William Emerson was born and died in the village of Hurworth, near Darlington, County Durham. He was the son of Dudley Emerson, a schoolmaster. He was taught mathematics by his father and classics by the curate of Hurworth, who boarded in his father's house. After receiving further education at schools in York and Newcastle, he settled himself in his native village and remained there for the rest of his life. He set himself up initially as a mathematics teacher. However, this profession did not suit his character and he lost all his pupils. He had a contract with John Nourse, one of the most important publishers in London, to write a series of scientific textbooks addressed to the general public. With the profit derived from his activity as a textbook writer and a small income left by his father, he could maintain a modest, but decent, standard of living. In c.1735 he married Elizabeth, a niece of the Rev. Dr John Johnson, at that time rector at Hurworth. Johnson treated Emerson as a person of inferior rank. He was certainly an eccentric: his manners and shabby clothes did not pass without notice. He was, however, a very good instrument-maker – his house was full of instruments and clocks – and he built for his wife a very elaborate spinning-wheel (a drawing of which appears in The Principles of Mechanics). Emerson was in demand not only for repairing clocks, but also for tuning harpsichords. In his later years he suffered from ‘the stone’, of which he died.
From The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy in Oxford Reference.