- I - Nature, Addresses & Lectures ( 19 Articles )
Volume I, Nature, Addresses and Lectures, contains Emerson's first published work, Nature, originally published anonymously in 1836 as a ninety-five page volume. At the time it was considered "one of most startlingly new notes, all circumstances considered, ever to be struck in American literature." The little book did not sell well, but it drew great interest to Emerson and helped to launch his career as a lecturer.
The rest of the volume contains important work, including "The American Scholar," delivered at Harvard in 1837, and the great "Divinity School Address," which was so controversial that Emerson was not invited back to speak at Harvard for thirty years.
- II - Essays I ( 12 Articles )
Volume II, Essays First Series, was first published in 1841 by Jas. Monroe & Sons, Boston. The first reviews were mixed, varying according to biased opinions about this "new thought." After Emerson's death, the work appeared as Volume II in the Centenary Edition, published by Houghton Mifflin. A newly edited volume was published by The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press in 1979.
- III - Essays II ( 9 Articles )
Essays, Second Series, was originally published in 1844, three years after Essays, First Series. The major event in Emerson's life during this period was the death of his son,Waldo, Jr., aged five, who died quite suddenly in 1842 from scarlet fever. The essay "Experience" reflects this tragic event and is thought by many to signal a turning point in Emerson's vision. But the rest of the volume continues the major themes begun earlier.
- IV - Representative Men ( 7 Articles )
In Representative Men Emerson explores the theme of "The Uses of Great Men" and in that introductory essay, he deals with the important issue of the differences between genius and so-called "ordinary" persons. He was a great beliver in the idea that "There is one mind common to all individual men" and that "in every work of genious we recognize our own rejected thoughts."
- V - English Traits ( 19 Articles )
English Traits was published first in 1856 and is different from the rest of Emerson's works in that rather than concerning the inner life and Emerson's major themes of self-recovery and self-reliance, the book is about a country and its people. It praises England and its people while also pointing out limitations and failures. He admires the English most of all for their common sense. As he wrote, "An Englishman must be treated with sincerity and reality; with muffins and not the promise of muffins."
- VI - Conduct of Life ( 9 Articles )
The Conduct of Life was first published in 1860 at the height of Emerson's fame. The book was well received and sold very well. His English friend Thomas Carlyle said about it, "I read it a great while ago...with a satisfaction given me by the Books of no other living mortal." Published on the eve of the Civil War, the essays are particularly important for an understanding of America just prior to her greatest challenge and threat to her survival as a nation. Â Â
- VII - Society and Solitude ( 12 Articles )
Society and Solitude, not published until 1870, is comprised of lectures turned into essays that Emerson gave over many years as he toured the country. "Eloquence" and "Domestic Life," for example, were early lectures. Those interested in ethical principles will appreciate "Courage" and "Success," whereas those more interested in daily life will appreciate the remaining essays in this volume.
- VIII - Letters and Social Aims ( 11 Articles )
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- IX - Poems ( 2 Articles )
Emerson always thought of himself as a poet, and he found that as he prepared lectures and essays for publication, his work was often interrupted by the urge to write a poem. In some cases, such as the justly famous "Threnody," a poem emerged from a tragic event, like the death of his son Waldo, Jr. But in most cases, Nature was the inspiration. One of his final poems, "Terminus" reflects what he saw as the lessening of his creative powers. It is, in many ways, the most moving of all his poems.
- X - Lectures and Biographical Sketches ( 19 Articles )
Volume X, Lectures and Biographical Sketches, collects some of the most interesting examples of Emerson's thought. His lecture on "Demonology," for example, warns against what he calls the "low curiosity" of the paranormal. "Education" is of great interest to teachers and the lecture has been used often by reformers in the field. The address entitled "Thoreau" was delivered at the funeral of Henry David Thoreau in May, 1862, and is the finest reminiscence we have of Emerson's great friend.
- XI - Miscellanies ( 29 Articles )
The final volume of the Complete Works, Miscellanies, gathers together a diverse and unrelated selection of lectures and essays. Of particular importance is "The Lord's Supper," Emerson's final sermon as Junior Minister of the Second Church in Boston. Also of interest is the "Historical Discourse in Concord," which traces the important history of the town in American history. Also, "The Fugitive Slave Law" represents Emerson's emergence as an active participant in the anti-slavery movement in America.
- XII - Natural History of the Intellect ( 18 Articles )
Volume XII, Natural History of the Intellect, was published by Emerson's editor and first biographer, James Elliot Cabot. The lectures in this volume were begun in England, worked on over the years, repeated during a Harvard course in 1871 and finally published in 1893, after Emerson's death. The essays are particularly important for a complete understanding of Emerson's view of the mind and his ongoing interest in the nature of consciousness.