Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803 - 1882
1847 photo by Southworth & Hawes, from the George Eastman House Collection
Born: 25 May 1803, Boston, Massachusetts
Died: 27 April 1882, Concord, Massachusetts
The son of a Unitarian minister who died less than eight years after Emerson's birth, he was largely raised by his mother and other women in the family, notably his aunt Mary Moody Emerson. He entered Boston Latin School in 1812 and Harvard College in 1817. At Harvard he was Class Poet but otherwise undistinguished, graduating in the middle of his class. Now known as Waldo, he was a schoolmaster for four years before entering Harvard Divinity School in 1828. The next year he married and was called to serve as junior pastor at Boston Second Church. Following his wife's 1831 death he lost his faith in the divinity of Jesus, and then any faith in a specific god at all, so he left the ministry. He moved to Concord in 1834 and the next spring bought a home on Walden Pond. Throughout his life he was a prolific essayist and lecturer, the Transcendentalist movement coalesced around him, his work, and his intellectual friends. In 1845 Henry David Thoreau , one of that circle, built a cabin in the woods on Emerson's property in exchange for keeping an eye on Emerson's family when Emerson was traveling. In late 1871 Emerson began to lose his memory and suffer from aphasia, by the end of the decade he forgot his own name at times. In April of 1882 the Sage of Concord took a walk in the rain, contracted pneumonia, and died at home a week later.
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Ralph Waldo Emerson quotes:
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- A chief event in life is the day in which we have encountered a mind that startled us. permalink
- A determined man, by his very attitude and the tone of his voice, puts a stop to defeat, and begins to conquer. permalink
"Resources" in Letters and Spiritual Aims (1876)
- A dictionary ... is full of suggestions — the raw material of possible poems and histories. Nothing is wanting but a little shuffling, sorting, ligature, and cartilage. permalink
"Books" in Society and Solitude (1870)
- A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. permalink
- A friend is a person with whom I may be sincere. Before him I may think aloud. permalink
- A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature. permalink
"Friendship" in Essays: First Series (1841)
- A garden has this advantage, that it makes it indifferent where you live. A well-laid garden makes the face of the country of no account; let that be low or high, grand or mean, you have made a beautiful abode worthy of man. permalink
- A good intention clothes itself with power. permalink
- A great man is always willing to be little. permalink
- A little fact is worth a whole limbo of dreams. permalink
"The Superlative" lecture at an 1847 lecture delivered at Manchester Athenaeumthe (England), quoted in Century magazine (February 1882)
- A man finds room in the few square inches of the face for the traits of all his ancestors; for the expression of all his history, and his wants. permalink
"Behavior" in The Conduct of Life (1860)
- A man in debt is so far a slave. permalink
- A man is related to all nature. permalink
- A man often pays dear for a small frugality. permalink
- A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within. permalink
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