In the spring of 1871, Ralph Waldo Emerson boarded a train in Concord, Massachusetts, bound for a month-and-a-half-long tour of California—an interlude that became one of the highlights of his life. On their journey across the American West, he and his companions would take in breathtaking vistas in the Rockies and along the Pacific Coast, speak with a young John Muir in the Yosemite Valley, stop off in Salt Lake City for a meeting with Brigham Young, and encounter a diversity of communities and cultures that would challenge their Yankee prejudices.
Based on original research employing newly discovered documents, The California Days of Ralph Waldo Emerson maps the public story of this group’s travels onto the private story of Emerson’s final years, as aphasia set in and increasingly robbed him of his words. Engaging and compelling, this travelogue makes it clear that Emerson was still capable of wonder, surprise, and friendship, debunking the presumed darkness of his last decade.
"A vivid and painstakingly researched account of Emerson's late-in-life, seven-week trek across the North American continent in 1871 . . .Wilson has delved into guidebooks and newspapers, memoirs and public records, to build a rich sense of what it might have been like to arrive in the makeshift towns and railroad crossings along the way."—New York Review of Books
"It was, in other words, a brief chapter in a long, complicated, spiritually (if not geographically) restless existence, which Brian C. Wilson has brought to life in The California Days of Ralph Waldo Emerson . . . Wilson effectively conveys Emerson’s cultural myopia, along with its late-Victorian context."—Times Literary Supplement
"[Wilson's] research into the famed philosopher and poet’s footsteps in California became the deeply researched, enjoyably readable book, The California Days of Ralph Waldo Emerson.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“The California Days of Ralph Waldo Emerson finally completes an important story regarding the writer’s later life. It is a welcome addition to Emerson scholarship and the first comprehensive treatment of his journey westward to the Pacific state, demonstrating that the last word on his life, career, and importance to American culture has not yet been spoken.”—Ronald A. Bosco, general editor of The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Wilson’s writing is beautiful, with polished prose that is clean, clear, easy to follow, and lively. Based on careful research in primary and some secondary sources, much of the story unfolds in the words of those on the trip and is supplemented by contemporary travel books and other sources.”—Todd M. Kerstetter, author of Inspiration and Innovation: Religion in the American West