Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson
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Ralph Waldo Emerson


Ralph Waldo Emerson (May 25, 1803 – April 27, 1882) was an American philosopher, essayist, and poet, best remembered for leading the transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century. His teachings directly influenced the growing new thought movement of the mid-1800s. he was seen as a champion of individualism and a prescient critic of the countervailing pressures of society.


Emerson gradually moved away from the religious and social beliefs of his contemporaries, formulating and expressing the philosophy of transcendentalism in his 1836 essay, nature. as a result of this ground-breaking work he gave a speech entitled the American scholar in 1837, which Oliver Wendell Holmes, sr. considered to be America’s "intellectual declaration of independence". Considered one of the great orators of the time, Emerson's enthusiasm and respect for his audience enraptured crowds. his support for abolitionism late in life created controversy, and at times he was subject to abuse from crowds while speaking on the topic. when asked to sum up his work, he said his central doctrine was "the infinitude of the private man."


Literary career and transcendentalism


Emerson and other like-minded intellectuals founded the transcendental club, which served as a center for the movement. Its first official meeting was held on September 19, 1836. Emerson anonymously published his first essay, nature, in September 1836. a year later, on august 31, 1837, Emerson delivered his now-famous phi beta kappa address, "the American scholar", then known as "an oration, delivered before the phi beta kappa society at Cambridge"; it was renamed for a collection of essays in 1849. In the speech, Emerson declared literary independence in the United States and urged Americans to create a writing style all their own and free from Europe. James Russell Lowell, who was a student at Harvard at the time, called it "an event without former parallel on our literary annals”. Another member of the audience, reverend john pierce, called it "an apparently incoherent and unintelligible address".


In 1837, Emerson befriended Henry David Thoreau. Though they had likely met as early as 1835, in the fall of 1837, Emerson asked Thoreau, "do you keep a journal?" the question went on to have a lifelong inspiration for Thoreau.


On July 15, 1838, Emerson was invited to divinity hall, Harvard divinity school for the school's graduation address, which came to be known as his "divinity school address". Emerson discounted biblical miracles and proclaimed that, while Jesus was a great man, he was not god: historical Christianity, he said, had turned Jesus into a "demigod, as the Orientals or the Greeks would describe Osiris or Apollo". his comments outraged the establishment and the general protestant community. for this, he was denounced as an atheist, and a poisoner of young men's minds. despite the roar of critics, he made no reply, leaving others to put forward a defense. he was not invited back to speak at Harvard for another thirty years.


The transcendental group began to publish its flagship journal, the dial, in July 1840.they planned the journal as early as October 1839, but work did not begin until the first week of 1840.george Ripley was its managing editor and Margaret fuller was its first editor, having been hand-chosen by Emerson after several others had declined the role. Fuller stayed on for about two years and Emerson took over, utilizing the journal to promote talented young writers including Ellery Channing and Thoreau.


It was in 1841 that Emerson published essays, his second book, which included the famous essay, "self-reliance". his aunt called it a "strange medley of atheism and false independence", but it gained favorable reviews in London and Paris. This book, and its popular reception, more than any of Emerson's contributions to date laid the groundwork for his international fame.


In January 1842 Emerson's first son Waldo died from scarlet fever. Emerson wrote of his grief in the poem "threnody" ("for this losing is true dying"), and the essay "experience". in the same year, William James was born, and Emerson agreed to be his godfather.


Bronson Alcott announced his plans in November 1842 to find "a farm of a hundred acres in excellent condition with good buildings, a good orchard and grounds". Charles lane purchased a 90-acre (360,000) farm in Harvard, Massachusetts, in May 1843 for what would become fruitlands, a community based on utopian ideals inspired in part by transcendentalism. the farm would run based on a communal effort, using no animals for labor; its participants would eat no meat and use no wool or leather. Emerson said he felt "sad at heart" for not engaging in the experiment himself. Even so, he did not feel fruitlands would be a success. "Their whole doctrine is spiritual", he wrote, "but they always end with saying, give us much land and money”. Even Alcott admitted he was not prepared for the difficulty in operating fruitlands. "None of us were prepared to actualize practically the ideal life of which we dreamed. So we fell apart", he wrote. After its failure, Emerson helped buy a farm for Alcott’s family in concord which Alcott named "hillside".


The dial ceased publication in April 1844; Horace Greeley reported it as an end to the "most original and thoughtful periodical ever published in this country".


Emerson made a living as a popular lecturer in New England and much of the rest of the country. From 1847 to 1848, he toured England, Scotland, and Ireland. He also visited Paris between the February revolution and the bloody June days. When he arrived, he saw the stumps where trees had been cut down to form barricades in the February riots. On May 21 he stood on the champ de mars in the midst of mass celebrations for concord, peace and labor. He wrote in his journal: "at the end of the year we shall take account, & see if the revolution was worth the trees."


He had begun lecturing in 1833; by the 1850s he was giving as many as 80 per year. Emerson spoke on a wide variety of subjects and many of his essays grew out of his lectures. He charged between $10 and $50 for each appearance, bringing him about $800 to $1,000 per year. his earnings allowed him to expand his property, buying eleven acres of land by Walden pond and a few more acres in a neighboring pine grove. he wrote that he was "landlord and waterlord of 14 acres, more or less".


In 1845, Emerson's journals show he was reading the Bhagavad Gita and Henry Thomas Colebrook’s essays on the Vedas. Emerson was strongly influenced by the Vedas, and much of his writing has strong shades of nondualism. One of the clearest examples of this can be found in his essay "the over-soul":


We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related, the eternal one. And this deep power in which we exist and whose beatitude is all accessible to us, is not only self-sufficing and perfect in every hour, but the act of seeing and the thing seen, the seer and the spectacle, the subject and the object, are one. We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are shining parts, is the soul.


Emerson was introduced to Indian philosophy when reading the works of French philosopher victor cousin.


In February 1852 Emerson and James freeman Clarke and William Henry Channing edited an edition of the works and letters of Margaret fuller, who had died in 1850. Within a week of her death, her New York editor Horace Greeley suggested to Emerson that a biography of fuller, to be called Margaret and her friends, be prepared quickly "before the interest excited by her sad decease has passed away". Published with the title the memoirs of Margaret fuller ossoli, fuller's words were heavily censored or rewritten. The three editors were not concerned about accuracy; they believed public interest in fuller was temporary and that she would not survive as a historical figure. Even so, for a time, it was the best-selling biography of the decade and went through thirteen editions before the end of the century.


Walt Whitman published the innovative poetry collection leaves of grass in 1855 and sent a copy to Emerson for his opinion. Emerson responded positively, sending a flattering five-page letter as a response. Emerson's approval helped the first edition of leaves of grass stir up significant interest and convinced Whitman to issue a second edition shortly thereafter. this edition quoted a phrase from Emerson's letter, printed in gold leaf on the cover: "I greet you at the beginning of a great career”. Emerson took offense that this letter was made public and later became more critical of the work.




As a lecturer and orator, Emerson—nicknamed the concord sage—became the leading voice of intellectual culture in the United States. Herman Melville, who had met Emerson in 1849, originally thought he had "a defect in the region of the heart" and a "self-conceit so intensely intellectual that at first one hesitates to call it by its right name", though he later admitted Emerson was "a great man". Theodore parker, a minister and transcendentalist, noted Emerson's ability to influence and inspire others: "the brilliant genius of Emerson rose in the winter nights, and hung over Boston, drawing the eyes of ingenuous young people to look up to that great new start, a beauty and a mystery, which charmed for the moment, while it gave also perennial inspiration, as it led them forward along new paths, and towards new hopes".


In his book the American religion, Harold bloom repeatedly refers to Emerson as "the prophet of the American religion," which in the context of the book refers to indigenously American and Gnostic-tinged religions such as Mormonism and Christian Science that arose largely in Emerson's lifetime. In the western canon, Harold bloom compares Emerson to Michel de Montaigne: "the only equivalent reading experience that I know is to reread endlessly in the notebooks and journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American version of Montaigne."


In May 2006, 168 years after Emerson delivered his "divinity school address," Harvard divinity school announced the establishment of the Emerson Unitarian Universalist association professorship. Harvard has also named a building, Emerson hall (1900), after him.


Emerson hill, a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Staten Island is named for his eldest brother, Judge William Emerson, who resided there from 1837 to 1864.

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  • 来源: 2016-07-28