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Ralph Waldo Emerson:
Transcendental Meditations


The transcendentalist poet and writer Ralph Waldo Emerson was born on May 25, 1803 in Boston, Massachusetts to a family of merchants and ministers. His father, Reverend William Emerson, died in 1811 and his mother turned to a boarding house to help her support the children. Emerson attended Boston Latin School from 1817-1821 where he excelled in writing and won many awards for his essays. He was encouraged to write poetry by his Aunt Mary Moody.

Emerson taught at his brother William's school for young women, studied for the ministry at Harvard, and traveled south to Florida to cure a long-threatening tuberculosis outbreak. When he returned, he proceeded to preach and, in 1829, was ordained pastor of Second Church in Boston. He also married Ellen Tucker in 1829, but she died in 1831. In 1832, he resigned as the pastor of Second Church, preached his farewell sermon, and went to England to recover his strength and purpose in life.

Emerson returned to the States in 1834 and started his many years of leadership in transcendentalist thought and written expression. He married Lydia Jackson and she bore him four sons, three of which survived. He began to travel and took many trips west and abroad to speak publicly on the problems of slavery, war, and United States leadership. In the 1850s he published three of his most thematically integrated books, Representative Men, English Traits, and The Conduct of Life.

As a young boy, Emerson looked to his family, friends, town, and school for ideas and topics on which to write. He was a frequent visitor to the library where he withdrew many books concerning belief. His college studies were standard. In his first year he studied Greek Livy, Latin Horace, geometry, and Lowth's Grammar. During his second year he studied Cicero, history, geometry, Blair's Rhetoric, and Locke's Human Understanding. Emerson's third year of studies consisted of Homer, Juvenal, Hebrew, astronomy, and Stewart's Human Mind. In his final year he studied chemistry, political economy, Butler's Analogy, and The Federalist.

Ralph Waldo Emerson expressed a great concern for his country in his early years. A decade after the battles of 1812, when he was only 19, he feared that the national spirit had settled down. He began to recite in sermons and in letters to friends that the U.S. had showed strength, determination, and honor, and in order to sustain happiness the country can never be satisfied. In the hundreds of sermons that he gave, he greatly stressed prayer for every one. He would say, "Men should always be praying, all their prayers will be answered, and we must beware, then, what we ask." He became more philosophically focused and continued his literary writings, which focused on promoting his transcentalist philosophy.

Emerson was the center of the American transcendental movement, portraying most of his ideals and values through his individual literary accounts. One of his last pieces published, The Conduct of Life in 1860, made him a celebrity figurehead who brought forth both adulation and satire. He became a profound inspiration for many writers and his works (poetry and prose) are still highly valued today for their transcendalist contributions. Ralph Waldo Emerson died quietly of pneumonia in 1882.





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