Ralph Waldo Emerson

Early Life

Ralph Waldo Emerson was born on the 25th of May in 1803, in Boston, Massachusetts. He was a bright child of Rev. William Emerson, a Unitarian minister, and Ruth Haskins from the Anglican family. Rev. William Emerson was a great admirer of the arts. Hence, Emerson inherited artistic and aesthetic talent from his father. Besides, his mother was also highly influenced by the Anglican writers like Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Ralph Cudworth, and Jeremy Taylor, which played a pivotal role in his early development.


Ralph Waldo Emerson’s father died when he was a child. He was raised by his mother and aunt, who polished his creative abilities during the early years. His formal education started in 1812 from Boston Latin School, and later, in 1817, he joined Harvard College, where he was appointed president’s freshman messenger. Also, during his stay at Harvard, he began his journal titled Wide World. He graduated in 1821 and started teaching. Besides, he continued a part-time study at Harvard Divinity School.


Ralph Waldo Emerson married twice in his life. First, he met Ellen Louisa Tucker, his first wife in 1827, in Concord, New Hemisphere, and the couple tied the knot in 1829. Unfortunately, the happy union was struck by an acute tragedy. Ellen died of tuberculosis in 1831, and her death affected Emerson badly. Filled with the grief over the demise of his beloved wife, he quit his job and traveled to Europe, where he met significant literary figures, including Henry David Thoreau, George Ripley, S. T. Coleridge, Thomas Carlyle, and Margaret Fuller, who proved motivators for his writing pursuits. Upon returning to America, he remarried Lydia Jackson, and the couple had four children together.


Ralph Waldo Emerson, a leading literary figure, faced serious health issues in the 1870s, but despite his deteriorating health, he continued writing and publishing his works. Unfortunately, he died on the 27th of April in 1822, in Concord, leaving several precious literary pieces, strong beliefs, and idealism for the upcoming generations and writers.

Some Important Facts of His Life

  1. He became the minister at the second church of Boston at a very young age in 1826.
  2. He was an anti-slavery advocate, and between the years of 1854 and 1863, he spoke on various occasions on anti-slavery.
  3. He criticized Jane Austen’s characterization and was of the view that her writings reflect vulgarity.
  4. In his later years, he suffered from memory problems but continued his literary and social activities.

His Career

Despite facing grave losses of the loved ones and other challenges, Ralph Waldo Emerson brought praiseworthy changes in the literary world. He started writing at a very young age and won a prestigious place among the literary writers of his time. Being devastated after the death of his first wife, he left for Europe and came across many great thinkers, historians and social critics of that time who helped him find his lost spirit. He returned from Europe in 1833 and began his career as a public lecturer in Boston. Soon, his first book, Nature, appeared anonymously in 1836. It was primarily concerned with the whole substance of his ideologies and thoughts about science and the men. Later, in 1836, he joined Transcendental Club, and in 1840, he helped launch a transcendentalist journal of literature, The Dial. He published his first volume of essays in 1841, followed by the second volume in 1844. These publications won universal acclaim for him, introducing him as an authentic American voice. His other publications include Addresses and Lectures, Representative Men, May-Day and Other Pieces, and Society and Solitude.

His Style

Ralph Waldo Emerson enjoyed a successful literary life. During his childhood, his mother and aunt introduced him to the great literary figures, a move that later played a pivotal role in his writing career. He has beautifully portrayed his ideas in his literary pieces. He developed his own philosophy, with interest in nature, literature, and religion,  which remained evident in most of his transcendentalist writings. Unlike British Romanticism, transcendentalism in America worked on a principle that a fundamental continuity exists between nature, divine, and man. Emerson, in his philosophical writings, focuses on self-reliance, man’s relation to God, and relentless optimism. However, his poetry is considered harsh and didactic. Marked with the use of motifs, symbolism, imagery, and allusions, his poetry has also won universal recognition. The recurring themes in most of his writings are spirituality, nature, individualism, originality versus imitation, and philosophy of life.

Some Important Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Impact on Future Literature

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s influence waned in the 20th century. However, following years of his demise, his works still enjoy the same prestige. His witty ideas, with distinct literary qualities, won applause from his readers, critics, and other fellow writers alike, including the great masters, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, William James, and others. Today, when modern writers write, more often, they try to imitate his style for the uniqueness his work demonstrates.

Famous Quotes

  1. Spirit, that made those heroes dare
    To die, and leave their children free,
    Bid Time and Nature gently spare
    The shaft we raise to them and thee.” (Concord Hymn)
  1. “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being.” (Self-Reliance)
  2. The Sphinx is drowsy,
    Her wings are furled:
    Her ear is Heavy,
    She broods on the world.
    “Who’ll tell me my secret,
    The ages have kept?
    I waited the seer
    While they slumbered and slept: (The Sphinx)