EMERSON IN HIS
WILLIAM EMERSON (1801-1868)
69. Photograph of William Emerson (RWE’s brother), from
Emerson family photograph album. Album from the estate of Amelia
Forbes Emerson, 1982.
From childhood, Emerson was close to his brothers William, Edward Bliss, and Charles Chauncy.
Emerson’s older brother William was a lawyer and judge in New York. He had intended to become a Unitarian minister and went to Göttingen to study theology. He explored German biblical criticism, became convinced of the divinity within each individual, grew disenchanted with traditional religion, and decided against the ministry. He returned to America to study and practice law. In 1833, he married Susan Haven. They made their home and raised their family on Staten Island.
William and Ralph Waldo were constant correspondents about
personal, family, and other matters. They shared concern for their
mother and anxiety over the care of their retarded brother Bulkeley.
After William’s retirement, he and his wife moved to Concord. Susan
died in 1868. William returned to New York and died soon afterward.
Both are buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.
“William, all too early called … to be the prop and stay of the family, kept school for several years, studied for the ministry at Göttingen in Germany, but was turned by honest doubts from the profession of his fathers. There is an excellent letter written by him to Dr. Ripley in September, 1830, on the observance of the Lord’s Supper, in which he sets forth very clearly but respectfully the argument that it was not intended to be obligatory. This strongly suggests the source of the reasons set forth by his brother later for the satisfaction of the Second Church … William chose the profession of Law, which he exercised with fidelity and honor in New York for many years. In his busy life he always cherished his scholarly tastes, and he and his brother Waldo in days of prosperity and adversity stood by one another most loyally.”—Edward Waldo Emerson, Emerson in Concord.
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