CliffsNotes on Emerson's Essays

By H. Rose; Gregory W. Tubach | Go to book overview

LIFE AND BACKGROUND OF THE
AUTHOR

Ralph Waldo Emerson was born on May 25, 1803, to the Reverend William and Ruth Haskins Emerson. His father, pastor of the First Unitarian Church of Boston, chaplain of the Massachusetts Senate, and an editor of Monthly Anthology, a literary review, once described two-year-old son Waldo as “a rather dull scholar.” (Emerson was called Waldo throughout his lifetime and even signed his checks as Waldo.) Following William’s death from stomach cancer in 1811, the family was left in a state of near-poverty, and Emerson was raised by his mother and Mary Moody Emerson, an aunt whose acute, critical intelligence would have a lifelong influence on him. Through the persistence of these two women, he completed studies at the Boston Public Latin School.

Emerson entered Harvard College on a scholarship in 1817, and during collegiate holidays he taught school. An unremarkable student, he made no particular impression on his contemporaries. In 1821, he graduated thirteenth in his class of 1959, and he was elected class poet only after six other students declined the honor. It was at Harvard that he began keeping his celebrated journals.

After graduating from college, Emerson moved to Boston to teach at his brother William’s School for Young Ladies and began to experiment with fiction and verse. In 1825, after quitting the ladies school, he entered Harvard Divinity School; one year later, he received his master’s degree, which qualified him to preach. He began to suffer from symptoms of tuberculosis, and in the fall of 1827 he went to Georgia and Florida in hopes of improving his health. He returned in late December to Boston, where he preached occasionally. In Concord, New Hampshire, he met Ellen Tucker, a seventeen-year-old poet who also suffered from tuberculosis. The two were married in September 1829, just after Emerson had been ordained pastor of the Second Unitarian Church of Boston. They were very happy in the marriage, but, unfortunately, both were also quite ill with tuberculosis; in 1831, after less than two years of marriage, Ellen died.

By the end of the following year, Emerson had resigned his pastorate at Second Unitarian Church. Among his reasons for resigning were his refusal to administer the sacrament of the Last Supper, which he believed to be an unnecessary theological rite,

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CliffsNotes on Emerson's Essays
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 1
  • Contents 3
  • Life and Background of the Author 4
  • Chronology of Emerson’s Life 8
  • Critical Commentaries 11
  • Critical Essays 85
  • Review Questions and Essay Topics 96
  • Selected Bibliography 97
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