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Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) was a prominent lecturer, poet, and essayist. He was a mentor and friend to Henry David Thoreau. Known as the "Sage of Concord" for his place of residence in Massachusetts, Emerson was a major literary figure and an important spokesman for transcendentalist philosophy, the New England movement that flourished until the Civil War, primarily among intellectuals. Transcendentalism was in part a reaction against Unitarian Church orthodoxy.

Emerson was one of the principal founders of the Transcendental Club in 1836, which began as an informal discussion group that met at homes in Boston and Concord. Club members rejected pure reason in favor of a transcendent world beyond, one occupied by ideals, morals, and intuition. It was on Emerson's land that fellow transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau built his cabin at Walden pond, lived for almost a decade, and was inspired to write eighteen essays on his experience in simple living. Emerson was also one of the few critics to acclaim Walt Whitman's poetry masterpiece, Leaves of Grass.

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