Ralph Waldo Emerson
Copyright Michael D. Robbins 2005

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Ralph Waldo EMERSON,
born May 25, 1803 at 3:15 PM in Boston (MA) (USA)


A chief event of life is the day in which we have encountered a mind that startled us.
(Sun in Aries in 9th house)

A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.

A good indignation brings out all one's powers. (Mars square Sun)

A great man is always willing to be little.

A great part of courage is the courage of having done the thing before.
(Mars in Cancer in 12th house)

A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.

A man in debt is so far a slave.

A man is usually more careful of his money than he is of his principles.

A man is what he thinks about all day long.

A man's growth is seen in the successive choirs of his friends.

Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.

All diseases run into one, old age.

All I have seen teaches me to trust the creator for all I have not seen.

All life is an experiment.
(Uranus in Libra opposition Sun in Aries. Venus in Aquarius.)

All mankind love a lover.
(Venus in Aquarius in 7th house, square Neptune in Scorpio.)

All sensible people are selfish, and nature is tugging at every contract to make the terms of it fair.
(Uranus & Jupiter in Libra)

Always do what you are afraid to do
(Mars in Cancer square Sun)

America is another name for opportunity.

An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory.

Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.
(Uranus in Libra)

By necessity, by proclivity, and by delight, we all quote.

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
(Sun in Aries)

Do the thing we fear, and death of fear is certain.

Enthusiasm is the mother of effort, and without it nothing great was ever achieved.
(Leo Ascendant)

Every man has his own courage, and is betrayed because he seeks in himself the courage of other persons.
(Leo Ascendant)

Fear is an instructor of great sagacity, and the herald of all revolutions.
(Mars in Cancer)

Fine manners need the support of fine manners in others.
(Venus in 7th house)

Reality is a sliding door.

Sometimes a scream is better than a thesis.

The desire of gold is not for gold. It is for the means of freedom and benefit.

The first wealth is health.
(Chiron in 5th house)

The fox has many tricks. The hedgehog has but one. But that is the best of all.

The revelation of thought takes men out of servitude into freedom.
(Uranus in Libra in 3rd house. Mercury conjunct Pluto.)


Ralph Waldo EmersonRalph Waldo Emerson (May 25, 1803 -April 27, 1882) was an American author, poet, and philosopher.

Ralph Waldo Emerson was born in Boston to the Rev. William Emerson, a Unitarian minister in a famous line of ministers. He gradually drifted from the doctrines of his peers, then formulated and first expressed the philosophy of Transcendentalism in his essay Nature (1837).

In 1805, Emerson's father called his two-year-old son "a rather dull scholar", and sent him to Boston Latin School. In 1811, less than two weeks short of Emerson's eighth birthday, his father died. In October 1817, at the age of 14, Emerson went to Harvard University and was appointed President's Freshman, a position which gave him a room free of charge. He waited at Commons, which reduced the cost of his board to one quarter, and he received a scholarship. To complement his meager salary, he tutored and taught during the winter vacations at his Uncle Ripley's school in Waltham, Massachusetts.

After Emerson graduated from Harvard in 1821, he assisted his brother in a school for young ladies established in their mother's house, after he had established his own school in Chelmsford; when his brother went to Göttingen to study divinity, Emerson took charge of the school. Over the next several years, Emerson made his living as a schoolmaster, then went to Harvard Divinity School, and emerged as a Unitarian minister in 1829. A dispute with church officials over the administration of the Communion service, and misgivings about public prayer led to his resignation in 1832.

His first wife, Ellen Louisa Tucker, died at the age of 19 of tuberculosis in April 1831. A month later, he met with Phillip Arenas.

Ralph Waldo Emerson is distantly related to Charles Wesley Emerson, founder and namesake of Emerson College. Both were Unitarian ministers; Charles was a family name in Ralph Waldo Emerson's family. Their great ancestor, Thomas Emerson, immigrant, settled as early as 1640 in Ipswich, Massachusetts, and was the progenitor of a family of ministers and learned men.

In 1832–33, Emerson toured Europe, a trip that he would later write about in English Traits (1856). During this trip, he met William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Stuart Mill, and Thomas Carlyle. Emerson maintained a correspondence with Carlyle until the latter's death in 1881. He served as Carlyle's agent in the U.S.

His travels abroad brought him not only to England as he also visited France (in 1848), Italy, and the Middle East.

In 1849, Emerson bought a house on the Cambridge Turnpike, in Concord, Massachusetts. He quickly became one of the leading citizens in the town. He also married his second wife Lydia Jackson there. He called her Lidian and she called him Mr Emerson. Their children were Waldo, Ellen, Edith and Edward Waldo Emerson. Ellen was named for his first wife, at the suggestion of Lidian.

Literary career
In September 1836, Emerson and other like-minded intellectuals founded the Transcendental Club, which served as a center for the movement, but did not publish its journal The Dial, until July 1840. Emerson published his first essay, Nature, anonymously in September 1836. While it became the foundation for Transcendentalism, many people at the time assumed it to be a work of Swedenborgianism.

In 1838 he was invited back to Divinity Hall, Harvard Divinity School, for the school's graduation address, which came to be known as his Divinity School Address. His remarks managed to outrage the establishment and shock the whole Protestant community at the time, as he proclaimed that while Jesus was a great man, he was not God (at this time such statements were rather unheard of). For this, he was denounced as an atheist, and a poisoner of young men's minds. Despite the roar of his critics, he made no reply, leaving it to others for his defense. He was not invited back to speak at Harvard for another 40 years, but by the mid-1880s his position had become standard Unitarian doctrine.

Early in 1842, Emerson lost his first son, Waldo, to scarlet fever. Emerson wrote about his grief in two major works: the poem "Threnody", and the essay "Experience." In the same year, William James was born, and Emerson agreed to be his godfather.

Emerson made a living as a popular lecturer in New England and the rest of the country outside of the South. During several scheduled appearances that he was not able to make, Frederick Douglass took his place. Emerson spoke on a wide variety of subjects. Many of his essays grew out of his lectures.

Emerson associated closely with Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau and often took walks with them in Concord. Emerson encouraged Thoreau's talent and early career. The land on which Thoreau built his cabin on Walden Pond belonged to Emerson. While Thoreau was living at Walden, Emerson provided food and hired Thoreau to perform odd jobs. When Thoreau left Walden after two years' time, it was to live at the Emerson house while Emerson was away on a lecture tour. Their close relationship fractured after Emerson gave Thoreau the poor advice to publish his first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, without extensive drafts, and directed Thoreau to his own agent who made Thoreau split the price/risk of publishing. The book found few readers, and put Thoreau heavily into debt. Eventually the two would reconcile some of their differences, although Thoreau privately accused Emerson of having drifted from his original philosophy, and Emerson began to view Thoreau as a misanthrope. Emerson's eulogy to Thoreau is largely credited with the latter's negative reputation during the 19th century.

Emerson was noted as being a very abstract and difficult writer who nevertheless drew large crowds for his speeches. The heart of Emerson's writing were his direct observations in his journals, which he started keeping as a teenager at Harvard. The journals were elaborately indexed by Emerson. Emerson went back to his journals, his bank of experiences and ideas, and took out relevant passages, which were joined together in his dense, concentrated lectures. He later revised and polished his lectures for his essays and sermons.

He was considered one of the great orators of the time, a man who could enrapture crowds with his deep voice, his enthusiasm, and his egalitarian respect for his audience. His outspoken, uncompromising support for abolitionism later in life caused protest and jeers from crowds when he spoke on the subject. He continued to speak on abolition without concern for his popularity and with increasing radicalism. He attempted, with difficulty, not to join the public arena as a member of any group or movement, and always retained a stringent independence that reflected his individualism. He always insisted that he wanted no followers, but sought to give man back to himself, as a self-reliant individual. Asked to sum up his work late in life, he said it was his doctrine of "the infinitude of the private man" that remained central.

In 1845, Emerson's Journal records that he was reading the Bhagavad Gita and Henry Thomas Colebrooke's Essays on the Vedas.[1] Emerson was strongly influenced by the Vedas, and much of his writing has strong shades of nondualism. One of the clearest examples of this can be found in his essay, "The Over-Soul":

We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related, the eternal ONE. And this deep power in which we exist and whose beatitude is all accessible to us, is not only self-sufficing and perfect in every hour, but the act of seeing and the thing seen, the seer and the spectacle, the subject and the object, are one. We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are shining parts, is the soul.[2]

Emerson was strongly influenced by his early reading of the French essayist Montaigne. From those compositions he took the conversational, subjective style and the loss of belief in a personal God. He never read Kant's works, but, instead, relied on Coleridge's interpretation of the German Transcendental Idealist. This led to Emerson's non-traditional ideas of soul and God.

Emerson is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord, Massachusetts.

In May 2006, 168 years after Emerson delivered his "Divinity School Address," Harvard Divinity School announced the establishment of the Emerson Unitarian Universalist Association Professorship.[3] The Emerson Chair is expected to be occupied in the fall of 2007 or soon thereafter.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Waldo Emerson is truly the center of the American transcendental movement, setting out most of its ideas and values in a little book, Nature, published in 1836, that represented at least ten years of intense study in philosophy, religion, and literature, and in his First Series of essays.

Born in 1803 to a conservative Unitarian minister, from a long line of ministers, and a quietly devout mother, Waldo--who dropped the "Ralph" in college--was a middle son of whom relatively little was expected. His father died when he was eight, the first of many premature deaths which would shape his life--all three brothers, his first wife at 20, and his older son at 5. Perhaps the most powerful personal influence on him for years was his intellectual, eccentric, and death-obsessed Puritanical aunt, Mary Moody Emerson. Yet Emerson often confessed to an innate optimism, even occasional "silliness."

His undergraduate career at Harvard was not illustrious, and his studies at the Harvard Divinity School were truncated by vision problems, but he was ordained a minister of the Second Church in Boston, shortly before marrying Ellen Tucker in 1829. He resigned in 1832 after her death from tuberculosis, troubled by theological doctrines such as the Lord's Supper, and traveled extensively in Europe, returning to begin a career of lecturing. In 1835 he married Lydia Jackson; they lived in Concord and had four children while he settled into his life of conversations, reading and writing, and lecturing, which furnished a comfortable income.

The Emerson house was a busy one, with friends like Elizabeth Hoar, Margaret Fuller, and Henry Thoreau, staying for months to help out and talk. He, Bronson Alcott, and George Ripley decided to begin a magazine, The Dial, with Margaret Fuller editing, in 1840; Emerson would edited the final two years, ending in 1844. His Essays (first series) were published in 1841.

Meanwhile, tragedy struck with the sudden death of Waldo in 1842, soon after the death of John Thoreau from lockjaw, and a darker, tougher strain appears in Emerson's writing, beginning with his memorializing poem, "Threnody." But Emerson pulled himself together to give a series of lectures in New York and in 1844 he had a new volume of essays prepared. He began planning a series of lectures on great men and publication of his poems in 1846, while speaking out against the annexation of Texas and reading deeply in texts of Persian and Indic wisdom.

In 1845 he began extensive lecturing on "the uses of great men," a series that culminated with the 1850 publication of Representative Men; by that year he was giving as many as 80 lectures a year. Through a career of 40 years, he gave about 1500 public lectures, traveling as far as California and Canada but generally staying in Massachusetts. His audiences were captivated by his speaking style, even if they didn't always follow the subtleties of his arguments.

In 1847 Emerson travelled to England, noticing in particular the industrialization and the chasm between upper and lower classes. When he returned to Concord nine months later, he had a new approach to English culture, which he expressed in his lectures on the "Natural History of Intellect" and his 1856 book, English Traits.

In 1851 he began a series of lecture which would become The Conduct of Life, published in 1860. He was vigorous in middle age, traveling frequently, but was increasingly aware of his limits and failing energy. He had become quite famous, a major figure in the American literary landscape, a celebrity which brought both adultation and satire. He had been a profound inspiration for many writers, especially Henry Thoreau and Walt Whitman. He continued his speeches against slavery, but never with the fire of Theodore Parker. In 1857 he wrote an essay on "Memory" but ironically, in his later years, his own memory would falter, especially after his beloved house burned in 1872. He died quietly of pneumonia in 1882.


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