotinus and the Montaigne-Bacon—requires the other side. The highest goals or ambitions are inevitably judged by whether or not one can take concrete, measurable steps to reach them, while the practical, workaday side of things is most interesting to Emerson when it serves or leads to something great.
    • p. 34
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