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Peter S. Field

Born in Boston and a resident of Concord, Massachusetts, for most of his life, Ralph Waldo Emerson was the ninth in a line of Congregational ministers. His father, William, died before Emerson's eighth birthday, and he and his siblings were raised by their mother, Ruth Haskins Emerson. Educated for the ministry at Harvard, Emerson ultimately quit his pastorate shortly after the death of his first wife in 1831. Dissatisfied with the structure and ritual of the church, Emerson sought a more expansive, democratic venue from which to preach. This he found on the lyceum lecture circuit. In the course of the following decades, he became one of the nation's most beloved and famed public lecturers. Many of his lecturers provided the material for his celebrated essays, which have not gone out of print since their initial publication.

Emerson ranks as the nineteenth century's greatest American liberal thinker. With Frederick ...