His father was a prominent Boston minister. And though his father died when Emerson was eight years old, Emerson's family managed to send him to Boston Latin School and Harvard College. After graduating from Harvard he taught school with his older brother for a time, and eventually decided to become a Unitarian minister. He became the junior pastor at a noted Boston institution, Second Church. His happiness was short-lived, however, as his young wife died less than two years later. Emerson was emotionally devastated.
As his wife was from a wealthy family, Emerson received an inheritance which helped sustain him for the rest of his life. The death of his wife and his plunge into misery led Emerson to have severe doubts about his religious beliefs. He became increasingly disillusioned with the ministry over the next several years and he resigned from his position at the church. He spent most of touring Europe.
In Britain Emerson met with prominent writers, including Thomas Carlyle, which whom he began a lifelong friendship. After returning to America, Emerson began to express his changing ideas in written essays. It is often cited as the place where central ideas of Transcendentalism were expressed. In the late s Emerson began to make a living as a public speaker. At that time in America, crowds would pay to hear people discuss current events or philosophical topics, and Emerson was soon a popular orator in New England.
Over the course of his life his speaking fees would be a major portion of his income. Because Emerson is so closely linked to the Transcendentalists , it is often believed that he was the founder of Transcendentalism. In , a class at Harvard Divinity School invited Emerson to speak. The following year the graduating class at the Divinity School invited Emerson to give the commencement address. Volume XI — Miscellanies. Additional Material Abraham Lincoln Eulogy. Papers from the Dial. Meets one Saturday per Month. All proceeds go to supporting RWE.
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Support RWE. Thank you for your support! The American Scholar. Divinity School Address. Literary Ethics. The Method of Nature. Man the Reformer. Introductory Lecture on the Times.
The Conservative. The Transcendentalist.
The Young American. Spiritual Laws. VI Friendship. VIII Heroism.
The Over-Soul. I The Poet. II Experience. III Character. IV Manners. V Gifts. VI Nature. VII Politics.
IX New England Reformers. While now best known as a philosopher, essayist, and lecturer, Emerson, at different times in his career, avowed that he saw himself first and foremost as a poet. Analogizing the poem to a living entity, the form, like the body of an animal or plant, should grow out of its inner being, should be an extension and expression of its spiritual life.
As such, Emerson elevates the poet to a supreme position within society. These various definitions and characterizations of the poet almost immediately come into apparent contradiction. The poet—and every individual—gives expression to an experience never before known, yet the deepest underlying truth of that experience exceeds any individual existence and reflects the laws at the core of the universe.
Poetry must thus reflect both those universal laws even as giving expression to their particular manifestation in an individual life.
When we truly live according to our innermost selves, we, in fact, transcend the self, for we tap into a divine, universal spirit that pervades all of creation. Even in our less conscious moments, our existence reflects that truth, the truth at the core of what Emerson calls poetry. This focus on the specific conditions of the physical world undergirds his famous call towards the end of the essay for a distinctly American poet.
In , Emerson befriended Henry David Thoreau. The Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson , ed. For, the experience of each new age requires a new confession, and the world seems always waiting for its poet. While the house was being rebuilt, Emerson took a trip to England, continental Europe, and Egypt. Enhanced bibliography for this entry at PhilPapers , with links to its database. They outfit you for a walk in the woods or an ordinary morning.