Biography of Ralph Waldo Emerson


RALPH WALDO EMERSON, an American essayist and poet, was born in the city of Boston, Massachusetts, May 25th, 1803, entered Harvard University in 1817, graduated in 1821, and became pastor of a Unitarian congregation in Boston in 1829. This office, however, he resigned in 1832, on account of the gradually increasing differences between his own modes of thought and those of his hearers. The next year he spent in England. After that time he led a quiet, retired, meditative life, chiefly at Concord. Among the earlier noticeable productions of his pen, were two lectures, or orations, entitled "Nature and Man Thinking," delivered before the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Cambridge, 1837. In the following year appeared his "Literary Ethics," an oration; and in 1841, "The Method of Nature," "Man the Reformer," the first series of his "Essays," and several lectures, etc. Three years later, he issued a second series of "Essays." In 1864 he published a volume of poems. In 1849, he revisited England to deliver a series of lectures on "Representative Men." When published they were generally reckoned the most vigorous and intelligible of all that the author had then written. In 1852, in conjunction with W.H. Channing and J.F. Clarke, he published "The Memorials of Margaret Fuller," "English Traits," appeared in 1856, and the "Conduct of Life," in 1860. There is perhaps, no writer of note regarding whom opinions are so divided as Emerson. Some critics have not hesitated to place him among the profoundest thinkers, while others, equally confident, have pronounced him to be in the main, a sciolist and charlatan. Both these opinions, but especialiy the latter, may be dismissed as absurd. It is true however, that the subtlety of his intellect, which was far more wonderful than either its breadth or depth, often deceived him with the facility with which it discovered divine meanings in nature and the human soul.

Emerson never paused to harmonize his thoughts and convictions. He thus belonged to the class of minds which are intuitional rather than reflective, and subtle rather than sagacious. His thinking charms, animates, and vividly excites the mental faculty of the reader, but it does not satisfy or settle any question conclusively. Hence his speculations on religion, philosophy, literature and life, though stimulating to the young, are coldly regarded by men of mature and sage understanding. Emerson has nowhere formally defined the fundamental basis of his speculation. He appears to be what is called a Pantheist; at least he rejects entirely that kind of Theism which separates God from nature, and looks upon him as simply a living Spiritual Personality. In regard to man and his destinies, he entertained exalted hopes; but religion was not in his eyes a divinely revealed (in the ordinary sense), or infallible thing. All creeds were merely "the necessary and structural action of the human mind," in the course of its historical progress. His "Society and Solitude," appeared in 1870. He died at Concord, Massachusetts, April 27th, 1882.