Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 - 1882)

Emerson was one of the central characters in the transcendental movement emerging in literary circles around Concord, Massachusetts during the late 1830’s. He resigned from his occupation as a Unitarian clergyman in 1832 to travel to Europe, where he befriended Carlyle, Coleridge and Wordsworth among others. In the U.S. he lectured in philosophy, while forming a transcendentalist group comprising fellow writers and poets such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau. In 1842 he took over the role as editor of The Dial, which served as spokes vehicle for the movement.

In 1855, Emerson recieved a thin book of poetry entitled “Leaves of Grass” by a poet he had never heard of before. He loved this book of poetry which was unorthodox in both style and subject. Emerson wrote an encouraging letter to this unknown poet, who of course was Walt Whitman. Later they also met, and Whitman was very flattered by the praise of Emerson.

Emerson’s first book, Nature (1836) expressed his theories that the imagination of man is shaped by nature and helped spark an entirely new philosophical movement in New England. Essays (1841 and 1844), containing his essays on philosophy and other subjects, brought him international renown. Representative Men (1850) is a collection of lectures held in Oxford and London in 1847. Later lecture collections include The Conduct of Life (1860) and Society and Solitude (1870). His poetry, Poems (1847) and May-Day and Other Pieces (1867) may not have been ground breaking as a whole, but some of his pieces are considered to be among the most important poetry of the 19th century.