"At bottom, [Emerson] had no doctrine at all. . . . He was far from being, like a Plato or an Aristotle, past master in the art and the science of life."
The dedication of this latest biography of the individual known to earlier generations as "the Sage of Concord" is to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, "who at Poona thirtyeight years ago set me on my present course, when he offered me a phrase from Emerson to live by: 'Speak the rude truth in all ways."' It's too bad that it's at least a venial sin to laugh at sincerity, for it would be difficult to find two figures so widely respected, and so widely overestimated, as Gandhi and Emerson. It is fitting that Gandhi should have felt a kinship to Emerson. And it is equally fitting that a writer who admired one would write worshipfully about the other.
Since Richard Grenier unforgettably dissected the weird Mohandas and his worship of bowel functions in Commentary, no further words need be wasted on that great Hindu evoker of violence, who fell victim to the hatreds he fostered. But New England and its vanished antebellum civilization remains attractive. Perry Miller, after World War II, was sufficiently drawn (partly...