The Times have Definitely Changed
I came upon this diary entry in my archival research. It is from a Concord minister named Daniel Foster who was friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson. He has just discovered that Emerson is a horrible sinner. I’ve removed the exact crime that Foster is upset about.
One fact I learned this night which has caused my heart to cry out in its grief. R.W. Emerson [commits unnameable sin]. He is thus exerting a terrible influence upon the destiny of some of our young men. It seems to me so wrong, so strange that I can hardly persuade myself the report is true. I cannot think Mr. E the noble independent man I had before thought him to be. My opinion of his true manliness is greatly altered by this sad fact. It is truly a cause of very deep grief to have the ideal beauty which I associated with Emerson’s character marred by such a disastrous practice as the [unnameable sin]. How blindly after all our scholars and thinkers will sometimes follow wicked fashions for the want of true manhood. What a bundle of contradictions is man at his best estate if the Divine Spirit is refused a home in his heart.
So what terrible crime did Emerson commit? Lying? Theft? Father-Raping?No, he “puts wine upon his table for friends and uses it occasionally himself.”
Mind you, this is in a personal journal, meant for no one. Now, of course, I mainly posted it because its hilariously prudish. What would Daniel Foster make of, say, Sid Vicious? But also because we’ve been socialized to assume that every Victorian, just like everyone in the 50s, was really a boiling cauldron of hypocrisy and repression. Sometimes I wonder, though, whether some of them (like the good Rev. Foster) really were just actually that moralistic and straight-laced. I mean, what did Foster have to gain by writing in his journal this stuff? Performing his self-righteousness? To himself?
On a side note, and perhaps I’ll write about this later, Foster was a pretty cool guy. He ended up fighting with John Brown in Kansas and died in battle leading a regiment of black soldiers in the Civil War. Marcuse to the contrary, maybe repression of your primal instincts doesn’t always make you a fascist.