Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson (May 25, 1803 – April 27, 1882) was an American author, poet and philosopher. His original profession and calling was as a Unitarian minister but he left the ministry to pursue a career in writing and public speaking. Emerson went on to became one of 19th century America's best known and best loved figures. He was the leading exponent of New England Transcendentalism.
Among the Transcendentalists core beliefs was an ideal spiritual state that 'transcends' the physical and empirical and is only realized through the individual's intuition, rather than through the doctrines of established religions. The movement was originally termed "Transcendentalists" as a pejorative term, suggesting their position was beyond sanity and reason. But like other groups, e.g. the Quakers, the Transcendentalists took on this epithet as a badge of pride.
Emerson once said "Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you." This most quotable of writers also said, "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know". Both statements reflect one of his most repeated themes, the need for each individual to avoid conformity and false consistency, and follow his or her own instincts and ideas.
Considered one of the great orators of the time, Emerson's enthusiasm and respect for his audience enraptured crowds. He supported abolitionism (antislavery movement) and women's rights when such causes were both radical and unpopular. Indeed some of his thoughts late in life created controversy, and at times he was subject to abuse from crowds while speaking on such topics. However this was not always the case. When asked to sum up his work, he said his central doctrine was "the infinitude of the private man."
His intense idealism has many followers numbering several great authors among them, notably Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Thoreau. While some critics find in him the eternal naif, a writer of pleasant-sounding but ultimately impractical essays containing ideals that stale with age, others note his energizing influence on inquisitive minds as evidence of his lasting greatness.