Boston-born Ralph Waldo Emerson lost his father, a Concord minister, when he was eight years old, leaving the family in difficult circumstances. Greatly influenced by his aunt Mary Moody Emerson, who was deeply committed to the Emerson children’s education, Emerson's interest in writing grew. He worked his way through Harvard, graduating as class poet in 1821. After college, Emerson taught at a young ladies’ finishing school and then entered divinity school. Following the death of his first wife, he resigned from the ministry over doctrinal differences and began pursuing a literary career.
Born second in a family of nine children in Maine and schooled in Boston, Willis attended Yale and traveled extensively in Europe. His sister was Fanny Fern, a member of the Pfaffian crowd. In 1831 he left Boston to join the editorial staff of the New York Mirror as a traveling correspondent discoursing on matters of taste and fashion. Like his fellow Pfaffians, Willis expressed admiration for the work of Edgar Allan Poe and even claimed an acquaintance with him.