Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson is considered the father of the transcendentalist movement. He was born in the bustling seaport of Boston, Massachusetts in 1802. His father, a Unitarian minister and learned man, instilled in him an interest in literature from a young age.

He enrolled in Harvard at age 14, where he developed a keen interest in Asian culture, religion, and literature. He continued his study at Harvard Divinity School to become a minister, like his father and took a post at a Boston church in 1829.

However, when his wife passed away from tuberculosis in 1831, he questioned his faith and decided to move away from the Church. After quitting his job, he left the U.S. to travel throughout Europe, where he met such literary giants as William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Thomas Carlyle.

Upon his return to the States, he became a public lecturer—a career he would hold for the next 50 years of his life. This is also when he became involved with transcendentalism.

He published Nature, a seminal text of the movement, in 1836, and together with Margaret Fuller founded The Dial, the journal that became the primary vehicle for transcendentalist writers to publish their works, in 1840.

He published two collections of writings, Essays in 1841, and Essays: Second Series in 1844, that helped cement his place as a literary celebrity in America. In his later years, his writing focused more on poetry and contained strong influences from Eastern religions.

He continued to write extensively until 1880, and he died in Concord, Massachusetts in 1882.

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