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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
“For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Make the most of yourself…for that is all there is of you.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Life is a journey, not a destination.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Every artist was first an amateur.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“It is easy to live for others, everybody does. I call on you to live for yourself.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“People do not seem to realize that their opinion of the world is also a confession of their character.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“We acquire the strength we have overcome.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“When you were born you were crying and everyone else was smiling. Live your life so at the end, you’re the one who is smiling and everyone else is crying.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Beauty without expression is boring.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“You become what you think about all day long.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“You are constantly invited to be what you are.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Some books leave us free and some books make us free.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“People only see what they are prepared to see.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson