The death of Wallie, son of Ralph Waldo Emerson, was not the first loss in the life of the Concord Sage. Eleven years earlier, his first wife Ellen Tucker succumbed to tuberculosis on February 8, 1831.
Emerson was riding a wave of success and living a life of luxury thanks to his high salary. And, yet, he wrote of "a fair counterbalance to the flatteries of fortune." The counterbalance came in the form of Ellen's death at 9 o'clock in the morning on February 8, 1831. Her last words were recorded as, "I have not forgot the peace and joy." She was just under 20 years old.
Emerson's grief over the death of Ellen Tucker lasted a long time. He often visited her grave, wrote to her, and, most infamously, entered her tomb and opened the coffin in 1832. He began questioning his role as a minister and started thinking radical thoughts about religion. He also eyed Ellen's money. She had left him a fair amount of wealth, but her family did not want to pass it on. Emerson sued them and, in July 1837, the court granted him $11,674.79, making him an incredibly wealthy man.
Emerson later married again (to Lydia Jackson), and the new couple named their first daughter Ellen (allegedly at Jackson's insistence).
*Image of Ellen Tucker Emerson from "The Living Legacy of Ralph Waldo Emerson," Harvard Square Library.