Lidian Jackson Emerson

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Lidian Jackson Emerson
Daguerreotype Lydia Jackson Emerson and Edward Waldo Emerson 1840.jpeg
Lidian Emerson with Edward Waldo Emerson
Born (1802-09-20)September 20, 1802
Plymouth, Massachusetts
Died November 13, 1892(1892-11-13) (aged 90)
Concord, Massachusetts
Resting place
Concord, Massachusetts
Known for wife of Ralph Waldo Emerson
Children Waldo Emerson, Ellen Emerson, Edith Emerson Forbes, Edward Waldo Emerson

Lidian Jackson Emerson (September 20, 1802- November 13, 1892) was the second wife of American essayist, lecturer, poet and leader of the nineteenth century Transcendentalism movement, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and mother of his four children. An intellectual, she was involved in many social issues of her day, advocating for the abolition of slavery, the rights of women and of Native Americans and the welfare of animals, and campaigned for her famous husband to take a public stand on the causes in which she believed.[1]

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

The fifth child of Charles and Lucy Cotton Jackson, Lydia Jackson was raised in austerity; by the time she was orphaned at sixteen, two of her siblings had also died, and Lydia was sent to live with relatives.[2]At the age of nineteen she developed scarlet fever, which was judged the source of her lifelong poor-health. Her head was said to be "hot ever after", and chronic digestive problems, with neurologic pain in the gastric and epigastric regions, discouraged her from eating and she became quite thin. She also dosed herself with calomel-- a commonly-used preparation containing mercury, now known to damage health.[3] The terror of her childhood would haunt Lydia Jackson all her life.[4]

Marriage[edit]

In 1834, Lydia Jackson heard Ralph Waldo Emerson give a lecture in her town of Plymouth, Massachusetts and was "so lifted to higher thoughts" that she had to hurry home before those thoughts could be tainted with everyday things. She attended another lecture and a social gathering afterward, where she was able to speak with Mr. Emerson. Although by nature a practical woman, she was inclined toward belief in omens and experienced two pre-cognitive episodes, in which she saw herself married to Emerson although they had met only once. A letter from Emerson containing a marriage proposal arrived soon after Lydia's vision of his face, looking into her eyes. Although content, at age thirty-two, with the life of a spinster-aunt who tended a garden and kept chickens, Lydia Jackson accepted Ralph Waldo Emerson's proposal.[5]

Mayflower House Museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts: the girlhood home of Lidian Emerson

The couple were married on September 14, 1835, in the parlor of the Jackson family home overlooking Plymouth Harbor. The house, known as the Edward Winslow House, is now the headquarters of The Mayflower Society.

Newlyweds Lydia and Ralph Waldo Emerson settled immediately in Concord,in a large white house they named "Bush". It was here Lydia Emerson would play hostess to a continual stream of dinner and overnight guests throughout the years of her marriage.[6]

Emerson Family Home in Concord

Emerson immediately began calling his wife "Lidian" rather than Lydia, possibly to avoid her name being pronounced "Lidiar" as would be common in New England.[7] In his book, Emerson Among the Eccentrics, Carlos Baker suggests the possibility Emerson made the change because "something in his quiet association with her recalled to his memory Milton's lines from L'Allegro:

And ever, against eating cares,
Lap me in soft Lydian airs,
Married to immortal verse
Such as the meeting soul may pierce..."[8]

On the other hand, Lidian always referred to her husband as "Mr. Emerson", reflecting "New England reserve" rather than lack of affection.[9] Lydia Jackson's name is "Lidian" on her tombstone in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

Front Face of Gravestone of Lidian Jackson Emerson, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

Motherhood[edit]

Lidian's frequent bouts of illness and chronic fatigue were made worse during pregnancy, when it was difficult for her to take proper nourishment due to gastric upsets. Nevertheless, the Emersons had four children. Waldo, born October 30, 1836, would succumb to scarlet fever at age five-- a loss from which Lidian Emerson would never heal.[10]Eldest daughter, Ellen, would be named for the first wife of Ralph Waldo Emerson at Lidian's suggestion. Ellen Tucker Emerson, born February 24, 1839, would remain unmarried and serve to be a great help to her father in his work. She would write a biography of her mother and live to be sixty-nine. Edith Emerson, born November 22, 1841, would marry William, the son of John Murray Forbes, bear him eight children, and live to be eighty-seven. Edward Waldo Emerson, born July 10, 1844, would become a medical doctor and, upon his death at eighty-five, outlive all but one of his seven children. The Emerson family is at rest in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord on Author's Ridge.

Friendships[edit]

A friendship developed between Lidian Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, who roomed with the Emersons, assisting with household maintenance and guiding the Emerson children. When Emerson went abroad in 1847, Thoreau wrote him that "Lidian and I make very good housekeepers. She is a very dear sister to me."[11]

The little garden which was being planted with fruit-trees and vegetables, with Mrs. Emerson's tulips and roses from Plymouth at the upper end, needed more care and much more skill to plant and cultivate than the owner had; who, moreover, could only spare a few morning hours to the work. So Thoreau took it in charge for his friend. He dealt also with the chickens, defeating their raids on the garden by asking Mrs. Emerson to make some shoes of thin morocco to stop their scratching."[11]

Beliefs[edit]

In his own autobiography, Franklin Benjamin Sanborn describes Emerson's aunt, Mary Moody Emerson, greeting the new Mrs. Emerson with, "You know, dear, that we think you are among us, but not of us."[12] Years later, Ellen Emerson would explain that her mother always felt her home to be Plymouth; Lidian Jackson Emerson never fully engaged in the life of Concord, and never fully shared her husband's philosophy, which came into conflict with the strict orthodoxy of an upbringing into which the circumstances of her life would cause her to retreat.[13] Sanborn would opine that "Mrs. Emerson held a position in religion midway between the gloomy, fading Calvinism of Mary Emerson, and the intuitive, ideal Theism of her nephew."[14]

Death[edit]

In mid-November, 1892, Ellen Emerson reported that her mother was breathing heavily, as though she had a cold.

"Before we went to bed Miss Leavitt[15] was seriously alarmed. I asked Mother if I should read to her. She asked what. I said father's letters to Mr. Carlyle, and she said, By all means. I read and she slept. At about seven I tried to give her some hot milk from the sprout-cup. She said, I can't. The rattling in her throat stopped, she opened her eyes, I saw she was dying for they were dead. At 7:35 I think she breathed her last. I sent for Miss Leavitt, who smoothed her hair. Edward was a wise and skillful hand, and a great comfort." [16]

Lidian Emerson had outlived her husband by more than ten years, and was laid to rest beside him in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

Reverse of Gravestone of Lidian Jackson Emerson, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

Significance[edit]

Near the end of his own life, Frank Sanborn described Mrs. Emerson as "a stately, devoted, independent person", with "the air... of a lady abbess, relieved of the care of her cloister, and given up to her garden, her reforms, and her unceasing hospitalities."[17]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Brown, Amy Belding, Mr. Emerson's Wife, St. Martin's Griffin, 2006.
  2. ^ Richardson, Robert D. Jr., Emerson: The Mind on Fire, University of California Press, 1995, p. 167.
  3. ^ Baker, Carlos, Emerson Among the Eccentrics, Penguin Books, New York, 1997, p. 40.
  4. ^ Richardson, Robert D. Jr., Emerson: The Mind on Fire, University of California Press, 1995, p. 194.
  5. ^ Baker, Carlos, Emerson Among the Eccentrics, Penguin Books, New York, 1997, pp. 36-38.
  6. ^ Dear Mr. Emerson, The New York Times review of the book, The Selected Letters of Lidian Jackson Emerson, Delores Bird Carpenter, ed., Columbia: University of Missouri Press, which may be read on line at [1].
  7. ^ Emerson, Ellen Tucker, The Life of Lidian Jackson Emerson, Delores Bird Carpenter, ed., Boston: Twayne, 1981,.
  8. ^ Baker, Carlos, Emerson Among the Eccentrics, Penguin Books, New York, 1997, p,38.
  9. ^ Richardson, Robert D.,Jr., Emerson: The Mind on Fire, University of California Press, 1995, p. 192.
  10. ^ Brooks, Paul, The People of Concord: One Year in the Flowering of New England, Chester, Connecticut: Globe Pequot Press, 1990, p. 25
  11. ^ a b Edward Waldo Emerson (1917). Henry Thoreau: As Remembered by a Young Friend, Edward Waldo Emerson. Houghton Mifflin. 
  12. ^ Sanborn, F.B. Recollections of Seventy Years, Vol. 2, Boston, Richard G. Badger, the Gorham Press, 1909, pp. 481-482.
  13. ^ Brooks, Paul, The People of Concord: One Year in the Flowering of New England, Chester, Connecticut: Globe Pequot Press, 1990, pp. 22-24.
  14. ^ Sanborn, F.B. Recollections of Seventy Years, Vol. 2, Boston, Richard G. Badger, the Gorham Press, 1909, pp. 481-482.
  15. ^ Alice Leavitt, sister-in-law of F.B. Sanborn, was hired as Lidian Emerson's caregiver.
  16. ^ Clark, Tom Foran, The Significance of Being Frank: The Life and Times of Franklin Benjamin Sanborn, (Kindle Locations 4680-4684), Smashwords.com.
  17. ^ Sanborn, F.B. Recollections of Seventy Years, Vol. 2, Boston, Richard G. Badger, the Gorham Press, 1909, p. 482.