Nature Study Guide
Introduction to Nature
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature exemplifies Emerson’s intellectual interests and literary style. Emerson was an American scholar, writer, and philosopher who became a pivotal figure of American Romanticism and of the transcendentalist movement, both of which flourished in the mid-nineteenth century. Much as Romanticism favored the experience of the individual artist, transcendentalism encouraged people to realize their full potential and consider the mysteries of the universe on their own, without the corrupting influence of modern society.
In 1836, Emerson published Nature, one of his most iconic essays. The essay argues for self-determination and solitary reflection, which Emerson believes are essential for the development of one’s sense of personal identity. Nature is an integral part of this process, creating an ideal space for individual meditation. Moreover, nature is to be cherished as a source of life and beauty.
A Brief Biography of Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) was a writer, philosopher, poet, and essayist whose works helped establish and form the intellectual basis of the nineteenth-century transcendentalist movement. Emerson was one of five siblings to survive into adulthood. He lost his father at a relatively young age and would lose several of his siblings to illness and other circumstances as he grew older. Indeed, death seemed to follow Emerson throughout his life, and he also outlived both his first wife and several younger friends and students, including Henry David Thoreau.
Emerson was raised primarily by his mother and aunt, both of whom heavily influenced his religious and philosophical beliefs. After graduating from Harvard University, Emerson briefly entered the clergy, but he eventually began to resent the formalities of the church. It was at this point that he began traveling the world and making a name for himself as a lecturer, philosopher, and writer. Emerson’s early adulthood aligned with the rise of the Lyceum movement in the United States, which was an organized effort to promote public education through lectures and other forms of intellectual entertainment. Emerson is believed to have delivered nearly 1,500 lectures over the course of his life, ranging across such subjects as science, nature, religion, abolition, and beyond. He was regarded by his contemporaries as one of the most sought-after speakers of the day, and several of his most famous lectures, including “Nature” and “Self-Reliance,” are in continued publication today. One of the core themes of Emerson’s lectures and writings was individuality and personal morality. Emerson felt that looking to an organized church or government was a means of corrupting one’s own individual moral compass, and both he and his transcendentalist followers advocated for adherence to so-called natural laws rather than formal ones.