- Mini Bio
- Name: Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Born: 25th May 1803, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
- Died: 27th April 1882, Concord, Massachusetts, U.S.
- Resting place: Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord, Massachusetts, U.S.
- Alma mater: Harvard College
- Occupation: Writer and philosopher
- Era: 19th-century philosophy
- Region: American philosophy
- School: Transcendentalism
- Nickname: The Sage of Concord
- Marriage resume: Ellen Louisa Tucker 1829 - 1831 (her death) and Lidian Jackson 1835 - 1882 (his death)
- Notable works: Nature (1836), History (1841), Self-Reliance (1841), The Over-Soul (1841) and Fate (1860)
- Influenced by: Achille Murat, Emanuel Swedenborg, Hafez, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Joseph Marie de Gérando, Mary Moody Emerson, Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, Nicolaus Copernicus, Plato, Plutarch, Pythagaros, Samuel Coleridge, Thomas Carlyle, Victor Cousin, William Shakespeare and William Wordsworth
- Inspired: Abraham Lincoln, Bronson Alcott, Friedrich Nietzsche, Harold Bloom, Henry David Thoreau, Henri-Louis Bergson, Herman Melville, John Dewey, John Muir, Marcel Proust, Margaret Fuller, Matthew Arnold, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Oscar Wilde, Thomas Carlyle, Virginia Woolf, Wallace Stevens, Walter Whitman and William James
"Old as history is, and manifold as are its tragedies, I doubt if any death has caused so much pain as this has caused, or will have caused, on its announcement" (about Abraham Lincoln)Ralph Waldo Emerson
"There are men who as soon as they are born take a bee-line to the axe of the inquisitor. ... Wonderful the way in which we are saved by this unfailing supply of the moral element"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"The South calls slavery an institution ... I call it destitution ... Emancipation is the demand of civilization"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"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"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Plato was synthesis of Europe and Asia, and a decidedly Oriental element pervades his philosophy, giving it a sunrise color"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"There are always two parties, the party of the Past and the party of the Future: the Establishment and the Movement"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"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"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Truth is handsomer than the affectation of love. Your goodness must have some edge to it, - else it is none"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Poetry teaches the enormous force of a few words, and, in proportion to the inspiration, checks loquacity"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"I wish that life should not be cheap, but sacred. I wish the days to be as centuries, loaded, fragrant"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Every excess causes a defect; every defect an excess. Every sweet hath its sour; every evil its good"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Thought is the property of him who can entertain it, and of him who can adequately place it"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"The wise know that foolish legislation is a rope of sand, which perishes in the twisting"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Alcohol, hashish, prussic acid, strychnine are weak dilutions. The surest poison is time"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"You can never do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"As there is a use in medicine for poisons, so the world cannot move without rogues"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Every man I meet is in some way my superior, and in that, I can learn of him"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Give me health and a day, and I will make the pomp of emperors ridiculous"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"The soul refuses limits, and always affirms an Optimism, never a Pessimism"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Tomorrow will be like today. Life wastes itself whilst we are preparing to live"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"The heroic cannot be the common, nor can the common be the heroic"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"A man is a golden impossibility. The line he must walk is a hair's breadth"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Life is not so short but that there is always time enough for courtesy"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"There are many things of which a wise man might wish to be ignorant"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Nothing astonishes men so much as common sense and plain dealing"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"We are born believing. A man bears beliefs as a tree bears apples"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"The real and lasting victories are those of peace, and not of war"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"We don't grow old. When we cease to grow, we become old"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Dream delivers us to dream, and there is no end to illusion"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"We do what we must, and call it by the best names we can"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"To different minds, the same world is a hell, and a heaven"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Men love to wonder, and that is the seed of our science"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"The gods sell anything and to everybody at a fair price"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Every natural fact is a symbol of some spiritual fact"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"The imitator dooms himself to hopeless mediocrity"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"The man who renounces himself, comes to himself"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"The years teach much which the days never know"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Beauty without grace is the hook without the bait"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"People only see what they are prepared to see"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Science does not know its debt to imagination"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Sometimes a scream is better than a thesis"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Nothing can bring you peace but yourself"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"The ancestor of every action is a thought"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"A great man is always willing to be little"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"If a man own land, the land owns him"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Discontent is the want of self-reliance"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"There is no history, only biography"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Language is the archives of history"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Every hero becomes a bore at last"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Character is higher than intellect"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"I am the doubter and the doubt"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Whatever limits us we call fate"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Money often costs too much"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"The soul is subject to dollars"Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Art is a jealous mistress"Ralph Waldo Emerson
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Ralph Waldo Emerson's Legacy
Emerson was at the forefront of the literary transition out of what was a theologian reformation inspired era into a more humanist approach inline with romanticism and, more tellingly, transcendentalism. His was a vision of emphatic individualism and authenticity which has come to dominate the mindset of the American thinking classes.
The thinking of Ralph Waldo Emerson has seeped into the fabric of American culture. It can be found lurking in the sub-conscious minds of individualists whilst driving the forces of authenticity into the philosophical code of self-reliance.
The eloquent pen of Emerson is taught at college level and above, it is prevalent in courses covering American literature, Romanticism and Transcendentalism. On the public speaking circuit, passages from his writing are often cited to highlight an authentication of a vague parallel message by the orator.
Whilst Emerson gave definition to the 19th century U.S. identity his legacy has endured time's passage and is still prevalent in the imagination of the American persona to this day. A true father of the American renaissance, he has bestowed a heritage of literature that a proud nation can look up to with cultural pride.
Quotes About Ralph Waldo Emerson
The poet Walt Whitman paid him this inspirational compliment:
"I was simmering, simmering, simmering, and Emerson brought me to a boil"
The Scottish poet George Gilfillan rated him highly:
"He is the most original mind America has hitherto produced"
The educator Amos Bronson Alcott recognised the impact of his literary heritage:
"He influenced generations of Americans, from his friend Henry David Thoreau to John Dewey, and in Europe, Friedrich Nietzsche, who takes up such Emersonian themes as power, fate, the uses of poetry and history, and the critique of Christianity"
The historian Robert D. Richardson spoke of inspiration taken from this Parisian institution:
"Emerson's moment of insight into the interconnectedness of things in the Jardin des Plantes was a moment of almost visionary intensity that pointed him away from theology and toward science"
Professor John Dewey pronounced him as:
"The Philosopher of Democracy"
The literary scholar Joel Porte shared this view:
"Emerson’s fate, somewhat like Shakespeare's, was that he came to be treated as an almost purely allegorical personage whose real character and work got submerged in his function as a touchstone of critical opinion"
The Indian polymath Rabindranath Tagore appreciated his writing:
"I love your Emerson. In his work one finds much that is of India. In truth he made the teachings of our spiritual leaders and philosophers a part of his life"
The activist Mahatma Gandhi described Emerson's writing as carrying this meaning:
"The essays to my mind contain the teachings of Indian wisdom in a Western garb"
The author Alan Hodder pondered a channel of Emerson's inspiration:
"If we are to judge from the plethora of entries Emerson made in his journals from the mid-forties on, in which he transcribed passages from his Hindu readings or reflected on their implications, he read this particular branch of literature more zealously than perhaps any other during the last few decades of his life"
The Swedish writer Fredrika Bremer was impressed to say:
"That which struck me most, as distinguishing him from most other human beings, is nobility. He is a born nobleman"
The writer W.T. Harris shared this simple assessment:
"All who saw him were inspired to live more ideal lives"
The English poet Matthew Arnold shared this lofty assessment of Emerson:
"The greatest prose writer of the century"
A contemporary philosopher Francis Bowen offered this critique:
"We find beautiful writing and sound philosophy in this little work; but the effect is injured by occasional vagueness of expression, and by a vein of mysticism, that pervades the writer's whole course of thought"
The author James Freeman Clarke was more upbeat as he described Emerson as:
"A man of pure and noble mind, of original genius and independent thought"
The literary critic Harold Bloom shared this interesting comparison:
"The only equivalent reading experience that I know is to reread endlessly in the notebooks and journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American version of Montaigne"
Bloom certainly liked his comparisons:
"Emerson was the mind of America, for better and worse, but Poe was our hysteria, our nightmare"
Harold Bloom was not finished as he placed Emerson on a philosophical pinnacle by calling him:
"The dominant sage of the American imagination"
The German academic Herman Grimm described him thus:
"He is a perfect swimmer on the ocean of modern existence. He dreads no tempest, for he is sure that calm will follow it"
The American poet James Russell Lowell spoke highly of Emerson:
"There is no man living to whom, as a writer, so many of us feel and thankfully acknowledge so great an indebtedness for ennobling impulses"
The writer Robert McCrum shared this depiction:
"Some of Emerson, stripped of its high-mindedness, is a passionate American frontier howl which, strangely, can also morph into unvarnished Trumpism"
The transcendentalist Theodore Parker saw him as a man who could inspire others:
"The brilliant genius of Emerson rose in the winter nights, and hung over Boston, drawing the eyes of ingenuous young people to look up to that great new star, a beauty and a mystery, which charmed for the moment, while it gave also perennial inspiration, as it led them forward along new paths, and towards new hopes"
The author Nelson F. Adkins gave this assessment:
"Emerson saw in the art of poetry a process veiled in mystery, and no one fully acquainted with his writings is unaware of the manifold ways in which Emerson approached that mystery in an attempt to explain it"
The philosopher George Santayana shared this assessment:
"Emerson broke away from all conditions of age or country and represented nothing except intelligence itself"
The scholar Nasrullah Mambrol spoke of Emerson's influential legacy:
"His views of nature and self-reliance not only influenced American literary figures of his own day, such as Thoreau, Whitman, and Dickinson, but also left their mark on European writers such as George Eliot and Nietzsche, as well as the American pragmatist philosophers William James and John Dewey"
The critic Edmund Clarence Stedman was moved to say:
"Emerson's prose is full of poetry, and his poems are light and air. ... His modes of expression, like his epithets, are imaginative"
The writer Charles Johnson Woodbury shared this depiction:
"Even when provocation was great, his satire was so gentle and genial that it warmed even its object"
The scholar Richard P. Adams pondered this reassessment:
"I believe that Emerson should be placed more wholly in the romantic tradition than he has yet been, and that his importance depends on a more fundamental, consistent, and logical use than he has yet been shown to have made of the organic principle, which is one of the central concepts of romantic philosophy"
The novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne shared this view of Emerson:
"A great original thinker, who had his earthly abode at the opposite extremity of our village. ... People that had lighted on a new thought or a thought that they fancied new, came to Emerson, as the finder of a glittering gem hastens to a lapidary"