I found Ralph Waldo Emerson's famous words, “there is properly no history, only biography,” in his “Essay I” being quoted in the article titled “Keeping the dream alive: A biography,” appearing in June 21, 2012 Time magazine. The article deals with the collapse of American Dream, and “there is properly no history ...” comes in the following sentence:
“There is the crisis of our time. The American Dream may be slipping away. We have overcome such challenges before. To recover the Dream requires knowing where it came from, how it lasted so long and why it matters so much.
Emerson once remarked that there is properly no history, only biography. This is the biography of an idea, one that made America great. Whether that idea has much of a future is the question facing Americans now.”
The author, Jon Meacham seems to relate the word, “the biography of an idea” to American Dream, but I don’t get a clear idea about the phrase, “there is properly no history, only biography” meant by Emerson.
What does it mean in specific connection with “American Dream”?
By the way, what is the function of “properly” used as an adverb here? Does it mean “in proper (exact) sense, there is no (abstract string of) history, but for (individual) biography (of heroes or historic characters)?