Study Guide

Ralph Waldo Emerson Lecture Tours

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Lecture Tours

Ellen Tucker Emerson fell ill with tuberculosis immediately after the couple's marriage. Less than 18 months after their wedding, she died of the disease at the age of twenty. The widowed Emerson was heartbroken. The untimely loss of his young wife also threw into question his faith, and thus his choice of career. In his journal, Emerson asked himself whether the ministry was still an effective way of communicating with the divine. He began to doubt central tenets of the church, such as whether Jesus really was the son of God. In 1832, he resigned his position at Second Church. "I like the silent church before the service begins," Emerson later wrote, "better than any preaching."

In December 1832, a searching Emerson sailed for Europe. During his ten-month trip, he met the Romantic poets William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, as well as the Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle. His new friends' philosophies on nature and the importance of intuition were deeply inspirational. Emerson begins sketching out his own philosophies on nature and self-reliance.

Emerson returned to Boston. On 15 November 1833, he gave his first public lecture, a talk entitled "The Uses of Natural History." The speech launched a career that lasted nearly 50 years. Lectures were a popular form of educational entertainment in the pre-electronic age. Emerson was a master of the lecture circuit, speaking for nearly half a century on topics dealing with science, religion, philosophy and history. Emerson's fans thought his lectures were brilliant and inspiring. The unconverted checked their watches and wondered when the old man was going to get to the point.

In December 1834, Emerson moved to Concord, Massachusetts, a liberal, intellectual hub just outside of Boston. He kept a home in town for the rest of his life, eventually earning the nickname "the Sage of Concord." On 14 September 1835 Emerson married his second wife, Lydia Jackson. The couple had four children. They named one of their daughters Ellen after Emerson's first wife, at Lydia Jackson Emerson's suggestion.

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