Ralph Waldo Emerson eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 304 pages of information about Ralph Waldo Emerson.
withdrawal of the native New Englanders of both sexes from domestic service.  A large part of the “hired help,”—­for the word servant was commonly repudiated,—­worshipped, not with their employers, but at churches where few or no well-appointed carriages stood at the doors.  The congregations that went chiefly from the drawing-room and those which were largely made up of dwellers in the culinary studio were naturally separated by a very distinct line of social cleavage.  A certain exclusiveness and fastidiousness, not reminding us exactly of primitive Christianity, was the inevitable result.  This must always be remembered in judging the men and women of that day and their immediate descendants, as much as the surviving prejudices of those whose parents were born subjects of King George in the days when loyalty to the crown was a virtue.  The line of social separation was more marked, probably, in Boston, the headquarters of Unitarianism, than in the other large cities; and even at the present day our Jerusalem and Samaria, though they by no means refuse dealing with each other, do not exchange so many cards as they do checks and dollars.  The exodus of those children of Israel from the house of bondage, as they chose to consider it, and their fusion with the mass of independent citizens, got rid of a class distinction which was felt even in the sanctuary.  True religious equality is harder to establish than civil liberty.  No man has done more for spiritual republicanism than Emerson, though he came from the daintiest sectarian circle of the time in the whole country.

Such were Emerson’s intellectual and moral parentage, nurture, and environment; such was the atmosphere in which he grew up from youth to manhood.

CHAPTER I.

Birthplace.—­Boyhood.—­College Life.

1803-1823.  To AET. 20.

Ralph Waldo Emerson was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on the 25th of
May, 1803.

He was the second of five sons; William, R.W., Edward Bliss, Robert
Bulkeley, and Charles Chauncy.

His birthplace and that of our other illustrious Bostonian, Benjamin Franklin, were within a kite-string’s distance of each other.  When the baby philosopher of the last century was carried from Milk Street through the narrow passage long known as Bishop’s Alley, now Hawley Street, he came out in Summer Street, very nearly opposite the spot where, at the beginning of this century, stood the parsonage of the First Church, the home of the Reverend William Emerson, its pastor, and the birthplace of his son, Ralph Waldo.  The oblong quadrangle between Newbury, now Washington Street, Pond, now Bedford Street, Summer Street, and the open space called Church Green, where the New South Church was afterwards erected, is represented on Bonner’s maps of 1722 and 1769 as an almost blank area, not crossed or penetrated by a single passageway.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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