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Why Ralph Waldo Emerson Is My Favorite Philosopher

Updated on February 15, 2012
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson

The early years

Ralph Waldo Emerson was born in Boston on May 25, 1803. His parents were William and Ruth Emerson. Unfortunately for young Ralph, his father passed away in 1811. He further endured hardship when three of his siblings died in childhood, two died before the age of thirty and another brother was mentally handicapped. His older brother William was the only other Emerson child to enjoy adulthood as a lawyer in New York. His family was so poverty stricken that one winter Ralph Waldo had to share a coat with his brother Edward. One could arrive at the conclusion that these hardships early in his life drove him to write about the human condition like no other philosopher. His aunt, Mary Moody Emerson was instrumental for encouraging young Ralph to pursue academics. He enrolled in the Boston Latin School at age nine and continued his education at Harvard at the age of fourteen. He studied rhetoric, formed a club for public speaking and won the Boylston oratory prize.

After College

After graduation he had aspirations to become a school teacher and that was his chosen occupation until 1826 when he became a minister. While preaching in New Hampshire, He met Ellen Tucker. She proved to be the love of his life and they were married and settled in Massachusetts where Emerson worked in a prominent position at the second church of Boston. Tragedy would visit Emerson once again when his wife died from Tuberculosis in 1831. This heart breaking event would set his sail on a radically different course.

Mid Life

With his religious beliefs altered and his faith shaken to the core, he left everything behind and toured Europe. It was then that Ralph Waldo Emerson started meeting intellectual elites such as Thomas Carlyle, who he began a correspondence with that lasted thirty eight years. In 1833 he returned to America to discover that his late wife left him a substantial inheritance. This financial security allowed him an opportunity to explore his creative side. He began lecturing on the topics of history, literature, biography and ethics. These public lectures enabled him to add upon his financial security. During this period Emerson truly loved his chosen path, thus increasing his reputation as one of America's outstanding intellectuals. Emerson added to his happiness in 1835 when he married Lydia Jackson and she gave him four children. The late 1830's were years of achievement for Emerson. It was in these years that he published the essay entitled "Nature" and gave two great speeches at Harvard. The first speech was "The American Scholar," which Oliver Wendell Holmes referred to as the declaration of independence of American intellectual life. The second speech, "The Divinity School Address" so enraged Harvard that they banned him for the next twenty five years. Tragedy struck in 1842 when his son Waldo died at the tender age of five years old.

Later years

In his later years Emerson continually gained a reputation as a leading spokesperson of the transcendental movement. Transcendentalists believe that organized religion and political parties corrupted the purity of the individual. Emerson produced great works of philosophy in his later years. He published Representative Man in 1850, The Conduct of Life in 1860, and Society And Solitude in 1870. Emerson was a leading philosopher during the period when the literary character of the United States was being formed. He gave voice to the spiritual potential of every human being. Ralph Waldo Emerson died quietly on April 27, 1882.

Final Thoughts

Ralph Waldo Emerson was a giant in the field of philosophy. Two of my favorite essays that Emerson wrote were "Nature" and "Spiritual Laws." Napoleon Hill often quotes Emerson on these two essays. Brian Tracy, one of our modern day success guru's encourages his students to study Emerson, especially the above mentioned essays. I fell in love with Emerson's writings when I was in middle school. Ralph Waldo Emerson is my favorite philosopher not only because of the hardships he endured, but the dignity in which he endured them. He is a man who has proven himself time and time again.

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    • profile image

      GwenNovember 5 years ago

      Thank-you that was wonderful. I voted up and interesting. I didn't know about the poverty of his years.

    • DFiduccia profile image

      DFiduccia 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      Good choice for a blog!

    • profile image

      Sooner28 5 years ago

      Ah someone is writing about Emerson. Glad to see it. I recently read a portion of his writing dealing with independence of thought. It was very moving. "To be great is to be misunderstood."

      It's also a fine line between being an independent thinker and not listening to other people. But I think everyone, myself especially, should work to be independent thinkers.

    • JamesPoppell profile image
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      JamesPoppell 5 years ago

      @ GwenNovember, Thank you for commenting. Emerson had a lot of challenges in his life.

      @ DFiduccia, I appreciate you stopping by to comment.

    • JamesPoppell profile image
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      JamesPoppell 5 years ago

      Sonner28, I believe as you do, that everyone should work to be independent thinkers. Independent thinking is what gives us our unique personalities. I really appreciate your comment. I find myself learning something new every time I re-read one of Emerson's essays. His writings have intellectual depth on many levels. Take care and have a great day.

    • Michele Travis profile image

      Michele Travis 5 years ago from U.S.A. Ohio

      Wonderful hub, didn't know anything about him, only his writings. Thank you for this hub.

    • JamesPoppell profile image
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      JamesPoppell 5 years ago

      Thanks Michele. His life was marked with tragedy but he weathered the storm. I always like to know the person behind the writing. I appreciate your comment.

    • eddiecarrara profile image

      Eddie Carrara 5 years ago from New Hampshire

      Interesting, I knew of Emerson and have read stories of him and his difficult and challenging life, but I have never read any of his essay's, now would be a good time to start. Thanks for the little push James. Voted up and interesting.

    • JamesPoppell profile image
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      JamesPoppell 5 years ago

      Thanks for your comment eddiecarrara. Emerson has some great essays & poetry. I trust you will not be disappointed. Have a great evening.

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Interesting article. Yes, Napoleon Hill was big on Emerson, so are many of the new age motivational speakers. Emerson was one of the leading USA transcendentalists of the 19th Century.

      Voted up

      John

    • JamesPoppell profile image
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      JamesPoppell 5 years ago

      Thanks for your comment John. I enjoy reading Emerson's writings, especially his essay on spiritual laws. I appreciate you taking the time to read this hub.

    • WD Curry 111 profile image

      WD Curry 111 5 years ago from Space Coast

      Ralph Waldo Emerson is my favorite, too. Henry David Thoreau is cool, but I don't think he would have gone so far without Emerson. I am a transcendentalist of sorts . . . not as committed as those guys.

      One of my favorite quotes is by Emerson, "A foolish consistency is the hobgobblin of little minds."

    • JamesPoppell profile image
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      JamesPoppell 5 years ago

      Thank you for commenting WD Curry 111. Emerson was a man ahead of his time.

    • Sparklea profile image

      Sparklea 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      I LOVE Emerson, but never knew about his life! Voted up and interesting! Thank you! I have a couple of Emerson's books also. Terrific writer! Emerson is proof of the art of perseverance. I also love Brian Tracy and Napoleon Hill, I have their books. If you don't have Tracy's book, "Eat That Frog" I highly recommend it! I have used Emerson's quotes for years with my writing and speaking. Blessings always, Sparklea :)

    • JamesPoppell profile image
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      JamesPoppell 5 years ago

      Hi Sparklea. Emerson is truly one of my favorites. I have have read all of Napoleon Hill's books and most of Brian Tracy's books. I have not had the pleasure of reading, "Eat That Frog" and I am looking forward to what looks to be a fantastic read. Thank you so much for commenting and dropping a hint about this book. Have a great day.

    • tammyswallow profile image

      Tammy 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Emerson is my all time favorite writer and philosopher of all time also. I think his essay "Self Reliance" should be part of the American Constitution. No other piece of literature has ever impacted me in such a profound manner.

      My favorite part of Self Reliance:

      "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statemen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you say to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood."

      I think this country would be in such better shape today if this line of thinking from such outstanding philosophers would have prevailed. It doesn't get any better than Emerson. Great hub!

    • profile image

      HubTub 5 years ago

      I absolutely adore the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson. I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about him, as up until now I only knew of his work as a writer. Kudos on a hub well done! Voted up!

    • JamesPoppell profile image
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      JamesPoppell 5 years ago

      Tammyswallow, thank you so much for sharing such an awesome passage from one of my favorite essays by Emerson. He was such a gifted and powerful writer. The message he delivers in "Self Reliance" should, as you have mentioned, be part of the constitution. It should also be required reading in schools. I appreciate you taking the time to write such a powerful and thought provoking comment. Have a great day.

    • JamesPoppell profile image
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      JamesPoppell 5 years ago

      Hubtub, Thank you for your comment. Emerson truly had an eventful life. I always love reading and learning the history of our great philosophers. I am glad you enjoyed the hub. Have a great day.

    • sandeep15r profile image

      Sandeep Rathore 22 months ago from New Delhi

      Great hub, Indeed. I've read some of his articles, which has provided me with a new way of thinking. Thanks for writing such an interesting hub.

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