Introduction Ralph Waldo Emerson "...was truly one of our great geniuses" even though he may have a short biography (Hodgins 212). But as Emerson once said himself, "Great geniuses have the shortest biographies." Emerson was also a major leader of "the philosophical movement of Transcendentalism". (Encarta 1) Transcendentalism was belief in a higher reality than that found everyday life that a human can achieve.
Biographical Information Emerson was born on May 25, 1803 in Boston, Massachusetts. His father died when he was young and his mother was left with him and his four other siblings. At the age of 18 he graduated from Harvard University and was a teacher for three years in Boston. Then in 1825 he entered Harvard Divinity School and preached for three years. At the age of 29 he resigned for ministry, partly because of the death of his wife after only 17 months of marriage.
In 1835 he married Lydia Jackson and started to lecture. Then in 1836, he helped to start the Transcendental Club. The Transcendental Club was formed for authors that were part of this historical movement. Emerson was a big part of this and practically initiated the entire club. As we know he was already a major part of the movement and know got himself involved more. Many people and ways of life throughout his career including Neoplatonism, the Hindu religion, Plato and even his wife influenced Emerson. He also inspired many Transcendentalists like Thoreau. Emerson didn't win any major awards, but he did win the love and appreciation of his readers.
Literary Information Emerson wrote many genres of writing including poetry and sermons, but his best writing is found in his essays. Even though he is noted for his essays, he was also a strong force in poetry. Emerson was known for presenting ideas in an expressive style. He wrote about numerous issues including nature, society, conspiracy and freedom. After returning to America after a visit to England, he wrote for the abolitionist cause, which was eliminating slavery.
Emerson used these ideas in his 1837 lecture "The American Scholar," which he presented before the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Harvard. In it he talked about Americans becoming more intelligently independent. In a second address, commonly referred to as the "Address at Divinity College," given in 1838 to the graduating class of Cambridge Divinity College, brought about a problem because it attacked religion and pushed independence.
Some of Emerson's famous titles are "Essays", which was published in 1844, Poems, which was published in 1847, "Nature: Addresses and Lectures", 1849, and "Representative Men", 1850. In 1860, he published "Conduct of Life", which was the first of his works to receive immediate popularity. In these works you were able to see the influence Plato and Neoplatonism had of him. "Plato was an ancient Greek philosopher. He developed the notion of a higher reality that exists beyond the powers of human comprehension. Plato explained that the idea of absolute goodness transcends human description. Neoplantonism was a collective designation for the philosophical and religious doctrines of a heterogeneous school of speculative thinkers who sought to develop and synthesize the metaphysical ideas of Plato" (Encarta).
Ralph Waldo Emerson found motivation to write in anything he did, whether it was visiting England, the Transcendental Movement or if it was abolishing slavery. He didn't receive much fame during his lifetime, but after he passed away in1882, he was remembered for all of his writing, not just one good essay. "Emerson was the most important figure during the Romantic Period" (Myerson 3). He left his mark on writing, especially the Romantic Period.