Ralph Waldo Emerson was born on the 25th of May 1803 in Boston and was descended from a long line of New England ministers. After his college education, Emerson briefly taught in school before joining Harvard Divinity School. When he was in college, Ralph Emerson was really not an outstanding student; though he was once named the class poet after other students declined the title. Emerson worked as a minister for a while before he left the profession to become a successful lecturer, essayist, philosopher and poet. Emerson died of pneumonia on the 27th of April 1882. This essay seeks to explain Ralph Emerson's significance in history.
An American Philosopher
Ralph Emerson, one of America's greatest philosophers was able to introduce European and Eastern thought to America. He made a huge contribution to the formation of a unique American quality that came from a distinguished mind and was original and was open to all kinds of influence. During the American Renaissance period and also associated with the Transcendentalism movement between 1835 and 1865, Emerson was one of the major figures at the time. During this period, philosophical thought, poetry and literature flourished.
Emerson's influence was felt in that his work inspired other great writers such as Henry David Thoreau; who was his close friend, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman and Nathaniel Hawthorne. In his writings, Emerson managed to combine philosophy with religion and also ancient classical ideas together with mystism and supernaturalism. Emerson was a non-conformist and was also a huge supporter of human rights; he believed that man had to be in harmony with nature and man. Emerson was a proponent for the abolition of slavery.
Major Themes in Emerson's Philosophy: Education
In 1837, Emerson made an address, "The American Scholar", in which he maintained that the scholar is educated by nature books, and action, of the three nature is the most important and natures variety conceals laws of the human mind: "the Ancient Precept", "Know thyself" and "Study Nature". On books, Emerson argued that they offered the reader influence of the past and that a proper reader uses books as a stimulus to achieve "his own sight of principles". He stated that books have the ability to "inspire the active soul" and great books are records of such inspiration and Emerson holds that their value should be measured by their role in inspiring such states of the soul. Action is the third component of scholar's education. Emerson holds that it is "the process whereby what is not fully formed passes into expressive consciousness and it is the source of what he has to say.
Emerson's Contribution to Literature
In literature, Emerson played a leading role through the writing and publishing of his poems and essays such as nature in which he brought out his valuable insights about religion and philosophy. The essays and poems greatly highlighted his belief in between man and himself and man and nature when he studied classics at the Boston Latin School (The Literature Network).
Ralph Waldo Emerson against Christianity
On the 15th of July 1838, Emerson addressed the senior class of the Divinity College of Cambridge that led to him being barred from speaking in Harvard for about three decades. He argued that Jesus was a wise but was not a son of God and that his miracles were unnatural and therefore monstrous and that truth can never be taught but is found inside. He argued that Christianity had become a very corrupt and false system that relied too much on the myths of Greece and Egypt; he described it as a petrified religion. He argued that religious ecstasy could be found in nature and divinity was to be found in the relationship between man and nature. Emerson argued that Christianity is a "distortion "of Jesus' teachings and churches are built on his tropes and not his principles and that Christianity became a cult that was deliberately fostered (mythus) just as the poetic teachings of ancient Greece and Egypt. Emerson believed that man's life was a miracle. He was of the view that we should live each moment for what it is without thinking of the past or future.
Emerson was of the view that Christianity was a man-cult and also an exaggeration of the personal and historical figure of Jesus. He was of the view that Christianity is too formal, appropriated and rigid. He stated that the manner in which his name was surrounded with expressions which at one point represented love and admiration had now been petrified into official titles which consequently kills all liking and generous sympathy. He stated that conformity of beliefs is not true and that it conflicts with reality.
In politics, Emerson was of the view that the State's institutions are not aboriginal and that though they existed before we were born, they are not superior. He argued that society is an illusion to the young citizen and to the old statesman, the society is fluid. Republics abound in young civilians who believe that laws make the city and modifications of policy and mode of living for instance commerce, religion, education or employment may be voted in or out and that any measure even if it were absurd may be imposed on a people as long as one he gets sufficient voices to make it law. The state must follow and not lead the progress and character of the citizen. Emerson was of the view that all human beings have the same human rights by virtue of being identical. While the rights of all people are equal, their rights in property are unequal, he wrote, "One man owns his clothes and another owns a country".
Emerson wrote that it was not easy to embody the principle that people should make laws for people and property for property because people and property mixed themselves in every transaction. He wrote that persons are organs of moral or supernatural force and that a nation of men unanimously bent on conquest or freedom can easily confound the arithmetic of statistics and achieve profound actions out of all proportion to their means just as the Greeks, Americans and French have done. We live in a low state of the world and pay tribute against our will to governments founded on force and there is not among the most religious and instructed men from the most religious and civil nations a sufficient belief in the unity of things to persuade them that the organization of the society can be maintained without unnecessary artificial restraints and that a private citizen can be a good neighbor and a reasonable individual without the hint of a confiscation or jail. No one has been sufficiently been inspired to remodel the state on the principle of right and love (Ralph Waldo Emerson).
Ralph Waldo Emerson was a great American thinker, poet, philosopher and author. His fusion of European and Eastern thought meant that he developed a unique American quality and contributed greatly to advancement of poetry, literature and philosophy. Emerson also inspired fellow authors and poets during his time and also later through his essays, lectures; some of which were quite controversial and poems. He advocated for universal human rights and was actively championing the abolition of slavery. Emerson was part of the contributor's tom the American Renaissance period and also made a huge contribution in the field of education through his lectures and essays especially insisting on the value of education. His view on religion also gave people an insight into various aspects on Christianity that people can relate to in this day and age.