he leading voice of intellectual culture in the United States, one of the most frequently quoted individuals to this day, and deemed “the most steadily attractive lecturer in America” and “one of the pioneers of the lecturing system” by James Russell Lowell, Ralph Waldo Emerson, known to friends and family as “Waldo”, born in 1803 in Boston, rose from moderate beginnings to the ranks of the most famous essayists, lecturers, philosophers, abolitionists and poets at the helm of the mid-19th century transcendentalist movement that have proven influential for an array of thinkers, philosophers and writers that came after.
Throughout his life, he gave more than 1500 public lectures all over the United States and published several of his penned essays that continue to raise awareness on various personal development (individuality, freedom, relationship between the soul and the surrounding world) and political issues (predominantly abolition of slavery).
Espousing the abolition of slavery from the mid-1840s, he is also regarded as one of the main figures to have advocated for the cause before Abraham Lincoln himself. Throughout his lifetime, the Harvard graduate made the acquaintance of various prominent figures of the time, such as Prince Achille Murat, the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, that he believed an important figure in the development of his ideas associated with religion, society, philosophy, and government.
After serving as a junior pastor in his 20s, he resolved to leave the ministry after the death of his first wife Ellen by virtue of disagreements with his superiors. After inheriting from his first wife after her death, he pursued a teaching and lecturing career, and joined the “Transcendental Club” attended by various proponents of the movement, including women, such as one of his closest colleagues, Margaret Fuller, who later proved one of the most significant figures of transcendentalism and the first editor of the transcendental journal, The Dial, in the early 1840s.
In the 1840s, Emerson emerged as a popular lecturer in New England and other parts of the US with as many as 80 lectures per year in the 1850s. During the Civil War, he heavily advocated for civil rights of slaves. His religious views were seen as radical at the time, having believed that all things are connected to God, making all things divine. He died from pneumonia in 1882.
Did you know:
- That Emerson was only one of the five of a total of eight children in his family that survived to adulthood;
- That he did not acquire any greater wealth until inheriting a rather large sum of money following his first wife’s death;
- That he was a proponent of abolition of slavery throughout most of his life but struggled with the concept of equality of races until the 1850s when he became more publicly involved in the movement;
- That he decided to go by his middle name in his senior year at Harvard;
- That he served as Class Poet at Harvard and presented an original poem on Harvard’s Class Day one month before graduation (August 29, 1821) at the age of 18;
- That he travelled to Europe various times: in 1833, he visited Italy and Paris, followed by a visit to England, where he met several influential figures on his life – William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Thomas Carlyle;
- He also visited Europe during the Springtime of Nations in 1848;
- In addition to more than a dozen of books of his essays, he also published several books of poetry;
- He was also a supporter of the spread of community libraries in the 19th century.
Most Inspiring Ralph Waldo Emerson Quotes
“Do not go where the path may lead,
go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying
to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
“People do not seem to realize that their opinion
of the world is also a confession of their character.”
“The only person you are destined to become
is the person you decide to be.”
“What you do speaks so loudly
that I cannot hear what you say.”
“To be great is to be misunderstood.”
“You cannot do a kindness too soon,
for you never know how soon it will be too late.”
“Tomorrow is a new day.
You shall begin it serenely and with too high
a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”
“Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.”
“Once you make a decision,
the universe conspires to make it happen.”
“For every minute you are angry
you lose sixty seconds of happiness.”
“When it is dark enough,
you can see the stars.”
“Peace cannot be achieved through violence;
it can only be attained through understanding.”
“Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing.
The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.”
“Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself.
Go forward and make your dreams come true.”
“Most of the shadows of this life are caused
by standing in one’s own sunshine.”
“It is one of the blessings of old friends
that you can afford to be stupid with them.”
“What lies behind us and what lies
before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
“Always do what you are afraid to do.”
“The only way to have a friend is to be one.”
“Shallow men believe in luck or in circumstance.
Strong men believe in cause and effect.”
“It is easy to live for others, everybody does.
I call on you to live for yourself.”
“Happiness is a perfume you cannot
pour on others without getting some on yourself.”