Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of the most influential writers and poets of his time, was born in Boston on May 25, 1803, and began his profession after graduating from the Harvard Divinity School as a Unitarian minister on March 11, 1829. He became a senior pastor at just 26 years old and was given a salary of $1,800, comparable to $44,000 in today's (2016) dollars.
Soon after he was appointed senior pastor, he married Ellen Tucker, who was 18 years old at the time. A mere two years, their marriage lasted as she was afflicted with tuberculosis before they wed, which would eventually take her life before her twentieth birthday.
Her last recorded words were, "I have not forgotten the peace and the joy."
Emerson grieved profoundly over his wife's death. He would not only visit her grave often, but he would write her letters. Her death made him question his being in the ministry and if it was the proper role for him.
He said aloud one crisp day at Ellen's grave, "To be a good minister, I must leave the ministry."
To do so, he needed money to live on and inquired about the funds Ellen had left him. Her family refused. It took five years of legal battles until finally, he was granted $11,674.79, which is $315,000 in today's (2106) dollars.
Emerson was now a wealthy man.
He questions many areas of the Bible and many revelations to be "worn out." He then started a new doctrine of transcendentalism, which revolved around individualism and the belief that organized religion and political parties were corrupt. Transcendentalists believe that people generally are at their best when they are truly "self-reliant" and independent. Transcendentalism was the catalyst for Emerson's famous piece on self-reliance. Read more about the life of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
What did Ralph Waldo Emerson write?
Ralph Waldo Emerson was a 19th-century American essayist, lecturer, and poet considered one of the leading figures of the Transcendentalist movement. He was a prolific writer, and his works include:
- Essays: "Self-Reliance," "The American Scholar," "Nature," and "Compensation" are among his most famous essays. These essays express Emerson's philosophy on life, nature, and individualism.
- Poems: Emerson wrote several poems, including "The Rhodora," "Brahma," and "Uriel." His poems are characterized by their religious themes and celebration of nature.
- Lectures: Emerson was a sought-after speaker and gave numerous lectures throughout his career. His lectures were often later published and include "The Conduct of Life," "Representative Men," and "English Traits."
- Journals: Emerson kept a journal throughout his life, and his most profound thoughts and ideas can be found in these writings.
- Letters: Emerson wrote many letters to friends and family, and these letters provided valuable insights into his life and thoughts.
Emerson's works are considered some of the most important and influential writings of American literature, and his ideas on individualism, nature, and self-reliance continue to be highly regarded today.