Thursday, September 28, 2006

Emerson quotes

Caroline inspired me to re-read my Ralph Waldo Emerson anthology. I started in the middle with Nature and Self-Reliance.

From The Best of Ralph Waldo Emerson, essays, poems, addresses. Published for the Classics Club by Walter J. Black, Inc., Roslyn, NY. 1941.


All science has one aim, namely, to find a theory of nature. (74)

Nature, in the common sense, refers to essences unchanged by man: space, the air, the river, the leaf. (74)

To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. (74)

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... In the presence of nature a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows. (75-6)

The tradesman, the attorney, [the English instructor] comes out of the din and craft of the street and sees the sky and the woods and is a man again. In their eternal calm he finds himself. The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon. We are never tired so long as we can see far enough. (80)

"The winds and the waves," said Gibbon, "are always on the side of the ablest navigators." (82)

As we go back in history, language becomes more picturesque, until its infancy, when it is all poetry; or all spiritual facts are represented by natural symbols. (87)

We know more from nature than we can at will communicate. (88)

Nothing in nature is exhausted in its first use. When a thing has served an end to the uttermost, it is wholly new for an ulterior service. (94)

What is a farm but a mute gospel? (95)

Words are finite organs of the infinite mind. They cannot cover the dimensions of what is in truth. They break, chop and impoverish it. An action is the perfection and publication of thought. (97)

We are strangely affected by seeing the shore from a moving ship, from a balloon, or through the tints of an unusual sky. The least change in our point of view gives the whole world a pictorial air. (100)

I expand and live in the warm day like corn and melons. (105)

The poet finds something ridiculous in his delight until he is out of the sight of men. (109)

[T]he knowledge of man is an evening knowledge, vespertina cognitio, but that of God is a morning knowledge, matutina cognitio. (114)

The reason why the world lacks unity and lies broken in heaps is because man is disunited with himself. He cannot be a naturalist, until he satisfies all the demands of the spirit. (114)

Build, therefore, your own world. As fast as you conform your life to the pure idea in your mind, that will unfold its great proportions. (116)


Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. (121)

Infancy conforms to nobody: all conform to it, so that one babe commonly makes four or five out of the adults who prattle and play to it. (121) [This quote rings true now more than ever!!]

The virtue in most request is conformity. (122)

Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. (123)

I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions. (123)

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. (124)

My life is for itself and not for a spectacle. I much prefer that it should be of a lower strain, so it be genuine and equal, than that it should be glittering and unsteady. (124)

What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude. (125)

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. (127)

To be great is to be misunderstood. (127)

Always scorn appearances, and you always may. The force of character is cumulative. (128)

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. (133) [This, friends, is the essence of Transcendentalism]

I like the silent church before the service begins better than any preaching. (135)

[T]he bold sensualist will use the name of philosophy to gild his crimes. (137) [Bullshitters abound!]

Traveling is a fool's paradise. (141)

The intellect is vagabond, and our system of education fosters restlessness. (141)

Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession. (142)

And so the reliance on Property, including the reliance on governments which protect it, is the want of self-reliance. (145)

Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. (146)

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