Ralph Waldo Emerson is undoubtedly one of the fathers of American literature. He was also a founder of Transcendentalism, which was a large philosophical movement that began in 1836. Ralph was a poet, a writer and one of the most famous philosophers of the nineteenth century. His influence, shown through his work includes a book, various poems, and papers as well as his actions that include his lectures. His work showed his beliefs of self-reliance and that nature is the key to enlightenment.
He believes that by following his ideas of religion and philosophy such as non-conformity, it will fix all of human’s life problems. His book, Nature, is known to be the single work that served as a base for creating Transcendentalism. The beliefs that he acquired arose due to his experiences throughout his life and the people he met. He influenced America with his anti-conformist beliefs and belief that humans should not follow tradition.
He acquired his beliefs through a series of events that occurred in his early and middle years.
He was born into a family that had a history of the men becoming ministers. His father was a minister and died when Ralph was only eight years old (Lewis). The people who were around him during his childhood say that he was not like other kids who played games and got along with everyone. He was always in a “Higher Sphere” and a man named Dr. Furness said, “He could not remember the time when Emerson was not literary in his pursuits” (Lewis). After his graduation, he ultimately decided that he should become a minister as his father would have wanted and he began to study divinity, which is believing that things come from a supernatural power. After a considerable amount of time studying divinity and attempting to keep up with his schooling, he decided it might be best to take a break from his studies because it was becoming too difficult for him. Throughout the next few years he attempted to pursue the career of being a minister again. He married Ellen Tucker and then lost her in a short amount of time due to tuberculosis. He himself also faced many health issues that set him back and delayed his progress (Lewis). Upon his wife’s tragic death, he decided to travel to England and thus began his pursuit of transcendental faith. After two years in England, he returned and married his second wife, Lydia Jackson, who he had four children with (Lewis).
Although by this point, many of his beliefs have already become part of him and unlikely to change, they were still altered slightly upon meeting other figures who took notice to his ideas and shared theirs as well. His most famous work, Nature, published as both a short book, and an essay. The essay was the basis for transcendentalism. (“Transcendentalism.”). It contains eight sections that consist of the titles Nature, Commodity, Beauty, Language, Discipline, Idealism, Spirit, and Prospects. This work portrays Emerson’s belief that a deep connection with nature will lead to one’s being able to understand reality. He believes that people must first escape from their busy lives into nature in order to be in true solitude (Lewis.). He explains that after humans are in solitude, “We return to reason and faith” (Lewis). From this point, a human will begin to see all that nature has given them, realize its significance, and begin to appreciate it far more than before. He conceived the belief that everything in nature is connected with one another and that said “the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God” (Lewis). He tells us that all things in the universe are not separate, but make up one and if we escape into solitude and become one with nature, we will feel a deep connection with this being and our own souls. Emerson shows us how we rely on nature for tangible things.
We rely on things such as the sun and the wind to receive the commodities we need in order to live (Lewis.). Another part of nature, beauty, is explained to give us three things. “To the body and mind which have been cramped by noxious work or company, nature is medicinal and restores their tone” (Lewis). This quote states the first thing that nature gives people, which is a medicinal benefit that allows humans to collect, and find themselves again. The second thing beauty does for us according to Emerson is that it increases our spiritual level as well as rewards good people. This is supported by this quote, “Nature stretcheth out her arms to embrace man, only let his thoughts be of equal greatness” (Lewis). Lastly, he states, “The intellect searches out the absolute order of things as they stand in the mind of God, and without the colors of affection”. This tells us that the thing the intellect searches for can be found in nature, which will further satisfy our intangible needs. Emerson illustrates to us that “Everything in nature offers lessons that we can learn.”(Lewis). He offers the idea that nature assists us in disciplining ourselves and teaches us essential lessons for life. In his essay, he also introduces the idea of nature possessing complex spiritual qualities and the power to enlighten.
From this eight-section essay, humans have developed a greater appreciation for nature and we have begun to see its qualities, which are deeper than its physical characteristics. This essay influenced humans to come to the realization of all nature has given to us with no return. This pushed people to appreciate nature because Emerson explains all the ways nature has shaped them into who they are. His influence on many philosophers, writers and thinkers in his era and the future is and always has been very evident. Walt Whitman was a Humanist, writer, poet who was affected by the influence of Ralph Waldo Emerson (Folsom). Evidence of this influence is found in a letter that Emerson gave to Whitman at the beginning of Whitman’s career. “I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed.”(Belasco). This letter from Emerson was meant to encourage Walt Whitman to publish one of his famous works “Leaves of Grass” and remain in pursuit of his career in writing and poetry. It is considered one of the most famous letters ever written to an aspiring writer (Belasco). This letter inspired Whitman to follow his career partially because this encouragement was from an already famous figure and a voice in literature. Henry David Thoreau is another person that Emerson inspired.
Although Emerson was almost 15 years older than Thoreau was, they became very close friends very fast (Harris). Emerson even took Thoreau into his home for two years, practically making him a part of his family (Harris). Their ideas were somewhat similar, which originally brought them together, but they were also very different in many ways. Without all of the encouragement and support Emerson showed towards Thoreau and his work, it is unlikely that Thoreau would have been nearly as successful. A third person, which Emerson has influenced in a significant way, is Louisa May Alcott. She was a novelist who was famous for the publishing of her novel “Little Women” (“Louisa May Alcott.”). His influence on her was long term, as they were childhood friends and grew up together. “Alcott notes Emerson’s influence in her own craft, as he introduced her to the works of Shakespeare, Goethe, Carlye, and Dante” (Harris). This makes it obvious that Emerson helped to steer Louisa in the direction of becoming the great classical novelist she did. She also reported that he helped her travel the path of becoming a novelist by showing her all the literature in his library that he found interesting which gave her motivation to start reading books herself. It is clear that without the interference of Emerson in Louisa’s early years, she would not have pursued her career in novels and literature.
Ralph Waldo Emerson is the Father of American Literature without contest. Most people will say that he was by far the most influential writer of the entire nineteenth century. He was a great inspiration to writers and journalists of his time and for a select few, he is the reason they became so famous. He possessed a unique writing style and unique beliefs, which is what made other figures in American Literature notice him, and begin considering his transcendentalist ideas. Ralph Waldo Emerson and his work have clearly had an immense influence on America that has affected people of the past, as well as ones in present day.
“Transcendentalism.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House Inc., 02 Dec. 2013. Web. 2 Dec. 2013. < http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/transcendentalism>. Lewis, Jone. “Ralph Waldo Emerson-Texts.” Emerson Central. N.p, 3 September 2009. Web. 4 December 2013. . Folsom, Ed. “About Walt Whitman.” Modern American Poetry. The University of Illinois, N.d. Web. 4 Dec. 2013. Belasco, Susan. “Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson.” Classroomelectric.The University of Nebraska, N.d. Web. 4 Dec. 2013. . Harris, William. “Thoreau and Emerson.” Middlebury.edu . Middlebury College, N.d. Web. 4 Dec. 2013. < http://community.middlebury.edu/~harris/thoreau.html >. “Louisa May Alcott.” 2013. The Biography Channel website. Dec 05 2013 < http://www.biography.com/people/louisa-may-alcott-9179520 >.
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