In 1871, Emerson traveled to California by train, where he met Brigham Young and John Muir. The following year, his house burned, and he set sail for Europe and Egypt with his daughter, Ellen. When he returned a year later in April 1873, the town of Concord celebrated his return and school was canceled.
Emerson made a living as a popular lecturer in New England and the rest of the country outside of the south. During several scheduled appearances that he was not able to make, took his place. Emerson spoke on a wide variety of subjects. Many of his essays grew out of his lectures.
"Do not tell me, as a good man did to-day, of my obligation to put all poor men in good situations. Are they my poor? I tell thee, thou foolish philanthropist, that I grudge the dollar, the dime, the cent I give to such men as do not belong to me and to whom I do not belong. There is a class of persons to whom by all spiritual affinity I am bought and sold; for them I will go to prison if need be; but your miscellaneous popular charities; the education at college of fools; the building of meeting-houses to the vain end to which many now stand; alms to sots, and the thousand-fold Relief Societies;-- though I confess with shame I sometimes succumb and give the dollar, it is a wicked dollar, which by and by I shall have the manhood to withhold." ("Self-Reliance", 1841)
Emerson routinely invites charges of inconsistency. He says the worldis fundamentally a process and fundamentally a unity; that it resiststhe imposition of our will and that it flows with the power of ourimagination; that travel is good for us, since it adds to ourexperience, and that it does us no good, since we wake up in the newplace only to find the same “ sad self” we thought we hadleft behind (CW2: 46).
"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen 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 said to-day. — 'Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.' — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? was misunderstood, and , and , and , and , and , and , and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood." ("Self-Reliance", 1841)
In 1840, in collaboration with his emerging Transcendental group, the Transcendental journal The Dial was launched with Margaret Fuller as first editor.
In 1837, Emerson received the second portion of the Tucker estate, and delivered " Scholar" before the Phi Beta Kappa Society. He befriended his future disciple, Henry David Thoreau, who graduated from Harvard in August.
In May of 1836, Emerson learned that another of his brothers, Charles, died. The year is not defined by tragedy though. Emerson's landmark book, Nature, is published anonymously in Boston in September, and his son (the first of four children), Waldo, is born in October.
In March of 1841, the first series of Essays was published, which included the famous essay, "Self-Reliance." By spring, Thoreau joined his household (though he will not build his famous cabin at Walden Pond until July 1845).
Some listed here may now be out of print or unavailable. (Sacks)
Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay "Self-Reliance" is often the first or only exposure students get to Emerson's thought. Here are some resources to help understand this essay:
An essay introducing the background and context of Transcendentalism, for help in understanding where Emerson's ideas came from.
From Emerson himself, with some dictionary and other simple definitions listed as well.
Basic information on Transcendentalism - links to the two items above plus more.
- HTML searchable copy of the text at
Ann Woodlief's excellent introduction to the Emerson essay, Self-Reliance.
An article by Alfred I.
Emerson returned to the Untied States in the fall of 1833 and began his career as a lecturer with talks on "natural history." In the spring of 1834, he received the first half of the Tucker inheritance, which helped to support his lifestyle. In October, he learned that his brother, Edward, died.
In September of , Emerson and other like-minded intellectuals founded the Transcendental Club, which served as a center for the movement, but didn't publish its journal until of . Emerson published his first essay, , anonymously in September of . While it became the foundation for Transcendentalism, many people at the time assumed it to be a work of .
In 1835, Emerson bought a house on the Cambridge Turnpike, in . He quickly became one of the leading citizens in the town. He also married his second wife here.
Looks at the problem of selfhood in Emerson's essay and relates that to relevance today, especially in religious belief in our increasingly-secular age.
A short essay, some selections from the essay, and some excellent questions for thinking about Emerson's ideas.
A short introduction to American culture about 1841, looking at Emerson's essay and its relationship to ideas of democracy, culture and the masses.
A Unitarian Universalist minister muses about the position of Emerson in that faith today, where he's often considered a "prophet of religious liberalism." - about the book and its author
- by Bryan Caplan - Kristen Rosenfeld - Piper S.