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05-25   Print  E-mail
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Essayist, philosopher, and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson

 was born in Boston on May 25, 1803. Son and grandson of Protestant divines, Emerson attended Harvard College and Harvard Divinity School, entering the Unitarian ministry in 1829.

There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; . . . The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Self Reliance,"

A popular, if unconventional preacher, young Emerson's sermons consisted of personal reflections on spirituality and virtue. He avoided expounding doctrine or engaging in scriptural exegesis. Increasingly dissatisfied with traditional protestant theology, Emerson resigned from the ministry in 1832. By the end of the decade, however, he was the leading exponent of transcendentalism, a philosophy that maintains the universality of creation, upholds the intrinsic goodness of man, and grounds truth in personal insight.

From the 1830s on, Emerson and a group of like-minded thinkers including Bronson Alcott, Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreau, and Elizabeth Palmer Peabody were based in Concord, Massachusetts. The transcendentalist community at Concord not only shared radical religious views, but also embraced forward-looking social reforms including abolition, temperance, and woman suffrage.

While living in the Old Manse (pictured below), Emerson completed his manifesto, Nature, and composed the poem "Concord Hymn" which commemorates the Revolutionary War battle. A prolific writer and thinker, his collected essays earned international acclaim, and, for decades, Emerson remained a popular lecturer.




 

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