RALPH WALDO EMERSON, the most original of American philosophers and essayists, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, May 25, 1803, and he died at Concord, in his native State, April 27, 1882.
His father was a Unitarian minister, and the boy was trained for the same profession. Emerson entered Harvard University at the age of fourteen and graduated at eighteen. He was ordained minister of a Boston Unitarian congregation in 1829, but changes in his religious views led to his resignation of his charge in 1832.
In 1833 he visited England, where he spent a year, then returned and lived a quiet, retired life at Concord, Massachusetts.
His pen first attracted attention in 1837, through two orations entitled `Nature and Man Thinking," delivered before the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Cambridge. In 1838 appeared his "Address to the Senior Class in Divinity College, Cambridge," also "Literary Ethics," an oration. In 1841 he brought out "The Method of Nature," "Man the Reformer," the first series of his `Essays," and several lectures; 1844, "Young America," and the second series of "Essays."
For four years, from 1840 to 1844, Mr. Emerson was associated with Margaret Fuller, Countess d'Ossoli, in conducting a literary journal, entitled `The Dial;" and on the death of the Countess, he joined with Mr. W. H. Canning in writing a memoir of that learned and remarkable woman, which was published in 1852. In 1846 he brought out a volume of poetry. In 1848 he revisited England and delivered a course of lectures in Exeter Hall, London. "The logicians have an incessant triumph over him," said Harriet Martineau, "but their triumph is of no avail; he conquers minds as well as hearts." In the succeeding year he delivered another course of lectures upon "Representative Men." These lectures are considered among the greatest of his works. In 1856 appeared "English Traits;" 1860, "The Conduct of Life;" 1865, an "Oration on the Death of President Lincoln;" 1870, "Society and Solitude," twelve essays; 1875, "Parnassus," "Selected Poems," and a volume of "Essays." In 1866 Harvard College conferred upon Mr. Emerson the degree of LL.D.
For profound and original thought he has but few equals and perhaps To superiors. He is known as the American Carlyle. No man has made greater or more lasting impression upon the literature of the age than has he great American essayist and poet.
It is impossible not to be refreshed and gratified by Emerson's prose; but perhaps his poetry more completely carries the reader with it, as being a higher and purer production of genius. The best passages of it are indeed is unmitigated poetry as ever was written; they are poetry down to the last syllable; they are verses which, as he himself expresses it, seem to be found not made. Their meaning is as intimately connected with their form as sound ?> with speech. The mystic obscurity of some of the poems, however, and he unfamiliar subjects treated, have discouraged or repelled many from the study of any of them. In reading poetry the mood and the point of view of the poet must be caught, otherwise all is in vain. Emerson's point of view is so far from being conventional or obvious, and is, besides, so lofty and abstract, that the careless and hasty glance of the general reader cannot be expected to apprehend it. Yet such lines as those which compose the poem called "Forerunners," (to select an instance) cannot be paralleled by any contemporary poet; they even recall, in elevation of motive and sustained beauty of symbolic expression, Shakespeare's matchless sonnet which begins, "Let me not to the marriage of true minds," etc. Every word tells, and there is a grand space and breathing room around every word. The movement of the verse is pliant and varied; the choice of words is felicitous and naive, and there are kindlings of imagination worthy of the greatest masters.
Emerson was a fearless critic, and such men as Longfellow, Lowell, Holmes and Whittier, were never offended at his apparent severity in reviewing their writings. He was rarely assailed for his criticisms. Speaking of the magical suggestiveness of Shakespeare's expression, he said: "The recitation begins; one golden word leaps out immortal from all this painted pedantry, and sweetly torments us with invitations to its own inaccessible homes." The scholarly critic and essayist, E. P. Whipple, thus writes of Emerson: "After his return from his second visit to England, in 1847, I had a natural wish to learn his impressions of the distinguished men he had met. His judgment of Tennyson was this, that he was the most `satisfying' of the men of letters he had seen. He witnessed one of Macaulay's brilliant feats in conversation at a dinner where Hallam was one of the guests. The talk was on the question whether the `additional letters' of Oliver Cromwell, lately published by Carlyle, were spurious or genuine. `For my part,' said Emerson, `the suspicious fact about them was this, that they all seemed written to sustain Mr. Carlyle's view of Cromwell's character. But the discussion turned on the external evidences of their being forgeries. Macaulay overcame everybody at the table, including Hallam, by pouring out with victorious volubility instances of the use of words in a different meaning from that they bore in Cromwell's time, or by citing words which were not in use at all until half a century later. A question which might have been settled in a few minutes by the consent of a few men of insight opened a tiresome controversy which lasted during the whole dinner. Macaulay seemed to have the best of it; still I did not like the arrogance with which he paraded his minute information; but then there was a fire, a speed, fury, talent, and effrontery in the fellow which were very taking.'"
When Emerson, on his return, made in his "English Traits" his short, contemptuous criticism on Macaulay as a writer, representing the material rather than the spiritual interests of England, it is evident that the verbal bullet hit the object at which it was aimed in the white. "The brilliant Macaulay, who expresses the tone of the English governing classes of the day, explicitly teaches that good means good to eat, good to wear, material commodity; that the glory of modern philosophy is its direction or `fruit,' to yield economical inventions, and that its merit is to avoid ideas and to avoid morals. He thinks it the distinctive merit of the Baconian philosophy, in its triumph over the old Platonic, its disentangling the intellect from theories of the all-Fair, and the all-Good, and pinning it down to the making a better sick-chair and a better wine-whey for an invalid; this not ironically, but in good faith; that `solid advantage,' as he calls it--meaning always sensual benefit--is the only good." This criticism, though keen, is undoubtedly one-sided. Macaulay felt it. In the height of his fame, in January, 1850, he writes in his diary: "Many readers give credit for profundity to whatever is obscure, and call all that is perspicuous shallow. But coragio! and think of A. D. 2850. Where will your Emersons be then?" Well, it may be confidently predicted, they will at least march abreast of the Macaulays.
His works are translated into all the languages of Europe, and are read by thinkers and scholars all over the world. The thinking portion of society will always treasure up the memory and the works of "the sage of Concord."
Biography from: http://www.2020site.org/literature/index.html