The Almanacks of Mary Moody Emerson: A Scholarly Digital Edition

General Introduction

Noelle A. Baker and Sandra Harbert Petrulionis

Born in Concord, Massachusetts on the eve of the American Revolution, Mary Moody Emerson (1774-1863) is widely known as the brilliant, self-educated aunt of American Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882). From William Channing Gannett, Henry Thoreau, and Henry James in the 19th century, to Virginia Woolf, Tillie Olsen, and Mary Kelley in the 20th, however, American authors, historians, and literary critics have also long acknowledged Emerson’s unique importance both as a proto-Transcendentalist and for her distinctive contribution as an American writer and thinker. She was, in the words of Unitarian clergyman and social reformer Gannett, “an imperious, glowing soul,” a devout Christian “who transcendentalized the fiery faith into a poetic worship of the Infinite.” In a more secular vein, Thoreau bestowed one of his rare compliments to a woman on her. Not only was Emerson “the wittiest & most vivacious woman that I know,” she was, in his estimation, “a genius.” Sensing the “fervour [that] boiled within her,” Woolf apprehended that Emerson’s “intense faith” battled with her fervent “poetic imagination” (67), while James credited her “high intelligence and temper,” her “spirit that would have dared the devil” as resounding influences on Waldo Emerson’s development.[1]

As these tributes attest, Emerson was a scholar and author whose writings engage 18th- and 19th-century cultures and whose life resists conventional formulations of early American womanhood.[2] Her father, Reverend William Emerson, died when she was two years old, leaving her mother, Phebe Bliss Emerson, to make difficult decisions regarding how best to raise their five young children. One such arrangement sent the toddler Mary Emerson from Concord to reside with a childless aunt and uncle in Malden, Massachusetts, where she remained until early adulthood. These formative years away from mother and siblings caused a lifelong feeling of social and familial isolation, as Emerson negotiated her own ambitious education with regular household duties set amidst an overall “genteel poverty.”[3]

Neither poverty nor circumstance circumscribed her aspirations, however. During her life, Emerson published a handful of pseudonymous essays, but her most significant literary accomplishment is a series of hand-made manuscript booklets (fascicles) she called “Almanacks” (c. 1804-1855), which were constructed from loose sheets of letter paper, bound with thread, and thus easily carried and circulated among correspondents. These largely unpublished writings span over 50 years and more than 1,000 pages, and combine multiple literary genres—devotional and philosophical journals, commonplace books, original compositions, and letters.[4] In each of these genres these routinely dispersed Almanacks are vitally interactive in that they assume a “dialogic” or conversational approach to readers’ and writers’ mutual cultivation, and in doing so they also predate Transcendentalists’ prized form of self-development, verbal and written conversation.[5] Moreover, the Almanack manuscripts’ similarly engaging “visual productions” anticipate Emily Dickinson’s more radically graphic writings.[6] As such, they provide a rare and prolific example of early modern women’s scholarly and artistic production as well as of a self-educated, single woman’s life in antebellum America and offer a lengthy and sustained inquiry for early Americanists who are calling for editions and interpretive analyses of manuscripts written by women like Emerson, for whom an intellectual miscellany—rather than imaginative fiction or poetry—constitutes her primary genre.[7]

However exceptionally the autodidact Emerson appears to transcend the ostensible limitations of her “private sphere” and provide insight into the intellectual world of 18th- and 19th-century New England, the Almanacks also remind the reader of the daily exigencies and often stifling life of an antebellum woman’s reality. Like many other unmarried women at this time, Emerson spent weeks or months, as required, tending to sick and dying relatives; after her brother William died when she was 37 years old, Emerson dedicated years of her life helping his widow rear his five sons, including Waldo Emerson. The Almanack pages reflect that Emerson suffered from recurring bouts of disfiguring erysipelas, a chronic skin infection that manifests itself in painful lesions and fevers, which nearly killed her in 1843. Dramatic “woman’s” moments in the Almanacks include her refusal in 1807 of a marriage proposal; sealing her single fate with determination and perhaps even exultation, Emerson “promised never to put that ring on.”[8] This act may reflect her private decision, years ahead of Transcendentalist Margaret Fuller’s similar public call, for women to remain single in order to cultivate their own development, as in 1843, when, in the midst of enjoying visits from her family and describing herself as “happier than usual,” Emerson follows up this sentiment with “Glad to sail my little lake alone.” That Emerson valued such female independence is clearly evident, both in her comments after reading Mary Wollstonecraft’s advocacy of such in Vindication of the Rights of Women, and in her own charitable sensibility. When Emerson had her will first drawn up in 1832 for instance, she bequeathed a portion of her estate to establish “‘an institution such as the English have for women who are unable to afford to board.’”[9] Significantly, because she never married, Emerson enjoyed what was almost exclusively a man’s privilege in the early 19th century: property rights. As a young woman, she inherited three-fifths of her grandmother’s estate in Malden, Massachusetts, which she and the other co-owners sold in 1804. Then in 1813, she purchased a farm in Waterford, Maine, which she named “Elm Vale” and which she owned for 35 years. Emerson’s loss of this property when she sold it in 1850 mirrors many smaller ones suffered when she traveled and boarded alone in various locales throughout Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, even into her eighties. In this context, she claimed that the Almanacks were her “home—the only images of having existed,” self-consciously emphasizing the metaphorical connection between her text and her life. Year later, Emerson still ached at losing Elm Vale: “[S]ince I have sold my farm I feel at sick moments homeless,” an ironic statement in view of her bequest decades earlier to provide housing for single women.[10] Her most enduring bequest was perhaps made in similarly gendered sympathy, for in 1861 she offered “piles” of Almanacks to her grand-niece (Waldo’s daughter), Ellen Tucker Emerson.

Although Ellen, Waldo, and the rest of the family prized this legacy, the manuscripts’ history reads like a near fatality. In 1872, Waldo’s Concord home caught fire, severely damaging and massively disordering the manuscripts; only a few excerpts from them have ever been published.[11] Eventually, in 1901–1902, the Emerson family hired Concord historian and archivist George Tolman to transcribe them,[12] but both the original manuscripts and his fair-hand copies were eventually relegated to uncatalogued storage at Harvard University’s Houghton Library, where they remained until the mid-twentieth century. In 1980, Phyllis Cole located the manuscripts; today they are identified in the finding aid to the Emerson Family Papers at the Houghton Library.

In the pages of his journals, Waldo privately acknowledged his indebtedness to his aunt, ranking her as an intellect, a writer, and a “founding father” on par with not only “great men of the American past,” such as Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and George Washington, but also with the likes of such male “literary genius[es]” and talented “motherwit[s]” as Samuel Johnson, John Milton, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Henry Thoreau. Ironically, given the Almanacks’ fragmentary and now dismembered state, in this journal entry Waldo also noted that the writer who has this quality “need never write anything but scraps.”[13] Throughout his life, Waldo also transcribed Emerson’s writings, first in his own journals, and, later, by creating an original holograph “anthology” of selected Almanack passages that largely reflected his own interests. He arranged these excerpts in three formal, indexed “MME Notebooks.”[14] In both these highly selective MME Notebooks and, importantly, in an 1883 Atlantic Monthly essay, “Mary Moody Emerson,” Waldo directly and indirectly diminished Emerson’s literary legacy.[15] This influential memoir praised Emerson’s genius but also unaccountably claimed that images of “Destitution and Death” recurred “in every page” of the Almanacks, a specious rendering of their contents. Moreover, the brief extracts cited from her writings in Waldo’s essay paved the way for later scholars, most notably Van Wyck Brooks, to depict the “poor, obscure, uncomely” “dwarf[ish] Mary Moody Emerson” whom everyone despised and whose “voice” was that “of a sibyl, issuing from the caves of the past.”[16] Unfortunately, the greater access to and popularity of Waldo’s writings, as compared to Mary Emerson’s unpublished and highly damaged manuscripts, has ensured that this reductive portrait still routinely distorts scholarly discourse about both nephew and aunt.

Emerson’s writings actually anticipate her nephew’s formal Transcendentalist manifestos, particularly as they share Waldo’s emphasis on the process of journal keeping and this literary genre’s privileging of self-cultivation and dialogic expression.[17] Further, they reveal a more complete understanding of the intellectual exchanges and manuscript culture shared by Mary and Waldo Emerson, as, for example, when they reflect her anxiety when Waldo retains and transcribes her manuscripts: “Never was time more lost than RWE’s retaining my MS & extracting my extracts.” The Almanacks also display numerous instances of Waldo’s (or his posthumous editors’) practice of striking through passages in the Almanacks he borrowed, a routine phenomenon also evidenced in his own journals. One such example of these marks appears on several non-consecutive pages from an 1830 Almanack, and identifies material that Waldo revised into two succeeding paragraphs in his Sermon 137, first delivered at the Second Church in Boston on December 4, 1831, and then repeated eleven times over the next six years.[18]

In the Almanacks, Emerson comments on Waldo’s publications, sermons, and lectures; on occasion the two trade observations on Romantic figures such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge. As noted above, at times she addresses Waldo directly, admonishing him not to examine pages that she had cloaked for privacy—as for example, in an atypical waste of precious paper, in 1830 she penned a sharp response to his request for an Almanack on one quarter of an otherwise blank page. “Dear W,” she wrote, “I’ve said you shall have one—and but in yielding I cannot divest myself wholly of your insincerity . . . But I seriously ask you never to request another & not read the inside of the folded pages.” Notably, because Waldo “borrowed” Emerson’s written expressions of self-cultivation for his sermons, the Almanacks also figure prominently in his vocational evolution, from Unitarian minister to Transcendentalist author, poet, and reformer. When The Almanacks of Mary Moody Emerson: A Scholarly Digital Edition is published in its entirety, readers will also be able to interpret his distilling and repurposing of Almanack fragments in such poems as “The Nun’s Aspiration” and “Song of Nature.”

In other cases, the passages Waldo transcribed in the “MME Notebooks” and others of his writings, such as the poem “The Adirondacs,” offer the only documentation of Almanacks that no longer survive.[19] When completed, this edition will include cross-references to Waldo’s writings and sermons, thereby revealing a more accurate and complete understanding of Emerson’s impact on her nephew’s intellectual growth and writing, particularly on Waldo’s early sermons and miscellaneous verse, but also on such later essays and lectures as “Fate” (1860), “Natural Religion” (1861-1869), and “The Rule of Life” (1861-1867). Because Waldo also dedicated notebook transcriptions and condensed verse to intimate friends whom he deemed influential (including Transcendentalists Amos Bronson Alcott, Margaret Fuller, and Caroline Sturgis), readers’ comparative consideration of these writings can contribute to recent studies of his experiments in love and friendship. Moving beyond the question of influence, this scholarship examines Waldo’s self-reliant individualism through a feminized dynamic of exchange and mutual cultivation heretofore focused primarily on Waldo and Margaret Fuller. Emerson’s Almanacks offer an expanded context for the intellectual exchanges between nephew and aunt, as they are considered alone and as compared to members of other literary families, such as the Wordsworths and Alcotts, in a transatlantic Romantic conversation.[20]

Spiritual, artistic, and authorial ambition inspired Emerson to similarly engage with the foremost ideas of her era, albeit such opportunities were tempered by limited means and scant intellectual outlets. Her deep immersion in both 18th and 19th-century thinking led her to write on an astounding range of subjects—theology, philosophy, literary criticism, science, war, imperialism, and slavery—that were often considered “masculine” by many of her contemporaries. By the early years of the 19th century, for example, Emerson had embraced both Romantic and Enlightenment versions of “self-culture” as personal vocation from her reading of Germaine de Staël’s and William Godwin’s fictional heroines, and from Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women.[21] On multiple levels, the Almanacks thus importantly bridge the cultures of two centuries and worldviews—as they illuminate the ways in which antebellum women’s so-called private writing intersects with the public literary marketplace, as they prefigure the Transcendentalists’ “conversational” practice of circulating their manuscripts (a “literature of the portfolio”[22]), and as they document the ways that women could participate in and contribute to ongoing debates about the public spheres of republicanism and liberalism in early America.[23]

Accessibility to the Almanacks restores Emerson’s authentic voice to these ongoing conversations and reveals her as an early exemplar of an emerging critical reconsideration of Transcendentalism, envisaged through such women as Margaret Fuller, Julia Ward Howe, and Ednah Dow Littlehale Cheney, as the movement influenced the trajectory of women’s rights and antislavery activists in the latter half of the 19th century.[24] Addressing this subject in a special issue of ESQ published in 2011, Jana Argersinger and Phyllis Cole characterize these women’s writings as a “direct appeal to readers for change in themselves and the world” and a “claim for women as possessors of a high, quasi-divine consciousness and truth-telling power ‘within’; it was a claim that intervened powerfully in the larger histories both of the transcendentalist movement and of women.”[25] The Almanacks offer an absorbing image of a half-century series of such “claims,” confirming not only Emerson’s intellectual encounters with 18th-century culture and the ideas that informed them but with 19th-century landmarks such as Transcendentalism, enlarged conceptions of the public sphere, abolitionist reform, and pre-Darwinian science.

Emerson began practicing self-cultivation as personal vocation over thirty years before Margaret Fuller established it as the central pedagogical arsenal in her Boston “Conversations for Women” in 1839. Emerson’s fervent desire for intellectual growth and millennial expectancy links her to the feminist writings of Fuller.[26] Indeed, Emerson’s lifelong engagement in vocational self-culture directly influenced another Transcendentalist, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, who in turn fostered second generation Transcendentalist Carolyn Healey Dall’s more radical self-development as activist, feminist, critic, and theological writer.[27] In fact, Emerson embodied a prototype (for Waldo and other contemporaries) of “Woman Thinking” as well as (in the Transcendentalist sense of the value of conversation) “Woman Talking,” a figure whom Fuller influentially modeled for such 19th-century feminists as Paulina Wright Davis and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.[28]

Establishing Emerson within the WWO collection extends these conversations beyond the Transcendentalist sphere, however, as it situates her writings temporally among other aspiring women authors, from Romantics like Charlotte Smith and Mary Robinson, and historians like Hannah Adams, to feminist theorists such as Mary Wollstonecraft, periodical authors such as Judith Sargent Murray, and meditative and spiritual writers and poets such as Jarena Lee, Elizabeth Singer Rowe, and Phillis Wheatley. In addition to discussions of religion and spirituality, for instance, Emerson shares with other women writers significant gendered concerns over their conceptions of vocation and property.

Emerson’s response to these two pressing issues for women corresponds with other expressions of social reform in the Almanacks, including critiques directed at war, imperialism, and slavery. In each case, the current generation, as compared to her Revolutionary-era forebears, fails to pursue right, truth, and God’s higher law; she suggested as much in an 1851 letter to Waldo: “I like a conscience war as did our kindred.”[29] Scholars are increasingly reassessing the grassroots activism that antebellum women undertook through private suasion and occasional public intervention.[30] Emerson’s labors mediate between these endeavors. On both national and local issues, Emerson joined the ranks of women such as Abigail Alcott and Lydia Maria Child to protest racial injustice. In 1835 she took up the most radical form of abolitionism in the early years of William Lloyd Garrison’s movement, after which time she attended antislavery lectures, wrote letters for the Boston Anti-Slavery’s Fair’s “Post Office” (in 1841), and, in her letters and Almanacks, urged her nephews to deliver lectures on social reform and praised Waldo when he did so in 1844, a decade after her own antislavery “conversion”: “Here I am writing to the very Orator of this auspicious day to congratulate his condition.”[31]

Readers will find that the Almanacks not only illustrate a concern for what abolitionists called the “higher law” of conscience but also reflect Emerson’s multiple strategies for self-cultivation and thus expand considerations of women’s intellectual history. The wealth of Emerson’s literary and philosophical milieu is reflected in her half-century of writing on an extensive range of topics, including the increasingly stratified and professionalized field of 18th and 19th-century science. Over the years Emerson documented her investigations in this discipline as the modern notion of it emerged from earlier understandings of “natural philosophy,” “natural theology,” and “natural history.” Her Almanacks include, for instance, commentary on Isaac Newton’s laws of gravitation and the static, mechanical universe; German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling’s Naturphilosophie; French astronomer Pierre-Simon Laplace’s Celestial Mechanics; Swiss scientist Louis Agassiz’s studies of fossil fishes; British polymath William Whewell’s Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences; and Scottish journalist Robert Chambers’s controversial, pre-Darwinian statement of naturalistic “development” in Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. Emerson’s grappling with new horizons in science sets her apart from many American women in the early 19th century, but it also offers a useful lens through which to see her as a cosmopolitan thinker whose scholarly pursuits put her in conversation with revolutionary transatlantic concerns of the time.

Reflecting the majority opinion of 19th-century thinkers, Emerson praises those who affirm that empirical observations of nature reflect divine law. She expresses a Platonic version of this fusion of induction and deduction in an 1829-30 Almanack: “And are these visible heavens & earth—rocks—rivers & trees,” she theorizes, “the pattern of the divine ideas? Hence their power to enchant—always anew—always created anew— Yea a constant recreation seems to give the soul this novelty. And this is the only true idealism.” Similarly, in the 1840s, Emerson comments approvingly on Agassiz and Whewell, both of whom publicly opposed Chambers’s Vestiges, harmonizing instead with Emerson’s “true idealism.” Emerson joins this scientific debate in an 1847 Almanack, when she discusses the “invisible powers” of electricity. Along with such scientists as Michael Faraday, Emerson contended that electricity animated every material element. In contrast with her thinking, however, both Faraday and Chambers assumed that such was the case from the beginning of time, a static state of being that functioned through the agency of God but that did so apart from divine intervention. To Emerson, however, “Electricity & such like,” receive their power from “the infinite [Ag]ency—the ‘first Mover’ of the venerable Stag[ir]ite. These invisible powers . . . are sublime expres[si]ons of their Creator!” Yet even here, Emerson demonstrates the inherent flexibility of her intellectual curiosity, since she also remarks that the individual heart and soul, joined “[in] the highest state” of union with their Maker, defy analysis—scientific or otherwise. Heart, Soul, and Maker merge and become “one gr[and] synthetic mode of being.” “And here,” she concedes to Chambers, “we shr[ink] not even at the inference of a ‘vestige’ w’h conclusion might be that all is the produ[ct] of natural seed sown from eternity.”

Significantly, for Emerson from such “natural seeds” also spring self-reverence and self-culture, and further evidence her engagement with the public intellectual marketplace, one example of which is an 1809 Almanack that contributes to a theological controversy being waged between Unitarians and Calvinists in Boston over the newly founded Andover Seminary. Our research suggests that Emerson responded directly to contentious articles on this issue that were published at this time in the Panoplist and the Boston Monthly Anthology. This Almanack functions as a lengthy draft essay, although (unlike some of her other essays) never published, responding to this incendiary debate, and it concludes with Emerson condemning the “bigotry” that she perceives on both sides. With a worldview that similarly informs her abolitionist sentiments, Emerson affirms her belief in universal salvation and the potential for reform by insisting that humanity must never “loose the remembrance that what is justice in man, benevolence &c, must be of the same kind in God.”[32]

In its presentation of a unique example of individual reading and writing practices in early America, readers will also find that Emerson’s Almanacks add to 18th- and early 19th-century scholarship on the history of the book and material culture. Notably, her writings demonstrate the various ways in which Emerson employed her reading and writing as autobiographic “self-fashioning” and conscious artistry.[33] Our Annotations offer the context and source of Emerson’s commonplacing; digital images of manuscript pages, which will ultimately accompany the edition, represent the important and occasionally graphic placement of commonplacing as well as demonstrate other significant aspects of the materiality of these manuscripts, such as sewn-in pages folded into pocket-sized parcels inclosing personal testimonials; colored Almanack covers; dedications that mark several whole Almanacks as gifts; and a routinely used graphic sign, a dot within a circle, Emerson’s personal abbreviation for the word “world.”

Readers can witness the extent to which material and linguistic elements within individual fascicles comment upon each other as well as with Almanack readers, with the authors of Emerson’s commonplace sources, and with Emerson herself. Emerson sews a bright yellow cover, for example, onto an 1837-1838 Almanack, pointedly noting that she is using the golden color for which Hymen, the god of matrimony, is known, so that this Almanack will be found easily, rather than celebrating the color’s marital associations. Her single woman’s desire to protect her literary property with ironic yellow paper is echoed in her authorial ambition in this fascicle, in which she implicitly compares her own writing to authors such as Virgil, Dante, Dryden, and Torquato Tasso, and in which she alludes again to Hymen’s golden light, this time in reference to Virgil’s Aeneas and his golden bough. As her interpretive commentary suggests, Aeneas’s bough and its Hymen-colored light renders him safe passage in and out of the Underworld and links him to Emerson and her heroic self-fashioning: her “belief cradled in time for times holy liberties and immunities to act—to be.”[34]

The Almanacks’ rich material culture suggests that Emerson anticipates the writing strategies not only of the Transcendentalists, as mentioned earlier, but also of 19th-century American poet Emily Dickinson. The two share an interest in the commonplace book; creative fascicle making; experimentation with graphic linguistic images and dramatic personae; circulating full or partial fascicles to friends, family, and correspondents; and merging differing genres with letters. Significant to them both, as Noelle A. Baker has recently pointed out, “is the dialogic interaction between linguistic and material elements that distinguish the Almanacks’ covers. Like Dickinson . . . but in an undeniably more restricted manner, Emerson devised imaginative performances in fascicle enclosures that communicate to readers with their combined ‘visual production.’”[35] Moreover, as also suggested above in regard to Transcendentalist conversations, in the Almanacks this visual production documents evidence of multiple specific readers, from Waldo Emerson, Elizabeth Hoar, and Charles Chauncy Emerson, to Ellen Ward Blake Blood and an unidentified child, and thus contributes to our understanding of numerous ways in which Emerson’s writing practices were thoroughly dialogic and focused on the mutual cultivation of reader and writer, in advance of the Transcendentalists’ emphasis on such literary relations.

Indeed, and perhaps imagining the world at large as her audience, in an elderly scrawl on the back of a faded Almanack leaf from the 1850s, Emerson poignantly dedicated her Almanacks—“for any body.” The Almanacks of Mary Moody Emerson: A Scholarly Digital Edition brings the riches of Emerson’s unique language of searching and illumination; of identity; and of God, mind, and soul to a wider universe of readers than even she might have imagined over a century ago.


1. Henry David Thoreau, Journal 4: 1851-1852, ed. Leonard N. Neufeldt and Nancy Craig Simmons (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1992), 183-84; Virginia Woolf, Books and Portraits, ed. Mary Lyon (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1989), 67; Henry James, Partial Portraits (London: Macmillan, 1899), 15. See also Tillie Olsen, Silences (New York: Delacorte, 1965), 17; Mary Kelley, Learning to Stand and Speak: Women, Education, and Public Life in America's Republic (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2006), 247; “Ralph Waldo Emerson,” Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography (New York: Appleton, 1887), 2:343; W[illiam]. C[hanning] G[annett]., “Ralph Waldo Emerson: A Life Sketch,” Unity, 12 May 1888, 140.Two works instrumental to the recovery of Emerson are Nancy Craig Simmons, The Selected Letters of Mary Moody Emerson (Athens: U of Georgia P, 1993), and Phyllis Cole, Mary Moody Emerson and the Origins of Transcendentalism: A Family History (New York: Oxford UP, 1998). Throughout this Introduction, we refer to Mary Moody Emerson as “Emerson,” since she is the primary figure of this edition. To avoid confusing the reader with multiple uses of the Emerson family name, we refer to Ralph Waldo Emerson as “Waldo.”

2. For scholarship on Emerson, see Noelle A. Baker, “‘Somthing more than material’: Nonverbal Conversation in Mary Moody Emerson’s Almanacks,” Resources for American Literary Study 35 (2010): 29-67 (published 2012); Noelle A. Baker, “‘Let Me Do Nothing Smale’: Mary Moody Emerson and Women’s ‘Talking’ Manuscripts,” ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance 57.1-2 (2011): 21-48; Noelle A. Baker, and Sandra Harbert Petrulionis, “The Almanacks of Mary Moody Emerson: A Scholarly Digital Edition,” Documentary Editing 31 (2010): 10-24; Ronald A. Bosco, and Joel Myerson, The Emerson Brothers: A Biography in Letters (New York: Oxford UP, 2005); several works by Phyllis Cole, including Mary Moody Emerson and the Origins of Transcendentalism: A Family History (New York: Oxford UP, 1998); “Conversation that Makes the Soul: Writing the Biography of Mary Moody Emerson,” Lives Out of Letters: Essays in American Biography and Documentation, ed. Robert Habich (Madison NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2004), 205-24; “Pain and Protest in the Emerson Family,” The Emersonian Dilemma: Essays on Emerson and Social Reform, ed. T. Gregory Garvey (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2001), 67-92; “Woman Questions: Emerson, Fuller, and New England Reform,” Transient and Permanent: The Transcendentalist Movement and Its Contexts, ed. Charles Capper, and Conrad E. Wright (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society and Northeastern UP, 1999), 408-46; “Emerson in His Family,” The Cambridge Companion to Emerson, ed. Joel Porte, and Saundra Morris (New York: Cambridge UP, 1999), 30-48; “Men and Women Conversing: The Emersons in 1837,” Emersonian Circles: Essays in Honor of Joel Myerson, ed. Robert E. Burkholder, and Wesley T. Mott (Rochester, NY: U of Rochester P, 1997), 127-59; “Mary Moody Emerson,” The Encyclopedia of Transcendentalism, ed. Wesley T. Mott (Westport, CT: Greenwood P, 1996), 80-82; “The Advantage of Loneliness: Mary Moody Emerson’s Almanacks, 1802-1855,” Emerson: Prospect and Retrospect, ed. Joel Porte (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1982), 1-32; “From the Edwardses to the Emersons,” CEA Critic 49 (Winter/Summer 1986-1987): 70-78; and Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Mary Moody Emerson,” The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson [centennial ed.], ed. Edward Waldo Emerson, and James Elliot Cabot, 12 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1903-4), 10:399-433. [orig. pub. in Atlantic Monthly 52 (December 1883): 733-45]; Mary R. Fenn, “Mary Moody Emerson,” Tales of Old Concord (Concord, Mass.: Privately Printed for The Women’s Parish Association, 1965), 29-31; Louise Hastings, “Transcendentalism and the ‘Almanacks’ of Mary Moody Emerson,” ESQ 6 (1957): 9; Franklin Benjamin Sanborn, “New England Women: Mary Wilder White, Sarah Peabody, and Mary Moody Emerson,” Transcendental Youth and Age: Chapters in Biography and Autobiography, ed. Kenneth Walter Cameron (Hartford, CT: Transcendental Books, 1981), 104-6; Kenneth Walter Cameron, “Thoreau’s Autumn and Mary Moody Emerson,” Transcendental Writers and Heroes, ed. Cameron (Hartford, Conn.: Transcendental Books, 1978), 97-98; Kenneth Walter Cameron, “The Women of Concord,” Transcendental Epilogue: Primary Materials for Research in Emerson, Thoreau, Literary New England, the Influence of German Theology, and Higher Biblical Criticism, ed. Cameron (Hartford, CT: Transcendental Books, 1982), 25-47; [F. B. Sanborn], untitled obituary notice of Mary Moody Emerson, Boston Commonwealth, 8 May 1863; George Tolman, Mary Moody Emerson (Privately printed by Edward Waldo Forbes, 1929); and David R. Williams, “The Wilderness Rapture of Mary Moody Emerson,” Studies in the American Renaissance 1986, ed. Joel Myerson (Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 1986): 1-16.

3. Cole, Mary Moody Emerson, 75.

4. From classical times, commonplace books enabled readers to transcribe, arrange, and index excerpts (“commonplaces”) from their reading, often with original commentary and placed on the page to represent graphic as well as linguistic meaning. For selective scholarship, see Earle Havens, Commonplace Books: A History of Manuscripts and Printed Books from Antiquity to the Twentieth Century (New Haven: The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library [Yale Library], distributed by the UP of New England, 2001); and Stephen Colclough, Consuming Texts: Readers and Reading Communities, 1695-1870 (New York: Palgrave, 2007). The holograph Almanack manuscripts are contained in forty-eight folders and encased in protective mylar at Harvard University’s Houghton Library, where all but one folder are also preserved on microfilm and in digitized images (Emerson Family Papers, MS Am 1280.235 [385]; and Emerson Family Correspondence, MS Am 1280.226 [1303]). In the WWO, The Almanacks of Mary Moody Emerson: A Scholarly Digital Edition is being published in phases as individual folders are edited and partially annotated; ultimately, this edition will provide a TEI-conformant, searchable digital text of the complete manuscript series.

5. Baker, “‘Let me do nothing smale,’” 21-48. Selective scholarship on conversation as a Transcendentalist genre and expression of literary artistry, self-cultivation, and reform includes Lawrence Buell, Literary Transcendentalism: Style and Vision in the American Renaissance (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1973), 75-139; and Christina Zwarg, Feminist Conversations: Fuller, Emerson, and the Play of Reading (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1995).

6. Baker, “‘Somthing more than material,’” 29-67. In “These Flames and Generosities of the Heart: Emily Dickinson and the Illogic of Sumptuary Values,” (Sulfur 28 [1991]: 134-55), Susan Howe initiated what is now a dominant scholarly focus on “sensuous,” “visual productio[n]” (143), the contention that Dickinson regarded the graphic and material aspect of her manuscripts as central to her artistic project and its engagement with readers. Selective scholarship includes Martha Nell Smith, Rowing in Eden: Rereading Emily Dickinson (Austin: U of Texas P, 1993); Marta L. Werner, Emily Dickinson’s Open Folios: Scenes of Reading, Surfaces of Writing (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1995); and Alexandra Socarides, Dickinson Unbound: Paper, Process, Poetics (New York: Oxford UP, 2012).

7. Highlighting the need for editions of manuscripts like Emerson’s, for example, Theresa Strouth Gaul argues that “critical preoccupation with novels has exacted real damage on the recovery of women writers who employed other” genres (“Recovering Recovery: Early American Women and Legacy’s Future,” Legacy 26.2 [2009]: 274).

8. This and subsequent quotations from the Almanacks are from the editors’ transcriptions of the holograph manuscripts, Emerson Family Papers, MS 1280.235 (385), Ralph Waldo Emerson Memorial Association deposit, Houghton Library, Harvard University.

9. Simmons, Selected Letters, 410, 23-24; qtd. in Cole, Mary Moody Emerson, 269.

10. Ellen Tucker Emerson, The Letters of Ellen Tucker Emerson, ed. Edith E. W. Gregg (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1982), 1: 224. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations from Emerson’s Almanacks are from the editors’ transcriptions of the manuscripts (Emerson Family Papers, MS Am 1280.235 [385]); bracketed readings report George Tolman’s transcriptions of the Almanacks (Emerson Family Papers, MS Am 1280.235 [579-610]), Ralph Waldo Emerson Memorial Association deposit, Houghton Library, Harvard University.

11. Ralph Waldo Emerson published excerpts from his aunt’s Almanacks in his essay “Mary Moody Emerson,” in the Atlantic Monthly 52 (December 1883): 733-45, an essay that was later reprinted in The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Edward Waldo Emerson and James Elliot Cabot, 12 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1903-4), 10:399-433.

12. Edward W. Forbes, “Preface,” George Tolman, Mary Moody Emerson ([Cambridge: Privately printed, 1929], n.p.).

13. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks, ed. William H. Gilman, Ralph H. Orth, et al., 16 vols. (Cambridge: Belknap P of Harvard UP, 1960-82), 16:90, 11:330, 13:250.

14. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals and Notebooks, 1820-1880 (MS Am 1280H), folders 147-149; Houghton Library, Harvard University.

15. This essay, like others of his last publications, is the combined production of a mentally declining Waldo Emerson, his literary executor James Elliot Cabot, and his children Edward Waldo and Ellen Tucker Emerson. See Ronald A. Bosco, “Historical Introduction,” The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson Volume, vol. 8: Letters and Social Aims, ed. Bosco, Glen M. Johnson, and Joel Myerson (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2010), cxxxviii, n126.

16. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Mary Moody Emerson,” 735; Van Wyck Brooks, Life of Emerson (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1932), 7, 8.

17. Our work is indebted to Phyllis Cole’s earlier scholarship; as she suggests, “In addition to extricating a woman’s experience from the male tradition that preserved it, I have sought to turn the tables and reenvision the tradition from her vantage point” (Mary Moody Emerson, 7).

18. The Complete Sermons of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 4 vols., ed. Albert J. Von Frank (Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1989-92), 4:34-35.

19. The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. 9: Poems, A Variorum Edition, ed. Albert J. von Frank and Thomas Wortham (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2011), 340-363.

20. Noelle A. Baker, “Family,” Emerson in Context (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, forthcoming). Selective scholarship on Ralph Waldo Emerson’s publications on, experiments with, and borrowings from his intimates’ writings on friendship and love include Caleb Crain, American Sympathy: Men, Friendship, and Literature in the New Nation (New Haven: Yale UP, 2001), Kathleen Lawrence, “‘The Dry-Lighted Soul’ Ignites: Emerson and His Soul-Mate Caroline Sturgis As Seen in Her Houghton Manuscripts,” Harvard University Bulletin 16.3 (2005): 37-67; and William Rossi, “Performing Loss, Elegy, and Transcendental Friendship,” New England Quarterly 81.2 (2008): 252-277.

21. Emerson was powerfully affected by Vindication (1792) and Godwin’s St. Leon (1799), whose Marguerite was based on Wollstonecraft; de Staël’s Corinne (1807) offered a Romantic version of female power for Emerson.

22. In 1840, Ralph Waldo Emerson declared that a “revolution in literature” had granted “importance to the portfolio over the book” and characterized portfolio literature as manuscript verse, letters, and journals circulated among intimates (“New Poetry,” The Dial: A Magazine for Literature, Philosophy, and Religion 1 [October 1840]: 220-21).

23. Baker, “‘Somthing more than material,’” 43-48. For the view that early American women were essential to these debates about virtue and authority in these emerging public spheres, see especially Elizabeth Maddock Dillon, The Gender of Freedom: Fictions of Liberalism and the Literary Public Sphere (Stanford: Stanford UP, 2004).

24. Examples of such groundbreaking scholarship and recent critical calls for re-envisioning the movement include a special double-issue of ESQ devoted exclusively to this subject: “Exaltadas: A Female Genealogy of Transcendentalism,” ESQ 57.1-2; Judith Mattson Bean, “‘A Presence among Us’: Fuller’s Place in Nineteenth-Century Oral Culture,” ESQ 44.1-2 (1998): 79-123; Phyllis Cole, “Stanton, Fuller, and the Grammar of Romanticism,” New England Quarterly 73 (December 2000): 533-59; and Helen R. Deese, “A New England Women’s Network: Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, Caroline Healey Dall, and Delia S. Bacon,” Legacy 8 (1991): 77-91.

25. “Introduction” to “Exaltadas: A Female Genealogy of Transcendentalism,” ESQ 57.1-2 (2011): 2.

26. For Fuller’s “millennial language” in Woman in the Nineteenth Century, see David M. Robinson, “Margaret Fuller and the Transcendental Ethos: Woman in the Nineteenth Century,” PMLA 97 (January 1982): 94-95.

27. Deese, 80, 81.

28. Baker, “Let me do nothing smale,” 21-22; 30-43.

29. Simmons, Selected Letters, 538.

30. See, for example, Sandra Harbert Petrulionis, To Set This World Right: The Antislavery Movement in Thoreau’s Concord (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2006).

31. Simmons, Selected Letters, 460.

32. For this reference, we cite the WWO edition of Emerson’s Almanack Folder 4, at This folder is an encoded version of the editors’ transcription of the holograph manuscript in the Emerson Family Papers, MS Am 1280.235 (385, folder 4), Ralph Waldo Emerson Memorial Association deposit, Houghton Library, Harvard University.

33. Recent scholarship on commonplace books suggests that for their writers, both content and display were significant features of autobiographic self-fashioning, “the underlying concern” of the genre, according to Allan (Commonplace Books and Reading in Georgian England [New York: Cambridge UP, 2010], 56).

34. Baker, “‘Somthing more than material,’” 49-50.

35. Baker, “‘Somthing more than material,’” 41.