Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American philosopher, essayist, and poet.


  • The sublime is excited in me by the great stoical doctrine, Obey thyself.
    • The Divinity College Address (1838)

  • The man who renounces himself, comes to himself.
    • The Divinity College Address (1838)

  • None believeth in the soul of man, but only in some man or person old and departed.
    • The Divinity College Address (1838)

  • The imitator dooms himself to hopeless mediocrity. The inventor did it because it was natural to him, and so in him it has a charm. In the imitator something else is natural, and he bereaves himself of his own beauty, to come short of another man's.
    • The Divinity College Address (1838)

  • He who is in love is wise and is becoming wiser, sees newly every time he looks at the object beloved, drawing from it with his eyes and his mind those virtues which it possesses.

  • Place yourself in the middle of the stream of power and wisdom which animates all whom it floats, and you are without effort impelled to truth, to right and a perfect contentment.

  • I fancy I need more than another to speak (rather than write), with such a formidable tendency to the lapidary style. I build my house of boulders.
    • Letter to Thomas Carlyle (1841-10-30)

  • Yet a man may love a paradox, without losing either his wit or his honesty.

  • Literature is the effort of man to indemnify himself for the wrongs of his condition.
    • Walter Savage Landor, from The Dial, XII

  • There is always a certain meanness in the argument of conservatism, joined with a certain superiority in its fact.

  • The two parties which divide the State, the party of Conservatism and that of Innovation are very old, and have disputed the possession of the world ever since it was made ... Now one, now the other gets the day, and still the fight renews itself as if for the first time, under new names and hot personalities ... Innovation is the salient energy; Conservatism the pause on the last movement.
    • The Conservative, via Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Cycles of American History (Houghton Mifflin, 1986) p. 23

  • I am not blind to the worth of the wonderful gift of "LEAVES OF GRASS." I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed. I am very happy in reading it, as great power makes us happy. It meets the demand I am always making of what seemed the sterile and stingy nature, as if too much handiwork, or too much lymph in the temperament, were making our western wits fat and mean.
    I give you joy of your free and brave thought. I have great joy in it. I find incomparable things said incomparably well, as they must be. I find the courage of treatment which so delights us, and which large perception only can inspire.
    I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which yet must have had a long foreground somewhere, for such a start. I rubbed my eyes a little, to see if this sunbeam were no illusion; but the solid sense of the book is a sober certainty. It has the best merits, namely, of fortifying and encouraging…
    • Letter to Walt Whitman, thanking him for a copy of Leaves of Grass (July 21, 1855)

  • Classics which at home are drowsily read have a strange charm in a country inn, or in the transom of a merchant brig.

  • I find the Englishman to be him of all men who stands firmest in his shoes. They have in themselves what they value in their horses, — mettle and bottom.
    • English Traits (1856)

  • Solvency is maintained by means of a national debt, on the principle, "If you will not lend me the money, how can I pay you?"
    • English Traits (1856), reprinted in The Prose Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Vol. 2, (Boston: Fields, Osgood, & Co., 1870), p. 206 (full text at GoogleBooks)

  • Nothing can be preserved that is not good.
    • In Praise of Books (1860)

  • Never read any book that is not a year old.
    • In Praise of Books

  • If the colleges were better, if they ... had the power of imparting valuable thought, creative principles, truths which become powers, thoughts which become talents, — if they could cause that a mind not profound should become profound, — we should all rush to their gates: instead of contriving inducements to draw students, you would need to set police at the gates to keep order in the in-rushing multitude.
    • The Celebration of Intellect (1861)

  • Only the great generalizations survive. The sharp words of the Declaration of Independence, lampooned then and since as 'glittering generalities,' have turned out blazing ubiquities that will burn forever and ever.
    • A lecture on 'Books' delivered in 1864; the quoted phrase 'glittering generalities' had been used by Rufus Choate to describe the declaration of the rights of man in the Preamble to the Constitution (The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1903-4) Vol. 10, p. 88, note 1).

  • A mollusk is a cheap edition [of man] with a suppression of the costlier illustrations, designed for dingy circulation, for shelving in an oyster-bank or among the seaweed.
    • Power and Laws of Thought (c. 1870)

  • Poetry teaches the enormous force of a few words, and, in proportion to the inspiration, checks loquacity.
    • Parnassus, Preface (1874)

  • There are two classes of poets — the poets by education and practice, these we respect; and poets by nature, these we love.
    • Parnassus, Preface

  • What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have yet to be discovered.
    • Fortune of the Republic (1878)

  • The bitterest tragic element in life to be derived from an intellectual source is the belief in a brute Fate or Destiny.
    • The Natural History of Intellect (1893)

  • All the thoughts of a turtle are turtles, and of rabbits, rabbits.
    • The Natural History of Intellect

  • I regard it as the irresistible effect of the Copernican astronomy to have made the theological scheme of redemption absolutely incredible
    • Quoted in Robert D. Richardson, Jr., Emerson, the Mind On Fire (Univ. of Calif Press 1995), p124

  • What is there in 'Paradise Lost' to elevate and astonish like Herschel or Somerville?
    • Quoted in Robert D. Richardson, Jr., Emerson, the Mind On Fire (Univ. of Calif Press 1995), p124

Journals (1822 - 1863)

  • To different minds, the same world is a hell, and a heaven.
    • 20 December 1822

  • When a whole nation is roaring Patriotism at the top of its voice, I am fain to explore the cleanness of its hands and purity of its heart.
    • 10 December 1824

  • The Religion that is afraid of science dishonours God and commits suicide. It acknowledges that it is not equal to the whole of truth, that it legislates, tyrannizes over a village of God's empires but is not the immutable universal law. Every influx of atheism, of skepticism is thus made useful as a mercury pill assaulting and removing a diseased religion and making way for truth.
    • 4 March 1831

  • Four snakes gliding up and down a hollow for no purpose that I could see — not to eat, not for love, but only gliding.
    • 11 April 1834

  • Sometimes a scream is better than a thesis.
    • 1836

  • Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.
    • 8 November 1838

  • I wish to write such rhymes as shall not suggest a restraint, but contrariwise the wildest freedom.
    • 27 June 1839

  • Children are all foreigners.
    • 25 September 1839

  • The best effect of fine persons is felt after we have left their presence.
    • 1839

  • You shall have joy, or you shall have power, said God; you shall not have both.
    • October 1842

  • Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.
    • 11 November 1842

  • The sky is the daily bread of the eyes.
    • 25 May 1843

  • Poetry must be new as foam, and as old as the rock.
    • March 1845

  • I owed a magnificent day to the Bhagavad Gita. It was the first of books; it was as if an empire spoke to us, nothing small or unworthy, but large, serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence which in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions which exercise us.
    • 1 October 1848

  • Immortality. I notice that as soon as writers broach this question they begin to quote. I hate quotation. Tell me what you know.
    • May 1849: This is a remark Emerson wrote referring to the unreliability of second hand testimony and worse upon the subject of immortality. It is often taken out of proper context, and has even begun appearing on the internet as "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know" or sometimes just "I hate quotations."

  • Blessed are those who have no talent!
    • February 1850

  • The word liberty in the mouth of Mr. Webster sounds like the word love in the mouth of a courtesan.
    • 12 February 1851; compare the remark of John Wilkes about Samuel Johnson, "Liberty is as ridiculous in his mouth as Religion in mine" (20 March 1778), quoted in The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) by James Boswell

  • I trust a good deal to common fame, as we all must. If a man has good corn, or wood, or boards, or pigs, to sell, or can make better chairs or knives, crucibles or church organs, than anybody else, you will find a broad hard-beaten road to his house, though it be in the woods.
    • February 1855

  • The blazing evidence of immortality is our dissatisfaction with any other solution.
    • July 1855

  • I have been writing & speaking what were once called novelties, for twenty five or thirty year, & have not now one disciple. Why? Not that what I said was not true; not that it has not found intelligent receivers but becasue it did not go from any wish in me to bring men to me, but to themselves. I delight in driving them from me. What could I do, if they came to me? — they would interrupt and encumber me. This is my boast that I have no school & no follower. I should account it a measure of the impurity of insight, if it did not create independence.
    • April 1859

Nature (1836)

  • Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generation beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe. Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs?
    • Introduction

  • Undoubtedly we have no questions to ask which are unanswerable. We must trust the perfection of the creation so far, as to believe that whatever curiosity the order of things has awakened in our minds, the order of things can satisfy. Every man's condition is a solution in hieroglyphic to those inquiries he would put. He acts it as life, before he apprehends it as truth.
    • Introduction

  • If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.
    • Ch. 1, Nature

  • The stars awaken a certain reverence, because though always present, they are inaccessible; but all natural objects make a kindred impression, when the mind is open to their influence. Nature never wears a mean appearance. Neither does the wisest man extort her secret, and lose his curiosity by finding out all her perfection. Nature never became a toy to a wise spirit. The flowers, the animals, the mountains, reflected the wisdom of his best hour, as much as they had delighted the simplicity of his childhood.
    • Ch. 1, Nature

  • The charming landscape which I saw this morning, is indubitably made up of some twenty or thirty farms. Miller owns this field, Locke that, and Manning the woodland beyond. But none of them owns the landscape. There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is, the poet. This is the best part of these men's farms, yet to this their warranty-deeds give no title. To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At least they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child. The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood. His intercourse with heaven and earth, becomes part of his daily food.
    • Ch. 1, Nature

  • Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.
    • Ch. 1, Nature

  • Give me health and a day, and I will make the pomp of emperors ridiculous.
    • Ch. 3, Beauty

  • Every natural fact is a symbol of some spiritual fact.
    • Ch. 4, Language

  • We are, like Nebuchadnezzar, dethroned, bereft of reason, and eating grass like an ox.
    • Ch. 8, Prospects

  • A man is a god in ruins.
    • Ch. 8, Prospects

The American Scholar (1837)

  • Success treads on every right step. For the instinct is sure, that prompts him to tell his brother what he thinks. He then learns, that in going down into the secrets of his own mind, he has descended into the secrets of all minds. He learns that he who has mastered any law in his private thoughts, is master to that extent of all men whose language he speaks, and of all into whose language his own can be translated.

  • Wherever Macdonald sits, there is the head of the table.

  • The soul is subject to dollars.

  • In how many churches, by how many prophets, tell me, is man made sensible that he is an infinite Soul; that the earth and heavens are passing into his mind; that he is drinking forever the soul of God?

  • The world is nothing, the man is all; in yourself is the law of all nature, and you know not yet how a globule of sap ascends; in yourself slumbers the whole of Reason; it is for you to know all, it is for you to dare all.

  • I had better never see a book than to be warped by its attraction clean out of my own orbit, and made a satellite instead of a system. The one thing in the world, of value, is the active soul.

  • Character is higher than intellect...A great soul will be strong to live, as well as strong to think.

  • What would we really know the meaning of? The meal in the firkin; the milk in the pan; the ballad in the street; the news of the boat; the glance of the eye; the form and the gait of the body; — show me the ultimate reason of these matters; show me the sublime presence of the highest spiritual cause lurking, as always it does lurk, in these suburbs and extremities of nature; let me see every trifle bristling with the polarity that ranges it instantly on an eternal law; and the shop, the plough, and the ledger, referred to the like cause by which light undulates and poets sing; — and the world lies no longer a dull miscellany and lumber-room, but has form and order; there is no trifle; there is no puzzle; but one design unites and animates the farthest pinnacle and the lowest trench.

  • Do not yet see, that, if the single man plant himself indomitably on his instincts, and there abide, the huge world will come round to him.

  • We will walk on our own feet; we will work with our own hands; we will speak our own minds...A nation of men will for the first time exist, because each believes himself inspired by the Divine Soul which also inspires all men.

Literary Ethics (1838)

Address to the Literary Societes of Dartmouth College (24 July 1838)

  • You will hear every day the maxims of a low prudence. You will hear, that the first duty is to get land and money, place and name. "What is this Truth you seek? What is this Beauty?" men will ask, with derision. If, nevertheless, God have called any of you to explore truth and beauty, be bold, be firm, be true. When you shall say, "As others do, so will I. I renounce, I am sorry for it, my early visions; I must eat the good of the land, and let learning and romantic expectations go, until a more convenient season." — then dies the man in you; then once more perish the buds of art, and poetry, and science, as they have died already in a thousand thousand men. The hour of that choice is the crisis of your history; and see that you hold yourself fast by the intellect. ... Bend to the persuasion which is flowing to you from every object in Nature, to be its tongue to the heart of man, and to show the besotted world how passing fair is wisdom.

  • Explore, and explore, and explore. Be neither chided nor flattered out of your position of perpetual inquiry. Neither dogmatise yourself, nor accept another's dogmatism. Why should you renounce your right to traverse the star-lit deserts of truth, for the premature comforts of an acre, house, and barn? Truth also has its roof, and bed, and board. Make yourself necessary to the world, and mankind will give you bread, and if not store of it, yet such as shall not take away your property in all men's possessions, in all men's affections, in art, in nature, and in hope.

  • Thought is all light, and publishes itself to the universe. It will speak, though you were dumb, by its own miraculous organ. It will flow out of your actions, your manners, and your face. It will bring you friendships. It will impledge you to truth by the love and expectation of generous minds. By virtue of the laws of that Nature, which is one and perfect, it shall yield every sincere good that is in the soul, to the scholar beloved of earth and heaven.

Essays: First Series (1841)

  • And what fastens attention, in the intercourse of life, like any passage betraying affection between two parties? Perhaps we never saw them before, and never shall meet them again. But we see them exchange a glance, or betray a deep emotion, and we are no longer strangers. We understand them, and take the warmest interest in the development of the romance. All mankind love a lover.
    • Love

  • The ancestor of every action is a thought.
    • Spiritual Laws

  • Heroism feels and never reasons and therefore is always right.
    • Heroism

  • It was a high counsel that I once heard given to a young person, — "Always do what you are afraid to do."
    • Heroism

  • All our progress is an unfolding, like the vegetable bud. You have first an instinct, then an opinion, then a knowledge, as the plant has root, bud, and fruit. Trust the instinct to the end, though you can render no reason. It is vain to hurry it. By trusting it to the end it shall ripen into truth, and you shall know why you believe.
    • Intellect


  • Every revolution was first a thought in one man's mind and when the same thought occurs in another man, it is the key to that era.

  • These hints, dropped as it were from sleep and night, let us use in broad day. The student is to read history actively and not passively; to esteem his own life the text, and books the commentary. Thus compelled, the Muse of history will utter oracles, as never to those who do not respect themselves. I have no expectation that any man will read history aright, who thinks that what was done in a remote age, by men whose names have resounded far, has any deeper sense than what he is doing to-day.

  • Time dissipates to shining ether the solid angularity of facts.

  • History must be this or it is nothing. Every law which the state enacts indicates a fact in human nature; that is all. We must in ourselves see the necessary reason of every fact, — see how it could and must be.

  • There is properly no history; only biography.

  • Nature is a mutable cloud, which is always and never the same.

  • Why should we make account of time, or of magnitude, or of figure? The soul knows how to play with them as a young child plays with graybeards and in churches.

  • It is the fault of our rhetoric that we cannot strongly state one fact without seeming to belie some other.

  • There is one mind common to all individual men. Every man is an inlet to the same and to all of the same. He that is once admitted to the right of reason is made a freeman of the whole estate. What Plato has thought, he may think; what a saint has felt, he may feel; what at any time has befallen any man, he can understand. Who hath access to this universal mind is a party to all that is or can be done, for this is the only and sovereign agent.

  • All that Shakespeare says of the king, yonder slip of a boy that reads in the corner feels to be true of himself.

  • The difference between men is in their principle of association. Some men classify objects by color and size and other accidents of appearance; others by intrinsic likeness, or by the relation of cause and effect. The progress of the intellect is to the clearer vision of causes, which neglects surface differences. To the poet, to the philosopher, to the saint, all things are friendly and sacred, all events profitable, all days holy, all men divine. For the eye is fastened on the life, and slights the circumstance. Every chemical substance, every plant, every animal in its growth, teaches the unity of cause, the variety of appearance.

  • When the voice of a prophet out of the deeps of antiquity merely echoes to him a sentiment of his infancy, a prayer of his youth, he then pierces to the truth through all the confusion of tradition and the caricature of institutions. Rare, extravagant spirits come by us at intervals, who disclose to us new facts in nature. I see that men of God have, from time to time, walked among men and made their commission felt in the heart and soul of the commonest hearer.

  • I am ashamed to see what a shallow village tale our so-called History is.

  • Broader and deeper we must write our annals, from an ethical reformation, from an influx of the ever new, ever sanative conscience, if we would trulier express our central and wide-related nature, instead of this old chronology of selfishness and pride to which we have too long lent our eyes. Already that day exists for us, shines in on us at unawares, but the path of science and of letters is not the way into nature. The idiot, the Indian, the child, and unschooled farmer's boy, stand nearer to the light by which nature is to be read, than the dissector or the antiquary.


Full text online

  • I read the other day some verses written by an eminent painter which were original and not conventional. The soul always hears an admonition in such lines, let the subject be what it may. The sentiment they instil is of more value than any thought they may contain. To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost, — and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment.

  • A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.

  • There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better for worse as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but though his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till.

  • We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents.

  • Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done so.

  • Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.

  • Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world.

  • Truth is handsomer than the affectation of love. Your goodness must have some edge to it, — else it is none. The doctrine of hatred must be preached as the counteraction of the doctrine of love when that pules and whines. I shun father and mother and wife and brother, when my genius calls me. I would write on the lintels of the door-post, Whim. I hope it is somewhat better than whim at last, but we cannot spend the day in explanation. Expect me not to show cause why I seek or why I exclude company.

  • Virtues are, in the popular estimate, rather the exception than the rule. There is the man and his virtues. Men do what is called a good action, as some piece of courage or charity, much as they would pay a fine in expiation of daily non-appearance on parade. Their works are done as an apology or extenuation of their living in the world, — as invalids and the insane pay a high board. Their virtues are penances. I do not wish to expiate, but to live. My life is for itself and not for a spectacle.

  • Ordinarily, every body in society reminds us of somewhat else, or of some other person. Character, reality, reminds you of nothing else; it takes place of the whole creation. The man must be so much, that he must make all circumstances indifferent. Every true man is a cause, a country, and an age; requires infinite spaces and numbers and time fully to accomplish his design; — and posterity seem to follow his steps as a train of clients. A man Caesar is born, and for ages after we have a Roman Empire. Christ is born, and millions of minds so grow and cleave to his genius, that he is confounded with virtue and the possible of man. An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man ... and all history resolves itself very easily into the biography of a few stout and earnest persons.

  • A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — 'Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.' — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.

  • These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God to-day. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments alike. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.
    This should be plain enough. Yet see what strong intellects dare not yet hear God himself, unless he speak the phraseology of I know not what David, or Jeremiah, or Paul. We shall not always set so great a price on a few texts, on a few lives. We are like children who repeat by rote the sentences of grandames and tutors, and, as they grow older, of the men of talents and character they chance to see, —painfully recollecting the exact words they spoke; afterwards, when they come into the point of view which those had who uttered these sayings, they understand them, and are willing to let the words go; for, at any time, they can use words as good when occasion comes. If we live truly, we shall see truly. It is as easy for the strong man to be strong, as it is for the weak to be weak. When we have new perception, we shall gladly disburden the memory of its hoarded treasures as old rubbish. When a man lives with God, his voice shall be as sweet as the murmur of the brook and the rustle of the corn.

  • You take the way from man, not to man. All persons that ever existed are its forgotten ministers. Fear and hope are alike beneath it. There is somewhat low even in hope. In the hour of vision, there is nothing that can be called gratitude, nor properly joy. The soul raised over passion beholds identity and eternal causation, perceives the self-existence of Truth and Right, and calms itself with knowing that all things go well.

  • Life only avails, not the having lived. Power ceases in the instant of repose; it resides in the moment of transition from a past to a new state, in the shooting of the gulf, in the darting to an aim

  • Inasmuch as the soul is present, there will be power not confident but agent. To talk of reliance is a poor external way of speaking. Speak rather of that which relies, because it works and is. Who has more obedience than I masters me, though he should not raise his finger. Round him I must revolve by the gravitation of spirits. We fancy it rhetoric, when we speak of eminent virtue. We do not yet see that virtue is Height, and that a man or a company of men, plastic and permeable to principles, by the law of nature must overpower and ride all cities, nations, kings, rich men, poets, who are not.
    This is the ultimate fact which we so quickly reach on this, as on every topic, the resolution of all into the ever-blessed ONE. Self-existence is the attribute of the Supreme Cause, and it constitutes the measure of good by the degree in which it enters into all lower forms. All things real are so by so much virtue as they contain.

  • Power is in nature the essential measure of right. Nature suffers nothing to remain in her kingdoms which cannot help itself. The genesis and maturation of a planet, its poise and orbit, the bended tree recovering itself from the strong wind, the vital resources of every animal and vegetable, are demonstrations of the self-sufficing, and therefore self-relying soul.

  • But now we are a mob. Man does not stand in awe of man, nor is his genius admonished to stay at home, to put itself in communication with the internal ocean, but it goes abroad to beg a cup of water of the urns of other men. We must go alone. I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching.

  • Discontent is the want of self-reliance: it is infirmity of will.

  • It may be a question whether machinery does not encumber; whether we have not lost by refinement some energy, by a Christianity entrenched in establishments and forms, some vigor of wild virtue. For every Stoic was a Stoic; but in Christendom where is the Christian?

  • Travelling is a fool's paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.

  • Your genuine action will explain itself, and will explain your other genuine actions. Your conformity explains nothing. Act singly, and what you have already done singly will justify you now. Greatness appeals to the future. If I can be firm enough to-day to do right, and scorn eyes, I must have done so much right before as to defend me now. Be it how it will, do right now. Always scorn appearances, and you always may. The force of character is cumulative.

  • Character teaches above our wills. Men imagine that they communicate their virtue or vice only by overt actions, and do not see that virtue or vice emit a breath every moment.
    There will be an agreement in whatever variety of actions, so they be each honest and natural in their hour. For of one will, the actions will be harmonious, however unlike they seem. These varieties are lost sight of at a little distance, at a little height of thought. One tendency unites them all. The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks. See the line from a sufficient distance, and it straightens itself to the average tendency.

  • Henceforward I am the truth's. Be it known unto you that henceforward I obey no law less than the eternal law. I will have no covenants but proximities.

  • I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you. If you can love me for what I am, we shall be the happier. If you cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should. I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly rejoices me, and the heart appoints. If you are noble, I will love you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions. If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I will seek my own. I do this not selfishly, but humbly and truly. It is alike your interest, and mine, and all men's, however long we have dwelt in lies, to live in truth. Does this sound harsh to-day? You will soon love what is dictated by your nature as well as mine, and, if we follow the truth, it will bring us out safe at last.

  • In the Will work and acquire, and thou hast chained the wheel of Chance, and shalt sit hereafter out of fear from her rotations. A political victory, a rise of rents, the recovery of your sick, or the return of your absent friend, or some other favorable event, raises your spirits, and you think good days are preparing for you. Do not believe it. Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.


  • Every sweet hath its sour; every evil its good.

  • There is no den in the wide world to hide a rogue. Commit a crime, and the earth is made of glass. Commit a crime, and it seems as if a coat of snow fell on the ground, such as reveals in the woods the track of every partridge and fox and squirrel and mole.

  • For every thing you have missed, you have gained something else; and for every thing you gain, you lose something.

  • Every thing in nature contains all the powers of nature. Every thing is made of one hidden stuff.

  • Men suffer all their life long, under the foolish superstition that they can be cheated. But it is as impossible for a man to be cheated by any one but himself, as for a thing to be and not to be at the same time.


  • I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and the new.

  • Thou art to me a delicious torment.

  • Almost all people descend to meet.

  • Happy is the house that shelters a friend!

  • A friend is a person with whom I may be sincere. Before him I may think aloud.

  • A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.

  • Two may talk and one may hear, but three cannot take part in a conversation of the most sincere and searching sort.

  • The only reward of virtue is virtue; the only way to have a friend is to be one.

  • I do then with my friends as I do with my books. I would have them where I can find them, but I seldom use them.

  • My friends have come to me unsought. The great God gave them to me. By oldest right, by the divine affinity of virtue with itself, I find them, or rather not I, but the Deity in me and in them derides and cancels the thick walls of individual character, relation, age, sex, circumstance, at which he usually connives, and now makes many one.


  • In skating over thin ice our safety is in our speed.

  • Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly, and they will show themselves great.

  • Tomorrow will be like today. Life wastes itself whilst we are preparing to live.

  • Every violation of truth is not only a sort of suicide in the liar, but is a stab at the health of human society.


  • Beware when the great God lets loose a thinker on this planet.

  • One man's justice is another's injustice; one man's beauty another's ugliness; one man's wisdom another's folly.

  • Nature abhors the old, and old age seems the only disease; all others run into this one.

  • Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.

  • Circles, like the soul, are neverending and turn round and round without a stop
    • This adage had previously appeared, identically worded, in Coleridge's The Statesman's Manual (1816).


  • Nothing astonishes men so much as common sense and plain dealing.

  • Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not. The best of beauty is a finer charm than skill in surfaces, in outlines, or rules of art can ever teach, namely, a radiation from the work of art of human character, — a wonderful expression through stone, or canvas, or musical sound, of the deepest and simplest attributes of our nature, and therefore most intelligible at last to those souls which have these attributes.

  • Beauty will not come at the call of a legislature, nor will it repeat in England or America its history in Greece. It will come, as always, unannounced, and spring up between the feet of brave and earnest men.

Essays: Second Series (1844)

  • The only gift is a portion of thyself.
    • Gifts

New England Reformers

  • "If you would rule the world quietly, you must keep it amused." I notice too, that the ground on which eminent public servants urge the claims of popular education is fear: `This country is filling up with thousands and millions of voters, and you must educate them to keep them from our throats.'

The Poet

  • The less government we have, the better - the fewer laws, and the less confided power.

  • For it is not metres, but a metre-making argument, that makes a poem, — a thought so passionate and alive, that, like the spirit of a plant or an animal, it has an architecture of its own, and adorns nature with a new thing.

  • We are symbols, and inhabit symbols.

  • Language is the archives of history...Language is fossil poetry.


  • Every ship is a romantic object, except that we sail in.

  • The Indian who was laid under a curse, that the wind should not blow on him, nor water flow to him, nor fire burn him, is a type of us all. The dearest events are summer-rain, and we the Para coats that shed every drop. Nothing is left us now but death. We look to that with a grim satisfaction, saying, there at least is reality that will not dodge us.

  • To finish the moment, to find the journey's end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom

  • We do what we must, and call it by the best names we can.

  • A man is a golden impossibility. The line he must walk is a hair's breadth. The wise through excess of wisdom is made a fool.

  • Nature and books belong to the eyes that see them.

  • Of what use is genius, if the organ is too convex or too concave and cannot find a focal distance within the actual horizon of human life?

  • Do you see that kitten chasing so prettily her own tail? If you could look with her eyes, you might see her surrounded with hundreds of figures performing complex dramas, with tragic and comic issues, long conversations, many characters, many ups and downs of fate, — and meantime it is only puss and her tail. How long before our masquerade will end its noise of tambourines, laughter, and shouting, and we shall find it was a solitary performance?


  • Every actual State is corrupt. Good men must not obey the laws too well. What satire on government can equal the severity of censure conveyed in the word Politic, which now for ages has signified cunning, intimating that the State is a trick?

  • Hence, the less government we have, the better, — the fewer laws, and the less confided power. The antidote to this abuse of formal Government, is, the influence of private character, the growth of the Individual.

  • We think our civilization near its meridian, but we are yet only at the cock-crowing and the morning star. In our barbarous society the influence of character is in its infancy.

Nominalist and Realist

  • Money, which represents the prose of life, and which is hardly spoken of in parlors without an apology, is, in its effects and laws, as beautiful as roses.

  • Every man is wanted and no man is wanted much.

  • The reward of a thing well done is to have done it.

Poems (1847)

  • Good-bye, proud world! I’m going home:
    Thou art not my friend, and I’m not thine.

  • For what are they all, in their high conceit,
    When man in the bush with God may meet?
    • Good-bye, st. 4

  • Nor knowest thou what argument
    Thy life to thy neighbor's creed has lent:
    All are needed by each one,
    Nothing is fair or good alone.

  • I wiped away the weeds and foam,
    And fetched my sea-born treasures home;
    But the poor, unsightly, noisome things
    Had left their beauty on the shore
    With the sun, and the sand, and the wild uproar.
    • Each and All, st. 3

  • I like a church, I like a cowl,
    I love a prophet of the soul,
    And on my heart monastic aisles
    Fall like sweet strains or pensive smiles;
    Yet not for all his faith can see,
    Would I that cowled churchman be.
    Why should the vest on him allure,
    Which I could not on me endure?

  • The hand that rounded Peter's dome,
    And groined the aisles of Christian Rome,
    Wrought in a sad sincerity,
    Himself from God he could not free;
    He builded better than he knew,
    The conscious stone to beauty grew.
    • The Problem, st. 2

  • Earth proudly wears the Parthenon
    As the best gem upon her zone.
    • The Problem, st. 3

  • Announced by all the trumpets of the sky
    Arrives the snow, and, driving o'er the fields,
    Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
    Hides hills and woods, the river and the heaven,
    And veils the farm-house at the garden's end.

  • And when his hours are numbered, and the world
    Is all his own, retiring, as he were not,
    Leaves, when the sun appears, astonished Art
    To mimic in slow structures, stone by stone
    Built in an age, the mad wind's night-work,
    The frolic architecture of the snow.
    • The Snow-Storm

  • Life is too short to waste
    The critic bite or cynic bark,
    Quarrel, or reprimand;
    'Twill soon be dark;
    Up! mind thine own aim, and
    God speed the mark!

  • For there's no rood has not a star above it;
    The cordial quality of pear or plum
    Ascends as gladly in a single tree,
    As in broad orchards resonant with bees;
    And every atom poises for itself,
    And for the whole.

  • But all sorts of things and weather
    Must be taken in together
    To make up a year,
    And a sphere.

  • Talents differ; all is well and wisely put;
    If I cannot carry forests on my back,
    Neither can you crack a nut.
    • Fable

  • Rhodora! if the sages ask thee why
    This charm is wasted on the earth and sky,
    Tell them, dear, that, if eyes were made for seeing,
    Then beauty is its own excuse for Being.

  • Whoso walketh in solitude,
    And inhabiteth the wood,
    Choosing light, wave, rock, and bird,
    Before the money-loving herd,
    Into that forester shall pass
    From these companions power and grace.

  • For nature beats in perfect tune,
    And rounds with rhyme her every rune,
    Whether she work in land or sea,
    Or hide underground her alchemy.
    Thou canst not wave thy staff in air,
    Or dip thy paddle in the lake,
    But it carves the bow of beauty there,
    And the ripples in rhymes the oar forsake.
    • Woonotes II, st. 7

  • Olympian bards who sung
    Divine Ideas below,
    Which always find us young,
    And always keep us so.

  • Give all to love;
    Obey thy heart;
    Friends, kindred, days,
    Estate, good fame,
    Plans, credit, and the muse;
    Nothing refuse.

  • Though thou loved her as thyself,
    As a self of purer clay,
    Tho' her parting dims the day,
    Stealing grace from all alive,
    Heartily know,
    When half-gods go,
    The gods arrive.
    • Give All to Love, st. 4

  • But these young scholars who invade our hills,
    Bold as the engineer who fells the wood,
    And travelling often in the cut he makes,
    Love not the flower they pluck, and know it not,
    And all their botany is Latin names.

  • By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
    Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
    Here once the embattled farmers stood,
    And fired the shot heard round the world.

  • Hast thou named all the birds without a gun;
    Loved the wood-rose, and left it on its stalk.

  • Pass in, pass in, the angels say,
    In to the upper doors;
    Nor count compartments of the floors,
    But mount to Paradise
    By the stairway of surprise.

Representative Men (1850)

  • He is great who is what he is from Nature, and who never reminds us of others.
    • Uses of Great Men

  • When nature removes a great man, people explore the horizon for a successor; but none comes, and none will. His class is extinguished with him. In some other and quite different field the next man will appear.
    • Uses of Great Men

  • Every hero becomes a bore at last.
    • Uses of Great Men

  • Great geniuses have the shortest biographies.
    • Plato; or, The Philosopher

  • Things added to things, as statistics, civil history, are inventories. Things used as language are inexhaustibly attractive.
    • Plato; or, The Philosopher

  • Keep cool: it will be all one a hundred years hence.
    • Montaigne; or, The Skeptic

  • Is not marriage an open question, when it is alleged, from the beginning of the world, that such as are in the institution wish to get out, and such as are out wish to get in?
    • Montaigne; or, The Skeptic

The Conduct of Life (1860)

  • You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity.
    • Fate

  • Great men, great nations, have not been boasters and buffoons, but perceivers of the terror of life, and have manned themselves to face it.
    • Fate

  • Men are what their mothers made them.
    • Fate

  • Whatever limits us we call Fate.
    • Fate

  • In different hours, a man represents each of several of his ancestors, as if there were seven or eight of us rolled up in each man's skin, — seven or eight ancestors at least, — and they constitute the variety of notes for that new piece of music which his life is.
    • Fate

  • Nature magically suits the man to his fortunes, by making these the fruit of his character.
    • Fate

  • All the great speakers were bad speakers at first.
    • Power

  • Coal is a portable climate.
    • Wealth

  • The world is his, who has money to go over it.
    • Wealth

  • Art is a jealous mistress.
    • Wealth

  • You can never do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.
    • Culture

  • All educated Americans, first or last, go to Europe.
    • Culture

  • Solitude, the safeguard of mediocrity, is to genius the stern friend.
    • Culture

  • We are born believing. A man bears beliefs as a tree bears apples.
    • Worship

  • The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.
    • Worship

  • Shallow men believe in luck, believe in circumstances...Strong men believe in cause and effect.
    • Worship

  • People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character.
    • Worship

  • I wish that life should not be cheap, but sacred. I wish the days to be as centuries, loaded, fragrant.
    • Considerations by the Way

  • Our chief want in life is somebody who shall make us do what we can.
    • Considerations by the Way

  • Make yourself necessary to somebody. Do not make life hard to any.
    • Considerations by the Way

  • Conversation is an art in which a man has all mankind for his competitors, for it is that which all are practising every day while they live.
    • Considerations by the Way

  • Beauty without grace is the hook without the bait.
    • Beauty

  • Things are pretty, graceful, rich, elegant, handsome, but, until they speak to the imagination, not yet beautiful.
    • Beauty

  • If I could put my hand on the north star, would it be as beautiful? The sea is lovely, but when we bathe in it, the beauty forsakes all the near water. For the imagination and senses cannot be gratified at the same time.
    • Beauty


  • There is always a best way of doing everything, if it be to boil an egg. Manners are the happy ways of doing things; each once a stroke of genius or of love, — now repeated and hardened into usage. They form at last a rich varnish, with which the routine of life is washed, and its details adorned.

  • Fine manners need the support of fine manners in others, and this is a gift interred only by the self.

  • The highest compact we can make with our fellow, is, — "Let there be truth between us two forevermore."

  • 'Tis very certain that each man carries in his eye the exact indication of his rank in the immense scale of men, and we are always learning to read it. A complete man should need no auxiliaries to his personal presence.

Life and Letters in New England (1867)

"Historic Notes of Life and Letters in New England" (1867), published in The Atlantic Monthly (October 1883)
  • There are always two parties, the party of the Past and the party of the Future: the Establishment and the Movement. At times the resistance is reanimated, the schism runs under the world and appears in Literature, Philosophy, Church, State and social customs.

  • The key to the period appeared to be that the mind had become aware of itself. Men grew reflective and intellectual. There was a new consciousness. The former generations acted under the belief that a shining social prosperity was the beatitude of man, and sacrificed uniformly the citizen to the State. The modern mind believed that the nation existed for the individual, for the guardianship and education of every man. This idea, roughly written in revolutions and national movements, in the mind of the philosopher had far more precision; the individual is the world.
    This perception is a sword such as was never drawn before. It divides and detaches bone and marrow, soul and body, yea, almost the man from himself. It is the age of severance, of dissociation, of freedom, of analysis, of detachment. Every man for himself. The public speaker disclaims speaking for any other; he answers only for himself. The social sentiments are weak; the sentiment of patriotism is weak; veneration is low; the natural affections feebler than they were. People grow philosophical about native land and parents and. relations. There is an universal resistance to ties rand ligaments once supposed essential to civil society. The new race is stiff, heady and rebellious; they are fanatics in freedom; they hate tolls, taxes, turnpikes, banks, hierarchies, governors, yea, almost laws. They have a neck of unspeakable tenderness; it winces at a hair. They rebel against theological as against political dogmas; against mediation, or saints, or any nobility in the unseen.
    The age tends to solitude. The association of the time is accidental and momentary and hypocritical, the detachment intrinsic and progressive. The association is for power, merely, — for means; the end being the enlargement and independency of the individual.

  • The young men were born with knives in their brain, a tendency to introversion, self-dissection, anatomizing of motives.

May-Day and Other Pieces (1867)

  • God said, I am tired of kings,
    I suffer them no more;
    Up to my ear the morning brings
    The outrage of the poor.

  • To-day unbind the captive,
    So only are ye unbound;
    Lift up a people from the dust,
    Trump of their rescue, sound!
    • Boston Hymn, st. 17

  • O tenderly the haughty day
    Fills his blue urn with fire;
    One morn is in the mighty heaven,
    And one in our desire.

  • United States! the ages plead, —
    Present and Past in under-song, —
    Go put your creed into your deed,
    Nor speak with double tongue.
    • Ode, st. 5

  • I think no virtue goes with size;
    The reason of all cowardice
    Is, that men are overgrown,
    And, to be valiant, must come down
    To the titmouse dimension.

  • So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
    So near is God to man,
    When Duty whispers low, Thou must,
    The youth replies, I can.

  • England’s genius filled all measure
    Of heart and soul, of strength and pleasure,
    Gave to the mind its emperor,
    And life was larger than before:
    Nor sequent centuries could hit
    Orbit and sum of Shakespeare’s wit.
    The men who lived with him became
    Poets, for the air was fame.

  • Nor mourn the unalterable Days
    That Genius goes and Folly stays.

  • Fear not, then, thou child infirm,
    There's no god dare wrong a worm.

  • He thought it happier to be dead,
    To die for Beauty, than live for bread.

  • Wilt thou seal up the avenues of ill?
    Pay every debt as if God wrote the bill.

  • Deep in the man sits fast his fate
    To mould his fortunes, mean or great.

  • For the prevision is allied
    Unto the thing so signified;
    Or say, the foresight that awaits
    Is the same Genius that creates.
    • Fate

  • Daughters of Time, the hypocritic Days,
    Muffled and dumb like barefoot dervishes,
    And marching single in an endless file,
    Bring diadems and fagots in their hands.

  • It is time to be old,
    To take in sail: -
    The god of bounds,
    Who sets to seas a shore,
    Came to me in his fatal rounds,
    And said: 'No more!

  • Obey the voice at eve obeyed at prime.
    • Terminus

  • Though love repine, and reason chafe,
    There came a voice without reply, —
    "'Tis man's perdition to be safe,
    When for the truth he ought to die."
    • Sacrifice

  • For what avail the plough or sail,
    Or land or life, if freedom fail?

  • If the red slayer think he slays,
    Or if the slain think he is slain,
    They know not well the subtle ways
    I keep, and pass, and turn again.
    • Brahma, st. 1
    • Composed in July 1856 this poem is derived from a major passage of the Bhagavad Gita, one of the most popular of Hindu scriptures, and portions of it were likely a paraphrase of an existing translation. Though titled "Brahma" its expressions are actually more indicative of the Hindu concept "Brahman".

  • Far or forgot to me is near;
    Shadow and sunlight are the same;
    The vanished gods to me appear;
    And one to me are shame and fame.
    • Brahma, st. 2

  • They reckon ill who leave me out;
    When me they fly, I am the wings;
    I am the doubter and the doubt;
    And I the hymn the Brahmin sings.
    • Brahma, st. 3

  • In the vaunted works of Art
    The master stroke is Nature's part.
    • Art

  • Ever from one who comes to-morrow
    Men wait their good and truth to borrow.

  • The music that can deepest reach,
    And cure all ill, is cordial speech.
    • Merlin's Song II

  • Some of your hurts you have cured,
    And the sharpest you still have survived,
    But what torments of grief you endured
    From evils which never arrived!

  • A ruddy drop of manly blood
    The surging sea outweighs,
    The world uncertain comes and goes;
    The lover rooted stays.

Society and Solitude (1870)

  • God may forgive sins, he said, but awkwardness has no forgiveness in heaven or earth.
    • Society and Solitude

  • We boil at different degrees.
    • Eloquence

  • The best university that can be recommended to a man of ideas is the gauntlet of the mobs.
    • Eloquence

  • The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it.
    • Domestic Life

  • The days .... come and go like muffled and veiled figures, sent from a distant friendly party; but they say nothing, and if we do not use the gifts they bring, they carry them as silently away.

  • Can anybody remember when the times were not hard and money not scarce?
    • Works and Days

  • A man builds a fine house; and now he has a master, and a task for life: he is to furnish, watch, show it, and keep it in repair, the rest of his days.
    • Works and Days

  • Write it on your heart that every day is the best of the year.
    • Works and Days

  • 'Tis the good reader that makes the good book; in every book he finds passages which seem confidences or asides hidden from all else and unmistakenly meant for his ear.
    • Success

  • Don't waste yourself in rejection, nor bark against the bad, but chant the beauty of the good.
    • Success

  • We do not count a man's years until he has nothing else to count.
    • Old Age

  • There is no knowledge that is not power.
    • Old Age


  • The most advanced nations are always those who navigate the most.

  • Hitch your wagon to a star.

  • The true test of civilization is, not the census, nor the size of the cities, nor the crops - no, but the kind of man the country turns out.


  • Every genuine work of art has as much reason for being as the earth and the sun.

  • Nature paints the best part of a picture, carves the best parts of the statue, builds the best part of the house, and speaks the best part of the oration.

  • A masterpiece of art has in the mind a fixed place in the chain of being, as much as a plant or a crystal.

Letters and Social Aims (1876)

  • Science does not know its debt to imagination.
    • Poetry and Imagination

  • Alcohol, hashish, prussic acid, strychnine are weak dilutions. The surest poison is time.
    • Poetry and Imagination

  • The imagination is not a talent of some men but is the health of every man.
    • Poetry and Imagination

  • Life is not so short but that there is always time enough for courtesy.
    • Social Aims

  • I have heard with admiring submission the experience of the lady who declared "that the sense of being perfectly well-dressed gives a feeling of inward tranquility which religion is powerless to bestow".
    • Social Aims

  • Don't say things. What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary.
    • Social Aims

  • This world belongs to the energetic.
    • Resources

  • Every really able man, in whatever direction he work, - a man of large affairs, an inventor, a statesman, an orator, a poet, a painter,-if you talk sincerely with him, considers his work, however much admired, as far short of what it should be.
    • Immortality

  • Every artist was first an amateur.
    • Progress of Culture (see also: Art)

  • Great men are they who see that spiritual is stronger than any material force, that thoughts rule the world. No hope so bright but is the beginning of its own fulfilment.
    • Progress of Culture

  • Shall I tell you the secret of the true scholar? It is this: Every man I meet is my master in some point, and in that I learn of him.
    • Greatness

  • A good symbol is the best argument, and is a missionary to persuade thousands.
    • Poetry and Imagination

  • Wit makes its own welcome, and levels all distinctions. No dignity, no learning, no force of character, can make any stand against good wit.
    • The Comic

  • The perception of the comic is a tie of sympathy with other men.
    • The Comic

Quotation and Originality

  • In the highest civilization, the book is still the highest delight. He who has once known its satisfactions is provided with a resource against calamity.

  • Each man is a hero and an oracle to somebody.

  • Every man I meet is in some way my superior.

  • The heroic cannot be the common, nor can the common be the heroic.

  • Next to the originator of a good sentence is the first quoter of it.

  • The profit of books is according to the sensibility of the reader. The profoundest thought or passion sleeps as in a mine until an equal mind and heart finds and publishes it.

  • A great man quotes bravely, and will not draw on his invention when his memory serves him with a word just as good.

  • Genius borrows nobly. When Shakespeare is charged with debts to his authors, Landor replies: "Yet he was more original than his originals. He breathed upon dead bodies and brought them into life."

  • By necessity, by proclivity, and by delight, we all quote.

  • Now shall we say that only the first men were well alive, and the existing generation is invalided and degenerate? ... A more subtle and severe criticism might suggest that some dislocation has befallen the race; that men are off their centre; that multitudes of men do not live with Nature, but behold it as exiles. People go out to look at sunrises and sunsets who do not recognize their own quietly and happily, but know that it is foreign to them. As they do by books, so they quote the sunset and the star, and do not make them theirs. Worse yet, they live as foreigners in the world of truth, and quote thoughts, and thus disown them. Quotation confesses inferiority.

  • We cannot overstate our debt to the Past, but the moment has the supreme claim. The Past is for us; but the sole terms on which it can become ours are its subordination to the Present. Only an inventor knows how to borrow, and every man is or should be an inventor. We must not tamper with the organic motion of the soul.

Lectures and Biographical Sketches (1883)

  • There are many things of which a wise man might wish to be ignorant.
    • Demonology

  • To live without duties is obscene.
    • Aristocracy

  • Some men's words I remember so well that I must often use them to express my thought. Yes, because I perceive that we have heard the same truth, but they have heard it better.
    • Character


  • To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
    • Widely attributed to Emerson on the internet, this actually originates with "What is Success?” by Bessie Anderson Stanley in Heart Throbs Volume Two (1911) Edited by Joseph Mitchell Chapple
  • As soon as there is life there is danger.
    • Actually from Anne Louise Germaine de Stael De l'Allemagne (1813).
  • Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.
    • Investigations have failed to confirm this in Emerson's writings (John H. Lienhard. "A better moustrap", Engines of our Ingenuity).
  • If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, though he builds his house in the woods the world will make a beaten path to his door.
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