Edward Bliss Emerson (1805-1834)

There were published in “The Dial” several selections from the writings of members of Emerson‘s family. The poem printed in the first number as “The Last Farewell” was written by his brother, Edward Bliss Emerson. It was included by Emerson in his “May-Day,” in 1867, and also in his ” Parnassus. ” …

Edward Bliss Emerson was born in Boston, April 17, 1805. He was ready to enter Harvard at the age of thirteen. Owing to money considerations his entrance was deferred, and ill health took him to the south for a winter. In 1820 he entered Harvard, and graduated at the head of his class in 1824. He immediately began the study of the law, and at the same time taught school, as he had done in his vacations while in college. This school was in the town of Roxbury, and he continued in it until the autumn of 1825. His health having become imperfect, he took a voyage to the Mediterranean, and spent a year in Europe. On his return he entered the office of Daniel Webster, and, became the tutor of Webster’s children at the same time. He read law, taught four boys, devoted several hours a day to historical and miscellaneous study, did cataloguing for the Boston Athenæum, and was ready for other tasks when they offered. His health gradually failed under this strain, and in the spring of 1828 he was seriously ill, and had a violent attack of insanity. From this he quickly recovered, but his health did not return, the mainspring of his life having been broken. He was compelled to renounce his studies and his ambitions, and to exile himself in Porto Rico, where he obtained a clerkship on a small salary. There he was cheerful and even gay, and endeared himself to all about him; but he died suddenly of consumption on October I, 1834.

Emerson said of his brother, “Edward and I as boys were thrown much together in our studies, for he stood always at the top of his class, and I at the foot of mine.” He wrote of him as “the admired, learned, eloquent, striving boy,” and also said of him: “My brother lived and acted and spoke with preternatural energy.” In his “In Memoriam” Emerson wrote of this “brother of the brief but blazing star,” and described his grace, eloquence, honorable bearing. and devoted scholarship. He sang—

“Of the rich inherent worth,
Of the grace that on him shone,
Of eloquent lips, of joyful wit:
He could not frame a word unfit,
An act unworthy to be done.”


According to Edward Waldo Emerson, his father had for his brother Edward “a romantic admiration, for he saw in him qualities that he missed in himself. Edward was handsome, graceful, had a military carriage, and had been an officer in the college company; he had confidence and executive ability, great ambition, and an unsleeping, goading conscience that would never let him spare himself. He was eloquent, but his speech had a lofty and almost scornful tone.” This admiration was reciprocated, for when some one spoke to Edward of the sensation he produced by his college dissertations, he said of his brother Waldo: “Yes, they say much of me, but I tell them that the zeal lion of the tribe of Judah is at home.”

An experienced teacher, who was a pupil of Edward. Emerson when he bad a school in Roxbury, said of him: “Oh, what a teacher Edward. Emerson was! I have dad the supervision of schools the most of my life. I have been familiar with numberless teachers, and have seen what some of the best of them have been and done. I have bad reason to hold very many in love and honor as models of high-toned character, and admirable service in their vocation. Yet none of them have approached the transcendent reality which made Edward. Bliss Emerson a gift of God to those he taught. With conscientious devotion he threw his whole being into the work He regarded every child committed to his charge as an immortal jewel which he was to free from defiling dross, and fashion and polish for eternity. So while with vast intellectual grasp and ambitions he was earnest for our mental progress, he was far more concerned to build up, on an enduring foundation, the structure of a noble character; and there was, withal, the display of a tender sympathy and cheery encouragement which won our hearts. He had just graduated from Harvard, and was a model of manly beauty of the highest type in form and feature. His face was the mirror of his inward being. Immaculate purity of soul, intellectual greatness, exquisite refinement of feeling, and tenderest sensibility, were all engaged in limning its wonderful attractions.”

—George Willis Cooke, A Historical
and Biographical Introduction to the Dial
(Cleveland: Rowfant Club, 1902) v. 2, pp. 7-9