Ralph Waldo Emerson Timeline
How It All Went Down
Ralph Waldo Emerson Born
Ralph Waldo Emerson is born in Boston to Rev. William and Ruth Haskins Emerson. He is the second of their eight children, five of whom reach adulthood.
Less than three months after the birth of his eighth child, Rev. William Emerson dies of stomach cancer.
Emerson enters Boston Latin School.
After graduating from Boston Latin, Emerson begins undergraduate studies at Harvard College. He teaches grammar school part-time to earn money.
Emerson graduates from Harvard and takes a job teaching at a girls' school run by his brother William.
Emerson publishes his first piece of writing, an article entitled "Thoughts on the Religion of the Middle Ages" in Christian Disciple and Theological Review magazine.
Emerson studies at Harvard's new School of Divinity.
Emerson leaves his teaching job and sails south for the winter to Charleston, South Carolina and St. Augustine, Florida in order to restore his failing health. He returns to Boston in June.
Emerson becomes engaged to Ellen Louisa Tucker, whom he met the previous year.
Emerson joins Second Church, Boston as a colleague pastor. He is ordained and soon promoted to pastor of the church.
Emerson marries Ellen Tucker.
After less than 18 months of marriage, Emerson's wife Ellen dies of tuberculosis at the age of twenty.
Travels to Europe
Emerson resigns from his pastor position at Second Church and sails for Europe. During his ten-month trip, he meets William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle. Emerson begins sketching out his philosophies on nature and self-reliance.
Emerson gives his first public lecture, a talk entitled "The Uses of Natural History," in Boston, launching a lecture career that lasts nearly 50 years.
The Sage Arrives in Concord
A week after the death of his brother Edward from tuberculosis, Emerson moves to the town of Concord, Massachusetts, where he keeps a home for the rest of his life. His presence in the hub of transcendentalism earns him the nickname "the sage of Concord."
Starts Lecture Series
Emerson starts his first lecture series, "Biography," in Boston.
Emerson marries his second wife, Lydia Jackson.
Emerson publishes the essay Nature, which outlines his ideas about the manifestation of the universal in nature. A week later, he presides at the first meeting of the Transcendental Club, a meeting of New England intellectuals that includes Henry David Thoreau, Bronson Alcott and Margaret Fuller. Emerson's Nature is one of their founding documents.
Ralph Waldo and Lydia Emerson's first son Waldo is born.
"The American Scholar"
Emerson gives his lecture "The American Scholar" to a crowded house at Harvard. In the audience is an undergraduate student named Henry David Thoreau, who is profoundly moved by the talk.
The couple's second child is born. At Lydia Emerson's suggestion, they name her Ellen Tucker Emerson after Emerson's first wife.
Emerson's first essay anthology is published. It contains works like Self-Reliance and The Over-Soul, which will come to define his philosophies. Henry David Thoreau moves into Emerson's house, earning his keep by acting as a handyman and babysitter.
The couple's third child, daughter Edith, is born.
The Emersons' eldest son Waldo dies suddenly of scarlet fever at the age of five.
Edits The Dial
Emerson takes over editorship of the transcendentalist journal The Dial, replacing former editor Margaret Fuller. The magazine folds two years later.
The couple's fourth and final child, son Edward Waldo Emerson, is born. Soon after Emerson publishes the book Essays: Second Series, and delivers his first anti-slavery lecture.
On Walden Pond
Emerson's friend Henry David Thoreau moves into a cabin on Emerson's property on Walden Pond and lives there for the next two years and two months. His experiences are the subject of his memoir Walden.
Emerson's collection Poems is published in the U.S. and in England.
European Lecture Tour
Emerson sails to England for one of several European lecture tours.
During his lecture tours, Emerson speaks out against the Fugitive Slave Law, which requires all runaway slaves to be returned to their owners and makes it a crime to assist escaped slaves.
Emerson's friend and colleague Henry David Thoreau dies at the age of 44. Emerson gives the eulogy at his funeral. In his honor, Emerson publishes the memorial essay "Thoreau" in The Atlantic.
Emerson writes the "Boston Hymn" in praise of President Abraham Lincoln's signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Harvard honors Emerson with an honorary doctorate. The following year, he is elected to Harvard's Board of Overseers.
Letters and Social Aims
Emerson's book Letters and Social Aims is published. With his memory failing and his intellectual abilities slowing down, Emerson drops his habit of daily journal-writing.
Emerson delivers his hundredth lecture before the Concord Lyceum.
Ralph Waldo Emerson Dies
After catching a cold, Ralph Waldo Emerson dies at home in Concord, Massachusetts, a month before his 79th birthday. He is buried in Concord's Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.