Ralph Waldo Emerson was a highly educated American lecturer and essayist. Many of his most important ideas were often presented first as lectures, then refined over time and published as essays. But he reversed the order with his first landmark work, his ground-breaking essay Nature which appeared in 1836 and was then followed by the 1837 speech "The American Scholar." Interestingly, Nature, was published anonymously.
Emerson's most influential writing was published in the 1840s in two collections; Essays: First Series appeared in 1841 and Essays: Second Series appeared in 1844. They contained some of his most popular work, including the mainstays; Self-Reliance, Experience, The Poet and The Over-Soul. Together with Nature, these essays put the stamp on the Transcendental movement and gave voice to American intellectualism, almost defining an American way of thinking. He openly encouraged his contemporaries to break free of European tradition and to create an American style of expression; an idea that attained full embodiment with the ascension of Abraham Lincoln.
Like Ben Franklin before him, Emerson was interested in self-improvement. In Emerson's hands, a periodic gathering of other intellectuals grew into the Transcendental Club. Early meetings included Margaret Fuller who would become an important figure in the Transcendental movement as well. Emerson's association with Henry David Thoreau also seems to have budded around 1837.
Visit American Literature's American History for other important historical documents and figures which helped shape America.