Ralph Waldo Emerson


Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803‒82) was the most prominent American essayist and philosopher of the 19th century. Born in Boston, he was educated at the Boston Latin School and at Harvard College. He studied divinity and served for a time as a Unitarian minister but left the ministry in 1832, after the death of his first wife. He then settled in Concord, Massachusetts, and spent the remainder of his life writing and lecturing. He made several trips to Europe, where he met such poets and thinkers as Walter Savage Landor, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, and Thomas Carlyle, who became a lifelong friend. Emerson was part of the group of American philosophers known as the Transcendentalists, whose members included the early feminist and political radical Margaret Fuller and the writer Henry David Thoreau. Emerson’s best known essays include “The American Scholar,” “Self-Reliance,” and “Friendship.” The image is from an album of mostly Civil War-era portraits by the famous American photographer Matthew Brady (circa 1823‒96) that belonged to Emperor Pedro II of Brazil (1825‒91), a collector of photography as well as a photographer himself. The album was a gift to the emperor from Edward Anthony (1818‒88), another early American photographer who, in partnership with his brother, owned a company that in the 1850s became the leading seller of photographic supplies in the United States. Dom Pedro may have acquired the album during a trip to the United States in 1876 when he, along with President Ulysses S. Grant, opened the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Brady was born in upstate New York, the son of immigrants from Ireland. Best known for his photographs documenting the battles of the American Civil War, he began his career in 1844 when he opened a daguerreotype portrait studio at the corner of Broadway and Fulton Streets in New York City. Over the course of the next several decades, Brady produced portraits of leading American public figures, many of which were published as engravings in magazines and newspapers. In 1858 he opened a branch in Washington, DC. The album, which also contains a small number of non-photographic prints, is part of the Thereza Christina Maria Collection at the National Library of Brazil. The collection is composed of 21,742 photos assembled by Emperor Pedro II throughout his life and donated by him to the national library. The collection covers a wide variety of subjects. It documents the achievements of Brazil and Brazilians in the 19th century and also includes many photographs of Europe, Africa, and North America.

Last updated: March 22, 2016