EMERSON IN HIS
LIDIAN AND EDWARD
72. Photograph of Lidian Emerson holding young son Edward,
from Emerson family photograph album Album from the estate of Amelia
Forbes Emerson, 1982.
A Congregationalist-turned-Unitarian influenced by the philosophy of Swedenborg, Lidian was religiously more conservative than her husband, and critical of Transcendental extremes. She was involved early in the antislavery cause in Concord and later promoted women’s suffrage. She cared deeply for animals and believed in their humane treatment.
Lidian could hold her own conversationally with the many visitors who came to her home to talk with her husband. She was as much a friend as Emerson to many in his circle. She and Henry Thoreau were particularly close. She had a good—sometimes biting—sense of humor, and did not hesitate to engage in repartee.
Although Lidian fulfilled the traditional duties of marriage
and motherhood, and although the primacy of her husband’s intellectual
life pushed her talents and needs into the background, she was a complex
woman of strong mind, character, conviction, and opinion. By and
large, their marriage withstood the strain of Emerson’s high-profile life.
“One of my wise masters, Edmund Burke, said, ‘A wise man will speak the truth with temperance that he may speak it the longer.’ In this new sentiment that you awaken in me, my Lydian Queen, what might scare others pleases me, its quietness, which I accept as a pledge of permanence. I delighted myself on Friday with my quite domesticated position & the good understanding that grew all the time, yet I went & came without one vehement word—or one passionate sign. In this was nothing of design, I merely surrendered myself to the hour & to the facts. I find a sort of grandeur in the modulated expressions of a love in which the individuals, & what might seem even reasonable personal expectations, are steadily postponed to a regard for truth & the universal love. Do not think me a metaphysical lover. I am a man & hate & suspect the over refiners, & do sympathize with the homeliest pleasures & attractions by which our good foster mother Nature draws her children together. Yet am I well pleased that between us the most permanent ties should be the first formed & thereon should grow whatever others human nature will.”—RWE to Lydia Jackson, February 1, 1835
“My wife Lidian is an incarnation of Christianity,—I call her Asia—& keeps my philosophy from Antinomianism.”—RWE to Thomas Carlyle, May 10, 1838
“Blessed be the wife that in the talk tonight shared no vulgar sentiment, but said, In the gossip & excitement of the hour, be as one blind & deaf to it. Know it not. Do as if nothing had befallen. And when it was said by the friend, The end is not yet: wait till it is done; she said, ‘It is done in Eternity.’ Blessed be the wife! I, as always, venerate the oracular nature of woman. The sentiment which the man thinks he came unto gradually through the events of years, to his surprise he finds woman dwelling there in the same, as in her native home.”--RWE, journal, September 29, 1838
“Queenie (who has a gift to curse & swear) will every now & then in spite of all manners & christianity rip out on Saints, reformers, & Divine Providence with the most edifying zeal. In answer to the good Burrill Curtis who asks whether trade will not check the free course of love she insists ‘it shall be said that there is no love to restrain the course of, & never was, that poor God did all he could, but selfishness fairly carried the day.’ ”—RWE, journal, September?, 1841
“Queenie’s epitaph: ‘Do not wake me.’ ”—RWE, journal, March?, 1843.
Back in Concord, Edward Emerson assisted Dr. Josiah Bartlett, eventually taking over Bartlett’s practice. After his father’s death in 1882, he left the practice of medicine and spent his time writing, editing his father’s papers and manuscripts, and painting. He wrote the Social Circle biography of his father (1888), Ebenezer Rockwood Hoar (with Moorfield Storey; 1911), Henry Thoreau as Remembered by a Young Friend (1917), Early Years of the Saturday Club (1918), and edited his father’s correspondence with John Sterling (1897), the Centenary Edition of Emerson’s works (1903-1904), and (with Waldo Emerson Forbes) the 1909-1914 edition of Emerson’s journals. He taught at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
In 1874, Edward married Concord girl Annie Shepard Keyes, daughter of John Shepard Keyes. They had seven children, six of whom predeceased their parents. Edward lived up to the expectations placed upon him by the fact that (in the words of his Social Circle biographer Allen French) “as an Emerson he represented the traditions of generations of the Town.” He served Concord as Superintendent of Schools and on the Board of Health, the Cemetery Committee, and the Library Committee. He was a founding member of the Concord Antiquarian Society as well as a member of the Social Circle. He was also an accomplished horseman.
As Allen French pointed out, Edward Waldo Emerson could not avoid living in the shadow of his father. At his funeral in 1930, Bliss Perry paid tribute to the man’s “admirable courage and resourcefulness in making the best of second choices.”
“Education. Don’t let them eat their seed-corn; don’t let them anticipate, or ante-date, & be young men, before they have finished their boyhood. Let them have the fields & woods, & learn their secret & the base & foot-ball, & wrestling, & brickbats, & suck all the strength & courage that lies for them in these games; let them ride bareback, & catch their horse in his pasture, let them hook & spear their fish, & shin a post and a tall tree, & shoot their partridge & trap the woodchuck, before they begin to dress like collegians, & sing in serenades, & make polite calls.”—RWE, journal, April-May?, 1856
“I am very happy to hear of your mending health, which you must carefully respect over all the studies & professors in the world, since it has been once so severely shaken, & you the only male heir of your line … ”—RWE to Edward Waldo Emerson, December 17, 1871.
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