Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American Writer, who led the Transcendentalist movement. Here, we see a short biographical notes on Emerson.
Born in 1803 to a conservative Unitarian Minister, from a long line of ministers, and a quietly devout mother, Waldo, who dropped the “Ralph” in college was a middle son of whom relatively little was expected. His father died, when he was eight, the first of many premature deaths which would shape his life, all his three brothers, his first wife at twenty, and his older son at five. Perhaps the most powerful personal influence on him for years was his intellectual, eccentric and death-obsessed Puritanical aunt, Mary Moody Emerson. Yet Emerson often confessed to an innate optimism, even occasional “silliness”.
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 his 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, Bronson Alcott and George Ripley decided to begin a magazine, The Dial, with Margaret Fuller editing, in 1840; Emerson edited the final two years, ending in 1844, and he wrote essays for many issues. His essays were published in 1841.
In 1845, he began extensive lecturing on “the uses of great man”, a series that culminated with the 1850 publication of Representative Men; by that year he was giving as many as eighty lectures a year. Through a career of 40 years, he gave about 1500 lectures, travelling as far as California and Canada but generally staying in Massachusetts. His audiences were captivated by his speaking style, even if they didn’t always follow the subtleties of his arguments.
In 1847, Emerson travelled to England, noticing in particular the industrialisation and the chasm between upper and lower classes. When he returned to Concord nine months later, he had a new approach to English culture, which he expressed in his lectures on the “Natural History of Intellect” and his 1856 book, “English Traits”.
Emerson and Self- Reliance:
In 1841, Emerson published Essays, his second book, which included the famous essay “Self- Reliance”. His aunt called it a “strange medley of atheism and false independence”, but it gained favourable reviews in London and Paris. This book and its poplar reception more than any of Emerson’s contributions to date laid the groundwork for his international fame. Emerson helped to start the beginning of the Transcendentalist Movement in America. The Transcendentalist Movement also flourished in New England, and proposed a revolutionarily drew upon old ideas of Romanticism, Unitarianism, and German Idealism. Some of these ideas pertained closely to the values of America at the time. These values included nature, individualism and reform which vividly seen in this essay.
As a lecturer and orator, Emerson, nicknamed as the “Sage of Concord” became the leading voice of intellectual culture in the United States. James Russell Lowell, editor of the Atlantic Monthly and the North American Review, commented in his book “My Study Windows (1871)” that Emerson was not only the “most steadily attractive lecturer in America”, but also “one of the pioneers of the lecturing system”.
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.
His Final Years:
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 found to be suffering from pneumonia. He died six days later. Emerson is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord, Massachusetts. He was placed in his coffin wearing a white robe given by the American sculptor Daniel Chester French.
Some Inspiring Quotes of Him:
1. Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
2. What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.
3. To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.
4. The earth laughs in flowers.
5. Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.
6. Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.
7. To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
8. To be great is to be misunderstood.
9. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.
10. What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.