OPINIONS & Virw^TnnTimeless Apostasy ChicnGay Wilson Allen: Waldo Emerson, AnBiography; Simon & Schuster; NewnYork.nby OttoJ. Scottnseveral commentators have claimednthat Gay Wilson Allen has written thenfirst full biography of Emerson in thirtynyears. That is untrue—EdwardnWagenecht published a biography ofnEmerson in 1974; Joel Porte issuednanother in 1979- Both these volumes arenstill drifting through remainder outlets.nBeyond that, a visit to the University ofnCalifornia’s central library in La Jollanrevealed: fourteen fat volumes of Emerson’snLetters; forty-six even glossiernvolumes oihisjouma/s, plus a summarynvolume of the same stupendous/oarna/s;nfour fiill shelves of miscellaneousnvolumes devoted to the Sage of Concord;nforty-five volumes of the Emerson SocietynQuarterly. All this was seen, mindnyou, in only a ctirsory glance toward thengreat mounds of reverence heaped at thenfeet of the Sage. It would seem that anrepetition of what is known about Emersonnwould be redundant beyond belief,nthat no contemporary biographer wouldndare to issue yet another volume unlessnhe had unearthed or perceived somethingnthe others missed. Dr. Allen says asnmuch himself in his preface. He makesnmuch of the fact that Emerson chose tonbe called Waldo by his friends, a point I,ntoo, noted some years back. He, furthermore,nclaims that Ralph L. Rusk’s biographynof Emerson is “weak on the intimate,npersonal life and in literary interpretation.”nI did not find it so. In fact,nDr. Allen’s version is basically little differentnfrom Dr. Rusk’s. Dr. Rusk was anmore polished writer and provided anwork that, as Dr. Allen admits, set thenstandard for thirty years. To a large extentnMr. Scott is a frequent contributor to thenChronicles.n6nChronicles of Culturenthat standard remains aloft. But it seemsntime for some scholar to shake off thenmisplaced veneration and take a closernlook at Emerson. Such an examination isnlong overdue: the general detail of Emerson’snlife is so well-known as to be commonplace.nDespite Dr. Allen’s illusionnthat he is telling the world somethingnnew (having unearthed more Emersonnletters), we learn little that is new andnmiss much that is old.nWhat we need is a more accuratenplacement of Emerson’s position in thenlarger scheme of the world at that time.nThat world was in the throes of bitternargument over Christianity. It wasnthrashing about in shallow water, disturbednwith waves created by the passagenof various European vessels. This was notna new situation; such upheavals had lednEmerson’s forebears to the Puritan colonynof Massachusetts. The Puritans,nhowever, were intellectuals who knewnprecisely what they believed and whatnthey refused to accept. They were awarenthat Pascal had taken atheists seriouslynand credited atheism as a religious position.nTherefore the Puritans denied admissionnto individuals of that contrarynfaith. Perry Miller of Harvard dammed anlong river of drivel about the Puritans bynresurrecting their literary and philo­nnnsophical works, proving that they werenformidable scholars and sophisticatednChristians. Their problem regardingnatheists is similar to the challenge presentednto a free society today by communists.nTo allow the enemies of freedomnto destroy freedom was a trap intonwhich the Puritans refused to fall. Thatnhas since been termed intolerance, but atnleast Massachusetts survived. In time, ofncourse, it succumbed to prosperity andnthe eroding effect of generations of easenand comfort. By the time young Emerson,nheir to seven generations of ministers,ncame along, the tides of atheismnwere mnning strong in Europe and beingnfelt in New England. In Emerson’s youthnthese trends seemed novel. The FrenchnRevolution had proven the vulnerabilitynof the Church, and, after Napoleon’sndefeat, anticlerical arguments once againngrew fashionable. When Emerson wasntwenty-one years old, in 1824, the ideasnof the Enlightenment were, once again,nfloating free.nrLmerson’s mentor was Dr. WilliamnEUery Channing, a figure whom Dr.nAllen treats only in passing—a significantnerror, one that betrays a lack ofnunderstanding of the period. Dr. Channingnwas a formidable figure in Bostonnwho had moved smoothly from Calvinismnto the distinctly anti-Christian Unitariannposition, acquiring along the waynsome literary success. He undertook tonreview and criticize Milton and was hailednthroughout England by various avantnUnitarians as a perfect exemplar ofnAmerica. Channing’s literary fame was,nin fact, the precursor of Emerson’s. Tonobserve that Emerson imitated Channingnin both theology and literature is tonstate the obvious. Yet Dr. Allen does notnrefer to it. Instead, he describesnEmerson’s Aunt Mary—^who did understandnthe religious and theological issuesnof her time—as an “eccentric.” In reality,nEmerson’s Aunt Mary not only watchedn