Emerson's decision to quit the ministry, arrived at painfully during the summer and fall of 1832, was accompanied by illness so severe that he was forced to give up any immediate thought of a new career. Instead, in December, he embarked on a tour of Europe that was to take him to Italy, France, Scotland, and England. Within a year after his return in the fall in 1833, his health largely restored, he went to live in the town of Concord, his home from then on.
The record of Emerson's ten months in Europe which makes up a large part of this book is unusually detailed and personal, actually a diary recording what Emerson saw and did as well as what he thought. He describes cities, scenes, and buildings that he found striking in one way or another and he gives impressions of the people he met. During his travels he made the acquaintance of Landor, of Lafayette, and of Carlyle, Wordsworth, and Coleridge, all of whom stimulated him. In Paris he was so much stirred by a visit to the Jardin des Plantes that he determined "to become a naturalist."
On his return to America, still without a profession, he reverted in his journals to the more impersonal form they had taken in his days as a minister, focusing on his inner experiences rather than on external events. Notes start dotting the pages once again, this time not so much for future sermons--although for years he did a certain amount of occasional preaching as for the addresses of the public lecturer he would soon become.
Through the thirty-four months covered by this volume, the journals continue to he the advancing record of Emerson's mind, demonstrating a growing maturity and firmness of style by compression and aphorism.