Emerson as Mentor
Emma Lazarus, 1849 - 1887
In 1868 the precocious young Emma Lazarus sent Ralph Waldo Emerson a copy of her first book. Over the next few years, Emerson became a trusted mentor, offering notes on her poems that ranged from enthusiastic praise to pointed criticism. But whether complementing or criticizing, Emerson remained a supportive reader.
Lazarus assumed her poems would be included in her mentor's 1874 anthology entitled Parnassus. Instead she was surprised and angry to find her work missing from Emerson's selections. She sent him a strong letter demanding an explanation. "Your favorable opinion having been confirmed by some of the best critics of England and America," she wrote, "I felt as if I had won for myself by my own efforts a place in any collection of American poets, and I find myself treated with absolute contempt in the very quarter where I had been encouraged to build my fondest hopes."
There is no record of Emerson's response, but their friendship seemed to have survived this rift. Lazarus's respect for Emerson remained constant, and she often praised him in essays and poems. Emerson also invited his "dear friend" to Concord in 1876, and again in 1879.
- For Emerson's comments to Lazarus, see Letters to Emma Lazarus in the Columbia University Library, Ralph L. Rusk, ed. (New York: New York Public Library, 1949) 3-16. For example, see "My dear friend," 19 November 1868, p. 9 and "My dear friend," 7 June 1869, p.11.
- For the quote of Lazarus' letter to Emerson, see Emma Lazarus, "My dear Mr. Emerson," 27 December 1874, included in Max I. Baym, "Emma Lazarus and Emerson," Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society 38 (1948): 269-270.
- For Lazarus's thoughts on Emerson, see Emma Lazarus, "Emerson's Personality," Century 24 (February 1883): 454-455 and "To R.W.E." Critic 5 (August 1884): 5-6.
- On Lazarus's visits, see Rusk 16 and Young 72. For Ellen Emerson's letter, see Ellen Emerson, "My dear Edith," 6 September 1876, The Letters of Ellen Tucker Emerson, vol. 2, ed. Edith E.W. Gregg (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1982) 225.