Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of the most influential writers and poets of his time, was born in Boston on May 25, 1803. He 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 $1,800 salary comparable to $44,000 in today's (2016) dollars.
Soon after being appointed senior pastor, he married Ellen Tucker, who was 18. 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 whether it was his proper role.
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?
The Home of Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of America's most celebrated philosophers, essayists, and poets, lived in a house in Concord, Massachusetts, which played a significant role in his life and writings.
Years He Lived There: Emerson resided in this home from 1835 until he died in 1882. These were pivotal years during which he wrote many of his most influential works, including essays such as "Self-Reliance" and "The American Scholar."
Characteristics and Charm: The Emerson house was a large, square, wooden structure painted in a deep reddish-brown hue. It was two stories tall, with several chimneys protruding from its roof. The house, typical of New England architecture of the 19th century, was simple yet stately. The rooms were spacious, with high ceilings, large windows, and classic period furniture. It boasted a welcoming ambiance, with many books and artifacts reflecting Emerson's broad interests and intellectual pursuits.
Location: The house is on the Cambridge Turnpike in Concord, Massachusetts. This town, in itself, has immense historical significance, having been a focal point during the early days of the American Revolution. Emerson's home is not far from other historically significant sites, such as the homes of Louisa May Alcott and Nathaniel Hawthorne, as well as Walden Pond, made famous by Henry David Thoreau, a close friend of Emerson.
Overall Feel and Impact on His Writings: Concord's tranquility and natural beauty, along with its historical resonance, profoundly influenced Emerson's writings. He was surrounded by an environment that nurtured intellectualism, transcendentalism, and deep reflection. The natural landscapes around Concord, especially places like Walden Pond, were consistent with Emerson's reverence for nature, as expressed in his essays and lectures.
Within the walls of his home, Emerson entertained many notable figures of his time, including Thoreau, Alcott, Hawthorne, and Herman Melville. The exchange of ideas in these gatherings indeed fueled Emerson's philosophical musings.
Emerson's home was not just a physical dwelling but a reflection of his inner world. The serene surroundings, the rich intellectual atmosphere, and the history embedded in the town of Concord all converged at this home, making it an epicenter of metaphysical thought and American intellectualism during the 19th century.