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II







Ralph Waldo Emerson
Born: May 25, 1803, Boston, MA
Died: April 27, 1882, Concord, MA

Emerson graduated from Harvard College in 1821 and was ordained to the Unitarian ministry in 1829, the year he married. His preaching soon won him fame, but his
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Emerson & Thoreau, Nature & Walden
C-SPAN's Video Library: Ralph Waldo Emerson & Henry David Thoreau
doubts about traditional doctrine, which intensified after his wife's death in 1831, led to his resignation in 1832.

His spiritual quest took him to England, where he met Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Carlyle. He returned to settle in Concord, Mass., the home of H. D. Thoreau, who would become his philosophical ally. In 1835 he married a second time. His anonymously published Nature (1836) stated his belief that one could transcend the materialistic world of sense experience and become conscious of the all-pervading spirit of the universe, and that God could best be found by looking into one's own soul. The essay helped initiate Transcendentalism.

In the lecture "The American Scholar" (1837), he warned against pedantry, imitation, traditionalism, and scholarship unrelated to life. His "Address at Divinity College" (1838) was another challenge, directed against a lifeless Christian tradition; it alienated many and resulted in his being ostracized by Harvard for many years. Young disciples, however, joined the informal Transcendental Club (founded in 1836) and encouraged him in his activities.

Works by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Nature (1836)
The American Scholar (1837)
The Divinity School Address (1838)
Essays, First Series, ("Self-Reliance,"
"Circles," "The Over-Soul" and
"Intellect") (1841)
Essays, Second Series, ("Experience,"
"The Poet" and "Nominalist
and Realist") (1844)
In 1840 he helped launch the Dial, which became the chief organ of the Transcen-
dentalists; he succeeded Margaret Fuller as its editor. He continued to lecture, publishing two volumes of Essays (1841; 1844); these contained the well-known "Self Reliance," which made him internationally famous. His Representative Men (dated 1850) contains biographies of Plato, Swedenborg, Montaigne, Shakespeare, Napoleon, and Goethe. The Conduct of Life (1860), his most mature work, reveals a developed humanism together with a full awareness of human limitations. Emerson's collected Poems (dated 1847) were supplemented by others in May-Day (1867), and the two volumes established his reputation as a major American poet.

Web sites about Ralph Waldo Emerson
Russell Goodman's Emerson Biography and Bibliography
Brandeis University's Emerson Biography and Links page


Henry David Thoreau
Born: July 12, 1817, Concord, MA
Died: May 6, 1862, Concord, MA


Thoreau graduated from Harvard and taught several years in a school he started with his brother John. A canoe trip in 1839, later recounted in A Week on The Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849), convinced him that he should instead be a poet of nature. He soon met Ralph Waldo Emerson, who had recently settled in Concord and begun to attract kindred spirits there, out of whose heady speculations and affirmatives would come New England Transcendentalism. In 1837, at Emerson's suggestion, Thoreau began keeping a journal that would eventually cover thousands of pages, and he began publishing writings on the outdoors in the Dial, the Transcendentalist magazine.

In 1842, having grown restless, he moved to New York to cultivate its literary market, but he returned to Concord the next year, confirmed in his distaste for city life and disappointed by his failure. In spring of 1845, at 27, he began to build a hut on the shores of Walden Pond, a lake two miles from Concord, on land Emerson owned. From the outset the move gave him profound satisfaction. When not busy weeding his bean rows and trying to protect them from hungry woodchucks or occupied with fishing, swimming, or rowing, he spent long hours observing and recording the local flora and fauna and making journal entries which he would later polish and include in Walden.

Works by Henry David Thoreau
A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849)
Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854)
Excursions (1863)
The Maine Woods (1864)
Cape Cod (1865)
A Yankee in Canada (1866)
Midway in his two-year Walden sojourn, Thoreau had spent a night in jail protesting the Mexican-American War, an event he reflected on in the famous and influential essay "Civil Disobedience" (1849). When he left Walden, his life lost much of its illumination. Slowly his Transcendentalism drained away as he turned to a variety of tasks to support himself. The observant and humorous accounts of various journeys he made in this period were published posthumously in Excursions (1863), The Maine Woods (1864), Cape Cod (1865), and A Yankee in Canada (1866). He became a dedicated abolitionist and actively helped speed fleeing slaves north on the Underground Railroad while lecturing and writing against slavery. He died at 44. His vivid and fruitful journals were published in 14 volumes in 1906.

Web sites about Henry David Thoreau
The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau
Perspectives in American Literature: Chapter 4: Early Nineteenth Century - Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)


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