Ralph Waldo Emerson

By Carston Kopf

Biographical Info

Ralph Waldo Emerson was born on the 25th of May, 1803 in Boston, MA. His education comprised of a stint at the Boston Latin School, followed by Harvard University, and finally a religious education at the Harvard School of Divinity. He became a Unitarian minister, but gave up that endeavor after the death of his wife in 1831. Emerson later took to writing, and published essays that dealt mainly with religion and nature. His work became part of the American Transcendentalist movement, which grew as the 19th century went on. He continued to write for the rest of his life, and died in 1882.
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Subject Matter

Emerson is most well-known for his writing, particularly his essays. His essays had their roots in his religious background, and told about the human spirit, as well as how humans should be themselves instead of looking towards others. These ideas were the primary basis for a larger movement that came to be known as American Transcendentalism. Joining Emerson in this movement were other writers such as Henry David Thoreau and Margaret Fuller. The Transcendentalists believed that the human spirit was very powerful, and that more could be learned through oneself than through what was around them. This is where the term "transcendentalist" comes from, as the leaders of the movement wanted people to "transcend" or look past the physical characteristics of their world. Additionally, the Transcendentalists preached the idea of breaking away from European influences, and turning more towards American ingenuity. This was why the Transcendentalist movement became so popular, as the U.S. was only about 50 years removed from the Revolutionary War, and the idea of the U.S. as an independent nation was continually growing. The works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Transcendentalist movement as a whole remained popular for several more decades, all the way unit the Civil War.
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Above: A group of Transcendentalists, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau

Major Works

Below is a list of Ralph Waldo Emerson's major writing pieces from Ralph Waldo Emerson

-Nature (1836)

-Essays: Series One (1841)

-Essays: Series Two (1844)

-English Traits (1855)

-Society and Solitude (1870)

-The Present Age (1840)


Emerson's first major essay "Nature" from 1836 describes humans and subjects such as beauty, language, and discipline. It became popular among 19th century philosophers, and set the formation for both future Emerson essays and the American Transcendentalist movement as a whole.

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Above: Emerson's "Nature" essay