Monday, July 21, 2014

“I’m not going to pull a Ralph Waldo Emerson on you!”

            That was the promise I made to the full house that had come to the Schryer Center at the Franklin County Historical and Museum Society in Malone, NY to listen to my talk about the relevancy of William Almon Wheeler to the 21st century and to have my biography of him signed. This is the backstory to that promise.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

            In the early summer of 1867, after many weeks of fanfare in the local newspapers, the great American poet, essayist and philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, came to Malone to give a talk in the newly built Methodist Church on Main Street. The lecture did not go very well.
            According to the Malone Palladium, the talk by the 64-year-old literary giant was hard to hear, “long, tiresome and rather exhaustive.”
Emerson's study
            The Palladium went on to skewer Emerson in typical mid-19th century style by saying, "We take the benefit of the proposition which the speaker laid down—that there never was a great discovery made that was not preceded by a great guess—and venture the 'guess' that this lecture was, though poorly delivered, a great literary production, and leave to subtler minds than ours, the discovery of wherein consists its greatness."

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