Born in Boston, Waldo was one of the eight children of William
Emerson, the eminent minister of the First Church in Boston. Upon
the death of his father when Waldo was eight, his mother fought
against poverty by taking in borders.
After Waldo attended Harvard College and Harvard Divinity School,
he became the minister of the Second Church in Boston (Unitarian).
When he could not in good conscience conduct the Lord's Supper,
he resigned in 1832 and moved to Concord to write.
In 1836, his first book, Nature, initiated a new movement,
Transcendentalism, which fostered a new renaissance of American
literature and life rooted in the affirmation: "The currents
of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel
Emerson's 1837 Harvard Phi Beta Kappa address on "The American
Scholar" Oliver Wendell Holmes proclaimed America's Declaration
of Intellectual Independence. "We have listened too long
to the courtly muses of Europe," Emerson said and predicted
that America would become the pole star for a thousand years.
"A nation of men will for the first time exist because each
believes himself inspired by the Divine Soul."
At his "Divinity School Address" delivered in 1838,
hearers were urged to acquaint themselves at first hand with deity.
This radical Christian critic of "corpse cold Unitarianism"
also declared that "Miracle is monster." Andrews Norton,
Professor of Biblical Literature, branded Emerson's work "the
latest form of infidelity." Ralph Waldo Emerson was not invited
back to Harvard for thirty years.
The speaker was not exempt from tragedy. Loss of his first wife,
aged nineteen, was followed by a son's death after Emerson remarried.
Rheumatism and poor eyesight plagued him, but he persisted in
delivering lectures near and far, and writing poems and essays,
letters and his diary, all grandly celebrated in 2003, the bicentennial
of his birth. The Sage of Concord has been recognized as the most
important figure in America's cultural renaissance of the nineteenth