Emerson, Ralph Waldo, essayist and poet, was born at Boston, in the United States, May 25, 1803. He came of a high Puritan lineage, and his family was one of the oldest in America, his ancestors having gone out from Gloucestershire in 1635. Emerson's father was a Boston clergyman, and worthily continued the traditions of a long line of able Protestant ministers. Ralph Waldo was the third of seven children, and when but six years of age he had the misfortune to lose his father, who left his family in a straitened condition. To his mother and his aunt - both women of a superior order of intellect - the future philosopher was indebted for his early training. At eight years of age he entered the public grammar school, and shortly afterwards the Latin school. He gave a scholastic promise which was scarcely fulfilled, for at eleven he was a close student of Greek, and could turn Virgil into English heroic verse. He entered Harvard University, where he graduated in 1821, not, however, taking a distinguished rank; but he carried off a second prize for an essay in English, and was chosen class poet. After some experience as a schoolmaster, during which he studied theology under Dr. Channing at the Harvard Divinity School, he was ordained to the Unitarian ministry. In March, 1829, he became the colleague of the Rev. Henry Ware, minister of the Second Church in Boston. In the ensuing September he married Miss Ellen Louisa Tucker, who died without leaving any children in 1832. During this same year Emerson preached a sermon on the Lord's Supper which gave umbrage to his congregation. Notwithstanding the influence of Channing, he felt impelled to resign his charge, although he preached occasionally for some three years longer. Emerson visited Europe in 1833, and after a brief sojourn in France and Italy came to England, where he made the acquaintance of Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Carlyle. He was especially drawn towards Carlyle, and the seer of Craigenputtock and Emerson himself have left vivid descriptions of their meeting and of their conversations. On his return, Emerson settled at Concord (Massachusetts), and began to write essays and to deliver lectures, chiefly on biographical subjects, in Boston and elsewhere. His first home at Concord was an old gambrel-roofed house built by his grandfather, and celebrated as the "Old Manse" of Hawthorne's story. In 1835 he married Miss Lydia Jackson, of Plymouth, Massachusetts, with whom he entered upon the new home where he peacefully remained for the rest of his long life.
Emerson had begun a correspondence with Carlyle in 1834, and this correspondence continued for nearly 40 years. The deaths of his brothers Charles and Edward - young men of brilliant promise - exercised a profound impression upon Emerson, who sought relief in composition, and in gardening and other occupations of a retired country life. In 1836 he founded the Transcendental Club, and published anonymously his little work Nature, which dealt with such subjects as beauty, commodity, language, discipline, idealism, spirit, and prospects. The authorship of the book was at once recognised, but its sale was very small, only reaching 500 copies in twelve years. The American Scholar, an oration delivered before the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Harvard, marked an event in the literary annals of the United States, and it has been described as the "American intellectual declaration of independence." Emerson's Address before the Senior Class in Divinity Colleye, Cambridge, July, 1838, caused a lively sensation in the religious world, and particularly among the Unitarians. The orator's position was extremely heterodox, and it was severely attacked by (among others) Professor Andrews Norton in an article entitled The Latest Form of Infidelity. The eight years from 1838 to 1846 were years of somewhat prolific production with Emerson, the following works appearing in the order named - Ethics, 1838; The Method of Nature, 1841; Man the Reformer, 1841; Lectures on the Times, 1841; Essays, 1842; Essays, 1844; and Poems, 1846. When Margaret Fuller and other Transcendentalists founded the Dial, Emerson became one of its contributors, and wrote for it regularly during its chequered existence of four years. He also took a tolerant, if slightly humorous, interest in the socialistic experimental Brook Farm, sympathising to a considerable extent with the cultured but unpractical colonists. Emerson visited England again in 1847, and lectured in London, Manchester, Liverpool, and other towns. In the ensuing year he went over to Paris with Arthur H. Clough and W. E. Forster. On his return to America in 1849 he published one of his best-known works, Representative Men. These critical and biographical essays contained much of his finest writing. The author, after treating of the uses of great men, proceeded to discuss, with imaginative fervour and true philosophical insight, Plato the Philosopher, Swedenborg the Mystic, Montaigne the Sceptic, Shakespeare the Poet, Napoleon the Man of the World, and Goethe the Writer. These literary appreciations still retain their popularity. In 1852 Emerson published the Memoirs of his friend Margaret Fuller, Marchesa d' Ossoli, author of Woman in the Nineteenth Century, and other works. Another of his most popular works, English Traits, appeared in 1856. In this volume he recorded his thoughts while visiting England and Scotland, and his sketches of life and character in the old country were very fresh and original. When describing his first visit to England he gave vivid reminiscences of Coleridge, Landor, Wordsworth, Carlyle, and other distinguished men. The Conduct of Life, another volume of papers partly philosophical and partly practical, was issued in 1860. Soon after the publication of this volume the American Civil War broke out. Emerson, like all Northerners, had a great detestation of slavery. He both wrote and spoke against it, and was a warm admirer of John Brown, of Harper's Ferry celebrity. He was an Abolitionist of the Free Soil party, and would have bought out the slave-holders. He admired the great self-sacrifices made in the interests of national union and for the abolition of slavery, and hailed warmly the manifestation of the national spirit at the close of the war. His own influence began to increase at this time. In 1867 he published his May Day, and Other Pieces; in 1870 Society and Solitude; and in 1871 Essays, and a volume entitled Parnassus; Selected Poems. Emerson's house was destroyed by fire in 1872, and during its rebuilding he paid a third visit to England and the Continent, remaining in Europe for about a year. After his return to the United States his mind never regained its early elasticity, and he suffered from frequent loss of memory; but he still returned at intervals to his literary studies, and in 1876 published his Letters and, Social Aims. His closing years were marked by a calm serenity, and his death, which was very peaceful, occurred at Concord on April 27, 1882. In religion Emerson was a rationalist and an individualist, and in philosophy an idealist. All through life he was a courageous optimist, ever aspiring to find a wise and happy solution for the great problems of life. In nature and humanity he perceived ennobling influences for the elevation of the race and of the individual. He was possessed of an excellent sense of humour and a good judgment, and as yet America has produced no greater essayist or more original thinker. His poems are quaint and beautiful, but frequently irregular in form. A collected American edition of Emerson's works has been published in 11 volumes, and an English edition in 6 volumes. His correspondence with Carlyle has been ably edited by Professor Charles Eliot Norton, and an authoritative Life of Emerson has been written by James Elliot Cabot, the editor of his collected works.