Ralph Waldo Emerson Was An American Essayist

He began a career as a public lecturer, which lasted almost 50 years, and married Lydia Jackson, whom he affectionately referred to as “Mine Asia”—a pun on Asia Minor, the location of the ancient kingdom of Lydia.In 1836 Emerson published the first major statement of his mature philosophy and a groundbreaking book that catalyzed the Transcendentalist movement in New England.As a boy, his first contact with the non-Western world came by way of the merchandise that bustled across the India Wharf in Boston harbor, a major nexus of the Indo-Chinese trade that flourished in New England after the Revolutionary War.

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He not only gave countless readers their first exposure to non-Western modes of thinking, metaphysical concepts, and sacred mythologies; he also shaped the way subsequent generations of American writers and thinkers approached the vast cultural resources of Asia and the Middle East.

Emerson was born on May 25, 1803 in Boston, Massachusetts.

When scholars discuss the limitations of Emerson’s writing about the East, they often refer to the essay “Plato; or the Philosopher,” published in in 1850.

In that volume, Emerson argues that the Greek philosopher brought together the two “cardinal facts” at the core of all philosophy: Unity and Variety.

Instead, Emerson urges Indians to resist the shackles of the British Empire as forcefully as they should resist the mental chains of religious superstition.

He exhorts ordinary Indians to look upon the example of post-revolution America as an emblem of what a modern democratic nation could achieve.

And yet Emerson’s conceptualization of the East in the “Plato” essay poses problems that are worth noting.

As scholars have observed, when Emerson claims to speak about “Asia,” he seems to have India in mind (that is, the country with the “social institution of caste”).

After he graduated from Harvard, Emerson’s enthusiasm for non-Western subjects waned, primarily because he devoted himself to becoming a Unitarian minister.

In 1831 Emerson’s wife, Ellen Tucker Emerson, died of tuberculosis, an event that galvanized a series of personal and professional changes in his life.

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