Who was Ralph Waldo Emerson?

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) was the leading nineteenth century American transcendentalist. His essays and activism not only established him as an intellectual for his time, but also provided a model for subsequent American intellectuals, particularly the pragmatists.

Emerson's main writings, which are still read today—most are free on-line— include Nature (1836), his first book, which contains the essays "Nature," "Commodity," "Beauty," "Language," "Discipline," "Idealism," "Spirit," "Prospects," "The American Scholar," "Divinity School Address," "Literary Ethics," "The Method of Nature," "Man the Reformer," "Introductory Lecture on the Times," "The Conservative," "The Transcendentalist," and "The Young American"; there is also Essays: First Series (1841), containing "History," "Self-Reliance," "Compensation," "Spiritual Laws," "Love," "Friendship," "Prudence," "Heroism," "The Over-Soul," "Circles," "Intellect" and "Art"; and Essays: Second Series (1844), which includes "The Poet," "Experience," "Character," "Manners," "Gifts," "Nature," "Politics," "Nominalist and Realist," and "New England Reformers." Other books include Poems (1847); Miscellanies; Embracing Nature, Addresses, and Lectures (1849); Representative Men (1850), including essays on Plato and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; English Traits (1856), which is about his travels; The Conduct of Life (1860); the poetry collection May-Day and Other Pieces (1867); and Society and Solitude (1870). Emerson's last series of essays were lectures given at Harvard University in 1871 and posthumously published as Natural History of Intellect (1904). There is also the Correspondence of Thomas Carlyle and R.W. Emerson (1883).

How did Ralph Waldo Emerson define transcendentalism?

He considered transcendentalism a kind of philosophical idealism that held that the ultimate reality was spiritual and not material. He thought that experience was limited in telling us what things are in themselves or what to value. Emerson also referred to a Kantian notion of "ideas or imperative forms," which made experience possible, and he ascribed to Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) the label "Transcendental Forms," for these realities of the mind and spirit.

What kind of life did Ralph Waldo Emerson lead?

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) lost his father when he was just eight years old, and was sent to Boston Latin School the next year. He attended Harvard College at 14, where he waited on tables at the commons and tutored to pay for his education. After graduation, he helped his brother in a school for young ladies, which his mother ran in her home. In 1829 Emerson graduated from Harvard Divinity School as a Unitarian minister. But he resigned from that vocation in 1832 because of a disagreement with church administrators. He had married Ellen Louisa Tucker in 1829, but she died of tuberculosis two years later at the age of 20. He mourned her deeply, but had also described himself as "strangely attracted" to a young man while at Harvard, and was later believed to become infatuated with other young men, including author Nathaniel Hawthorne.

During travels in Europe after his wife died, Emerson met authors William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor coleridge, and Thomas carlyle (he would correspond with Carlyle [1795-1881] until his death in 1881), and philosopher John

Ralph Waldo Emerson was the leading American transcendentalist of the nineteenth century (Art Archive).

Ralph Waldo Emerson was the leading American transcendentalist of the nineteenth century (Art Archive).

Stuart Mill (1806-1873). In 1835 Emerson bought a house in Concord, Massachusetts, and married Lydia Jackson, with whom he had four children. He was reasonably well off financially (partly due to a lawsuit securing his inheritance from his first wife) and he used part of the money to help Amos Bronson Alcott (1799-1888), his neighbor. Many considered Emerson the greatest orator of his day.

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