Hypertextual Guide

Portrait of R. W. Emerson

Clock Chronology






1803 Ralph Waldo Emerson is born in Boston. He is the third of six son. His father, William, is an Unitarian minister.

1811 His father dies. His mother, Ruth Haskins, takes in boarders to provide for him and his brothers. Aunt Mary Moody Emerson exerts a powerful influence in the family. It is she who sets the real intellectual standards for him.

1812-16 Attends the Boston Public Latin School.

1817-21 Attends Harvard College; starts keeping a Journal; wins a prize for an essay on Socrates.

1822-31 Maintains himself by teaching school; pursues theological studies at Harvard Divinity School; eye disease and other physical troubles; travels to Charleston, S.C., and St. Augustine, Fla., to recover his health; ordained minister of Second Church (Unitarian) in Boston and marries Ellen Tucker (1829); Ellen dies (1831).

1832-35 Resigns from Second Church raising an objection on the sacrament of Communion; travels to Italy, France, England and Scotland; meets Wordsworth, Coleridge and Carlyle. The visit to Carlyle is the start of a life-long friendship. He returns to America; brother Edward dies; moves to Concord, Massachsetts; starts new career lecturing; marries Lydia Jakson (1835), whom he calls "Lidian".

Small portrait

1836 Brother Charles dies; publishes Nature, the "gospel" of Transcendentalism; meets Amos Bronson Alcott and Margaret Fuller; helps form the "Transcendental Club"; his first son, Waldo, is born.

1837-41 Delivers "The American Scholar", at Harvard (1837). Oliver Wendell Holmes will call it «the American Intellectual Declaration of independence»; meets Henry David Thoreau; Carlyle's Critical and Miscellaneous Essays published, edited by R. W. E.; delivers The Divinity School Address (1838) at Harvard (an attack on formal historical Christianity); daugther Ellen is born; helps found The Dial (1840); publishes Essays (1841); daughter Edith is born; invites Thoreau to live in his home.

1842-46 His son Waldo dies; meets Hawthorne; translates Dante's Vita Nuova; son Edward is born; delivers address on "Emancipation of the Negroes in the British West Indias" at Concord Court House, a fiery emotional speech calling for abolition of slavery; publishes Essays: Second Series (1844); begins "Representative Men" lectures series (1845); publishes Poems (1846).

1847-48 Second trip to England and France; meets again Carlyle: unlike the meeting with him fifteen years earlier, Emerson's opinions on most subjects--abolition included--are now the opposite of Carlyle's, but they don't break off; meets also Wordsworth, Dickens, Tennyson, Chopin, de Toqueville.

1849-50 Publishes Nature, Addresses and Lectures (1849) and Representative Men (1850). Margaret Fuller dies.

1851-59 Begins "The Conduct of Life" lectures seris; denounces the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 in a speech delivered in Concord. It is a call for civil disobedience: «If our resistence to this law is not right--he says--there is no right». Mother Ruth Haskins Emerson dies. He congratulates Walt Whitman on Leaves of Grass (1855); Publishes English Traits (1856); brother Bulkeley dies.

1860 Publishes The Conduct of Life .

1861-66 Meets Abraham Lincoln in Washington; hails the Emancipation Proclamation with a speech, later published in The Atlantic Monthly; Henry D. Thoreau dies (Emerson reads a funeral speech); auntMary Moody dies at age 89; elected to the "American Academy of Arts and Sciences" (1864); receives honorary law degree from Harvard.

1867-68 Publishes May-Day and Other Pieces ; brother William dies.

1870 Publishes Society and Solitude; "Natural History of Intellect" lectures at Harvard,

1871-73 Trip to California; his house burns; trip to Europe and Egypt.

1875 His health declines; publishes Letters and Social Aims (with the assistence of daughter Ellen).

1882 Dies in Concord on April 27. Walt Whitman's assessment of Emerson in front of his grave: "A just man, poised on himself, all-inclosing, and sane and clear as the sun."

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