By Leonard Unger
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He will not allow us to rest easy; we must ride a beast of ever-changing form. " He has harped on each string, as he has said, through nine essays, in order to harmonize them. His compositions have been played on these few main themes. Do we grant him his premises, his intuitive beliefs? Whether or no, at least we can grant him his questions and therefore follow where he leads in his evervarying range of effort to answer. The Conduct of Life was Emerson's last, most coherent, and for many his most admirable book.
The events of Emerson's life in brief summary provide a context for his thought—the why of his beliefs. He was born on May 25, 1803, in Boston, in a family of merchants and ministers. His father, the Reverend William Emerson, Unitarian minister and chaplain of the state senate, died in 1811, and his mother turned to boardinghouse keeping to support the children. He attended Boston Latin School from 1812 to 1817 and Harvard College from 1817 to 1821, where he kept journals of his reading and thought, and won prizes for his essays.
As a boy, Emerson had looked to his family and town and school for his ideas. What wisdom did he seek in these busy and hard-pressed years? Records of reading in his Journals and, more indirectly, in the lists of withdrawals he and his mother made from the Boston Library Society, show his early concern with seeking out belief. His step-grandfather, Ezra Ripley, who lived in the Old Manse in Concord, which was later to be Hawthorne's, and his Aunt Mary Moody, devoted spurrer-on of his thought, both helped lead him in the direction of theology and of moral meditation, so that his readings through his twenties ran as fol- WRITERS lows: the novels of Sir Walter Scott, Mrs.