Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–82)

From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

“An American essayist, poet, and popular philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–82) began his career as a Unitarian minister in Boston, but achieved worldwide fame as a lecturer and the author of such essays as Self-Reliance, History, The Over-Soul, and Fate. Drawing on English and German Romanticism, Neoplatonism, Kantianism, and Hinduism, Emerson developed a metaphysics of process, an epistemology of moods, and an “existentialist” ethics of self-improvement. He influenced generations of Americans, from his friend Henry David Thoreau to John Dewey, and in Europe, Friedrich Nietzsche, who takes up such Emersonian themes as power, fate, the uses of poetry and history, and the critique of Christianity.”

From the website of the Poetry Foundation:

“…In 1817, at the age of 14, Emerson entered Harvard College. While at Harvard, Emerson had little opportunity to study the diverse literary and religious traditions of Asia or the Middle East. The curriculum focused on Greek and Roman writers, British logicians and philosophers, Euclidean geometry and algebra, and post-Enlightenment defenses of revealed religion. As his journals and library borrowing records attest, however, in his spare time, Emerson paid keen attention to the wider European Romantic interest in the “Orient” or the “East,” which to him meant the ancient lands and sacred traditions east of classical Greece, such as Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, Persia, China, and India. An aspiring poet, Emerson also gravitated to selections of poetry that took up Eastern themes and Eastern poetry, including the works of Saadi and Hafez, which he would embrace in adulthood…

…Like other Anglo-American readers of his period, Emerson relied heavily on British colonial agents for his knowledge of India, reading treatises, travelogues, and translations of legal, religious, and poetic texts produced in the wake of Britain’s imperial expansion into India. As a consequence, Emerson’s writing about South Asia (as well as China, Persia, and the Arab world) often traffics in the menagerie of 19th century Euro-American stereotypes and misconceptions.”

From Wikipedia:

“…He remains among the linchpins of the American romantic movement, and his work has greatly influenced the thinkers, writers and poets that followed him. “In all my lectures,” he wrote, “I have taught one doctrine, namely, the infinitude of the private man.” Emerson is also well known as a mentor and friend of Henry David Thoreau, a fellow transcendentalist.”

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