Emerson wrote numerous essays on nature, beauty, spirit, and how all three are related. Nature and Self-Reliance are probably his two best-known works and are often read in high school American Lit. courses as well as your basic American Humanities college course. He's probably one of the most quoted authors you'll come across when it comes to magnets and inspirational calendars. Here's a taste of his more savoury stuff:
We are not built like a ship to be tossed, but like a house to stand.
The true philosopher and the true poet are one, and a beauty, which is truth, and a truth, which is beauty, is the aim of both.
A more secret, sweet, and overpowering beauty appears when a man's heart and mind open to the sentiment of virtue...He learns that his being is without bound.
I do not wish to treat friendships daintily, but with roughest courage. When they are real, they are not glass threads or frostwork, but the solidest thing we know.
Idealism sees the world in God. It beholds the whole circle of persons and things, of actions and events, of country and religion, not as painfully accumulated, atom after atom, act after act, in an aged creeping Past, but as one vast picture, which God paints on the instant eternity, for the contemplation of the soul.

"A just man, poised on himself, all-loving, all-inclosing, and sane and clear as the sun."

-Walt Whitman

Born May 25, 1803 and dead on April 27, 1882, Ralph Waldo Emerson is the preeminent American transcendentalist. Raised in a family with a strong protestant background (both his father and father's father were ministers), Ralph seemed destined to follow suit. And he did in 1826 after attending Harvard College and one year of divinity studies at Harvard. He became the pastor of Boston's second largest church in the spring of 1829, but left his post in 1832 (one year after the untimely death of his 19 year-old bride, Ellen Tucker) because he could no longer serve the sacrament in good conscience.

Emerson traveled to Europe on Christmas of that year, seeking the best minds it had to offer. Working his way through Italy, Switzerland, France, and England, he met with such men as Walter Savage Landor, Lafayette, John Stuart Mill in London, and William Wordsworth. Most of these were passing acquaintances, but one lasting friendship he established with Thomas Carlyle.

Initiating himself as a lecturer, Emerson returned to America in the fall 1833. He continued to preach sporadically to make a living whilst he wrote other lectures and planned his first book, Nature. He settled in Concord in the fall of 1834 and married a Lydia Jackson (whom he renamed Lidian). The had a son, named Waldo, shortly after Nature was published.

During the next three years Emerson succeeded as a lecurer and met Margaret Fuller and Henry David Thoreau. Dubbed a herectic after his Divinity School address (an attack on the Unitarian establishment), the controversy he brought caused him to enter a period of deep introspection, out of which no doubt he developed much of his personal philosophy.

Ralph Waldo Emerson continued to publish throughout his life. Harvard honored him, the former heretic, with the Doctor of Laws degree in 1866, and he was elected overseer of the college the following year. His house burned down in 1872, and with it went his health. After a stint in Europe and Egypt with his daughter, Ellen, and a return to much fanfare, Ralph Waldo Emerson died on April 27, 1882.






Uncollected Prose


All of Emerson's writings are in the public domain and may be freely distributed.

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