Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Overview
Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American essayist, lecturer, and poet
Poet
A poet is a person who writes poetry. A poet's work can be literal, meaning that his work is derived from a specific event, or metaphorical, meaning that his work can take on many meanings and forms. Poets have existed since antiquity, in nearly all languages, and have produced works that vary...

, who led the Transcendentalist
Transcendentalism
Transcendentalism is a philosophical movement that developed in the 1830s and 1840s in the New England region of the United States as a protest against the general state of culture and society, and in particular, the state of intellectualism at Harvard University and the doctrine of the Unitarian...

 movement of the mid-19th century. He was seen as a champion of individualism
Individualism
Individualism is the moral stance, political philosophy, ideology, or social outlook that stresses "the moral worth of the individual". Individualists promote the exercise of one's goals and desires and so value independence and self-reliance while opposing most external interference upon one's own...

 and a prescient critic of the countervailing pressures of society, and he disseminated his thoughts through dozens of published essays and more than 1,500 public lectures across the United States.

Emerson gradually moved away from the religious and social beliefs of his contemporaries, formulating and expressing the philosophy of Transcendentalism in his 1836 essay, Nature.
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Quotations

The sublime is excited in me by the great stoical doctrine, Obey thyself.

The Divinity College Address (1838)

The man who renounces himself, comes to himself.

The Divinity College Address (1838)

None believeth in the soul of man, but only in some man or person old and departed.

The Divinity College Address (1838)

The imitator dooms himself to hopeless mediocrity. The inventor did it because it was natural to him, and so in him it has a charm. In the imitator something else is natural, and he bereaves himself of his own beauty, to come short of another man's.

The Divinity College Address (1838)

I fancy I need more than another to speak (rather than write), with such a formidable tendency to the lapidary style. I build my house of boulders.

Letter to Thomas Carlyle (1841-10-30)

Literature is the effort of man to indemnify himself for the wrongs of his condition.

Walter Savage Landor, from The Dial, XII
Encyclopedia
Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American essayist, lecturer, and poet
Poet
A poet is a person who writes poetry. A poet's work can be literal, meaning that his work is derived from a specific event, or metaphorical, meaning that his work can take on many meanings and forms. Poets have existed since antiquity, in nearly all languages, and have produced works that vary...

, who led the Transcendentalist
Transcendentalism
Transcendentalism is a philosophical movement that developed in the 1830s and 1840s in the New England region of the United States as a protest against the general state of culture and society, and in particular, the state of intellectualism at Harvard University and the doctrine of the Unitarian...

 movement of the mid-19th century. He was seen as a champion of individualism
Individualism
Individualism is the moral stance, political philosophy, ideology, or social outlook that stresses "the moral worth of the individual". Individualists promote the exercise of one's goals and desires and so value independence and self-reliance while opposing most external interference upon one's own...

 and a prescient critic of the countervailing pressures of society, and he disseminated his thoughts through dozens of published essays and more than 1,500 public lectures across the United States.

Emerson gradually moved away from the religious and social beliefs of his contemporaries, formulating and expressing the philosophy of Transcendentalism in his 1836 essay, Nature. Following this ground-breaking work, he gave a speech entitled The American Scholar
The American Scholar
The American Scholar was a speech given by Ralph Waldo Emerson on August 31, 1837, to the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Cambridge. He was invited to speak in recognition of his groundbreaking work Nature, published a year earlier, in which he established a new way for America's fledgling society to...

in 1837, which Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. was an American physician, professor, lecturer, and author. Regarded by his peers as one of the best writers of the 19th century, he is considered a member of the Fireside Poets. His most famous prose works are the "Breakfast-Table" series, which began with The Autocrat...

 considered to be America's "Intellectual Declaration of Independence".

Emerson wrote most of his important essays
Essays (Emerson)
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote several books of essays, commonly associated with transcendentalism and romanticism. "Essays" most commonly refers to his first two series of essays:* Essays: First Series* Essays: Second Series...

 as lectures first, then revised them for print. His first two collections of essays – Essays: First Series
Essays: First Series
Essays: First Series, is a series of essays written by Ralph Waldo Emerson, published in 1844, concerning transcendentalism. Some of the most notable essays in the collection are Self-Reliance, Compensation, The Over-Soul, and Circles....

and Essays: Second Series
Essays: Second Series
Essays: Second Series is a series of essays written by Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1844, concerning transcendentalism. It is the second volume of Emerson's Essays, the first being Essays: First Series. The book included several notable essays by Emerson, including The Poet, Experience, and...

, published respectively in 1841 and 1844 – represent the core of his thinking, and include such well-known essays as Self-Reliance
Self-Reliance
Self-Reliance is an essay written by American Transcendentalist philosopher and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson. It contains the most thorough statement of one of Emerson's repeating themes, the need for each individual to avoid conformity and false consistency, and follow his or her own instincts...

, The Over-Soul
Over-soul
“The Oversoul” is an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson, first published in 1841. The broad subject of the essay, considered one of Emerson's best, is the human soul...

, Circles
Circles (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Circles is an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson, first published in 1841. The essay consists of a philosophical view of the vast array of circles one may find throughout nature. In the opening line of the essay Emerson states "The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second; and...

, The Poet
The Poet (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
"The Poet" is an essay by U.S. writer Ralph Waldo Emerson, written between 1841 and 1843 and published in his Essays: Second Series in 1844. It is not about "men of poetical talents, or of industry and skill in meter, but of the true poet."-Overview:...

and Experience
Experience (Emerson)
"Experience" is the name of an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson. It was published in the collection Essays: Second Series in 1844.The essay is preceded by a poem of the same title....

. Together with Nature, these essays made the decade from the mid-1830s to the mid-1840s Emerson's most fertile period.

Emerson wrote on a number of subjects, never espousing fixed philosophical tenet
Tenet
A tenet is one of the principles on which a belief or theory is based. Tenet may also refer to:* Tenet , a Canadian heavy metal band* Tenet Healthcare, a hospital holding company* Tenet people, an ethnic group in Sudan...

s, but developing certain ideas such as individuality, freedom
Liberty
Liberty is a moral and political principle, or Right, that identifies the condition in which human beings are able to govern themselves, to behave according to their own free will, and take responsibility for their actions...

, the ability for humankind to realize almost anything, and the relationship between the soul and the surrounding world. Emerson's "nature" was more philosophical than naturalistic
Naturalism (philosophy)
Naturalism commonly refers to the philosophical viewpoint that the natural universe and its natural laws and forces operate in the universe, and that nothing exists beyond the natural universe or, if it does, it does not affect the natural universe that we know...

; "Philosophically considered, the universe is composed of Nature and the Soul."

While his writing style can be seen as somewhat impenetrable, and was thought so even in his own time, Emerson's essays remain among the linchpin
Linchpin
A linchpin, also spelled linch pin, lynchpin, or lynch pin, is a fastener used to prevent a wheel or other rotating part from sliding off the axle it is riding on. The word is first attested in the 14th century and derives from Middle English elements meaning "axletree pin".Securing implements onto...

s of American thinking, and Emerson's work has greatly influenced the thinkers, writers and poets that have followed him. When asked to sum up his work, he said his central doctrine
Doctrine
Doctrine is a codification of beliefs or a body of teachings or instructions, taught principles or positions, as the body of teachings in a branch of knowledge or belief system...

 was "the infinitude
Infinity
Infinity is a concept in many fields, most predominantly mathematics and physics, that refers to a quantity without bound or end. People have developed various ideas throughout history about the nature of infinity...

 of the private man."

Early life, family, and education


Emerson was born in Boston
Boston
Boston is the capital of and largest city in Massachusetts, and is one of the oldest cities in the United States. The largest city in New England, Boston is regarded as the unofficial "Capital of New England" for its economic and cultural impact on the entire New England region. The city proper had...

, Massachusetts
Massachusetts
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. It is bordered by Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south, New York to the west, and Vermont and New Hampshire to the north; at its east lies the Atlantic Ocean. As of the 2010...

 on May 25, 1803, son of Ruth Haskins and the Rev. William Emerson, a Unitarian
Unitarianism
Unitarianism is a Christian theological movement, named for its understanding of God as one person, in direct contrast to Trinitarianism which defines God as three persons coexisting consubstantially as one in being....

 minister. He was named after his mother's brother Ralph and the father's great-grandmother Rebecca Waldo. Ralph Waldo was the second of five sons who survived into adulthood; the others were William, Edward, Robert Bulkeley, and Charles. Three other children—Phebe, John Clarke, and Mary Caroline–died in childhood.

The young Ralph Waldo Emerson's father died from stomach cancer on May 12, 1811, less than two weeks before Emerson's eighth birthday. Emerson was raised by his mother, with the help of the other women in the family; his aunt Mary Moody Emerson
Mary Moody Emerson
Mary Moody Emerson was known not only as her nephew Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “earliest and best teacher,” but also as a “spirited and original genius in her own right”...

 in particular had a profound effect on Emerson. She lived with the family off and on, and maintained a constant correspondence with Emerson until her death in 1863.

Emerson's formal schooling began at the Boston Latin School
Boston Latin School
The Boston Latin School is a public exam school founded on April 23, 1635, in Boston, Massachusetts. It is both the first public school and oldest existing school in the United States....

 in 1812 when he was nine. In October 1817, at 14, Emerson went to Harvard College
Harvard College
Harvard College, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is one of two schools within Harvard University granting undergraduate degrees...

 and was appointed freshman messenger for the president, requiring Emerson to fetch delinquent students and send messages to faculty. Midway through his junior year, Emerson began keeping a list of books he had read and started a journal in a series of notebooks that would be called "Wide World". He took outside jobs to cover his school expenses, including as a waiter for the Junior Commons and as an occasional teacher working with his uncle Samuel in Waltham, Massachusetts
Waltham, Massachusetts
Waltham is a city in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States, was an early center for the labor movement, and major contributor to the American Industrial Revolution. The original home of the Boston Manufacturing Company, the city was a prototype for 19th century industrial city planning,...

. By his senior year, Emerson decided to go by his middle name, Waldo. Emerson served as Class Poet; as was custom, he presented an original poem on Harvard's Class Day, a month before his official graduation on August 29, 1821, when he was 18. He did not stand out as a student and graduated in the exact middle of his class of 59 people.

In 1826, faced with poor health, Emerson went to seek out warmer climates. He first went to Charleston, South Carolina, but found the weather was still too cold. He then went further south, to St. Augustine, Florida, where he took long walks on the beach, and began writing poetry. While in St. Augustine, he made the acquaintance of Prince Achille Murat
Prince Achille Murat
Achille Charles Louis Napoléon, Crown Prince of Naples, Hereditary Prince of Berg, 2nd Prince Murat was the eldest son of the King of Naples during the First French Empire and later in life mayor of Tallahassee, Florida in the United States.-Early life:Murat was born in the Hôtel de Brienne in...

. Murat, the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, was only two years his senior; they became extremely good friends and enjoyed one another's company. The two engaged in enlightening discussions on religion, society, philosophy, and government, and Emerson considered Murat an important figure in his intellectual education.

While in St. Augustine, Emerson had his first experience of slavery. At one point, he attended a meeting of the Bible Society while there was a slave auction taking place in the yard outside. He wrote, "One ear therefore heard the glad tidings of great joy, whilst the other was regaled with 'Going, gentlemen, going'!"

Early career



After Harvard, Emerson assisted his brother William in a school for young women established in their mother's house, after he had established his own school in Chelmsford, Massachusetts
Chelmsford, Massachusetts
Chelmsford is a suburban town in Middlesex County, Massachusetts in the Greater Boston area. As of the 2010 United States Census, the town's population was 33,802. The Census Bureau's 2008 population estimate for the town was 34,409, ranking it 14th in population among the 54 municipalities in...

; when his brother William went to Göttingen
Göttingen
Göttingen is a university town in Lower Saxony, Germany. It is the capital of the district of Göttingen. The Leine river runs through the town. In 2006 the population was 129,686.-General information:...

 to study divinity, Emerson took charge of the school. Over the next several years, Emerson made his living as a schoolmaster, then went to Harvard Divinity School
Harvard Divinity School
Harvard Divinity School is one of the constituent schools of Harvard University, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the United States. The School's mission is to train and educate its students either in the academic study of religion, or for the practice of a religious ministry or other public...

. Emerson's brother Edward, two years younger than he, entered the office of lawyer Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster was a leading American statesman and senator from Massachusetts during the period leading up to the Civil War. He first rose to regional prominence through his defense of New England shipping interests...

, after graduating Harvard first in his class. Edward's physical health began to deteriorate and he soon suffered a mental collapse as well; he was taken to McLean Asylum in June 1828 at age 23. Although he recovered his mental equilibrium, he died in 1834 from apparently longstanding tuberculosis
Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis, MTB, or TB is a common, and in many cases lethal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body...

. Another of Emerson's bright and promising younger brothers, Charles, born in 1808, died in 1836, also of tuberculosis
Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis, MTB, or TB is a common, and in many cases lethal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body...

, making him the third young person in Emerson's innermost circle to die in a period of a few years.

Emerson met his first wife, Ellen Louisa Tucker, in Concord, New Hampshire on Christmas Day, 1827, and married her when she was 18. The couple moved to Boston, with Emerson's mother Ruth moving with them to help take care of Ellen, who was already sick with tuberculosis
Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis, MTB, or TB is a common, and in many cases lethal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body...

. Less than two years later, Ellen died at the age of 20 on February 8, 1831, after uttering her last words: "I have not forgot the peace and joy." Emerson was heavily affected by her death and visited her grave in Roxbury daily. In a journal entry dated March 29, 1832, Emerson wrote, "I visited Ellen's tomb & opened the coffin."

Boston's Second Church
Second Church, Boston
The Second Church in Boston, Massachusetts was first a congregational church, and then beginning in 1802, a unitarian church. The congregation occupied a number of successive locations around town, including North Square, Hanover Street, Copley Square, and the Fenway. Ministers included Increase...

 invited Emerson to serve as its junior pastor and he was ordained on January 11, 1829. His initial salary was $1,200 a year, increasing to $1,400 in July, but with his church role he took on other responsibilities: he was chaplain to the Massachusetts legislature, and a member of the Boston school committee. His church activities kept him busy, though during this period, facing the imminent death of his wife, he began to doubt his own beliefs.

After his wife's death, he began to disagree with the church's methods, writing in his journal in June 1832: "I have sometimes thought that, in order to be a good minister, it was necessary to leave the ministry. The profession is antiquated. In an altered age, we worship in the dead forms of our forefathers." His disagreements with church officials over the administration of the Communion
Eucharist
The Eucharist , also called Holy Communion, the Sacrament of the Altar, the Blessed Sacrament, the Lord's Supper, and other names, is a Christian sacrament or ordinance...

 service and misgivings about public prayer eventually led to his resignation in 1832. As he wrote, "This mode of commemorating Christ is not suitable to me. That is reason enough why I should abandon it." As one Emerson scholar has pointed out, "Doffing the decent black of the pastor, he was free to choose the gown of the lecturer and teacher, of the thinker not confined within the limits of an institution or a tradition."

Emerson toured Europe in 1833 and later wrote of his travels in English Traits (1857). He left aboard the brig Jasper on Christmas Day, 1832, sailing first to Malta. During his European trip, he spent several months in Italy, visiting Rome, Florence and Venice, among other cities. When in Rome, he met with John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill was a British philosopher, economist and civil servant. An influential contributor to social theory, political theory, and political economy, his conception of liberty justified the freedom of the individual in opposition to unlimited state control. He was a proponent of...

, who gave him a letter of recommendation to meet Thomas Carlyle
Thomas Carlyle
Thomas Carlyle was a Scottish satirical writer, essayist, historian and teacher during the Victorian era.He called economics "the dismal science", wrote articles for the Edinburgh Encyclopedia, and became a controversial social commentator.Coming from a strict Calvinist family, Carlyle was...

. He went to Switzerland, and had to be dragged by fellow passengers to visit Voltaire
Voltaire
François-Marie Arouet , better known by the pen name Voltaire , was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit and for his advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion, free trade and separation of church and state...

's home in Ferney, "protesting all the way upon the unworthiness of his memory." He then went on to Paris, a "loud modern New York of a place,", where he visited the Jardin des Plantes
Jardin des Plantes
The Jardin des Plantes is the main botanical garden in France. It is one of seven departments of the Muséum national d'histoire naturelle. It is situated in the 5ème arrondissement, Paris, on the left bank of the river Seine and covers 28 hectares .- Garden plan :The grounds of the Jardin des...

. He was greatly moved by the organization of plants according to Jussieu's system of classification, and the way all such objects were related and connected. As Richardson says, "Emerson's moment of insight into the interconnectedness of things in the Jardin des Plantes was a moment of almost visionary intensity that pointed him away from theology and toward science."

Moving north to England, Emerson met William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth was a major English Romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with the 1798 joint publication Lyrical Ballads....

, Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Samuel Taylor Coleridge was an English poet, Romantic, literary critic and philosopher who, with his friend William Wordsworth, was a founder of the Romantic Movement in England and a member of the Lake Poets. He is probably best known for his poems The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla...

, and Thomas Carlyle
Thomas Carlyle
Thomas Carlyle was a Scottish satirical writer, essayist, historian and teacher during the Victorian era.He called economics "the dismal science", wrote articles for the Edinburgh Encyclopedia, and became a controversial social commentator.Coming from a strict Calvinist family, Carlyle was...

. Carlyle in particular was a strong influence on Emerson; Emerson would later serve as an unofficial literary agent in the United States for Carlyle, and in March 1835, he tried to convince Carlyle to come to America to lecture. The two would maintain correspondence until Carlyle's death in 1881.
Emerson returned to the United States on October 9, 1833, and lived with his mother in Newton, Massachusetts, until October, 1834, when he moved to Concord, Massachusetts
Concord, Massachusetts
Concord is a town in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, in the United States. As of the 2010 census, the town population was 17,668. Although a small town, Concord is noted for its leading roles in American history and literature.-History:...

, to live with his step-grandfather Dr. Ezra Ripley at what was later named The Old Manse
The Old Manse
The Old Manse is an historic manse famous for its American literary associations. It is now owned and operated as a nonprofit museum by the Trustees of Reservations...

. Seeing the budding Lyceum movement, which provided lectures on all sorts of topics, Emerson saw a possible career as a lecturer. On November 5, 1833, he made the first of what would eventually be some 1,500 lectures, discussing The Uses of Natural History in Boston. This was an expanded account of his experience in Paris. In this lecture, he set out some of his important beliefs and the ideas he would later develop in his first published essay Nature:
On January 24, 1835, Emerson wrote a letter to Lydia Jackson proposing marriage. Her acceptance reached him by mail on the 28th. In July 1835, he bought a house on the Cambridge and Concord Turnpike
Cambridge and Concord Turnpike
The Cambridge and Concord Turnpike was an early turnpike between Cambridge and Concord, Massachusetts. Portions have been incorporated into today's Massachusetts Route 2; the remainder forms other major local roads....

 in Concord, Massachusetts which he named "Bush"; it is now open to the public as the Ralph Waldo Emerson House
Ralph Waldo Emerson House
The Ralph Waldo Emerson House is a house museum located at 28 Cambridge Turnpike, Concord, Massachusetts, and a National Historic Landmark for its associations with American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. The museum is open mid-April to mid-October; an admission fee is charged.-History:The house...

. Emerson quickly became one of the leading citizens in the town. He gave a lecture to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the town of Concord on September 12, 1835. Two days later, he married Lydia Jackson in her home town of Plymouth, Massachusetts, and moved to the new home in Concord together with Emerson's mother on September 15.

Emerson quickly changed his wife's name to Lidian, and would call her Queenie, and sometimes Asia, and she called him Mr. Emerson. Their children were Waldo, Ellen, Edith, and Edward Waldo Emerson
Edward Waldo Emerson
Edward Waldo Emerson was a United States physician, writer and lecturer.-Biography:Emerson was born in Concord, Massachusetts. He was a son of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Lydian Jackson Emerson, and educated at Harvard, where he was graduated in 1866...

. Ellen was named for his first wife, at Lidian's suggestion.

Emerson was poor when he was at Harvard, and later supported his family for much of his life. He inherited a fair amount of money after his first wife's death, though he had to file a lawsuit against the Tucker family in 1836 to get it. He received $11,600 in May 1834, and a further $11,674.49 in July 1837. In 1834, he considered that he had an income of $1,200 a year from the initial payment of the estate, equivalent to what he had earned as a pastor.

Literary career and Transcendentalism



On September 8, 1836, the day before the publication of Nature
Nature (book)
Nature is an essay written by Ralph Waldo Emerson, published anonymously in 1836. It is in this essay that the foundation of transcendentalism is put forth, a belief system that espouses a non-traditional appreciation of nature. Transcendentalism suggests that divinity diffuses all nature, and...

, Emerson met with Henry Hedge, George Putnam and George Ripley to plan periodic gatherings of other like-minded intellectuals. This was the beginning of the Transcendental Club
Transcendental Club
The Transcendental Club was a group of New England intellectuals of the early-to-mid-19th century which gave rise to Transcendentalism.-Overview:...

, which served as a center for the movement. Its first official meeting was held on September 19, 1836. On September 1, 1837, women attended a meeting of the Transcendental Club for the first time. Emerson invited Margaret Fuller, Elizabeth Hoar and Sarah Ripley for dinner at his home before the meeting to ensure that they would be present for the evening get-together. Fuller would prove to be an important figure in Transcendentalism.

Emerson anonymously published his first essay, Nature
Nature (book)
Nature is an essay written by Ralph Waldo Emerson, published anonymously in 1836. It is in this essay that the foundation of transcendentalism is put forth, a belief system that espouses a non-traditional appreciation of nature. Transcendentalism suggests that divinity diffuses all nature, and...

, on September 9, 1836. A year later, on August 31, 1837, Emerson delivered his now-famous Phi Beta Kappa
Phi Beta Kappa Society
The Phi Beta Kappa Society is an academic honor society. Its mission is to "celebrate and advocate excellence in the liberal arts and sciences"; and induct "the most outstanding students of arts and sciences at America’s leading colleges and universities." Founded at The College of William and...

 address, "The American Scholar
The American Scholar
The American Scholar was a speech given by Ralph Waldo Emerson on August 31, 1837, to the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Cambridge. He was invited to speak in recognition of his groundbreaking work Nature, published a year earlier, in which he established a new way for America's fledgling society to...

", then known as "An Oration, Delivered before the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Cambridge"; it was renamed for a collection of essays (which included the first general publication of "Nature") in 1849. Friends urged him to publish the talk, and he did so, at his own expense, in an edition of 500 copies, which sold out in a month. In the speech, Emerson declared literary independence in the United States and urged Americans to create a writing style all their own and free from Europe. James Russell Lowell
James Russell Lowell
James Russell Lowell was an American Romantic poet, critic, editor, and diplomat. He is associated with the Fireside Poets, a group of New England writers who were among the first American poets who rivaled the popularity of British poets...

, who was a student at Harvard at the time, called it "an event without former parallel on our literary annals". Another member of the audience, Reverend John Pierce, called it "an apparently incoherent and unintelligible address".

In 1837, Emerson befriended Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau was an American author, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, historian, and leading transcendentalist...

. Though they had likely met as early as 1835, in the fall of 1837, Emerson asked Thoreau, "Do you keep a journal?" The question went on to have a lifelong inspiration for Thoreau. Emerson's own journal comes to 16 large volumes, in the definitive Harvard University Press edition published between 1960 and 1982. Some scholars consider the journal to be Emerson's key literary work.

In March 1837, Emerson gave a series of lectures on The Philosophy of History at Boston's Masonic Temple. This was the first time he managed a lecture series on his own, and was the beginning of his serious career as a lecturer. The profits from this series of lectures were much larger than when he was paid by an organization to talk, and Emerson continued to manage his own lectures often throughout his lifetime. He would eventually give as many as 80 lectures a year, traveling across the northern part of the United States. He traveled as far as St. Louis, Des Moines, Minneapolis, and California.

On July 15, 1838, Emerson was invited to Divinity Hall, Harvard Divinity School
Divinity Hall, Harvard Divinity School
Divinity Hall is the oldest building in the Harvard Divinity School at Harvard University. It is located at 14 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts....

 for the school's graduation address, which came to be known as his "Divinity School Address
Divinity School Address
The Divinity School Address is the common name for the speech Ralph Waldo Emerson gave to the graduating class of Harvard Divinity School on July 15, 1838. At that time, Harvard was the center of academic Unitarian thought. In this address, Emerson made comments that were radical for their time...

". Emerson discounted Biblical miracles and proclaimed that, while Jesus was a great man, he was not God: historical Christianity, he said, had turned Jesus into a "demigod, as the Orientals or the Greeks would describe Osiris or Apollo". His comments outraged the establishment and the general Protestant community. For this, he was denounced as an atheist
Atheism
Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities...

, and a poisoner of young men's minds. Despite the roar of critics, he made no reply, leaving others to put forward a defense. He was not invited back to speak at Harvard for another thirty years.

The Transcendental group began to publish its flagship journal, The Dial
The Dial
The Dial was an American magazine published intermittently from 1840 to 1929. In its first form, from 1840 to 1844, it served as the chief publication of the Transcendentalists. In the 1880s it was revived as a political magazine...

, in July 1840. They planned the journal as early as October 1839, but work did not begin until the first week of 1840. George Ripley was its managing editor and Margaret Fuller
Margaret Fuller
Sarah Margaret Fuller Ossoli, commonly known as Margaret Fuller, was an American journalist, critic, and women's rights advocate associated with the American transcendentalism movement. She was the first full-time American female book reviewer in journalism...

 was its first editor, having been hand-chosen by Emerson after several others had declined the role. Fuller stayed on for about two years and Emerson took over, utilizing the journal to promote talented young writers including Ellery Channing and Thoreau.

It was in 1841 that Emerson published Essays, his second book, which included the famous essay, "Self-Reliance
Self-Reliance
Self-Reliance is an essay written by American Transcendentalist philosopher and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson. It contains the most thorough statement of one of Emerson's repeating themes, the need for each individual to avoid conformity and false consistency, and follow his or her own instincts...

". His aunt called it a "strange medley of atheism and false independence", but it gained favorable reviews in London and Paris. This book, and its popular reception, more than any of Emerson's contributions to date laid the groundwork for his international fame.

In January 1842 Emerson's first son Waldo died from scarlet fever
Group A streptococcal infection
The group A streptococcus bacterium is a form of β-hemolytic Streptococcus bacteria responsible for most cases of streptococcal illness. Other types may also cause infection...

. Emerson wrote of his grief in the poem "Threnody
Threnody
A threnody is a song, hymn or poem of mourning composed or performed as a memorial to a dead person. The term originates from the Greek word threnoidia, from threnos + oide ; ultimately, from the Proto-Indo-European root wed- that is also the precursor of such words as "ode", "tragedy", "comedy",...

" ("For this losing is true dying"), and the essay "Experience
Experience (Emerson)
"Experience" is the name of an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson. It was published in the collection Essays: Second Series in 1844.The essay is preceded by a poem of the same title....

". That same month, William James
William James
William James was a pioneering American psychologist and philosopher who was trained as a physician. He wrote influential books on the young science of psychology, educational psychology, psychology of religious experience and mysticism, and on the philosophy of pragmatism...

 was born, and Emerson agreed to be his godfather
Godparent
A godparent, in many denominations of Christianity, is someone who sponsors a child's baptism. A male godparent is a godfather, and a female godparent is a godmother...

.

Bronson Alcott
Amos Bronson Alcott
Amos Bronson Alcott was an American teacher, writer, philosopher, and reformer. As an educator, Alcott pioneered new ways of interacting with young students, focusing on a conversational style, and avoided traditional punishment. He hoped to perfect the human spirit and, to that end, advocated a...

 announced his plans in November 1842 to find "a farm of a hundred acres in excellent condition with good buildings, a good orchard and grounds". Charles Lane
Charles Lane (transcendentalist)
Charles Lane was an English-American transcendentalist, abolitionist, and early voluntaryist. Along with Amos Bronson Alcott, he was one of the main founders of Fruitlands.-Fruitlands:...

 purchased a 90 acres (364,217.4 m²) farm in Harvard, Massachusetts, in May 1843 for what would become Fruitlands
Fruitlands (transcendental center)
Fruitlands was a Utopian agrarian commune established in Harvard, Massachusetts by Amos Bronson Alcott and Charles Lane in the 1840s, based on Transcendentalist principles...

, a community based on Utopian ideals inspired in part by Transcendentalism. The farm would run based on a communal effort, using no animals for labor; its participants would eat no meat and use no wool or leather. Emerson said he felt "sad at heart" for not engaging in the experiment himself. Even so, he did not feel Fruitlands would be a success. "Their whole doctrine is spiritual", he wrote, "but they always end with saying, Give us much land and money". Even Alcott admitted he was not prepared for the difficulty in operating Fruitlands. "None of us were prepared to actualize practically the ideal life of which we dreamed. So we fell apart", he wrote. After its failure, Emerson helped buy a farm for Alcott's family in Concord which Alcott named "Hillside
The Wayside
The Wayside is a historic house in Concord, Massachusetts. The earliest part of the home may date to 1717. Later, it successively became the home of the young Louisa May Alcott and her family, author Nathaniel Hawthorne and his family, and children's literature writer Margaret Sidney...

".

The Dial
The Dial
The Dial was an American magazine published intermittently from 1840 to 1929. In its first form, from 1840 to 1844, it served as the chief publication of the Transcendentalists. In the 1880s it was revived as a political magazine...

ceased publication in April 1844; Horace Greeley
Horace Greeley
Horace Greeley was an American newspaper editor, a founder of the Liberal Republican Party, a reformer, a politician, and an outspoken opponent of slavery...

 reported it as an end to the "most original and thoughtful periodical ever published in this country". (An unrelated magazine of the same name would be published in several periods through 1929.)

In 1844, Emerson published his second collection of essays, entitled "Essays: Second Series." This collection included "The Poet," "Experience," "Gifts," and an essay entitled "Nature," a different work from the 1836 essay of the same name.

Emerson made a living as a popular lecturer in New England
New England
New England is a region in the northeastern corner of the United States consisting of the six states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut...

 and much of the rest of the country. He had begun lecturing in 1833; by the 1850s he was giving as many as 80 per year. He addressed the Boston Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge
Boston Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge
The Boston Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge in Boston, Massachusetts, was founded "to promote and direct popular education by lectures and other means." Modelled after the recently formed Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge in London, the Boston group's officers included...

 and the Gloucester Lyceum
Gloucester Lyceum
The Gloucester Lyceum of Gloucester, Massachusetts, was an association for "the improvement of its members in useful knowledge, and the advancement of popular education." It incorporated in 1831....

, among others. Emerson spoke on a wide variety of subjects and many of his essays grew out of his lectures. He charged between $10 and $50 for each appearance, bringing him as much as $2,000 in a typical winter "season". This was more than his earnings from other sources. In some years, he earned as much as $900 for a series of six lectures, and in another, for a winter series of talks in Boston, he netted $1,600. He eventually gave some 1,500 lectures in his lifetime. His earnings allowed him to expand his property, buying 11 acres (44,515.5 m²) of land by Walden Pond
Walden Pond
Walden Pond is a 31-metre-deep lake in Massachusetts . It is in area and around, located in Concord, Massachusetts, in the United States...

 and a few more acres in a neighboring pine grove. He wrote that he was "landlord and waterlord of 14 acres, more or less".

Emerson was introduced to Indian philosophy when reading the works of French philosopher Victor Cousin
Victor Cousin
Victor Cousin was a French philosopher. He was a proponent of Scottish Common Sense Realism and had an important influence on French educational policy.-Early life:...

. In 1845, Emerson's journals show he was reading the Bhagavad Gita
Bhagavad Gita
The ' , also more simply known as Gita, is a 700-verse Hindu scripture that is part of the ancient Sanskrit epic, the Mahabharata, but is frequently treated as a freestanding text, and in particular, as an Upanishad in its own right, one of the several books that constitute general Vedic tradition...

and Henry Thomas Colebrooke
Henry Thomas Colebrooke
Henry Thomas Colebrooke was an English orientalist.-Biography:Henry Thomas Colebrooke, third son of Sir George Colebrooke, 2nd Baronet, was born in London. He was educated at home; and when only fifteen he had made considerable attainments in classics and mathematics...

's Essays on the Vedas. Emerson was strongly influenced by the Vedas
Vedas
The Vedas are a large body of texts originating in ancient India. Composed in Vedic Sanskrit, the texts constitute the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature and the oldest scriptures of Hinduism....

, and much of his writing has strong shades of nondualism
Nondualism
Nondualism is a term used to denote affinity, or unity, rather than duality or separateness or multiplicity. In reference to the universe it may be used to denote the idea that things appear distinct while not being separate. The term "nondual" can refer to a belief, condition, theory, practice,...

. One of the clearest examples of this can be found in his essay "The Over-soul
Over-soul
“The Oversoul” is an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson, first published in 1841. The broad subject of the essay, considered one of Emerson's best, is the human soul...

":
From 1847 to 1848, he toured England, Scotland, and Ireland. He also visited Paris between the February Revolution
French Revolution of 1848
The 1848 Revolution in France was one of a wave of revolutions in 1848 in Europe. In France, the February revolution ended the Orleans monarchy and led to the creation of the French Second Republic. The February Revolution was really the belated second phase of the Revolution of 1830...

 and the bloody June Days
June Days Uprising
The June Days Uprising was a revolution staged by the citizens of France, whose only source of income was the National Workshops, from 23 June to 26 June 1848. The Workshops were created by the Second Republic in order to provide work and a source of income for the unemployed, however only...

. When he arrived, he saw the stumps where trees had been cut down to form barricades in the February riots. On May 21 he stood on the Champ de Mars in the midst of mass celebrations for concord, peace and labor. He wrote in his journal: "At the end of the year we shall take account, & see if the Revolution was worth the trees."

In February 1852 Emerson and James Freeman Clarke
James Freeman Clarke
James Freeman Clarke , an American theologian and author.-Biography:Born in Hanover, New Hampshire, James Freeman Clarke attended the Boston Latin School, graduated from Harvard College in 1829, and Harvard Divinity School in 1833...

 and William Henry Channing
William Henry Channing
William Henry Channing was an American Unitarian clergyman, writer and philosopher.-Biography:William Henry Channing was born in Boston, Massachusetts...

 edited an edition of the works and letters of Margaret Fuller, who had died in 1850. Within a week of her death, her New York editor Horace Greeley
Horace Greeley
Horace Greeley was an American newspaper editor, a founder of the Liberal Republican Party, a reformer, a politician, and an outspoken opponent of slavery...

 suggested to Emerson that a biography of Fuller, to be called Margaret and Her Friends, be prepared quickly "before the interest excited by her sad decease has passed away". Published with the title The Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli, Fuller's words were heavily censored or rewritten. The three editors were not concerned about accuracy; they believed public interest in Fuller was temporary and that she would not survive as a historical figure. Even so, for a time, it was the best-selling biography of the decade and went through thirteen editions before the end of the century.

Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman
Walter "Walt" Whitman was an American poet, essayist and journalist. A humanist, he was a part of the transition between transcendentalism and realism, incorporating both views in his works. Whitman is among the most influential poets in the American canon, often called the father of free verse...

 published the innovative poetry collection Leaves of Grass
Leaves of Grass
Leaves of Grass is a poetry collection by the American poet Walt Whitman . Though the first edition was published in 1855, Whitman spent his entire life writing Leaves of Grass, revising it in several editions until his death...

in 1855 and sent a copy to Emerson for his opinion. Emerson responded positively, sending a flattering five-page letter as a response. Emerson's approval helped the first edition of Leaves of Grass stir up significant interest and convinced Whitman to issue a second edition shortly thereafter. This edition quoted a phrase from Emerson's letter, printed in gold leaf on the cover: "I Greet You at the Beginning of a Great Career". Emerson took offense that this letter was made public and later became more critical of the work.

Civil War years


Emerson was staunchly anti-slavery, but he did not appreciate being in the public limelight and was hesitant about lecturing on the subject. He did, however, give a number of lectures during the pre-Civil War years, beginning as early as November, 1837. A number of his friends and family members were more active abolitionists than he, at first, but from 1844 on, he took a more active role in opposing slavery. He gave a number of speeches and lectures, and notably welcomed John Brown to his home during Brown's visits to Concord. He voted for Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

 in 1860, but Emerson was disappointed that Lincoln was more concerned about preserving the Union than eliminating slavery outright. Once the American Civil War broke out, Emerson made it clear that he believed in immediate emancipation of the slaves.

Around this time, in 1860, Emerson published The Conduct of Life, his final original collection of essays. In this book, Emerson "grappled with some of the thorniest issues of the moment," and "his experience in the abolition ranks is a telling influence in his conclusions. In the book's opening essay, Fate, Emerson wrote, "The question of the times resolved itself into a practical question of the conduct of life. How shall I live?"

Emerson visited Washington, D.C, at the end of January, 1862. He gave a public lecture at the Smithsonian on January 31, 1862, and declared: "The South calls slavery an institution... I call it destitution... Emancipation is the demand of civilization". The next day, February 1, his friend Charles Sumner
Charles Sumner
Charles Sumner was an American politician and senator from Massachusetts. An academic lawyer and a powerful orator, Sumner was the leader of the antislavery forces in Massachusetts and a leader of the Radical Republicans in the United States Senate during the American Civil War and Reconstruction,...

 took him to meet Lincoln at the White House
White House
The White House is the official residence and principal workplace of the president of the United States. Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., the house was designed by Irish-born James Hoban, and built between 1792 and 1800 of white-painted Aquia sandstone in the Neoclassical...

. Lincoln was familiar with Emerson's work, having previously seen him lecture. Emerson's misgivings about Lincoln began to soften after this meeting. In 1865, he spoke at a memorial service held for Lincoln in Concord: "Old as history is, and manifold as are its tragedies, I doubt if any death has caused so much pain as this has caused, or will have caused, on its announcement. Emerson also met a number of high-ranking government officials, including Salmon P. Chase, the secretary of the treasury, Edward Bates, the attorney general, Edwin M. Stanton, the secretary of war, Gideon Welles, the secretary of the navy, and William Seward, the secretary of state.

On May 6, 1862, Emerson's protégé Henry David Thoreau died of tuberculosis
Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis, MTB, or TB is a common, and in many cases lethal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body...

 at the age of 44 and Emerson delivered his eulogy
Eulogy
A eulogy is a speech or writing in praise of a person or thing, especially one recently deceased or retired. Eulogies may be given as part of funeral services. However, some denominations either discourage or do not permit eulogies at services to maintain respect for traditions...

. Emerson would continuously refer to Thoreau as his best friend, despite a falling out that began in 1849 after Thoreau published A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers
A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers
A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers is a book by Henry David Thoreau, first published in 1849. The book is ostensibly the narrative of a boat trip from Concord, Massachusetts to Concord, New Hampshire and back Thoreau had taken with his brother John in 1839...

. Another friend, Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne was an American novelist and short story writer.Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in 1804 in the city of Salem, Massachusetts to Nathaniel Hathorne and the former Elizabeth Clarke Manning. His ancestors include John Hathorne, a judge during the Salem Witch Trials...

, died two years after Thoreau in 1864. Emerson served as one of the pallbearers as Hawthorne was buried in Concord, as Emerson wrote, "in a pomp of sunshine and verdure". He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is an independent policy research center that conducts multidisciplinary studies of complex and emerging problems. The Academy’s elected members are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business, and public affairs.James Bowdoin, John Adams, and...

 in 1864.

Final years and death



Starting in 1867, Emerson's health began declining; he wrote much less in his journals. Beginning as early as the summer of 1871 or in the spring of 1872, Emerson started having memory problems and suffered from aphasia
Aphasia
Aphasia is an impairment of language ability. This class of language disorder ranges from having difficulty remembering words to being completely unable to speak, read, or write....

. By the end of the decade, he forgot his own name at times and, when anyone asked how he felt, he responded, "Quite well; I have lost my mental faculties, but am perfectly well".

Emerson's Concord home caught fire on July 24, 1872; Emerson called for help from neighbors and, giving up on putting out the flames, all attempted to save as many objects as possible. The fire was put out by Ephraim Bull, Jr., the one-armed son of Ephraim Wales Bull
Ephraim Wales Bull
Ephraim Wales Bull was the creator of the Concord grape.-Biography:Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Bull was apprenticed to a gold-beater at a young age. On September 10, 1826, he married Mary Ellen Walker of Dorchester, Massachusetts. Complaining of lung problems, he moved away from the city...

. Donations were collected by friends to help the Emersons rebuild, including $5,000 gathered by Francis Cabot Lowell, another $10,000 collected by LeBaron Russell Briggs
LeBaron Russell Briggs
LeBaron Russell Briggs was an American educator. He was appointed the first Dean of Men at Harvard University, where he also served as dean of the Faculty...

, and a personal donation of $1,000 from George Bancroft
George Bancroft
George Bancroft was an American historian and statesman who was prominent in promoting secondary education both in his home state and at the national level. During his tenure as U.S. Secretary of the Navy, he established the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1845...

. Support for shelter was offered as well; though the Emersons ended up staying with family at the Old Manse, invitations came from Anne Lynch Botta
Anne Lynch Botta
Anne Charlotte Lynch Botta was an American poet, writer, teacher and socialite whose home was the central gathering place of the literary elite of her era.-Early life:...

, James Elliot Cabot, James Thomas Fields
James Thomas Fields
James Thomas Fields was an American publisher, editor, and poet.-Early life and family:He was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on December 31, 1817 and named James Field; the family later added the "s". His father was a sea captain and died before Fields was three...

 and Annie Adams Fields
Annie Adams Fields
Annie Adams Fields was a United States writer.- 1834 -1881 :Born in Boston, Massachusetts, she was the second wife of the publisher and author James Thomas Fields, whom she married in 1854, and with whom she encouraged up and coming writers such as Sarah Orne Jewett, Mary Freeman, and Emma Lazarus...

. The fire marked an end to Emerson's serious lecturing career; from then on, he would lecture only on special occasions and only in front of familiar audiences.

While the house was being rebuilt, Emerson took a trip to England, continental Europe, and Egypt. He left on October 23, 1872, along with his daughter Ellen while his wife Lidian spent time at the Old Manse and with friends. Emerson and his daughter Ellen returned to the United States on the ship Olympus along with friend Charles Eliot Norton
Charles Eliot Norton
Charles Eliot Norton, was a leading American author, social critic, and professor of art. He was a militant idealist, a progressive social reformer, and a liberal activist whom many of his contemporaries considered the most cultivated man in the United States.-Biography:Norton was born at...

 on April 15, 1873. Emerson's return to Concord was celebrated by the town and school was canceled that day.

In late 1874 Emerson published an anthology of poetry called Parnassus, which included poems by Anna Laetitia Barbauld
Anna Laetitia Barbauld
Anna Laetitia Barbauld was a prominent English poet, essayist, literary critic, editor, and children's author.A "woman of letters" who published in multiple genres, Barbauld had a successful writing career at a time when female professional writers were rare...

, Julia Caroline Dorr
Julia Caroline Dorr
Julia Caroline Dorr was an American author who published both prose and poetry. She was born at Charleston, South Carolina, but moved early in her life to New York City, then to Rutland, Vermont. There she married Hon. Seneca R. Dorr. Her earliest published writings appeared in 1848...

, Jean Ingelow
Jean Ingelow
Jean Ingelow , was an English poet and novelist.- Early life and education :Born at Boston, Lincolnshire, she was the daughter of William Ingelow, a banker...

, Lucy Larcom
Lucy Larcom
Lucy Larcom was an American poet.-Biography:Larcom was born in Beverly, Massachusetts, in 1824, the ninth of ten children and died in Boston in 1893. She left Beverly, Massachusetts, in 1835 to work cotton mills in Lowell from the ages of 11 to 21. As a mill girl she hoped to earn some extra...

, Jones Very
Jones Very
Jones Very was an American essayist, poet, clergymen, and mystic associated with the American Transcendentalism movement. He was known as a scholar of William Shakespeare and many of his poems were Shakespearean sonnets...

, as well as Thoreau and several others. The anthology was originally prepared as early as the fall of 1871 but was delayed when the publishers asked for revisions.

The problems with his memory had become embarrassing to Emerson and he ceased his public appearances by 1879. As Holmes wrote, "Emerson is afraid to trust himself in society much, on account of the failure of his memory and the great difficulty he finds in getting the words he wants. It is painful to witness his embarrassment at times".
On April 21, 1882, Emerson was diagnosed with pneumonia
Pneumonia
Pneumonia is an inflammatory condition of the lung—especially affecting the microscopic air sacs —associated with fever, chest symptoms, and a lack of air space on a chest X-ray. Pneumonia is typically caused by an infection but there are a number of other causes...

. He died on April 27, 1882. Emerson is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery is a cemetery located on Bedford Street near the center of Concord, Massachusetts. The cemetery is the burial site of a number of famous Concordians, including some of the United States' greatest authors and thinkers, especially on a hill known as "Author's...

, Massachusetts. He was placed in his coffin wearing a white robe given by American sculptor Daniel Chester French
Daniel Chester French
Daniel Chester French was an American sculptor. His best-known work is the sculpture of a seated Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.-Life and career:...

.

Lifestyle and beliefs



Emerson's religious views were often considered radical at the time. He believed that all things are connected to God and, therefore, all things are divine. Critics believed that Emerson was removing the central God figure; as Henry Ware, Jr. said, Emerson was in danger of taking away "the Father of the Universe" and leaving "but a company of children in an orphan asylum". Emerson was partly influenced by German philosophy and Biblical criticism. His views, the basis of Transcendentalism
Transcendentalism
Transcendentalism is a philosophical movement that developed in the 1830s and 1840s in the New England region of the United States as a protest against the general state of culture and society, and in particular, the state of intellectualism at Harvard University and the doctrine of the Unitarian...

, suggested that God does not have to reveal the truth but that the truth could be intuitively experienced directly from nature.

Emerson did not become an ardent abolitionist until 1844, though his journals show he was concerned with slavery beginning in his youth, even dreaming about helping to free slaves. In June 1856, shortly after Charles Sumner
Charles Sumner
Charles Sumner was an American politician and senator from Massachusetts. An academic lawyer and a powerful orator, Sumner was the leader of the antislavery forces in Massachusetts and a leader of the Radical Republicans in the United States Senate during the American Civil War and Reconstruction,...

, a United States Senator, was beaten for his staunch abolitionist views, Emerson lamented that he himself was not as committed to the cause. He wrote, "There are men who as soon as they are born take a bee-line to the axe of the inquisitor... Wonderful the way in which we are saved by this unfailing supply of the moral element". After Sumner's attack, Emerson began to speak out about slavery. "I think we must get rid of slavery, or we must get rid of freedom", he said at a meeting at Concord that summer. Emerson used slavery as an example of a human injustice, especially in his role as a minister. In early 1838, provoked by the murder of an abolitionist publisher from Alton, Illinois
Alton, Illinois
Alton is a city on the Mississippi River in Madison County, Illinois, United States, about north of St. Louis, Missouri. The population was 27,865 at the 2010 census. It is a part of the Metro-East region of the Greater St. Louis metropolitan area in Southern Illinois...

 named Elijah Parish Lovejoy, Emerson gave his first public antislavery address. As he said, "It is but the other day that the brave Lovejoy gave his breast to the bullets of a mob, for the rights of free speech and opinion, and died when it was better not to live". John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams was the sixth President of the United States . He served as an American diplomat, Senator, and Congressional representative. He was a member of the Federalist, Democratic-Republican, National Republican, and later Anti-Masonic and Whig parties. Adams was the son of former...

 said the mob-murder of Lovejoy "sent a shock as of any earthquake throughout this continent". However, Emerson maintained that reform would be achieved through moral agreement rather than by militant action. By August 1, 1844, at a lecture in Concord, he stated more clearly his support for the abolitionist movement. He stated, "We are indebted mainly to this movement, and to the continuers of it, for the popular discussion of every point of practical ethics".

Emerson may have had erotic thoughts about at least one man. During his early years at Harvard, he found himself attracted to a young freshman named Martin Gay about whom he wrote sexually charged poetry. He also had a number of crushes on various women throughout his life, such as Anna Barker and Caroline Sturgis.

Legacy



As a lecturer and orator, Emerson—nicknamed the Concord Sage—became the leading voice of intellectual culture in the United States. Herman Melville
Herman Melville
Herman Melville was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. He is best known for his novel Moby-Dick and the posthumous novella Billy Budd....

, who had met Emerson in 1849, originally thought he had "a defect in the region of the heart" and a "self-conceit so intensely intellectual that at first one hesitates to call it by its right name", though he later admitted Emerson was "a great man". Theodore Parker
Theodore Parker
Theodore Parker was an American Transcendentalist and reforming minister of the Unitarian church...

, a minister and Transcendentalist, noted Emerson's ability to influence and inspire others: "the brilliant genius of Emerson rose in the winter nights, and hung over Boston, drawing the eyes of ingenuous young people to look up to that great new start, a beauty and a mystery, which charmed for the moment, while it gave also perennial inspiration, as it led them forward along new paths, and towards new hopes".

Emerson's work not only influenced his contemporaries, such as Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau, but would continue to influence thinkers and writers in the United States and around the world down to the present. Notable thinkers who recognize Emerson's influence include Nietzsche and William James
William James
William James was a pioneering American psychologist and philosopher who was trained as a physician. He wrote influential books on the young science of psychology, educational psychology, psychology of religious experience and mysticism, and on the philosophy of pragmatism...

, Emerson's godson.
"There is little disagreement that Emerson was the most influential writer of 19th-century America, though these days he is largely the concern of scholars. Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau and William James were all positive Emersonians, while Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry James were Emersonians in denial — while they set themselves in opposition to the sage, there was no escaping his influence. To T. S. Eliot, Emerson’s essays were an “encumbrance.” Waldo the Sage was eclipsed from 1914 until 1965, when he returned to shine, after surviving in the work of major American poets like Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens and Hart Crane."

Emerson's "Self-Reliance" has been listed among the favorite books of Barack Obama
Barack Obama
Barack Hussein Obama II is the 44th and current President of the United States. He is the first African American to hold the office. Obama previously served as a United States Senator from Illinois, from January 2005 until he resigned following his victory in the 2008 presidential election.Born in...

 on his Facebook page.

In his book The American Religion, Harold Bloom
Harold Bloom
Harold Bloom is an American writer and literary critic, and is Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University. He is known for his defense of 19th-century Romantic poets, his unique and controversial theories of poetic influence, and his prodigious literary output, particularly for a literary...

 repeatedly refers to Emerson as "The prophet
Prophet
In religion, a prophet, from the Greek word προφήτης profitis meaning "foreteller", is an individual who is claimed to have been contacted by the supernatural or the divine, and serves as an intermediary with humanity, delivering this newfound knowledge from the supernatural entity to other people...

 of the American Religion," which in the context of the book refers to indigenously American religions such as Mormonism
Mormonism
Mormonism is the religion practiced by Mormons, and is the predominant religious tradition of the Latter Day Saint movement. This movement was founded by Joseph Smith, Jr. beginning in the 1820s as a form of Christian primitivism. During the 1830s and 1840s, Mormonism gradually distinguished itself...

 and Christian Science
Christian Science
Christian Science is a system of thought and practice derived from the writings of Mary Baker Eddy and the Bible. It is practiced by members of The First Church of Christ, Scientist as well as some others who are nonmembers. Its central texts are the Bible and the Christian Science textbook,...

, which arose largely in Emerson's lifetime, but also to Mainline Protestant churches that Bloom says have become in the United States more gnostic than their European counterparts. In The Western Canon, Harold Bloom compares Emerson to Michel de Montaigne
Michel de Montaigne
Lord Michel Eyquem de Montaigne , February 28, 1533 – September 13, 1592, was one of the most influential writers of the French Renaissance, known for popularising the essay as a literary genre and is popularly thought of as the father of Modern Skepticism...

: "The only equivalent reading experience that I know is to reread endlessly in the notebooks and journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American version of Montaigne." Several of Emerson's poems were included in Bloom's The Best Poems of the English Language, although he wrote that none of the poems are as outstanding as the best of Emerson's essays, which Bloom listed as Self-Reliance
Self-Reliance
Self-Reliance is an essay written by American Transcendentalist philosopher and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson. It contains the most thorough statement of one of Emerson's repeating themes, the need for each individual to avoid conformity and false consistency, and follow his or her own instincts...

, Circles
Circles (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Circles is an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson, first published in 1841. The essay consists of a philosophical view of the vast array of circles one may find throughout nature. In the opening line of the essay Emerson states "The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second; and...

, Experience
Experience (Emerson)
"Experience" is the name of an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson. It was published in the collection Essays: Second Series in 1844.The essay is preceded by a poem of the same title....

, and "nearly all of Conduct of Life".

Namesakes

  • In May 2006, 168 years after Emerson delivered his "Divinity School Address," Harvard Divinity School
    Harvard Divinity School
    Harvard Divinity School is one of the constituent schools of Harvard University, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the United States. The School's mission is to train and educate its students either in the academic study of religion, or for the practice of a religious ministry or other public...

     announced the establishment of the Emerson Unitarian Universalist Association Professorship. Harvard has also named a building, Emerson Hall (1900), after him.

  • Emerson Hill, a neighborhood in the New York City
    New York City
    New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

     borough
    Borough
    A borough is an administrative division in various countries. In principle, the term borough designates a self-governing township although, in practice, official use of the term varies widely....

     of Staten Island
    Staten Island
    Staten Island is a borough of New York City, New York, United States, located in the southwest part of the city. Staten Island is separated from New Jersey by the Arthur Kill and the Kill Van Kull, and from the rest of New York by New York Bay...

    , is named for his eldest brother, Judge William Emerson, who resided there from 1837 to 1864.

  • The Emerson String Quartet
    Emerson String Quartet
    The Emerson String Quartet is a New York–based string quartet in residence at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Previously the Quartet was in residence at The Hartt School. Formed in 1976, they have released more than twenty albums and won nine Grammy Awards. Both violinists...

    , formed in 1976, took their name from Ralph Waldo Emerson.

  • The Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize is awarded annually to high school students for essays on historical subjects.

Selected works




Collections
  • Essays: First Series
    Essays: First Series
    Essays: First Series, is a series of essays written by Ralph Waldo Emerson, published in 1844, concerning transcendentalism. Some of the most notable essays in the collection are Self-Reliance, Compensation, The Over-Soul, and Circles....

    (1841)
  • Essays: Second Series
    Essays: Second Series
    Essays: Second Series is a series of essays written by Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1844, concerning transcendentalism. It is the second volume of Emerson's Essays, the first being Essays: First Series. The book included several notable essays by Emerson, including The Poet, Experience, and...

    (1844)
  • Poems (1847)
  • Nature; Addresses and Lectures (1849)
  • Representative Men
    Representative Men
    Representative Men is a collection of seven lectures by Ralph Waldo Emerson, published as a book of essays in 1850. The first essay discusses the role played by "great men" in society, and the remaining six each extoll the virtues of one of six men deemed by Emerson to be great: Plato , Emanuel...

    (1850)
  • English Traits (1856)
  • The Conduct of Life
    The Conduct of Life
    The Conduct of Life is a collection of essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson. It was published in 1860.-External links:**...

    (1860)
  • May Day and Other Poems (1867)
  • Society and Solitude (1870)
  • Letters and Social Aims (1876)


Individual essays
  • "Nature" (1836)
  • "Self-Reliance
    Self-Reliance
    Self-Reliance is an essay written by American Transcendentalist philosopher and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson. It contains the most thorough statement of one of Emerson's repeating themes, the need for each individual to avoid conformity and false consistency, and follow his or her own instincts...

    " (Essays: First Series
    Essays: First Series
    Essays: First Series, is a series of essays written by Ralph Waldo Emerson, published in 1844, concerning transcendentalism. Some of the most notable essays in the collection are Self-Reliance, Compensation, The Over-Soul, and Circles....

    )
  • "Compensation
    Compensation (essay)
    Compensation is an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson. It appeared in his book Essays, first published 1841. In 1844, Essays: Second Series was published, and subsequent republishings of Essays were renamed Essays: First Series.-External links:...

    " (First Series)
  • "The Over-Soul
    Over-soul
    “The Oversoul” is an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson, first published in 1841. The broad subject of the essay, considered one of Emerson's best, is the human soul...

    " (First Series)
  • "Circles
    Circles (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
    Circles is an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson, first published in 1841. The essay consists of a philosophical view of the vast array of circles one may find throughout nature. In the opening line of the essay Emerson states "The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second; and...

    " (First Series)
  • "The Poet
    The Poet (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
    "The Poet" is an essay by U.S. writer Ralph Waldo Emerson, written between 1841 and 1843 and published in his Essays: Second Series in 1844. It is not about "men of poetical talents, or of industry and skill in meter, but of the true poet."-Overview:...

    " (Essays: Second Series
    Essays: Second Series
    Essays: Second Series is a series of essays written by Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1844, concerning transcendentalism. It is the second volume of Emerson's Essays, the first being Essays: First Series. The book included several notable essays by Emerson, including The Poet, Experience, and...

    )
  • "Experience
    Experience (Emerson)
    "Experience" is the name of an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson. It was published in the collection Essays: Second Series in 1844.The essay is preceded by a poem of the same title....

    " (Essays: Second Series)
  • "Politics
    Politics (essay)
    Politics is an essay written by Ralph Waldo Emerson. It is part of his Essays: Second Series, published in 1844. A premier philosopher, poet and leader of American transcendentalism, he used this essay to belie his feelings on government, specifically American government...

    " (Second Series)
  • "The American Scholar
    The American Scholar
    The American Scholar was a speech given by Ralph Waldo Emerson on August 31, 1837, to the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Cambridge. He was invited to speak in recognition of his groundbreaking work Nature, published a year earlier, in which he established a new way for America's fledgling society to...

    "
  • "New England Reformers
    New England Reformers
    The New England Reformers was a lecture by Ralph Waldo Emerson read before "The Society" in Amory Hall, on Sunday, March 3, 1844. "The Society" has been identified as the American Anti-Slavery Society, led by William Lloyd Garrison....

    "


Poems
  • "Concord Hymn
    Concord Hymn
    "Concord Hymn" is an 1837 poem by American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson. It was written for a memorial to the Battles of Lexington and Concord.-Background:...

    "
  • "The Rhodora
    The Rhodora
    "The Rhodora" is an 1847 poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson. It is a response to the question "whence is the flower". The poem is about the rhodora, a common flowering shrub, and the beauty of this shrub in its natural setting.----- The Rhodora :...

    "

See also


  • American philosophy
    American philosophy
    American philosophy is the philosophical activity or output of Americans, both within the United States and abroad. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes that while American philosophy lacks a "core of defining features, American Philosophy can nevertheless be seen as both reflecting and...

  • List of American philosophers
  • Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door
    Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door
    Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door is a phrase attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson in the late nineteenth century. The phrase is actually a misquotation of the statement:...

    , a phrase often attributed to Emerson.
  • Transparent eyeball
    Transparent eyeball
    -Overview:The idea of the transparent eyeball first appeared in Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay Nature which was published in 1836. In this essay, Emerson describes nature as the closest experience there is to experiencing the presence of God. In order to truly appreciate nature, one must not only...


External links