Ralph Waldo Emerson

WHEN a baby, named Ralph Waldo, was born into the family of Emersons on May 2, 1803, there was nothing unusual about him. The family lived in Boston, was in somewhat better than average circumstances, and its male members were likely to become ministers. But as the baby grew, he became rather strange: he did not like to play. Other boys left him alone with his dreams, and later with his thoughts and books. To make matters worse, his father died prematurely, leaving the family-his widow and six children, Ralph being at that time 8 years of age-in a somewhat strained financial situation. But the boy was not greatly affected by this loss. If anything, he withdrew even more into himself and the world of fiction; fortunately, there were plenty of books about the house. By and by the great formative influence in his life turned out to be his aunt Mary whose literary talents inspired him to imitation in prose and poetry. When he reached the age of adolescence, he had to work his way through college (he went to Harvard), but even so he continued taking writing quite seriously.

On graduation in 1821, Emerson had no choice but to make a living. At first he taught in a finishing school for girls, but never could develop a liking for the job. Then he turned to preaching, but felt neither ready nor fit for ministry. He felt unprepared for any occupation, despondent and physically sick. Apparently he matured slowly, uncertain of himself and his plans.

All along he felt that what his body and mind needed above all was change. Finally he decided to go to Europe ( 1832) to rest and to look around. The trip was indeed the solution of all his problems, for it opened new and refreshing horizons to him. In the old world he discovered Goethe and German idealists, got acquainted with British transcendentalists, such as Coleridge, met J. S. Mill and Thomas Carlyle and established with the latter a friendship which lasted over thirty years. Somehow he began to feel stronger, gained self-respect and, surprisingly, respect from others, and, most importantly, formed a personal philosophy of life. Thus enriched he sailed home.


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American Philosophy
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