The journals represent the pure Emerson. You shouldn’t think of them as “journals.” They do have clear order and form, but they are the keys to understanding him. Don’t invest in that over-edited Harvard edition, but do buy the complete journals — better, one of the old editions — and wade deeply into them. You’ll find the inner Waldo:
Whilst I adore this ineffable life which is at my heart, it will not condescend to gossip with me, it will not announce to me any particulars of science, it will not enter into the details of my biography, and say to me why I have a son and daughters born to me, or why my son dies in his sixth year of life. Herein, then I have this latent omniscience coexistent with omnigorance. Moreover, whilst this Deity glows at the heart, and by his unlimited presentiments gives me all Power, I know that to-morrow will be as this day, I am a dwarf, and I remain a dwarf. That is to say, I believe in Fate. As long as I am weak, I shall talk of Fate; whenever the God fills me with his fullness, I shall see the disappearance of Fate. I am defeated all the time; yet to Victory I am born.
That entry dates to April 1842. Magnificent. The essays are wonderful. The poems are very good. But the journals: sublime.
Also see The Quarterly Conversation’s review of NYRB’s edition of fellow transcendentalist Thoreau’s journals.