American Philosophy

New England Transcendentalists

Who was Ralph Waldo Emerson?

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) was the leading nineteenth century American transcendentalist. His essays and activism not only established him as an intellectual for his time, but also provided a model for subsequent American intellectuals, particularly the pragmatists.

Emerson’s main writings, which are still read today—most are free on-line—include Nature (1836), his first book, which contains the essays “Nature,” “Commodity,” “Beauty,” “Language,” “Discipline,” “Idealism,” “Spirit,” “Prospects,” “The American Scholar,” “Divinity School Address,” “Literary Ethics,” “The Method of Nature,” “Man the Reformer,” “Introductory Lecture on the Times,” “The Conservative,” “The Transcendentalist,” and “The Young American;” there is also Essays: First Series (1841), containing “History,” “Self-Reliance,” “Compensation,” “Spiritual Laws,” “Love,” “Friendship,” “Prudence,” “Heroism,” “The Over-Soul,” “Circles,” “Intellect” and “Art;” and Essays: Second Series (1844), which includes “The Poet,” “Experience,” “Character,” “Manners,” “Gifts,” “Nature,” “Politics,” “Nominalist and Realist,” and “New England Reformers.” Other books include Poems (1847); Miscellanies; Embracing Nature, Addresses, and Lectures (1849); Representative Men (1850), including essays on Plato and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; English Traits (1856), which is about his travels; The Conduct of Life (1860); the poetry collection May-Day and Other Pieces (1867); and Society and Solitude (1870). Emerson’s last series of essays were lectures given at Harvard University in 1871 and posthumously published as Natural History of Intellect (1904). There is also the Correspondence of Thomas Carlyle and R.W. Emerson (1883).


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