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The New Student's Reference Work/Emerson, Ralph Waldo

NSRW Ralph W Emerson.jpg
RALPH W. EMERSON

Emerson, Ralph Waldo, a great American essayist, was born at Boston, on May 25, 1803 and graduated at Harvard College in 1821. He studied theology under the direction of Channing, and became pastor of the Second Unitarian Church of Boston. A difference of religious views between Emerson and his congregation brought about a friendly separation, and the remainder of his life was spent as a lecturer and writer. In 1833 he made a first visit to Europe, of which he has given an account in his English Traits. The next year he moved to Concord, and lived first in the house afterward occupied by Hawthorne and celebrated in one of his stories as the Old Manse. It was also in this year (1834) that he began to correspond with Carlyle, whom he had sought out and talked with when in England. This correspondence, lasting from 1834 to 1872, has been published, and shows the two men with all their differences, yet with many deep sympathies. In 1836 appeared Nature, a poetical rhapsody in prose, and though much admired by a small circle of readers, it took twelve years to sell 500 copies. But his oration on The American Scholar, delivered at Harvard, attracted the widest attention, as did also his oration delivered at Harvard Divinity School in 1838. Of these writings Oliver Wendell Holmes remarks: "Whosoever has read carefully and lovingly these three essays, Nature, The American Scholar and the Divinity School Address, can almost say of Emerson what he makes the sphinx say of herself:

Who telleth me of my meanings
Is master of all I am.

Representative Men, The Conduct of Life and Society and Solitude are others of his best known books. Emerson died at Concord, Mass., April 27, 1882. Matthew Arnold declared that if Emerson had only had the power of sustaining himself at the sublime heights he sometimes reached, he would have ranked among the world's great poets. He is the friend of all who would live in the spirit. See Ralph Waldo Emerson, by Holmes, in the series of the American Men of Letters.