Ralph Waldo Emerson biography

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) was the most potent force in New England thought. In 1832, after his wife's death, he gave up the Congregational ministry, for reasons of conscience, and travelled in Italy, France, and England, where began the lifelong friendship with Thomas Carlyle. His transcendental writings attracted wide attention, and he retained his popularity as a lecturer during forty-six years.

He smiled approval on the Brook Farm experiment, but took little part in it except to contribute to the Dial. But he did assist with voice and pen in the anti-slavery agitation. In 1847 he went on a second visit to England, which was rich in observation and effect on his mind. After his return his lectures on Plato, Shakespeare, Napoleon, Swedenborg, and others, were published under the title, "Representative Men" (1850). This proved popular, and still more so was his "English Traits" (1856). More readers could appreciate his judgement of great men and nations than could understand his sublime philosophy of the universe.

Emerson had but rarely contributed to periodical literature; but in 1857 a group of his friends - Longfellow, Lowell, Holmes - arranged in his parlor for the publication of the Atlantic Monthly, Lowell being editor. For some years Emerson contributed to it regularly prose and verse. His essays were collected in "The Conduct of Life" (1860); "Society and Solitude" (1864), and "Letters and Social Aims" (1876); his poems in "May-Day" (1867). He edited a collection of poetry by other authors in "Parnassus" (1874), and a selection of his own "Poems" (1876). Thereafter he wrote but little, though he revised and edited his former publications. The projected "Natural History of the Intellect," on which he had labored for many years, was never put into a form suitable for publication. In the latter years of his life his mind and memory failed. After his death his correspondence with Carlyle was edited by Professor Charles Eliot Norton (1883).

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