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RALPH WALDO EMERSON, poet, essayist, and philosopher, was born in Boston, May 25, 1803. He was the second of five sons of the Rev. William Emerson, minister of the First (Congregational) Church in Boston. His mother was Ruth Haskins, a woman of strong character and superior mental abilities. He had a minister for an ancestor for eight generations back, either on the paternal or the maternal side. Thus he inherited his spiritual and intellectual tendencies from a long line of distinguished progenitors. His aunt, Mary Moody Emerson, a woman of rare intellectual attainments, was one of his early companions and exerted a remarkable influence over his development.
Emerson began his studies at the public grammar school at the age of eight, and four years later he attended the Latin School. In 1817 he entered Harvard. He was not distinguished for proficiency in the studies of the curriculum, but he was superior to most of his classmates in his knowledge of general literature. He was especially interested in the study of Greek and history, and much of his time was spent in the library. He graduated in 1821.
For five years after leaving college Emerson taught school. In 1823 he began to study for the ministry under Dr. Channing. He was “approbated to preach” in 1826 by the Middlesex Association of Ministers, but owing to ill health he did not enter immediately upon his public duties, but spent the following winter in Florida. On his return from the South he preached in New Bedford, Northampton, Concord, and Boston. On March 11, 1829, he was ordained as a colleague of the Rev. Henry Ware, minister of the Second (Congregational Unitarian) Church in Boston. Eighteen months later, Dr. Ware resigned and the pastoral duties fell upon Emerson.
In September, 1829, he was married to Miss Ellen Louisa Tucker. Their married life was brief, as Mrs. Emerson died of consumption in February, 1832.
Emerson soon became troubled with doubts regarding his duties as a minister, and as sincerity was always his guiding star, he felt it his duty to proclaim these doubts to his congregation. Accordingly in September, 1832, he delivered a sermon on the Lord's Supper, in which he stated his scruples against administering that rite. As he and his congregation differed radically in these views, he resigned his pastorate and retired from public preaching
In 1833 he visited Europe for the first time. There he met Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Carlyle, and formed with the lastnamed a lifelong friendship which resulted in their famous correspondence.
In the winter of 1833–34 he returned to the United States and began his career as a lecturer. At this period of his life he lived with Dr. Ripley in the “Old Manse,” afterwards made famous by Hawthorne. The first lectures he delivered were “Water” and “The Relation of Man to the Globe." These were followed by three lectures on his European tour.
In 1834 he began his series of biographical lectures on Michael Angelo, Milton, Luther, George Fox, and Edmund Burke. Those on Michael Angelo and George Fox were published later in the “North American Review."
In September, 1835, he was married to Miss Lydia Jackson of Plymouth, Mass. They went to live in "the plain, square, wooden house,” in Concord, which was Emerson's home for the rest of his life.
During the next three winters Emerson delivered three courses of lectures in Boston: ten on English literature, in 1835; twelve on the philosophy of history, in 1836; and ten on human culture, in 1837
In 1836 he wrote the “ Concord Hymn" for the dedication ceremonies at the monument raised in honor of the Concord fight. It is one of the most beautiful poems he has written.
In 1836 his first volume, "Nature," - a philosophic essay full of poetic thoughts, — was published anonymously. It was quite different from anything Emerson had written before, and it did not meet with a favorable reception.
It was too vague
popular comprehension, and the time was not ripe for its full appreciation. It took five years to sell five hundred copies of it in the United States.
In 1836 the Symposium, or Transcendental Club, was organized, and Emerson became an active member. Among its other members were James Freeman Clarke, Theodore Parker, Bronson Alcott, Elizabeth P. Peabody, and Margaret Fuller. They discussed, besides a variety of other topics, religious justice, truth, mysticism, and the development of American genius.
From the last-named subject Emerson probably received the impulse which prompted him in 1837 to deliver his oration entitled “The American Scholar" before the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Cambridge. The address was received by the audience with the utmost enthusiasm and approval.
On July 24, 1838, Emerson delivered an oration on literary ethics before the literary societies at Dartmouth College.
In the winter of 1838–39 he gave a course of ten lectures, “The Doctrine of the Soul," "Home," "The School," "Love,"
Genius,” “The Protest,” “Tragedy,” “Comedy,” “Duty," Demonology.”
His next address was “The Method of Nature," delivered before the Society of the Adelphi in Waterville, Me., Aug. 11, 1841. Other addresses delivered about this time were Man, the Reformer," "Lecture on the Times," "The Transcendentalist," and “The Conservative.”
In July, 1840, a transcendental magazine called "The Dial” began its career under the editorship of Margaret Fuller. Emerson soon succeeded her as editor, and he contributed numerous articles to the paper. It was not a financial success, and was abandoned in 1844.
In 1841 Emerson's first volume of collected essays was published. This volume now includes the following essays: His
“ Self-Reliance," "Compensation," "Spiritual Laws," "Love,” “Friendship,” “ Prudence,"
Prudence," "Heroism," "The OverSoul,” “Circles,” “Intellect,” “Art,” “The Young American.” The last named was not published till 1844, but it now forms part of the “First Series of Essays."
In February, 1842, Emerson wrote the pathetic "Threnody," on the death of his dearly beloved son. In 1844 he delivered, in Concord, an address on the emancipation of the negroes in the British West Indies.
In 1844 the “Second Series of Essays" appeared. It includes:
“The Poet," "Experience," " Character," Manners," Gifts," "Nature," " Politics," "Nominalist and Realist," and "New England Reformers."
In 1847 Emerson's first volume of poems was published. This was chiefly a colection of poems which had appeared be. fore, most of them in “The Dial.”
In October, 1847, he sailed for Europe on an English lecture tour. Many of the lectures he delivered on this trip were published in a volume, “Representative Men,” which appeared in 1850. It consists of a series of character sketches or mental portraits, each designed to represent a class. The essays are: "Lives of Great Men;" "Plato, or the Philosopher;" "Plato, New Readings;” “Swedenborg, or the Mystic;” “Montaigne, , or the Skeptic;" "Shakespeare, or the Poet;" "Napoleon, or the Man of the World;" "Goethe, or the Writer."
In 1849 he returned to the United States. In 1850 he signed the call for the first Woman's Rights Convention. In 1852, conjointly with James Freeman Clarke and William Ellery Channing, he published the "Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli.”
In January, 1855, he gave one of the lectures in a course of Antislavery Addresses, delivered in Boston, and in the same year he delivered an address before the Antislavery Party in New York. The plan he proposed was to buy the slaves from the owners and then liberate them.
"English Traits,” the result of his observations in England, was published in 1856. In November, 1857, the "Atlantic Monthly" began its career in Boston with James Russell Lowell as editor. Many of the former contributors of “The Dial” wrote for this paper, among them Emerson, who contributed to