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Ralph Waldo Emerson   By: (1809-1894)

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In Oliver Wendell Holmes' biographical work, he presents a fascinating exploration of the influential American philosopher and writer Ralph Waldo Emerson. Holmes skillfully weaves together the details of Emerson's life, capturing both the essence of the man and the cultural and intellectual landscape of his time.

The book delves deep into Emerson's upbringing, providing a comprehensive understanding of the events and experiences that shaped his thinking. From his childhood in Boston to his formative years at Harvard, Holmes paints a vivid picture of Emerson's early life, shedding light on the academic and personal challenges he faced. Furthermore, the author explores the profound impact that the loss of Emerson's first wife had on him, and how this tragedy ultimately shaped his philosophy.

Holmes possesses a remarkable talent for presenting Emerson not as an abstract intellectual figure, but as a complex human being. Through engaging anecdotes and revealing correspondence, we gain insight into the struggles and triumphs Emerson faced throughout his life. The author's meticulous research is evident in his portrayal of Emerson's interactions with other key thinkers and writers of the time, such as Henry David Thoreau and Margaret Fuller, highlighting the mutual influence and camaraderie that marked their relationships.

One of the book's exceptional strengths is its exploration of Emerson's philosophical ideas. Holmes adeptly traces the evolution of Emerson's thought, elucidating his transcendentalist beliefs and examining their resonance within the broader context of American society. By situating Emerson's work within the social and intellectual currents of the time, the author underscores its enduring relevance and offers valuable insights into the impact of Emerson's ideas on subsequent generations of thinkers and writers.

While Holmes' writing style may occasionally lean towards the academic, he compensates for this with a wealth of carefully chosen quotations from Emerson himself. These excerpts allow the reader to directly experience Emerson's eloquence and poetic sensibility, further enriching their understanding of his philosophy. Holmes strikes a fine balance between presenting his own analysis and letting Emerson's words speak for themselves, ensuring that the book remains engaging and enjoyable.

Overall, Oliver Wendell Holmes' Ralph Waldo Emerson provides an insightful exploration of one of America's most influential thinkers. With its detailed research, nuanced analysis, and captivating storytelling, this biography offers a vibrant portrait of Emerson's life, ideas, and impact. It is a valuable resource for anyone interested in the history of American philosophy and the transcendentalist movement, as well as those seeking a deeper understanding of the complexities of Emerson's character and his enduring literary legacy.

First Page:

American Men of Letters



" Thou wert the morning star among the living, Ere thy fair light had fled: Now, having died, thou art as Hesperus, giving New splendor to the dead. "

American Men of Letters






My thanks are due to the members of Mr. Emerson's family, and the other friends who kindly assisted me by lending interesting letters and furnishing valuable information.

The Index, carefully made by Mr. J.H. Wiggin, was revised and somewhat abridged by myself.


BOSTON, November 25, 1884.




1803 1823. To AET. 20.

Birthplace. Boyhood. College Life.


1823 1828. AET. 20 25.

Extract from a Letter to a Classmate. School Teaching. Study of Divinity. "Approbated" to Preach. Visit to the South. Preaching in Various Places.


1828 1833. AET. 25 30.

Settled as Colleague of Rev. Henry Ware. Married to Ellen Louisa Tucker. Sermon at the Ordination of Rev. H.B. Goodwin. His Pastoral and Other Labors. Emerson and Father Taylor. Death of Mrs. Emerson. Difference of Opinion with some of his Parishioners... Continue reading book >>

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