A Critique on Ralph Waldo Emerson

Topics: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Transcendentalism, Concord, Massachusetts Pages: 5 (1790 words) Published: March 10, 2011
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson was born in Boston, Massachusetts on the 25th of May, 1803 to his mother, Ruth Haskins, and his father Rev. William Emerson. Emerson’s father died at an early age, and he was raised by his mother as well as his Aunt Mary Emerson, who became a big influence in his life. In his younger years, Emerson attended the Boston Latin School at the age of nine, and then Harvard College at the early age of fourteen. After graduating from Harvard in 1821 at eighteen, Emerson started a school for young women with his brother, and he made his living as a school teacher for the next several years. Emerson’s brother, William, originally attended Divinity School to become a minister like their father, but abandoned that route and decided to study law instead. It was at this time that Emerson’s Aunt Mary Emerson came to him and convinced him to attend Divinity School saying, “There was always meant to be a Reverend Emerson in Boston” (Seavey 3).

After attending Harvard Divinity School, Emerson was ordained in March of 1829 and served as an assistant minister at Boston’s Second Church. Shortly thereafter, Emerson married his first wife, Ellen Tucker, a marriage that lasted only two short years before Ellen died of tuberculosis in 1831. Emerson did not handle his wife’s death very well, and soon after he began disagreeing with certain practices of the church which led to his personal statement, “This mode of commemorating Christ is not suitable to me. That is reason enough why I should abandon it” (Packer 39).

In 1836, Emerson helped found the Transcendental Club, and published his first essay “Nature,” later that year. It was this essay, as well as his Phi Beta Kappa Address, “The American Scholar,” and his Harvard “Divinity School Address” that began Emerson’s career in literature. Around this time, he married his second wife, Lydia Jackson, in Massachusetts, with whom he had four children. After years of working as the editor to the Transcendental Club’s flagship journal, “The Dial,” Emerson published his world renowned essay “Self-Reliance.” Emerson then spent the rest of his career traveling and lecturing all around New England. After a period of publishing numerous essays and poems, the Civil War era arrived, and Emerson once again found himself at the center of political movements. Emerson sided with the abolitionist movement and he believed in the emancipation of the slaves, “The South calls slavery an institution... I call it destitution... Emancipation is the demand of civilization" (Baker 433).

In his later years, Emerson’s memory began to fade and his lecturing career became less demanding, as his appointments slowly dwindled to a few and they were far between. His condition soon became too embarrassing for him personally, and he ceased public appearances all together in 1879. Three short years after he disappeared from the public eye, Emerson died of pneumonia and was buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery located in Concord, Massachusetts in 1882.

Emerson’s belief in Transcendentalism carved the path for his successful career. Transcendentalism, defined by the Britannica Online Encyclopedia, is the “system of thought based on a belief in the essential unity of all creation, the innate goodness of man, and the supremacy of insight over logic and experience for the revelation of the deepest truths.” Ironically, Emerson’s most famous works are those that received the most criticism. His essays “Nature” and “Self-Reliance”, as well as his address, the “Divinity School Address”, are all of his most famous works.

“Nature,” published anonymously, was Emerson’s first essay. In this work, Emerson demonstrates his “willingness to offer testimony to his own revelatory experience” (Geldard 24), in terms of his faith being converted from Unitarianism over to this new view of Nature. This experience that Emerson refers to was “recorded in his journal in almost the exact form that it appears...
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