Listening to Emerson's "England" at Clinton Hall, 22 January 1850

Tom F. Wright

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    Ralph Waldo Emerson's delivery of his essay “England” at Manhattan’s Clinton Hall on 22 January 1850 was one of the highest-profile of his performance career. He had recently returned from his triumphant British speaking tour with a radically revised view of transatlantic relations. In a New York still in shock from the Anglophobic urban riots of the previous winter, media observers were prepared to find a great deal of symbolism in both Emerson's new message and his idiosyncratic style of performance. This essay provides a detailed account of the context, delivery and conflicting newspaper readings of this Emerson appearance. Considering the lecture circuit as part of broader performance culture and debates over Anglo-American physicality and manners, it reveals how the press seized on both the “England” talk itself and aspects of Emerson's lecturing style as a means of shoring up civic order and Anglo-American kinship. I argue for a reexamination of the textual interchanges of nineteenth-century oratorical culture, and demonstrate how lecture reports reconnect us to forgotten means of listening through texts and discursive contests over the meaning of public speech.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)641-662
    Number of pages22
    JournalJournal of American Studies
    Issue number03
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2012

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