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“Ralph Waldo Emerson, a Biographical Sketch of his life and works, one of our greatest American thinkers, writers and philosophers”

“Ralph Waldo Emerson, a Biographical Sketch of his life and works, one of our greatest American thinkers, writers and philosophers”


My dear thinkers, readers and fellow lovers of literature and men and women of all ideas, thoughts and opinions, I bid and ask you to join with me in another voyage of intellectual discovery where you may join with me in this effort to gain and obtain facts and truth. I welcome you in this quest and task of attaining and coming to know intellectual honesty and honest discernment. Do join with me in this voyage of discovery to get at and obtain what is valid and authentic in this world of confusion. Come with me in tearing apart the curtain of lies and darkness that hides from us what is truth and facts.

Today I have the privilege and honor of speaking of and presenting the life and works of one of the greatest of American writers and thinkers, the author of many of our most notable literary treasures, works once began I, for one, cannot put down and once read through, engage my mind, spirit and soul as few works of prose can and do.

I am a great fan of English and American literature: poets such as Keats, Shelley, Byron, T.S. Eliot, A.E. Housman and Kipling, and novelists and prose writers such as Melville, Steinbeck, Dickens, Conrad, Jane Austen and Thackeray. When I read these writers, my mind and consciousness are raised to a different level. I acquire in reading them a different level of understanding and in coming to know them am lifted up intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. I will never regret the time spent in reading them, despite American society telling us on a constant basis that they have no practical value as producing no income. A life without these literary treasures is a life cheated and wasted of what the greatest minds have to offer.

Ralph Waldo Emerson was born in 1803 and died in 1882. He was an American writer, thinker, philosopher and poet and was an abolitionist and leader of the transcendentalist of movement. He moved away from the religious beliefs of the time. He wrote most of his essays as lectures and then revised them for print. His first two collections were Essays: First Series and Essays: Second Series. These essays were formulated in the decade from the 1830s to the 1840s. He wrote on a number of subjects, including individuality, freedom, the soul and the world and the ability of mankind to realize almost anything. 

He was born in Boston. His father died when he was eight and he was raised by his mother. His schooling began in the Boston Latin School in 1812. He went to Harvard College in 1817 at age 14. He was class poet. In the 1820s he was a teacher in a women’s school. He was accepted to Harvard Divinity School in 1824. 

In 1826, faced with poor health, he went south to Florida. He met his first wife in 1827 and married her two years later. Emerson became the pastor of Boston’s Second Church in 1829 and was chaplain of the Massachusetts legislature. He resigned over disagreements with the church over the communion service and public prayer. He toured Europe in 1833 and wrote of his travels in English Traits (1856). In 1833 he began giving lectures, totaling 1,500 during his life. He remarried in 1835 after his first wife’s death. In 1836 he began the Transcendental Club before the publication of his essay, “Nature.” In 1837 he delivered the Phi Beta Kappa address, “The American Scholar,” which, along with “Nature,” was included in a collection of essays in 1849. In 1837 he gave a series of lectures at the Masonic Temple in Boston and gave the “Divinity School Address” in 1838. In 1841 he published his first book of essays and in 1844 he published his second book of essays. He made a living as a lecturer in New England and throughout most of the country. He began lecturing in 1833 and by the 1850s was giving as many as 80 lectures a year.

Emerson read and was influenced by Indian philosophy. In 1847 and 1848 he toured the British Isles and his 1856 book English Traits reflected his observations while on that tour. In a speech in 1851 in Concord, Mass he denounced the Fugitive Slave Act. In 1858 he ventured with other philosophers to camp in the Adirondacks. Emerson was staunchly opposed to slavery. and in 1860 published his seventh collection of essays, The Conduct of Life. He visited Washington, DC in 1862 and gave a lecture at the Smithsonian. In 1871 he took a trip on the transcontinental railroad. His Concord home caught fire in 1872. In 1874 he published an anthology of poetry which included the works of many poets. Because of trouble with his memory, he ceased public appearances by 1879. In 1882 he was found to be suffering from pneumonia and died thereafter. 

Emerson’s religious views were radical for their time and involved the idea that all things are divine. Emerson was opposed to slavery and spoke out against it, prompted by the attack on Senator Sumner in 1856 and the murder of the abolitionist publisher Elijah Lovejoy in 1838. Emerson seemed to hold the view that persons of African descent were unequal to the white race, although his ideas changed as he became more involved in the abolitionist movement.

For me Emerson in his writings will always be the great and leading American thinker. HIs ideas were and are compelling and I place great value on his work, particularly his two books of essays. I have these books and have read them with great pleasure and enjoyment and continue to do so. His mind was original and his work will always stimulate my thinking to increased heights of awareness. His work and thoughts ever raise me up, from the mundane to the intellectual mountaintops.


I am indebted for this essay to the Wikipedia article on this writer.