Although he never wrote of it, Bob had in common with his subjects an experience of early loss—the death of a younger sibling, who happened to share the name of Thoreau’s beloved brother, John. Like John Thoreau, John Richardson was a golden boy, popular and athletic, good-natured, cherished. Leukemia took him at age seventeen in a matter of weeks. Older brother Bob, a college student, had been assisting their father on a research trip in England when news of John’s grim diagnosis reached them. His father flew back; Bob returned by Cunard liner with their luggage, arriving home shortly before his brother’s death in a hospital operating room during a final surgery. Is it any wonder Bob’s first biography told the story of a writer who held his brother John in his arms as he died, convulsing, delirious, of lockjaw? We need not ask how and when Bob Richardson learned resilience. And we know what it allowed him to do: write the enduring biographical works that are his legacy.
What you have learned and done, is safe and fruitful. Work and learn in evil days, in insulted days, in days of debt and depression and calamity. Fight best in the shade of the cloud of arrows.Emerson's journal
Not quite two months later, Emerson walked out to Roxbury to Ellen’s tomb as usual, but this trip was very different, because this time he opened the coffin and looked at the body of his young wife, who had died fourteen months earlier. He wrote down nothing—or nothing that has survived—of what he saw.
Margaret Fuller, the Dial’s first editor, had written Emerson in mid-March 1842, to say she just couldn’t continue. Emerson, with wry and characteristic humor, had agreed to take over. “Let there be rotation in martyrdom,” he said.
Instead, the process involved a deepening, a rethinking and revalidation of an approach to nature that Thoreau had already held in a general way before John’s death. But what had been a more or less conventional romantic approach to nature quickly became, after John’s death, a profoundly felt emotional acceptance—not just an intellectual assent—of death as an inescapable part of living, and an acceptance that at some level, there is no death. The very process of decay is a life process. The consequences of this view—of believing, not just mouthing—is to understand and accept a disindividualized view of life. The individual may die, but the materials that make up the individual do not. They are subsumed into new forms and so live on. This view, if one can grasp and hold it, means that in a general or communal sense, there is no death. This conviction, once firmly accepted, is, paradoxically, a powerful force for individual resilience.
In an 1884 essay “What is an emotion,” James outlines an approach, later called cognitive behavioral therapy, in which a person can change his thinking—change his attitude—and in turn help change behavior. The central paragraph is also the first version of what would become known as the James-Lange theory of emotion, which is that the emotion follows an action, rather than having an action follow from an emotion.
The lesson of life is practically to generalize; to believe what the years and the centuries say against the hours; to resist the usurpation of particulars; to penetrate to their catholic sense. Things seem to say one thing and say the reverse. The appearance is immoral, the result is moral. Things seem to tend downward, to justify despondency, to promote rogues, to defeat the just; and by knaves as by martyrs the just cause is carried forward. Although knaves win in every political struggle, although society seems to be delivered over from the hands of one set of criminals into the hands of another set of criminals, as fast as the government is changed, and the march of civilization is a train of felonies, yet, general ends are somehow answered.Emerson