Press "Enter" to skip to content

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Shahjad 0


Ralph Waldo Emerson, (born May 25, 1803, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.—died April 27, 1882, Concord, Massachusetts), American lecturer, poet, and essayist, the leading exponent of New England Transcendentalism.

Emerson was the son of the Reverend William Emerson, a Unitarian clergyman and friend of the arts. The son inherited the profession of divinity, which had attracted all his ancestors in direct line from Puritan days. The family of his mother, Ruth Haskins, was strongly Anglican, and among influences on Emerson were such Anglican writers and thinkers as Ralph Cudworth, Robert Leighton, Jeremy Taylor, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

On May 12, 1811, Emerson’s father died, leaving the son largely to the intellectual care of Mary Moody Emerson, his aunt, who took her duties seriously. In 1812 Emerson entered the Boston Public Latin School, where his juvenile verses were encouraged and his literary gifts recognized. In 1817 he entered Harvard College (later Harvard University), where he began his journals, which may be the most remarkable record of the “march of Mind” to appear in the United States. He graduated in 1821 and taught school while preparing for part-time study in the Harvard Divinity School.

Though Emerson was licensed to preach in the Unitarian community in 1826, illness slowed the progress of his career, and he was not ordained to the Unitarian ministry at the Second Church, Boston, until 1829. There he began to win fame as a preacher, and his position seemed secure. In 1829 he also married Ellen Louisa Tucker. When she died of tuberculosis in 1831, his grief drove him to question his beliefs and his profession. But in the previous few years Emerson had already begun to question Christian doctrines. His older brother William, who had gone to Germany, had acquainted him with the new biblical criticism and the doubts that had been cast on the historicity of miracles. Emerson’s own sermons, from the first, had been unusually free of traditional doctrine and were instead a personal exploration of the uses of spirit, showing an idealistic tendency and announcing his personal doctrine of self-reliance and self-sufficiency. Indeed, his sermons had divested Christianity of all external or historical supports and made its basis one’s private intuition of the universal moral law and its test a life of virtuous accomplishment. Unitarianism had little appeal to him by now, and in 1832 he resigned from the ministry.

Ralph Waldo Emerson died of pneumonia on April 27, 1882.

 Famous Works by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson was a famous author in the United States and beyond, and collections of Emerson poems and essays continue to influence writers today. These are just some of his works:

  • 1. Divinity School Address (1838): Emerson gave this speech in 1838 to the graduating class of Harvard Divinity School. Emerson was previously a Unitarian minister but spoke to the crowd about transcendentalism and its benefits.
  • 2. “Concord Hymn” (1838): Emerson performed this poem in Concord, Massachusetts, when a monument to the Battle of Concord received its dedication.
  • 3. Essays: First Series (1841): This book focuses on transcendental thinking and the transcendentalist movement.
  • 4. “Self-Reliance” (1841): One of the essays contained in Essays: First Series, “Self-Reliance,” focuses on individualism within the transcendentalist framework and is a foundational writing in this particular area of philosophy.
  • 5. Essays: Second Series (1844): Following up his first collection of essays, this book furthers Emerson’s work as a transcendental writer and thinker.
  • 6. “Uriel” (1847): This poem is about Uriel, an archangel in Christianity.
  • 7. English Traits (1856): This collection of essays reflects on Emerson’s trips to Europe and England.
  • 8. “Brahma” (1857): This poem broke conventional poetry forms of the time by using an utterance as its basis.
  • 9. The Conduct of Life (1860): This collection contains nine poems followed by nine essays, all focused on the theme “How shall I live?”

Contemporaries of Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson traveled in literary circles. He met his European counterparts, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, and Thomas Carlyle on a trip overseas but had many literary friends who were Americans as well. He met writers in New York, and he famously allowed Henry David Thoreau to build a home near his property, Walden Pond. He also knew Nathaniel Hawthorne, but they did not like each other. Emerson gave lectures at places like Harvard University, and after the Civil War, he eulogized President Abraham Lincoln.

Famous Quotes by Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • The American Scholar (1837): In this speech at Harvard College, Emerson said: “This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.”
  • The Over-Soul (1841): In this essay about the human soul, the author wrote: “That which we are, we shall teach, not voluntarily, but involuntarily. Thoughts come into our minds by avenues which we never left open, and thoughts go out of our minds through avenues which we never voluntarily opened.”
  • “Self-Reliance” (1841): In this essay, which reflects Emerson’s transcendentalist views, he wrote: “Envy is ignorance, imitation is suicide.”
  • Representative Men (1850): This collection contains seven lectures Emerson gave between 1845 and 1850. In one, he said, “Every hero becomes a bore at last.”
  • Society and Solitude (1870): One of this collection’s twelve essays contains Emerson’s words: “Every man has a history worth knowing, if he could tell it, or if we could draw it from him.”
  • The Atlantic (1864): When Emerson helped establish the publication in 1857, he and the other co-founders initially called it The Atlantic Monthly. In 1864, he contributed the following in celebration of the 300th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth: “Genius is the consoler of our mortal condition, and Shakespeare taught us that the little world of the heart is vaster, deeper, and richer than the spaces of astronomy.”
  • “Goethe; Or, The Writer” (1850): In this essay included in Representative Men, Emerson wrote: “Nothing so broad, so subtle, or so dear, but comes therefore commended to his pen, and he will write.”

Other American Authors

  4.    MARK TWAIN
  7.    T.S. ELLIOT

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *