Today is the anniversary of the birth of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
I first learned about Emerson when I was a junior in high school. We studied American literature that year, and the only part I enjoyed was the short unit on Transcendentalism. When it comes to transcendentalists, Henry David Thoreau tends to get most of the publicity, but out of that group, Emerson was the writer I felt the deepest connection with.
According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ralph_Waldo_Emerson,
Ralph Waldo Emerson (May 25, 1803 – April 27, 1882) was an American essayist, lecturer, and poet who led the Transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century. He was seen as a champion of individualism and a prescient critic of the countervailing pressures of society, and he disseminated his thoughts through dozens of published essays and more than 1,500 public lectures across the United States.
Emerson wrote on a number of subjects, never espousing fixed philosophical tenets, but developing certain ideas such as individuality, freedom, the ability for humankind to realize almost anything, and the relationship between the soul and the surrounding world.
A bio on Poets.org (https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/ralph-waldo-emerson) says,
Emerson’s first book, Nature (1836), is perhaps the best expression of his Transcendentalism, the belief that everything in our world—even a drop of dew—is a microcosm of the universe. His concept of the Over-Soul—a Supreme Mind that every man and woman share—allowed Transcendentalists to disregard external authority and to rely instead on direct experience. “Trust thyself,” Emerson’s motto, became the code of Margaret Fuller, Bronson Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, and W. E. Channing.
Emerson’s philosophy is characterized by its reliance on intuition as the only way to comprehend reality, and his concepts owe much to the works of Plotinus, Swedenborg, and Böhme. A believer in the “divine sufficiency of the individual,” Emerson was a steady optimist. His refusal to grant the existence of evil caused Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry James, Sr., among others, to doubt his judgment.
Wow! A champion of individualism who believed in the reliance on intuition and was a steady optimist: now I remember why I liked the guy.