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Ralph Waldo Emerson, American lecturer, poet, and essayist, the leading exponent of New England Learn more about his life and beliefs in this article.
Table of contents
- Ralph Waldo Emerson Facts
- Emerson's Essays
- An encyclopedia of philosophy articles written by professional philosophers.
With the outbreak of the Civil War , he became an ardent proponent of the Union cause. Socially he became more outgoing, as well, joining a new group, the Saturday Club, which met for dinners in Boston. He continued to keep the same schedule he had for years: writing in the morning, walking in the countryside in the afternoon, and socializing with friends and family in the evening. However, by the mids Emerson's memory began to fail and it soon was no longer possible for him to lecture.
When his house in Concord burned down in , he was stunned. The tragedy caused Emerson's health to further deteriorate. Friends of Emerson started a fund and raised money to rebuild his house while Emerson traveled with his daughter Ellen to Europe and Egypt. He was greeted by the entire village of Concord upon his return in , and took up residence in his new home.
Emerson's last years were peaceful, but he could no longer work much. With the assistance of his secretary, he prepared several volumes of essays, most of them derived from earlier lectures. In April of he caught pneumonia and died, honored as one of the country's literary giants. Since his death, Emerson's reputation has gone through several phases. Revered as one of the most influential figures in American literature until about World War I , he began to attract more negative criticism between the wars. This prophet of individualism was blamed for some of the worst excesses in American life, such as out-of-control capitalism and consumerism.
Critics also began to describe his theories as naive and obscure. Whatever the critical judgment, Emerson had a profound influence on the world of letters in the United States. He almost single-handedly created an atmosphere receptive to a national literature, one that did not simply copy English precedent, but that struck out on its own with a blend of Yankee pragmatism and optimism about the human condition and man's potential for growth and self-realization.
Emerson is, as Frederick Turner noted in the Smithsonian magazine, "a renaissance voice. Anderson, John Q. Bryer, Jackson R. Burkholder, Robert E. Hall Boston, MA , Osgood Boston, MA , Feidelson, Charles, Jr. Geldard, Richard G. Matthiessen, F. Pommer, Henry F. Snider, Denton J. Louis, MO , Whicher, Stephen E. Essays in Literature, fall, , Richard R. Cite this article Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography. November 20, Retrieved November 20, from Encyclopedia. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.
Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia. Born in Boston, Emerson was descended from a long line of Christian ministers. The son of a distinguished Unitarian minister and a deeply religious mother, he was heir to the dual legacy of Boston Unitarianism: liberalism in matters of theology and Puritan piety in matters of personal devotion, morals, and manners.
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Emerson himself became a Unitarian minister, and by he had secured a desirable position as pastor of the Second Church of Boston. This followed an undistinguished four years at Harvard College, from which he graduated in , and a period of study at Harvard Divinity School, during which he also worked, with little satisfaction, as a schoolmaster.
With the pastorate of the Second Church, Emerson for the first time felt secure both professionally and financially. During this period he married Ellen Louisa Tucker, a younger woman of a sensitive nature and delicate health. Her death from tuberculosis, less than two years after their marriage, seems to have wrought important changes in Emerson's attitudes and thought. A rebellious strain in his character was perhaps strengthened; incipient attitudes were more strongly voiced.
In his solitariness he found his faith in the primacy of the individual's relation to God strengthened, so too an impatience with the theological inheritance of received religion. He wrote in his journal in June I suppose it is not wise, not being natural, to belong to any religious party. In the bible you are not directed to be a Unitarian or a Calvinist or an Episcopalian. Emerson eventually gave up the pastorate of the Second Church, taking issue with the congregation's customary administration of the Lord's Supper; by he stopped preaching altogether.
Though Emerson would certainly always have considered himself a "disciple of Christ," his mature thought, as expressed in his essays and poetry, was not beholden to historical Christianity. He passionately sought for the essential spirit of religion a local habitation — temporally, geographically, and in the life of the individual.
Ralph Waldo Emerson Facts
In the introduction to Nature , which came to be his most widely read essay, he wrote: "The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should we not also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should we not have … a religion of revelation to us and not the history of theirs? Emerson was not a systematic thinker, and his ideas resist any ready summation.
The essays are homiletic and aphoristic and have a cumulative power not dependent on force of logic. Certain strains can be identified, however, that undermine basic Christian conceptions. Emerson's worldview is essentially nonteleological. In his radical assertion that each individual soul must remake anew an original relation to the world, he puts the perceiving self at the center of that world.
To borrow the terms of German idealist philosophy, to which he was deeply indebted, Emerson took the transcendental ego, posited as a merely formal, logical entity by Kant and subsumed under the collective will by Hegel, and made it an object of experience.
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In this he anticipated figures as distant as the philosophers Husserl and Sartre and the poet Wallace Stevens. That the experience of this transcendental ego is akin to mysticism as it had been known even within Christianity is apparent from this famous passage from Nature :.
Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhiliration. I am glad to the brink of fear. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God. Though there is an aspect of passivity in this experience that is reminiscent of an experience of divine grace, the experience proceeds upward and outward, clearly centered in the perceiver.
This spatialization is telling. Often called a pantheist, Emerson repeatedly asserted the unity of all individual souls with one another and with God. The distance between his mature views and his Christian background seems not to have troubled Emerson, perhaps because he did not see the two as incompatible. As prophet to an age "destitute of faith, but terrified of skepticism," as his friend Thomas Carlyle characterized it, Emerson advanced his unorthodox views forthrightly and unapologetically, secure in his advocacy of "truer" religion.
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We need only turn to Nietzsche, who admired the "cheerfulness" of Emerson, to be reminded of how free of anxiety the latter's writings are. There is a consistent strain of optimism in his work that helped win him a wide audience and also has brought him some criticism, namely that he avoided any note of tragedy in his writings, even while his journal reveals that he was well acquainted with tragedy in life.
Indeed his doctrine of "compensation" for evil and suffering is so philosophically ungrounded as to seem merely sentimental. But in the confidence with which Emerson forwarded his original and radical message, and in the audience he found, may be seen not merely evidence of an uncommonly balanced spirit and not merely the popular appeal of optimism; one sees the flowering of that America observed by Hegel, where "the most unbounded license of imagination in religious matters prevails.
Cambridge, Mass, — Stephen E.
An encyclopedia of philosophy articles written by professional philosophers.
Philadelphia, , is a watershed study, a point of departure for much later criticism. Konvitz Ann Arbor , Mich. Burkholder and Joel Myerson Boston, Sassian, David " Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Sassian, David "Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Ralph Waldo Emerson was the most thought-provoking American cultural leader of the midth century. In his unorthodox ideas and actions he represented a minority of Americans, but by the end of his life he was considered a sage.
Though Ralph Waldo Emerson's origins were promising, his path to eminence was by no means easy. He was born in Boston on May 25, , of a fairly well-known New England family. His father was a prominent Boston minister. However, young Emerson was only 8 when his father died and left the family to face hard times.
The genteel poverty which the Emerson family endured did not prevent it from sending the promising boy to the Boston Latin School , where he received the best basic education of his day. At 14 he enrolled in Harvard College.