Ralph Waldo Emerson

American essayist, lecturer, and poet

Personal Life (Biographical Information)

Emerson was born in 1803 and was the middle child with three other brothers. His writing style began to emerge after the deaths of all three of his brothers, his first wife, his closest aunt, his mother, and his first son. After completing college at Harvard University, Emerson became a minister in Boston but soon resigned after his speculations on the church prevented him from pursuing religion. He began his intellectual life of reading, writing, and lecturing the masses, the latter of which he was quite talented at. His essays and works were generally focused on individual pursuance but after the death of his good friend John Thoreau (Henry David Thoreau's father), his works saw a significant turn. His essays and lectures became more dark and strained like that of his poem, Threnody. He soon pulled himself together and started a series on great men and spoke particularly about the annexation of Texas and his views on Persian and Indic writings. After traveling around the world to give speeches, he wrote an essay titled Memory, which would soon become ironic in that he would later have his memory falter after his house burned down in 1872. He later died of pneumonia in 1882.

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Main Theme

Emerson mainly focused on topics such as how nature plays a role in modern, everyday life and also on spiritual revelation and trusting your instincts. Emerson was not a religious person and did not pursue it due to his speculation on it's practices. Because of this, he created the theory in his head that one should trust themselves and "listen to the voice within". His works did not include anything really about religion, although he did not bash it either. He also mainly focused his essays and lectures on the roles of men and women and what one's position in humanity is. Lastly, one of the main things that he focused on was how the modern world (at the time) was changing and how things like education and literary ethics were branching out as well which can be found in "The American Scholar" and "Divinity School Address", both of which were popular lectures spoken by Emerson throughout the country.

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Major Works

  • Nature- a transcendentalism essay that argues that the only way one can understand reality is to first understand nature. It states that humans use nature for their basic needs and communication with one another for their understanding of the world
  • Self-Reliance- an essay that states that one should slow down and follow his or her own instincts. It suggests that one should resist conformity and invalid consistency.
  • Essays: First Series- a collection of Emerson's greatest works that includes topics on your spiritual being, social relationships, and intellect and was published in 1841
  • Essays: Second Series- Emerson's second collection of essays that mostly focused political ordeals, social gestures, and how nature plays a role in modern society and was published in 1844
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Ralph Waldo Emerson's life