Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson is probably the most influential figure in American literary history. He was responsible for shaping the literary style and vision of the American Romantic Period. Nowadays, when we think of Transcendentalism we think immediately of Emerson. We think of Emerson because transcendental thought is most clearly expressed in his writings.
As with all great writers, the events in Emerson's life have greatly influenced his thoughts. These events tell us why he believes the way he does. He was born on May 25, 1803 to a Unitarian minister (Johnson 132). His father, the Reverend William Emerson, was chaplain of the senate state. Being the son of a minister, Emerson lived a very sheltered childhood in Boston. His education began before he was three (Johnson 133). He began his education in a nursery school and worked his ay up the stairs of education. Emerson's father died in 1811 and left him to take care of his mother and family (Unger 7). A year later, he began studying at the Boston Latin School. He studied there for the next five years until he made his final step up to a higher education. In 1817, Emerson entered Harvard College as the "President's messenger" (Johnson 133). Having this role at the college allowed him to have free room and board, making college much cheaper for his mother. Although he wasn't particularly interested in the subject, due to a great deal of pressure, he decided to study ministry. Throughout his four years of education at Harvard College, his aunt Mary Moody had convinced him to write poetry on subjects such as the victory of 1812. Because of his aunt's influence, Emerson became very interested in writing and began writing many essays on his beliefs. During Emerson's last years at Harvard College, his senior class became interested in the ideas of people of other countries and religions. Many of them were greatly affected by the publications of German higher critics along with Hindu and Buddhist poetry. After his graduation in 1821, Emerson remarked on how he felt that college had done little for him on the whole (Unger 7). Emerson never stood out to his teachers appeal either. Because of his feelings of college, he never pursued education to any higher degree.
Soon after his graduation, Emersion went to teach at his brother Williams school for young ladies. In his journal entries after quitting his brother's job, he talked about how his two years working there were the worst two years of his life. He was soon on his way to Florida in order to cure his life-threatening tuberculosis. Because of the fact that tuberculosis was caused by pollutants coating the inside of the lungs, many people with tuberculosis traveled to remote places or visited spas to try and clear out the lungs. Upon his return from Florida, he became a preacher. In 1929, Emerson was ordained pastor of the Second Church of Boston (Unger7). In the same year he married Ellen Tucker, who died only two years later. Because of his wife's death, Emerson began to doubt the tradition of Christianity belief. It wasn't long before he resigned from his pastorate and traveled to England in order to recover strength and purpose. Upon his return to America, he became very actively engaged in the anti-slavery campaign. He also began his lectures and became a leader in thought and expression. After a few years Emerson remarried to a woman named Lydia Jackson. Lydia bore four children for Emerson, however, only three survived. Emerson lived many happy years after that, but his life slowly began to decline around him. In nearly one year he lost everyone in the world he cared about. His mother, his brother, and his eldest child all died in the same year. The 1860's brought the American Civil War; the death of many of his idols such as Lincoln, Thoreau, and Hawthorn (Unger 8). He himself began to slowly decline in the 60's. Toward the end of his life, Emerson suffered severely from loss of memory and often...
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