Ralph Waldo Emerson, the son of a Unitarian minister and a chaplain during the American Revolution, was born in 1803 in Boston. He attended the Boston Latin School, and in 1817 entered Harvard, graduating in 1820.
Emerson supported himself as a schoolteacher from 1821-26. In 1826 he was “approbated to preach,” and in 1829 became pastor of the Scond Church (Unitarian) in Boston. That same year he married Ellen Louise Tucker, who was to die of tuberculosis only seventeen months later.
In 1832 Emerson resigned his pastorate and travelled to Europe, where he met Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Carlyle. He settled in Concord, Massachusetts, in 1834, where he began a new career as a public lecturer, and married Lydia Jackson a year later. A group that gathered around Emerson in Concord came to be known as “the Concord school,” and included Bronson Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Margaret Fuller.
Every year Emerson made a lecture tour; and these lectures were the source of most of his essays. Nature (1836), his first published work, contained the essence of his transcendental philosophy , which views the world of phenomena as a sort of symbol of the inner life and emphasizes individual freedom and self-reliance. Emerson’s address to the Phi Beta Kappa society of Harvard (1837) and another address to the graduating class of the Harvard Divinity School (1838) applied his doctrine to the scholar and the clergyman, provoking sharp controversy.
An ardent abolitionist, Emerson lectured and wrote widely against slavery from the 1840’s through the Civil War. His principal publications include two volumes of Essays (1841, 1844), Poems (1847), Representative Men (1850), The Conduct of Life (1860), and Society and Solitude (1870).
Emerson died of pneumonia in 1882 and was buried in Concord.
A friend is a person with whom I may be sincere. Before him, I may think aloud.
Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.
All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen.
All my best thoughts were stolen by the ancients.
Always do what you are afraid to do.
An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory.
Bad times have a scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss.
Be careful what you set your heart on, for it will surely be yours.
Beware what you set your heart upon, for it surely shall be yours.
Concentration is the secret of strength.
Desire is possibility seeking expression.
Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
Do not waste yourself in rejection, nor bark against the bad, but chant the beauty of the good.
Don’t be timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better.
Every artist was first an amateur.
Every man believes he has a greater possibility.
Every wall is a door.
Fear always springs from ignorance.
For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.
Good luck is another name for tenacity of purpose.
Great men are those who see that thoughts rule the world.
Guard your own spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds.
Hitch your wagon to a star.
I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and new.
Insist upon yourself; never imitate.
It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.
It is the eye which makes the horizon.
Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of the gods.
Life is short but there is always time for courtesy.
Little minds have little worries, big minds have no time for worries.