American poet, philosopher, and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, was best known not only for his literary legacy, but also for his fundamental views on religion, nature, and their connection with humans. At that time, his beliefs were so radical that many criticized him for it. However, he remained steadfast in his values.
As a lecturer and orator, Emerson became one of the leading figures for the intellectual culture in the United States. Here are a few facts behind one of the most influential literary men of the 19th century.
Ralph Waldo Emerson Early Days
Born on May 25, 1803, in Boston, Massachusetts, Ralph Waldo Emerson was one of the eight children of Ruth Haskins and the Rev. William Emerson.
The future minister, writer, and philosopher was named after Ruth’s brother (Ralph), and Rev. Emerson’s great-grandmother (Rebecca Waldo). Three of his siblings died in childhood, and his father, Rev. William Emerson, would also pass away – right before his eighth birthday. Sadly, Ralph Waldo would lose his first wife, Ellen Tucker, early on during their life together.
Her death was the catalyst for the many changes during his life later on. He was so devastated by her death that it was said that he visited her grave everyday. It was also then that he began having a “crisis of faith”.
Emerson left the clergy, after having nagging doubts about the “antiquated profession”. He left for Europe, where he met literary figures such as Thomas Carlyle, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and William Wordsworth. He visited renowned countries like France, Switzerland, and Italy – spending months in the beautiful cities of Venice, Rome, and Florence. When he returned to the United States, he was an inspired man.
Around 1830’s, Ralph Waldo began a career as a lecturer, and later married his second wife, Lydia Jackson. Aside from lectures and writings, Ralph Waldo Emerson was also known to advocate for the abolition of slavery, and as one of the leading figures for American Transcendentalism. It’s the belief that humans can transcend – or move beyond – worldly sensations to reach deeper spiritual experience through free will and intuition.
Some of his later works, such as “The Conduct of Life” (1860), have influenced many writers and philosophers to this day. In his old age, Ralph Waldo Emerson was nicknamed “the sage of Concord”. He died on April 27, 1882, and was buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, in Concord, Massachusetts.
Ralph Waldo Emerson Legacy
Ralph Waldo Emerson left plenty of wisdom for this generation and the next, particularly his views on religion and self-reliance. He even inspired notable thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche (German philosopher) and William James (American philosopher and psychologist), as well as contemporaries in the form of Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau.
His essays, like “Nature” (1836) and “Self-Reliance” (Essays: First Series), as well as his poems, are considered to be treasures of 19th-century American literature, religion, and thought. They also embodied his new philosophy on Transcendentalism. In a lecture he gave in 1837, Ralph Waldo encouraged writers to “find their own style”, instead of following those who preceded them.
If you feel lost, stuck, or jaded by your routine, turn to Ralph Waldo Emerson and his famous quotes. While written more than a century ago, his words and their wisdom still ring true today.
Inspirational Ralph Waldo Emerson Quotes