Emerson and Thoreau are the most celebrated odd couple of nineteenth-century American literature. Appearing to play the roles of benign mentor and eager disciple, they can also be seen as bitter rivals: America’s foremost literary statesman, protective of his reputation, and an ambitious and sometimes refractory protégé. The truth, Joel Porte maintains, is that Emerson and Thoreau were complementary literary geniuses, mutually inspiring and inspired.
In this book of essays, Porte focuses on Emerson and Thoreau as writers. He traces their individual achievements and their points of intersection, arguing that both men, starting from a shared belief in the importance of “self-culture,” produced a body of writing that helped move a decidedly provincial New England readership into the broader arena of international culture. It is a book that will appeal to all readers interested in the writings of Emerson and Thoreau.
"His essays are like Thoreau's sauntering, invitations to follow an acute and learned scholar to places you had not visited with such a guide. What this collection 'adds up' to, then, is forty-five years worth of rumination on two of this country's finest minds by someone eminently suited to investigate them in all their varied complexity."—Philip F. Gura, William S. Newman Distinguished Professor of American Literature and Culture, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
"Porte's concentration on Emerson as writer is not so common an approach as it may seem; balanced against the way in which Emerson is conventionally considered—as philosopher, as aphorist, as cultural icon—Porte's keen attention to the quality of the prose itself and the artfulness of an essay's organization yields rewarding and highly readable results."—Larzer Ziff, Johns Hopkins University