Emerson, Ralph Waldo

Life Span
Dickinson Connection
Friend and mentor to Moncure Daniel Conway, class of 1849
Full name
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Place of Birth
Birth Date Certainty
Death Date Certainty
Sectional choice
Free State
No. of Spouses
William Emerson (father), Ruth Haskins (mother), Ellen Louisa Tucker (first wife, 1829), Lydia Jackson (second wife, 1835)
Writer or Artist
Other Occupation
Other Affiliations
Abolitionists (Anti-Slavery Society)

Ralph Waldo Emerson (American National Biography)

During his life Emerson exerted great influence on his contemporaries, both by his financial support of them, as in the cases of Alcott and Ellery Channing, and by his intellectual companionship, as in the case of his Concord neighbor [Henry David] Thoreau. His discussions of organic form (everything proceeds from a natural order, followed by but not imposed upon by man), self-reliance, optimism (evil does not exist as an actual force, merely being the absence of good), compensation, universal unity (or the over-soul), and the importance of individual moral insight were all influential in forming the literature and philosophy of nineteenth-century America. In literature, too, Emerson was an important force, and his organic theory of poetry ("it is not metres, but a metre-making argument that makes a poem") and his view of poets as "liberating gods" or prophets did much to counteract the poetic conservatism of his day and helped lead the way to the experimental verse of Walt Whitman, who once hailed Emerson as his master.

The later nineteenth century embraced Emerson as an establishment figure. His publishers (Houghton, Mifflin) marketed him as a "standard" author; his biographers, including Oliver Wendell Holmes, presented him as a promoter of Boston Brahmin values; Friedrich Nietzsche appropriated Emerson's ideas for his own concept of the "superman"; and the industrial capitalists of the Gilded Age used their interpretation of the concept of self-reliance to justify their economic version of a Darwinian "survival of the fittest."
Joel Myerson, "Emerson, Ralph Waldo," American National Biography Online, February 2000,http://www.anb.org/articles/16/16-00508.html.
Chicago Style Entry Link
Buell, Lawrence. Emerson. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003. view record
Conway, Moncure Daniel. Emerson at Home and Abroad. Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1882. view record
Johnson, Linck C. "'Liberty Is Never Cheap': Emerson, 'The Fugitive Slave Law,' and the Antislavery Lecture Series at the Broadway Tabernacle." New England Quarterly 76 (December 2003): 550-592. view record
McDonald, John J. "Emerson and John Brown." New England Quarterly 44, no. 3 (1971): 377-396. view record
Myerson, Joel. The Transcendentalists: A Review of Research and Criticism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. view record
How to Cite This Page: "Emerson, Ralph Waldo," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, https://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/12185.