Ralph Waldo Emerson’s life from 1826 to 1832 has a classic dramatic structure, beginning with his approbation to preach in October 1826, continuing with his courtship, his brief marriage to Ellen Tucker, and his misery after her death, and concluding with his departure from the ministry.
The journals and notebooks of these years are far fewer than those in the preceding six years. Emerson noted down many ideas for sermons in his journals, but as time went on he wrote the sermons independently. Occasionally he wrote openly about family matters, but except for the passionate response to Ellen and her death the journals tell little about the impact upon him of other people and outside events. The pattern is consistent with the earlier journals: Emerson used them mainly to record his thought, to develop and express his ideas. His religious and intellectual interests were undergoing significant changes in orientation or emphasis. He was less concerned with the existence of God than with the nature and influence of Christ. He continued to reassert the truth of Christianity, but in his growing unorthodoxy he came to show less and less sympathy with the church, with forms and ritual, with convention. And he began to wonder whether it is not the worst part of the man that is the minister.
During these years, Emerson read more in Madame de Staël, Wordsworth, Gérando, and Coleridge, less in Milton, the Augustans, Dugald Stewart, and Scott. In style, he moved from a rambling, bookish rhetoric to the tautness and the cadences that mark his later Essays.