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Ralph Waldo Emerson. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-98114).

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Emerson, Ralph Waldo (25 May 1803–27 April 1882), lecturer and author, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of William Emerson, a Congregational minister, and Ruth Haskins. Ralph was one of eight children. His father was a liberal, Concord-born minister of the First Church in Boston and active in the city’s intellectual and social life, being an editor of the ...

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James, Henry (03 June 1811–18 December 1882), author, was born in Albany, New York, the son of William James, a prosperous merchant and investor, and Catharine Barber. The critical event of James’s childhood was a serious burn and the subsequent loss of his right leg above the knee. He was apparently confined to his bed for years and suffered at least two amputations, performed without anesthetic; the final operation took place when he was sixteen. James had little to say about this traumatic experience, which seems to have fostered a certain morbid guilt and extremism....

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Watts, Alan Wilson (06 January 1915–16 November 1973), writer and lecturer on Eastern spirituality, was born in Chislehurst, Kent, England, the son of Laurence Wilson Watts, a middle-class businessman, and Emily Mary Buchan. He attended King’s College in Canterbury, but business reverses prevented his family from sending him to a university. Instead, Watts spent 1932 to 1938 in London working and reading voraciously on his own. His interest was increasingly drawn toward Eastern religions. He met Christmas Humphreys, leader of the Buddhist Society of Great Britain, and through him ...