In 1855, one of the most famous literary figures in America was Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), author of Nature (1836), Essays, First and Second Series (1841 and 1844) and well-known lecturer and poet. Among the most famous sentences in American literature is the comment that Emerson wrote to Whitman after reading the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass: "I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which yet must have had a long foreground somewhere, for such a start." For Whitman, struggling to find an audience for his first book of poems, the unexpected praise from the celebrated Emerson was an almost unbelievable stroke of good luck. This site is intended to explore part of the "foreground" to which Emerson referred-for Whitman and Dickinson. While both poets developed their poetic talents through many years of formal and informal education, wide reading, and constant writing, both poets also had important exchanges with literary figures who provided encouragement at crucial moments.

The purpose of this site is to introduce students to the literary environment in which Whitman and Dickinson learned to write and to help students investigate the important exchanges that Whitman had with Emerson and Dickinson had with Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823-1911), a Unitarian minister turned influential journalist and abolitionist.

The site includes: