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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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Hoffer, Eric (25 July 1902–20 May 1983), social philosopher and longshoreman, was born in the Bronx, New York, the only child of Alsatian immigrants whose names are unknown. He spoke German before he spoke English, and his English was heavily accented. Blinded by a fall when he was nine years old, his eyesight was inexplicably restored when he was fifteen. He never attended school....

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More, Paul Elmer (12 December 1864–09 March 1937), essayist and philosopher, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Enoch Anson More, a brigadier general during the Civil War and a businessman, and Katharine Hay Elmer. Perhaps rebelling against his father’s rigid Presbyterianism, More studied German Romanticism and Oriental and classical languages and literatures, first at Washington University, where he earned his undergraduate degree in 1887 and an M.A. in 1892, and then at Harvard University, where he received a second M.A. in 1893. He tried university teaching at Bryn Mawr between 1895 and 1897, but the experience was not a happy one for either him or his students. More “retired” from academia at the ripe age of thirty-three, and, in a gesture reminiscent of ...

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Royce, Josiah (20 November 1855–14 September 1916), philosopher and man of letters, was born in Grass Valley, California, the son of Josiah Royce, Sr., a farmer and salesman, and Sarah Eleanor Bayliss ( Sarah Eleanor Bayliss Royce), a schoolteacher. His English-born parents came to the United States in early childhood. They were married in Rochester, New York, in 1845 and joined the Gold Rush to California in 1849. After much wandering and repeated financial misadventures, the family moved to San Francisco in 1866, where the father became a fruit vendor. Noted for his evangelical piety and considered “a little cracked in the head,” the elder Royce often delivered impromptu sermons on street corners. Royce’s mother, although also “intensely ...