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About Lydia Emerson
Born Lydia Jackson in Plymouth, nicknamed “Asia” and “Queenie” by her husband, Lidian Emerson (1802-1892) was a spiritual and intellectual woman. She and Emerson shared an essentially stable, happy married life, based on mutual respect and upon love and concern for their children. The second Mrs. Emerson understood and accepted how deeply her husband had cared for his first wife, but at times had difficulty coping with his emotional reserve and with his absences from the household while on lecture tours and trips. She suffered from periods of illness and depression.
A Congregationalist-turned-Unitarian influenced by the philosophy of Swedenborg, Lidian was religiously more conservative than her husband, and critical of Transcendental extremes. She was involved early in the antislavery cause in Concord and later promoted women’s suffrage. She cared deeply for animals and believed in their humane treatment.
Lidian could hold her own conversationally with the many visitors who came to her home to talk with her husband. She was as much a friend as Emerson to many in his circle. She and Henry Thoreau were particularly close. She had a good—sometimes biting—sense of humor, and did not hesitate to engage in repartee.
Although Lidian fulfilled the traditional duties of marriage and motherhood, and although the primacy of her husband’s intellectual life pushed her talents and needs into the background, she was a complex woman of strong mind, character, conviction, and opinion. By and large, their marriage withstood the strain of Emerson’s high-profile life.
“One of my wise masters, Edmund Burke, said, ‘A wise man will speak the truth with temperance that he may speak it the longer.’ In this new sentiment that you awaken in me, my Lydian Queen, what might scare others pleases me, its quietness, which I accept as a pledge of permanence. I delighted myself on Friday with my quite domesticated position & the good understanding that grew all the time, yet I went & came without one vehement word—or one passionate sign. In this was nothing of design, I merely surrendered myself to the hour & to the facts. I find a sort of grandeur in the modulated expressions of a love in which the individuals, & what might seem even reasonable personal expectations, are steadily postponed to a regard for truth & the universal love. Do not think me a metaphysical lover. I am a man & hate & suspect the over refiners, & do sympathize with the homeliest pleasures & attractions by which our good foster mother Nature draws her children together. Yet am I well pleased that between us the most permanent ties should be the first formed & thereon should grow whatever others human nature will.”—RWE to Lydia Jackson, February 1, 1835
“My wife Lidian is an incarnation of Christianity,—I call her Asia—& keeps my philosophy from Antinomianism.”—RWE to Thomas Carlyle, May 10, 1838
“Blessed be the wife that in the talk tonight shared no vulgar sentiment, but said, In the gossip & excitement of the hour, be as one blind & deaf to it. Know it not. Do as if nothing had befallen. And when it was said by the friend, The end is not yet: wait till it is done; she said, ‘It is done in Eternity.’ Blessed be the wife! I, as always, venerate the oracular nature of woman. The sentiment which the man thinks he came unto gradually through the events of years, to his surprise he finds woman dwelling there in the same, as in her native home.”--RWE, journal, September 29, 1838
“Queenie (who has a gift to curse & swear) will every now & then in spite of all manners & christianity rip out on Saints, reformers, & Divine Providence with the most edifying zeal. In answer to the good Burrill Curtis who asks whether trade will not check the free course of love she insists ‘it shall be said that there is no love to restrain the course of, & never was, that poor God did all he could, but selfishness fairly carried the day.’ ”—RWE, journal, September?, 1841
“Queenie’s epitaph: ‘Do not wake me.’ ”—RWE, journal, March?, 1843.
When Henry David Thoreau came to live with the Emeson family in 1841, Lidian and he became good friends.
Thoreau writes the following in a letter to Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Lidian and I make very good housekeepers. She is a very dear sister to me." - Henry Thoreau as Remembered by a Young Friend.
He also helped Lidian Emerson when Ralph was traveling. The following is a story about how Thoreau came up with the idea of booties for the chickens so they would not destroy Mrs. Emerson's roses.
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." - Edward Waldo Emerson from Henry Thoreau as Remembered by a Young Friend.
Thoreau was always ready to lead a huckleberry party and posed this question to Mrs. Emerson in a letter he sent to her while he was in Staten Island on October 16, 1843. "Have you had the annual berrying party, or sat on the Cliffs a whole day this summer?
Lidian Emerson died in 1892 at the age of 90. She is buried in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery next to her husband.
Lydia Emerson's Timeline
September 20, 1802
October 30, 1836
Concord, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States
February 24, 1839
November 22, 1841
Concord, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States
July 10, 1844
Concord, Middlesex, Massachusetts, USA
November 13, 1892