Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882). The Complete Works. 1904.
Vol. I. Nature, Addresses and Lectures


IT has seemed fitting in the one hundredth year since the birth of Emerson to prepare a new edition of his writings in prose and verse. Nearly twenty years have gone by since the last edition was published. Mr. Emerson in his later years, when he found himself unequal to the task of revising the manuscript of his lectures and arranging the matter in permanent form, with hesitation approached on the subject the one man in whose taste and judgment he most confided, Mr. James Elliot Cabot. His friend consented, and came constantly to Concord to work on the papers, with most gratifying results. By him Letters and Social Aims was prepared for the press. Mr. Emerson in his will appointed him his literary executor.

Two years after Mr. Emerson’s death, eleven volumes, carefully edited by Mr. Cabot, were published in the “Riverside Edition”; and a twelfth was added in 1895. The preparation of the three posthumous volumes required much care and labor, and this work was excellently done.

Messrs. Houghton, Mifflin and Company last summer urged the fitness of preparing a Centenary Edition with full annotation, and the matter was submitted by me to Mr. Cabot. He concurred in their view, but felt unable to undertake the task and advised me to do so. With the sanction of his wish, and because of more ready access to the manuscript and other sources of information than another could have, I assumed the duty, hoping for the benefit of the advice of my father’s friend. This hope was cut off by Mr. Cabot’s death in January. But his admirable arrangement of the manuscript, years ago, in which task the help of his wife, now also gone, is gratefully remembered, had made the work lighter.

The first eight volumes contain the collected Essays as Mr. Emerson left them, except revision in punctuation and correction of obvious mistakes. The ninth volume comprises the pieces chosen by him from the “Poems” and “May-Day” to form the “Selected Poems,” with some restored that he omitted, and the addition of some poems and fragments never published in his lifetime, most of which appeared in the Riverside Edition. All verbal emendations in the poems have the sanction of his pencillings on the margin of his printed poems. The tenth, eleventh, and twelfth volumes consist of lectures unprinted during Mr. Emerson’s lifetime and of “Occasional Addresses” and other prose writings which have appeared separately or in periodicals.

In the edition which was published soon after Mr. Emerson’s death it did not seem best either to his family or to Mr. Cabot to present to the public any passages from Mr. Emerson’s journals or the earlier writings. The continued interest in his life and work, and the lapse of years and the death of his contemporaries, have made it seem perhaps well now to print some selections. Mr. Cabot sanctioned the consideration of this project. As the journals cover nearly half a century (although the greater part of their contents appears in the printed books), the editing would require time and care. It is hoped that a few volumes may be prepared from these.

I undertook the annotation of the works at the desire of the publishers, sharing their feeling that to the student of Emerson side-lights on the man, his surroundings, his work, and method might be welcome, gathered from the journals, the correspondence, reminiscences, and works written about him. In supplying the notes I have had to rely on my own judgment. The pressure due to the late undertaking of the work has prevented my revising and condensing them. Remembering that notes seem to many readers an interruption and even an impertinence, they have been placed at the end of each volume. Repetitions occur, because a reader who wishes information cannot search all the volumes. The occurrence of the same thought or expression in the prose and poems has been pointed out.

I thankfully acknowledge the help of friends in finding the more unusual quotations. I also gratefully recognize the help received from the works of various writers about my father.

CONCORD, April 8th, 1903.