Unwritten

"Ah you still ask me for that unwritten letter always due, it seems, always unwritten, from year to year, by me to you, dear Lidian, -- I fear too more widely than you mean, -- always due & unwritten by me to every sister & brother of the human race. I have only to say that I also bemoan myself daily for the same cause – that I cannot write this letter, that I have not stamina & constitution enough to mind the two functions of seraph and cherub, oh no, let me not use such great words, -- rather say that a photometer cannot be a stove. It must content you for the time, that I truly acknowledge a poverty of nature, & have really no proud defence at all to set up, but ill-health, puniness, and Stygian limitation. Is not the wife too always the complement of the man’s imperfections, and mainly of those half men the clerks? Besides am I not , O best Lidian, a most foolish affectionate goodman & papa, with a weak side toward apples & sugar and all domesticities, when I am once in Concord? Answer me that. Well I will come again shortly and behave the best I can Only I foresee plainly that the trick of solitariness never never can leave me."

From a letter by Ralph Waldo Emerson to his wife Lidian, written during his 1848 visit to Great Britain

Comments 8

 
Rosy Cole on Saturday, 14 October 2017 16:26

Ah, subtext, the mainspring of all good writing. This is quite a revelation, though I don't believe Emerson was insightful enough to understand what he meant in terms of how his writing would be construed. We must allow that he was a Victorian husband and father, and no tyrant, but this is overbearing and might strike the reader as somewhat disingenuous.

Ah, subtext, the mainspring of all good writing. This is quite a revelation, though I don't believe Emerson was insightful enough to understand what he [i]meant[/i] in terms of how his writing would be construed. We must allow that he was a Victorian husband and father, and no tyrant, but this is overbearing and might strike the reader as somewhat disingenuous.
Stephen Evans on Saturday, 14 October 2017 19:13

Interesting reading! As you know, Emerson is part of my intellectual pantheon. I was struck by this letter, found it heart-breaking, for both of them. In 1848, Emerson and his second wife Lidian were both 45 years old and had been married over a decade. Their eldest son had died from scarlet fever six years earlier, an event that shattered them both. I have not read Lidian’s letter to Emerson – I don’t know if it still exists – but I imagine a woman pleading (probably in reserved New England manner) with her husband for some slight measure of affection – in a letter if nothing more. And in Emerson’s response from across the actual and emotional sea, I read a man who recognizes and understands his wife’s longing but who is so imprisoned in himself that he cannot respond. It reminds me of an Edith Wharton novel.

My One-Act play is about Emerson and his first wife Ellen, and now I think I may have found a subject for a companion piece. Writers do have a sort of heartless streak.

Interesting reading! As you know, Emerson is part of my intellectual pantheon. I was struck by this letter, found it heart-breaking, for both of them. In 1848, Emerson and his second wife Lidian were both 45 years old and had been married over a decade. Their eldest son had died from scarlet fever six years earlier, an event that shattered them both. I have not read Lidian’s letter to Emerson – I don’t know if it still exists – but I imagine a woman pleading (probably in reserved New England manner) with her husband for some slight measure of affection – in a letter if nothing more. And in Emerson’s response from across the actual and emotional sea, I read a man who recognizes and understands his wife’s longing but who is so imprisoned in himself that he cannot respond. It reminds me of an Edith Wharton novel. My One-Act play is about Emerson and his first wife Ellen, and now I think I may have found a subject for a companion piece. Writers do have a sort of heartless streak.
Stephen Evans on Saturday, 14 October 2017 21:48

And that being said, I will certainly bow to your deeper understanding of early 19th century marriage conventions. :)

And that being said, I will certainly bow to your deeper understanding of early 19th century marriage conventions. :)
Rosy Cole on Sunday, 15 October 2017 23:07

Edward Moulton-Barrett, Elizabeth's father, for example, is not as rare a specimen of Victorian patriarchy as one could wish. A complex man, not lacking in affection, but cruel in the enforcement of his will, he was both destroyed and destroying by the need to control his whole environment.

Edward Moulton-Barrett, Elizabeth's father, for example, is not as rare a specimen of Victorian patriarchy as one could wish. A complex man, not lacking in affection, but cruel in the enforcement of his will, he was both destroyed and destroying by the need to control his whole environment.
Stephen Evans on Monday, 16 October 2017 01:25

Patriarchy is a topic of wide discussion over here at the ,moment, where Weinstein has become a verb.

Patriarchy is a topic of wide discussion over here at the ,moment, where Weinstein has become a verb.
Rosy Cole on Monday, 16 October 2017 11:56

Hollywood is a high-octane, high relief, world but demonstrates something that is sadly universal. No matter what laws, what lip service, what cosmetic tweaks, are made, the dynamic described in Genesis has not altered a wit in essence down the ages. Sometimes women have been guilty of playing to it in the wrong way and men, while responsible for the care of family, have arrogated rights beyond their proper boundaries. Only the Grace of God in individual circumstances and, few by few, can wreak a transformation.

God bless the men (and women!) who seek that Grace and respect its insights in their daily lives!

Hollywood is a high-octane, high relief, world but demonstrates something that is sadly universal. No matter what laws, what lip service, what cosmetic tweaks, are made, the dynamic described in Genesis has not altered a wit in essence down the ages. Sometimes women have been guilty of playing to it in the wrong way and men, while responsible for the care of family, have arrogated rights beyond their proper boundaries. Only the Grace of God in individual circumstances and, few by few, can wreak a transformation. God bless the men (and women!) who seek that Grace and respect its insights in their daily lives!
Rosy Cole on Sunday, 15 October 2017 22:56

It seems to me a matter less of the emphasised need for 'solitariness', than the manner of Emerson's response. It is more a question of the will to good, and to kindness, especially towards loved ones, irrespective of sentiment and personal feeling/want at any one time. Heaven knows, creative focus is always bewildering and a threat to other people, let alone a second wife, especially when it is not produced from the drive for income. Emerson had taken time out. It behoved him to make an effort to ease Lidian's pain. He doesn't strike me as 'trapped', though I do understand where you're coming from.

It's so good to learn the One-Act play is coming along well and that you are now inspired to shape a companion piece. That would be really something!

Good luck! :-)

It seems to me a matter less of the emphasised need for 'solitariness', than the manner of Emerson's response. It is more a question of the will to good, and to kindness, especially towards loved ones, irrespective of sentiment and personal feeling/want at any one time. Heaven knows, creative focus is always bewildering and a threat to other people, let alone a second wife, especially when it is not produced from the drive for income. Emerson had taken time out. It behoved him to make an effort to ease Lidian's pain. He doesn't strike me as 'trapped', though I do understand where you're coming from. It's so good to learn the One-Act play is coming along well and that you are now inspired to shape a companion piece. That would be really something! Good luck! :-)
Stephen Evans on Monday, 16 October 2017 01:33

I would like to see her letters to him, but that would amount to research, which as you know is outside of my purview as a writer. :)

I would like to see her letters to him, but that would amount to research, which as you know is outside of my purview as a writer. :)
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