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MS Am 1280.193-1280.215

Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 1803-1882. Ralph Waldo Emerson lectures and sermons: Guide.

Houghton Library, Harvard Library, Harvard University


Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138 USA

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Location: b
Call No.: MS Am 1280.193-1280.215
Repository: Houghton Library, Harvard Library, Harvard University
Creator: Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 1803-1882.
Title: Ralph Waldo Emerson lectures and sermons,
Date(s): 1831-1882.
Quantity: 1 collection (10 linear feet (29 boxes)
Language of materials: Collection materials are in English.
Abstract: Manuscripts of lectures and sermons delivered by American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Deposited by the Ralph Waldo Emerson Memorial Association.

Processing Information:

Processing Information: The manuscripts in the Lectures series (bMS Am 1280.193-1280.214) were formerly preserved in manila envelopes in a series of twenty-one patent portfolios. This arrangement seems to have been made by James Elliot Cabot and E. W. Emerson after Ralph Waldo Emerson's death; at any rate, no envelope or portfolio bears R.W.E.'s handwriting. The lectures were organized as nearly as possible in chronological order.
The portfolios were assigned Houghton numbers 194 to 214. These have been retained as box numbers in the present arrangement. The envelopes in each portfolio were consecutively numbered, and their order has been preserved. But many envelopes contained multiple drafts or otherwise physically distinct forms of the same lecture, or of two or more different lectures. Each such entity has now been assigned a separate folder, with a resultant expansion of the numbers within each box. Readers will find the basic organization unchanged, and can equate folder numbers with the old envelope numbers by means of a concordance. In one box (214) three manuscripts not included by Cabot (1, 2, 8) have been added in their natural sequence. A box at the beginning, bMS Am 1280.193 (100-111), contains early lectures, discourses, and fragments not placed by Cabot in the portfolios, and a box at the end, bMS Am 1280.214 (100-125), contains miscellaneous fragments not clearly assignable to specific lectures. Another box added at the end, bMS Am 1280.214 (200-239), contains manuscripts and fragments formerly called "M file - Em 349," These are generally similar to the lectures and fragments of lectures and so belong in this series.
One manuscript, Emerson's translation of Dante's Vita Nuova, was earlier removed from the "M file" and is now separately boxed and catalogued.
The internal arrangement of the individual lectures is a different matter, and it presents problems that literally cannot be solved. The case is well defined by Whicher and Spiller in The Early Lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson, I (1959), Introduction, xiii-xiv. Briefly, hardly any of the lectures except for some early ones can be held to exist in any close approximation of the form in which Emerson composed and delivered them. During his early career, he wrote them out more carefully than he found it necessary to do later on. As he re-used earlier lectures, he inserted new material and dropped out old, making substantial changes, and many texts show layer upon layer of revision impossible to disentangle. He also developed the habit of cannibalizing earlier lectures to provide sections for new lectures on similar topics. The result, of course, is that many sections of manuscript rightly belong in two or more places. Again, Emerson prepared for lectures by making pages of references to passages in his journals and his reading, and pages of pertinent quotations, and these pages are properly associated in groups but have no necessary sequence within a group. There are also numerous evidences of other hands than Emerson's attempting to make an orderly and publishable sequence from packets of manuscript. Therefore one cannot be sure that any folder represents Emerson's choice of material, or that the material is ordered as Emerson left it; on the contrary, with few exceptions, this seems unlikely.
For these reasons no further attempt has been made to rearrange the contents of the folder, beyond correcting the most obvious errors of sequence.
Instead, the leaves in each folder have been numbered consecutively, and the sequences now firmly established are not to be changed in the future. If scholars disagree, or wish to reconstitute a passage from fragments scattered here and there, they should do so by means of photography or electroprints, leaving the original material in its present order.
The manuscripts in the Semons series (bMS Am 1280.215) were formerly numbered Houghton 215 to 390. Emerson, like many preachers, numbered his sermons consecutively in the order of their composition, and these numbers are more logical than the arbitrary Houghton numbers; therefore the present numbering reverts to Emerson's.
The former numbering did not take account of the occurence of 19 sermons in two or three drafts each (e.g., 35, 37, 54, 59) and two sermons exhibiting still wider variation (47,122). These have been separated, retaining Emerson's numbers with the addition of a distinguishing letter, and an attempt has been made to arrange each series of drafts chronologically; certainty is not possible in every instance. As usual, Emerson cannibalized one draft in the preparation of another. Two sermons (64,167) have long been missing from the series, and the old Houghton numbers failed to take them into account. At the end (172-179) a few unnumbered discourses and fragments have been numbered arbitrarily.
The titles assigned to the sermons are taken from the complete list published by Arthur Cushman McGiffert Jr. in Young Emerson Speaks (Boston, 1938) 263-271. The rare instances in which the title actually appears on the MS. are listed without square brackets. The dates are those given by Emerson for the composition of the sermons, and they are sometimes instructive when compared with the dates of preaching as listed by McGiffert.

Conditions Governing Access:

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material.

Preferred Citation for Publication:

Ralph Waldo Emerson Lectures and Sermons (MS Am 1280.193-1280.215). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Biographical / Historical

Emerson was an American essayist, poet , and philosopher.


The papers have been organized into two series:

Scope and Contents

Manuscripts of lectures and sermons delivered by RWE.

Concordance for Emerson's Lectures (bMS Am1280.193-1280.214)

Envelope numbers in the former arrangement : Folder numbers in the present arrangement.
1280.194 :
1280.195 :
1280.196 :
1280.197 :
1280.198 :
1280.199 :
1280.200 :
1280.201 :
1280.202 :
1280.203 :
1280.204 :
1280.205 :
1280.206 :
1280.207 :
1280.208 :
1280.209 :
1280.210 :
1280.211 :
1280.212 :
1280.213 :
1280.214 :

Container List