Biography of Ralph Waldo Emerson
On May 25, 1803, Ralph Waldo Emerson was born in Boston, Massachusetts. At the age of three, Emerson's father complained that the child could not read well. Five years later, his father died.
In October of 1817, Emerson attended Harvard University and was appointed President's Freshman giving him a room free of charge. Emerson was a waiter at Commons, which reduced the cost of his board to one quarter. As well, he received a scholarship. With the little free-time held by young Emerson, he used by tutoring and teaching at his uncle Ripley's school in Waltham, Massachusetts.
After his graduation in 1821, Emerson began assisting his brother in teaching young ladies at their mother's house until his brother left to Gottingen in order to study divinity. After his brother' departure, Emerson took control of the school for the next several years. After, he attended Harvard Divinity School and later became a Unitarian minister in 1829, like his father. However, after a dispute with church officials and becoming less concise after the death of his wife, Elena Louisa Tucker, in April 1831 due to tuberculosis, he resigned in 1832.
Between 1832 and 1833, Emerson toured Europe, which he would later write about in English Traits (1856). While on this trip, he met William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Stuart Mill and Thomas Carlyle.
After marrying his second wife, Lydia Jackson, Emerson bought a house on Cambridge Turnpike in Concord Massachusetts in 1835. Soon, he became one of the leading citizens.
In September of 1836, Emerson and other intellectuals founded the Transcendental Club, which served as the center of movement, but didn't publish its journal, The Dial until July of 1840. Emerson published the essay Nature anonymously in 1836. It quickly became the symbol for Transcendentalism, although many people believed it to be the work of Swedenborgianism.
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In 1838, Emerson was invited to Harvard Divinity School for its graduation address. In his speech, Emerson mentioned that Jesus Christ is a great man, but not God. The statement outraged the protestant community and denounced him as an atheist. Emerson was not invited back to Harvard for another 40 years, however in the mid 1880s his position became standard Unitarian doctrine.
Emerson's first son, Waldo, died due to scarlet fever in 1842. The grief by Emerson was written in poem Threnody and the essay Experience.
Emerson made his career by lecturing in New England and the countryside in the south. He spoke of a wide variety of subjects, many of which later turned to essays.
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As colleagues of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau, they often took walks together in Concord.
Emerson grew large crowds at his lectures. He is noted to have been a very abstract and difficult writer, however a saying left behind by his audiences is that they had no idea what he was saying, but it was beautiful. Emerson was one of the greatest orators of modern time. He captured audiences with his words as they fed off his enthusiasm. He spoke of many subjects which were considered radical, however he showed no concern of his popularity and continued preaching his beliefs. When Emerson was asked to sum up his work later in life, he said it was "the infinitude of the private man."
Emerson's health began to deteriorate in 1872 after the partial burning of his house. On April 27, 1882 in Concord, Massachusetts Ralph Waldo Emerson died.
He is now buried at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord.
Poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson
- A Letter
- Borrowing - From the French
- Concord Hymn
- Give All to Love
- The Rhodora
- The Snow-Storm