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Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay called for staunch
4FMG3FMJBODF is an essay written by American transcendentalist
philosopher and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson. It contains the most
thorough statement of one of Emerson's recurrent themes, the need for
each individual to avoid conformity and false consistency, and follow
his or her own instincts and ideas. It is the source of one of Emerson's
most famous quotations: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of
little minds" (often misquoted by omission of the word "foolish").
The first hint of the philosophy that would become Self-Reliance was
presented by Emerson as part of a sermon in September 1830 a month
after his first marriage.
His wife Ellen was sick with tuberculosis
and, as Emerson's biographer Robert D. Richardson wrote,
"Immortality had never been stronger or more desperately needed!"
She died at the age of 19 on February 8, 1831.
From 1836 into 1837, Emerson presented a series of lectures on the philosophy of history at Boston's Masonic
Temple. These lectures were never published separately, but many of his thoughts in these were later used in
"Self-Reliance" and several other essays.
Later lectures by Emerson led to public censure of his radical views, the
staunch defense of individualism in "Self-Reliance" being a possible reaction to that censure.
Self-Reliance was first published in his 1841 collection, Essays. First Series.
Self-Reliance is Ralph Waldo Emerson`s compilation of many years`works and the archetype for his transcendental
philosophies. Emerson presupposes that the mind is initially subject to an unhappy conformism.
essay he gives a defense for his famous catch-phrase "Trust thyself". This argument follows three major points: the
self-contained genius, the disapproval of the world, and the value of self-worth.
In the first section, Emerson argues that inside of each person is genius. He writes: "To believe your own thought, to
believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men,a that is genius." The remainder of this
section is spent exploring this concept. Emerson claims that examples of people who trusted themselves above all
else include Moses, Plato, and Milton.
Emerson continues by decrying the effects that society has upon the individual. He says that when people are
influenced by society, they will compromise their values in order to retain a foolish character to the world. He states:
"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines."
When a man forms a pattern within his life, Emerson argues that he violates his nature.
The essay concludes with a discussion of the value of self-worth. Emerson states that "man is timid and apologetic;
he is no longer upright; he dares not say 'I think,' 'I am,' but quotes some saint or sage." This section contains
arguments which are similar to the modern ideals of self-esteem being based upon a person`s intrinsic character
rather than any external party.
Throughout this essay, Emerson argues against conformity with the world. He gives an archetype for his own
transcendental beliefs, but also argues for his slogan "trust thyself". To follow Emerson's self-reliant credo fully, one
must learn to hear and obey what is most true within their heart, and both think and act independent of popular
opinion and social pressure.
 Richardson, Robert D. Jr. Emerson. The Mind on Fire. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1995: 99. ISBN 0-520-08808-5.
 McAleer, John. Ralph Waldo Emerson. Days of Encounter. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1984: 105. ISBN 0-316-55341-7.
 Richardson, Robert D. Jr. Emerson. The Mind on Fire. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1995: 257. ISBN 0-520-08808-5
 Richardson, Robert D. Jr. Emerson. The Mind on Fire. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1995: 300. ISBN 0-520-08808-5.
 Buell, Lawrence. Emerson. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003: 64. ISBN 0-674-01139-2.
 Richardson, Robert D. Jr. Emerson. The Mind on Fire. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1995: 322. ISBN 0-520-08808-5.
· Text of Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay, Self-Reliance
· "Out of Panic, Self-Reliance" (http:/ /www. nytimes.com/ 2008/10/ 12/ opinion/12bloom.html) by Harold
Bloom, New York Times, October 12, 2008
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson in 1857
Born May 25, 1803
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died April 27, 1882 (aged78)
Concord, Massachusetts, U.S.
Residence United States
Era 19th century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
Maininterests Individualism, mysticism
Notableideas Self-reliance, over-soul
Institutions Harvard College
Ralph Waldo Emerson (May 25, 1803bApril 27, 1882) was an American essayist, lecturer, and poet, who led the
Transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century. He was seen as a champion of individualism 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" in 1837, which Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. considered to be
America's "Intellectual Declaration of Independence".
Emerson wrote most of his important essays as lectures first, then revised them for print. His first two collections of
essaysb Essays. First Series and Essays. Second Series, published respectively in 1841 and 1844b represent the
core of his thinking, and include such well-known essays as Self-Reliance, The Over-Soul, Circles, The Poet and
Experience. 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 tenets, but developing certain ideas
such as individuality, freedom, the ability for humankind to realize almost anything, and the relationship between the
Ralph Waldo Emerson
soul and the surrounding world. Emerson's "nature" was more philosophical than naturalistic: "Philosophically
considered, the universe is composed of Nature and the Soul."
His essays are still studied in American high schools, colleges, and universities, and his 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 was
"the infinitude of the private man."
Emerson is also well known as a mentor and friend of fellow Transcendentalist
Henry David Thoreau.
Early life, family, and education
Emerson was born in Boston, Massachusetts on May 25, 1803,
son of Ruth Haskins and the Rev. William
Emerson, a Unitarian minister. He was named after his mother's brother Ralph and the father's great-grandmother
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
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 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 in 1812 when he was nine.
In October 1817, at 14,
Emerson went to Harvard College 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".
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.
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. 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'!"
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Engraved drawing, 1878
After Harvard, Emerson assisted his brother William
in a school for
established in their mother's house, after he had
established his own school in Chelmsford, Massachusetts; when his
went to Göttingen 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.
Emerson's brother Edward,
two years younger than he, entered the
office of lawyer Daniel Webster, 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 1882 from apparently longstanding tuberculosis.
Emerson's bright and promising younger brothers, Charles, born in
1808, died in 1836, also of tuberculosis,
making him the third
young person in Emerson's innermost circle to die in a period of a few
Emerson met his first wife, Ellen Louisa Tucker, in Concord, New
Hampshire on Christmas Day, 1827, and married her when she was
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.
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
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 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 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 (1856).
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, who gave
him a letter of recommendation to meet Thomas Carlyle. He went to Switzerland, and had to be dragged by fellow
passengers to visit Voltaire's home in Ferney, "protesting all the way upon the unworthiness of his memory."
then went on to Paris, a "loud modern New York of a place,",
where he visited the Jardin des Plantes. 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
Ralph Waldo Emerson
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, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Thomas Carlyle.
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.
two would maintain correspondence until Carlyle's death in 1881.
Daguerreotype of 'Lidian' Jackson Emerson and
son Edward Waldo Emerson Unknown date
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, to live with his step-grandfather
Dr. Ezra Ripley at what was later named The Old Manse.
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:
Nature is a language and every new fact one learns is a new
word; but it is not a language taken to pieces and dead in the
dictionary, but the language put together into a most significant
and universal sense. I wish to learn this language, not that I may
know a new grammar, but that I may read the great book that is
written in that tongue.
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 in Concord,
Massachusetts which he named "Bush"; it is now open to the public as the Ralph Waldo Emerson 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,
called him Mr. Emerson.
Their children were Waldo, Ellen, Edith, and Edward Waldo Emerson. 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.
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.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Literary career and Transcendentalism
Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1859
On September 8, 1836, the day before the publication of Nature,
Emerson met with Frederic Henry Hedge, George Putnam and George
Ripley to plan periodic gatherings of other like-minded
This was the beginning of the Transcendental Club,
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, on September
9, 1836. A year later, on August 31, 1837, Emerson delivered his
now-famous Phi Beta Kappa address, "The American Scholar",
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
James Russell Lowell, 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. 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
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
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 for the school's graduation
address, which came to be known as his "Divinity School Address". 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,
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, 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
and Margaret Fuller 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.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
It was in 1841 that Emerson published Essays, his second book, which included the famous essay,
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.
Emerson wrote of his grief in the poem
"Threnody" ("For this losing is true dying"),
and the essay "Experience". That same month, William James was
born, and Emerson agreed to be his godfather.
Bronson Alcott 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 purchased a 90-acre (360,000m
) farm in Harvard,
Massachusetts, in May 1843 for what would become Fruitlands, 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 Dial ceased publication in April 1844; Horace Greeley 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 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 and the Gloucester Lyceum, 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 (45,000m
) of land by Walden Pond 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.
1845, Emerson's journals show he was reading the Bhagavad Gita and Henry Thomas Colebrooke's Essays on the
Emerson was strongly influenced by the Vedas, and much of his writing has strong shades of nondualism.
One of the clearest examples of this can be found in his essay "The Over-soul":
We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of the whole; the
wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related, the eternal ONE. And
this deep power in which we exist and whose beatitude is all accessible to us, is not only self-sufficing and
perfect in every hour, but the act of seeing and the thing seen, the seer and the spectacle, the subject and the
object, are one. We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of
which these are shining parts, is the soul.
From 1847 to 1848, he toured England, Scotland, and Ireland.
He also visited Paris between the February
Revolution and the bloody June Days. 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
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Revolution was worth the trees."
The trip left an important imprint on Emerson's later work. His 1856 book
English Traits is based largely on observations recorded in his travel journals and notebooks. Emerson later came to
see the American Civil War as a 'revolution' that shared common ground with the European revolutions of 1848.
In February 1852 Emerson and James Freeman Clarke and William Henry Channing 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 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
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 published the innovative poetry collection Leaves of Grass in 1855 and sent a copy to Emerson for
his opinion. Emerson responded positively, sending a flattering five-page letter as a response.
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
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 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 seventh 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."
These essays also find Emerson strongly embracing the idea of war as a
means of national rebirth: "Civil war, national bankruptcy, or revolution, [are] more rich in the central tones than
languid years of prosperity,"
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 took him to meet Lincoln at the
White House. Lincoln was familiar with Emerson's work, having previously seen him lecture.
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
On May 6, 1862, Emerson's protégé Henry David Thoreau died of tuberculosis at the age of 44 and Emerson
delivered his eulogy. 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.
Another friend, Nathaniel
Hawthorne, died two years after Thoreau in 1864. Emerson served as one of the pallbearers as Hawthorne was buried
Ralph Waldo Emerson
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 in 1864.
Final years and death
Emerson's grave in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery,
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
suffered from aphasia.
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
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.
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, and a personal donation of $1,000 from George
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, James Elliot Cabot, James Thomas Fields and Annie Adams
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
Emerson and his daughter Ellen returned to the United States on the ship Olympus along with friend
Charles Eliot Norton 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, Julia Caroline Dorr, Jean Ingelow, Lucy Larcom, Jones Very, 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
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.
He died on April 27, 1882. Emerson is buried in
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord, Massachusetts.
He was placed in his coffin wearing a white robe given by
American sculptor Daniel Chester French.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Lifestyle and beliefs
Ralph Waldo Emerson in later years
Part of a series on
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
His views, the basis of Transcendentalism, 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, 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".
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 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 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
Ralph Waldo Emerson
a number of crushes on various women throughout his life,
such as Anna Barker
and Caroline Sturgis.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson ~Postage stamps and
postal history of the United States#Famous
Americans Series of 1940Issue of 1940
As a lecturer and orator, Emersonanicknamed the Concord
Sageabecame the leading voice of intellectual culture in the United
James Russell Lowell, editor of the Atlantic Monthly and
the North American Review, commented in his My Study Windows
(1871), that Emerson was not only the cmost steadily attractive lecturer
in America,dbut also cone of the pioneers of the lecturing system.d
Herman Melville, 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, 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, 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 denialawhile
they set themselves in opposition to the sage, there was no escaping his influence. To T. S. Eliot, Emerson`s essays
were an cencumbrance.d 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."
In his book The American Religion, Harold Bloom repeatedly refers to Emerson as "The prophet of the American
Religion," which in the context of the book refers to indigenously American religions such as Mormonism and
Christian Science, 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: "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."
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, Circles,
Experience, and "nearly all of Conduct of Life". In his belief that line lengths, and rhythms, and phrases are
determined by breath Emerson's poetry foreshadowed the theories of Charles Olsen.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
· In May 2006, 168 years after Emerson delivered his "Divinity School Address," Harvard Divinity School
announced the establishment of the Emerson Unitarian Universalist Association Professorship.
also named a building, Emerson Hall (1900), after him.
· Emerson Hill, a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Staten Island, is named for his eldest brother,
Judge William Emerson, who resided there from 1837 to 1864.
· The Emerson String Quartet, 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.
· Author Ralph Waldo Ellison (March 1, 1914bApril 16, 1994) was named after Emerson.
Representative Men (1850)
· Essays. First Series (1841)
· Essays. Second Series (1844)
· Poems (1847)
· Nature, Addresses and Lectures (1849)
· Representative Men (1850)
· English Traits (1856)
· The Conduct of Life (1860)
· May Day and Other Poems (1867)
· Society and Solitude (1870)
· Letters and Social Aims (1876)
· "Nature" (1836)
· "Self-Reliance" (Essays. First Series)
· "Compensation" (First Series)
· "The Over-Soul" (First Series)
· "Circles" (First Series)
· "The Poet" (Essays. Second Series)
· "Experience" (Essays. Second Series)
· "Politics" (Second Series)
· "The American Scholar"
· "New England Reformers"
· "Concord Hymn"
· "The Rhodora"
· "The Snow-Storm (poem)"
·· Letter to Martin Van Buren
Ralph Waldo Emerson
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  Ferguson, Alfred R. "Introduction to The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Volume IV". Cambridge,
Massachusetts: Belknap Press, 1964: xi.
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  Richardson, 190
 Wilson, Susan. Literary Trail of Greater Boston. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000: 127. ISBN 0-618-05013-2
  Richardson, 206
 Lydia (Jackson) Emerson was a descendant of Abraham Jackson, one of the original proprietors of Plymouth, who married the daughter of
Nathaniel Morton, longtime Secretary of the Plymouth Colony.
  Richardson, 207-8
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Ralph Waldo Emerson
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 Slater, Abby. In Search of Margaret Fuller. New York: Delacorte Press, 1978: 61b62. ISBN 0-440-03944-4
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 (http://www. emersoncentral.com/ essays1. htm), Essays: first series, Retrieved April 24, 2010
  The Bedside Baccalaureate, David Rubel, ed. (Sterling 2008), p. 153.
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 Emerson as Lecturer, R. Jackson Wilson, in The Cambridge Companion to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Cambridge University Press, 1999
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  Sachin N. Pradhan, India in the United States: Contribution of India and Indians in the United States of America, Bethesda, MD: SP Press
International, Inc., 1996, p 12.
  The Over-Soul from Essays: First Series (1841)
  Buell, 31
 Allen, Gay Wilson. Waldo Emerson. New York: Penguin Books, 1982: 512b514.
 Koch, Daniel. Ralph Waldo Emerson in Europe. Class, Race, and Revolution in the Making of an American Thinker (http:// books.google.
co. uk/books?id=yiG3uwlifN0C& printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false). London: I.B. Tauris,
  Baker, 321
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 Blanchard, Paula. Margaret Fuller. From Transcendentalism to Revolution. Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing
Company, 1987: 339. ISBN 0-201-10458-X
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 Callow, Philip. From Noon to Starry Night. A Life of Walt Whitman. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1992: 232. ISBN 0-929587-95-2
 Miller, James E., Jr. Walt Whitman. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc. 1962: 27.
 Reynolds, David S. Walt Whitman´s America. A Cultural Biography. New York: Vintage Books, 1995: 352. ISBN 0-679-76709-6.
 Callow, Philip. From Noon to Starry Night. A Life of Walt Whitman. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1992: 236. ISBN 0-929587-95-2.
 Reynolds, David S. Walt Whitman´s America. A Cultural Biography. New York: Vintage Books, 1995: 343. ISBN 0-679-76709-6.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
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 Bloom, Harold. The Western Canon. London: Papermac. 147b148.
 Schmidt, Michael The Lives of the Poets Wiedenfeld & Nicholson , London 1999 ISBN 9780753807453
 Department of Philosophy (http://www. fas. harvard. edu/ ~phildept/about.html) of Harvard University
 Staten Island on the Web: Famous Staten Islanders (http:// www.nypl.org/ branch/staten/index2.cfm?Trg=1&d1=1391)
 http:// www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/ 175142
Ralph Waldo Emerson
· Allen, Gay Wilson (1981). Waldo Emerson. New York: Viking Press. ISBN0-670-74866-8.
· Baker, Carlos (1996). Emerson Among the Eccentrics. A Group Portrait. New York: Viking Press.
· Bosco, Ronald A. and Joel Myerson (2006). Emerson Bicentennial Essays. Boston: Massachusetts Historical
· Bosco, Ronald A. and Joel Myerson (2006). The Emerson Brothers. A Fraternal Biography in Letters. Oxford:
Oxford University Press. ISBN9780195-140361.
· Bosco, Ronald A. and Joel Myerson (2003). Emerson in His Own Time. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.
· Bosco, Ronald A. and Joel Myerson (2010). Ralph Waldo Emerson. A Documentary Volume. Detroit: Cengage
· Buell, Lawrence (2003). Emerson. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
· Emerson, Ralph Waldo (1983). Essays and Lectures. New York: Library of America. ISBN0-940450-15-1.
· Emerson, Ralph Waldo (1994). Collected Poems and Translations. New York: Library of America.
· Emerson, Ralph Waldo (2010). Selected Journals. 1820`1842. New York: Library of America.
· Emerson, Ralph Waldo (2010). Selected Journals. 1841`1877. New York: Library of America.
· Gougeon, Len (2010). Virtue´s Hero. Emerson, Antislavery, and Reform. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia
· Gura, Philip F (2007). American Transcendentalism. A History. New York: Hill and Wang.
· Kaplan, Justin (1979). Walt Whitman. A Life. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN0-671-22542-1.
· McAleer, John (1984). Ralph Waldo Emerson. Days of Encounter. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.
· Myerson, Joel (2000). A Historical Guide to Ralph Waldo Emerson. New York: Oxford University Press.
· Myerson, Joel, Petrolionus, Sandra Herbert, Walls, Laura Dassaw, eds. (2010). The Oxford Handbook of
Transcendentalism. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN0-19-533103-6.
· Packer, Barbara L. (2007). The Transcendentalists. Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press.
· Porte, Joel & Morris, Saundra, eds. (1999). The Cambridge Companion to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Cambridge,
United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. ISBN0-521-49946-1.
· Richardson, Robert D. Jr. (1995). Emerson. The Mind on Fire. Berkeley, California: University of California
· Rosenwald, Lawrence (1988). Emerson and the Art of the Diary. New York: Oxford University Press.
· Stephen, Leslie (1902). "Emerson". Studies of a Biographer. London: Duckworth & Co. pp.130b167.
· Sullivan, Wilson (1972). New England Men of Letters. New York: The Macmillan Company.
· von Frank, Albert J. (1994). An Emerson Chronology. New York: G. K. Hall & Co. ISBN0-8161-7266-8.
· Von Mehren, Joan (1994). Minerva and the Muse. A Life of Margaret Fuller. Amherst, Massachusetts: University
of Massachusetts Press. ISBN1-55849-015-9.
· Ward, Julius H. (1887). The Andover Review. Houghton Mifflin.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
· Ralph Waldo Emerson papers, 1814-1867 (25 boxes) are housed at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at
· Ralph Waldo Emerson additional papers, 1852-1898 (.5 linear feet) are housed at Houghton Library at Harvard
· Ralph Waldo Emerson lectures and sermons, ca. 1831-1882 (10 linear feet) are housed at Houghton Library at
· Ralph Waldo Emerson letters to Charles King Newcomb, 1842 Mar. 18-1858 July 25 (22 items) are housed at the
Concord Public Library.
· The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harvard University Press, Ronald A. Bosco, General Editor; Joel
Myerson, Textual Editor (http:/ /www.hup. harvard.edu/results-list.php?collection=1163)
· Works by Ralph Waldo Emerson (http:/ / www.gutenberg.org/author/Ralph+Waldo+ Emerson) at Project
· Works by Ralph Waldo Emerson (http:// librivox.org/newcatalog/search. php?title=& author=Ralph+Waldo+
Emerson&action=Search) in free audio format from LibriVox
· The Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson at RWE.org (http:/ /www.rwe.org)
· Reading Ralph Waldo Emerson, a blog featuring excerpts from Emerson's journals (http:/ /www.
· Representative Men (http:/ /xroads. virginia. edu/~HYPER/EMERSON/ repmen.html) from American Studies
at the University of Virginia.
· The Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson transcendentalists.com (http:/ /www. transcendentalists.com/1emerson.
· The Enduring Significance of Emerson's Divinity School Address (http://harvardsquarelibrary.org/
emerson_hds/)"bby John Haynes Holmes
· "American Individualism and Emerson, Its Champion." (http:/ /www. charleschurchyard.com/ emerson.html)b
by Charles Churchyard
· The Living Legacy of Ralph Waldo Emerson (http://harvardsquarelibrary. org/emerson/ ) by Rev. Schulman
and R. Richardson
· Tribute to Ralph Waldo Emerson (http://www.aninfiniteidea.org/ Emerson/index.html)ba hypertext guide, in
English and in Italian
· Ralph Waldo Emerson (http://www.hti.umich. edu/ e/ emerson/ ) complete Works at the University of
· Works by or about Ralph Waldo Emerson (http:/ /worldcat. org/identities/lccn-n78-85476) in libraries
· Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: " Ralph Waldo Emerson (http://plato. stanford. edu/entries/emerson/ )"b
by Russell Goodman
· Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: " Ralph Waldo Emerson (http:// www.iep. utm. edu/ e/ emerson.htm)"b
by Vince Brewton
· Life in the Ralph Waldo Emerson House (http://www. nytimes.com/ slideshow/ 2010/09/15/garden/
0916emerson-slideshow.html?ref=multimedia)bslideshow by The New York Times
· A bibliography of books about Emerson (http://www.rwe. org/biography/bibliography)
· Another Emerson bibliography (http://www. readingemerson. com/ emerson-bibliography/)
Ralph Waldo Emerson
· Emerson & Thoreau (http://www. americanwriters.org/ writers/emerson.asp) at C-SPAN's American Writers.
A Journey Through History
· Booknotes interview with Robert D. Richardson on Emerson. The Mind on Fire, August 13, 1995. (http:// www.
booknotes.org/Watch/ 66144-1/Robert+ D+ Richardson+ Jr. aspx)
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Image Sources, Licenses and Contributors
Image Sources, Licenses and Contributors
File:Emerson by Johnson 1846.png Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Emerson_by_Johnson_1846.png License: Public Domain Contributors: Artist: Eastman Johnson
File:Ralph Waldo Emerson ca1857 retouched.jpg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Ralph_Waldo_Emerson_ca1857_retouched.jpg License: Public Domain
Contributors: User:Scewing derivative work: 2009
File:Appletons' Emerson Ralph Waldo signature.svg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Appletons'_Emerson_Ralph_Waldo_signature.svg License: Public Domain
Contributors: Ralph Waldo Emerson
image:Emerson3 cropped.jpg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Emerson3_cropped.jpg License: Public Domain Contributors: Schoff, Stephen Alonzo, 1818-1904,
engraver. Rowse, Samuel Worcester, 1822-1901, artist.
File:Daguerreotype Lydia Jackson Emerson and Edward Waldo Emerson 1840.jpeg Source:
http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Daguerreotype_Lydia_Jackson_Emerson_and_Edward_Waldo_Emerson_1840.jpeg License: Public Domain Contributors: Lidian (Lydia) Jackson
Image:RWEmerson1859.jpg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:RWEmerson1859.jpg License: Public Domain Contributors: Photographer unidentified
Image:Emersons grave.jpg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Emersons_grave.jpg License: Public Domain Contributors: Allowishus
Image:RWEmerson.jpg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:RWEmerson.jpg License: Public Domain Contributors: Airunp, Andreagrossmann, GôTô, Schaengel89, 1
File:Ralph Waldo Emerson 1940 Issue-3c.jpg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Ralph_Waldo_Emerson_1940_Issue-3c.jpg License: Public Domain Contributors: US
File:Representative Men 1850.jpg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Representative_Men_1850.jpg License: Public Domain Contributors: Ralph Waldo Emerson
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
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