Ralph Waldo Emerson

	By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
	 Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
	Hence once the embattled farmers stood,
	 And fired the shot heard round the world.
						-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Nature is the incarnation of thought. The world is the mind precipitated. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), American poet, essayist, philosopher and founder of Transcendentalism.

Born Boston, Massachusetts, the fourth of eight children, educated at Harvard.

In 1829 Emerson was ordained as a junior pastor at Boston's Second Church, but resigned from the ministry in 1832, having delivered a sermon which questioned the orthodox view of the Lord's Supper.

On resigning from the church, Emerson set sail for Europe. In Italy he met Landor and attended a 4 July celebration in Paris with his fellow countrymen. In London he met John Stuart Mill and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He toured the desolation around Craigenputtock Farm with Thomas Carlyle who was to become a lifelong friend, and endured the bore William Wordsworth who he found rather limited.

On his return to the States, Emerson settled in Concord, Massachusetts, where he was able to subsist as a lecturer thanks to a legacy from his first wife Ellen.

Emerson's main contribution was as founder of the Transcendentalists, which he founded for the informal exchange of modern views on philosophy, theology and literature. The essence of Emerson's views were expressed in his first book, Nature (1836). Prominent followers of the movement were Henry David Thoreau and Margaret Fuller (who edited the movement's main vehicle, The Dial).

In 1837, Emerson delivered a speech at Harvard before Thoreau's graduation class, which became known as 'The American Scholar'. In 1838, Emerson delivered the Divinity School address at Harvard on the state of Christianity, which caused him to be banned from speaking for three decades.

In 1840, Emerson launched The Dial, edited by fellow Transcendentalist Margaret Fuller.

Essays (1841) and Essays: Second Series (1844) helped to establish his reputation. Poems (1846) only served to confuse.

With a failing mind, fire broke at Emerson's house. Louisa Alcott, was one of those who helped and managed to salvage his manuscripts.

Emerson took a tour of Europe and returned to cheering crowds.

At his funeral special trains had to be laid on for the crowds.


John Hayward (ed), The Penguin Book of English Verse, Penguin, 1956

Literature ~ Nathaniel Hawthorne ~ Henry David Thoreau ~ Walt Whitman
(c) Keith Parkins 1999 -- June 1999 rev 0