Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American essayist, lecturer, poet, and philosopher during the 1800s. Many people know about him today because he wrote many famous essays, including his most famous, “Self-Reliance.” He was important because he was one of the major figures in the transcendentalist movement.
Ralph Waldo Emerson was born on May 25, 1803 to William and Ruth Emerson. His father was a minister in the Congregational church, like his father and many ancestors before him. Emerson’s father died when he was only seven years old, which changed his life drastically. The family was poor, and could only afford necessary things. The Emerson children were affected greatly by their family’s poverty, “especially Ralph, who always felt like an outsider outsider among the Boston elite” (Field 37).
The minister which succeeded William Emerson allowed the family use of their parsonage until the arrival of a new minister. The church continued to pay William’s family his salary for more than a year after his death, then reached a settlement. The Emersons would be paid an annual wage of five hundred dollars for seven years. This amount was not sufficient to pay off William’s debts or cover the expenses of their family throughout the year (Field 38).
A chronology kept by Stanford University stated that Emerson entered the Boston Public Latin School in 1812. “Before and after his instruction at the Latin School preteen Ralph assisted his mother in providing for their boarders,” (Field 39). The Emersons had to take in boarders to supplement their income, Ralph and his brothers helped their mother provide for the boarders, and protected their mother as much as they could. “As boys and young men, the brothers worked at chores ...
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...en, then went on to publish English Traits in 1856, The Conduct of Life in 1860, and Society and Solitude in 1870 (Goodman).
From 1847-1848 Emerson was lecturing in England. This inspired him to write English Traits, which was published in 1856. Upon his return from England, “Emerson was an outspoken advocate of abolition in lectures across New England and the Midwest and continued lecturing widely on a number of different topics--eighty lectures in 1867 alone” (Brewton). After publishing Society and Solitude and presenting sixteen lectures in Harvard’s Philosophy Department in 1870, Emerson had a period of failing health. After this, he traveled to Europe, then his journal entries ceased in 1875 (Goodman). Brewton stated, “Emerson spent the final years of his life peacefully but without full use of his faculties. He died of pneumonia in 1882 at his home in Concord.”
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