Quotes by Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Ralph Waldo Emerson (May 25, 1803 April 27, 1882) was a famous American essayist and one of America's most influential thinkers and writers. more

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Men are conservatives when they are least vigorous, or when they are most luxurious. They are conservatives after dinner, or before taking their rest; when they are sick or aged. In the morning, or when their intellect or their conscience has been aroused, when they hear music, or when they read poetry, they are radicals.

All conservatives are such from personal defects. They have been effeminated by position or nature, born halt and blind, through luxury of their parents, and can only, like invalids, act on the defensive.
All successful men have agreed in one thing,--they were causationists. They believed that things went not by luck, but by law; that there was not a weak or a cracked link in the chain that joins the first and last of things.
One lesson we learn early, that in spite of seeming difference, men are all of one pattern. We readily assume this with our mates, and are disappointed and angry if we find that we are premature, and that their watches are slower than ours. In fact, the only sin which we never forgive in each other is difference of opinion.
We know better than we do. We do not yet possess ourselves...
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?
There is one topic peremptorily forbidden to all well-bred, to all rational mortals, namely, their distempers. If you have not slept, or if you have slept, or if you have headache, or sciatica, or leprosy, or thunder-stroke, I beseech you, by all angels, to hold your peace, and not pollute the morning.
Nothing astonishes people so much as common sense and plain dealing.
All great masters are chiefly distinguished by the power of adding a second, a third, and perhaps a fourth step in a continuous line. Many a man had taken the first step. With every additional step you enhance immensely the value of your first.
The perception of the comic is a tie of sympathy with other men, a pledge of sanity, and a protection from those perverse tendencies and gloomy insanities in which fine intellects sometimes lose themselves. A rogue alive to the ludicrous is still convertible. If that sense is lost, his fellow-men can do little for him.
The colleges, while they provide us with libraries, furnish no professors of books; and I think no chair is so much needed.
Universities are of course hostile to geniuses, which, seeing and using ways of their own, discredit the routine: as churches and monasteries persecute youthful saints.
One of the benefits of a college education is to show the boy its little avail.
Sunday is the core of our civilization, dedicated to thought and reverence.
As long as our civilization is essentially one of property, of fences, of exclusiveness, it will be mocked by delusions. Our riches will leave us sick; there will be bitterness in our laughter; and our wine will burn our mouth. Only that good profits, which we can taste with all doors open, and which serves all men.
The city is recruited from the country.
Cities give us collision. 'Tis said, London and New York take the nonsense out of a man.
Cities force growth and make people talkative and entertaining, but they also make them artificial.
We are as much informed of a writer's genius by what he selects as by what he originates.
The child with his sweet pranks, the fool of his senses, commanded by every sight and sound, without any power to compare and rank his sensations, abandoned to a whistle or a painted chip, to a lead dragoon, or a gingerbread dog, individualizing everything, generalizing nothing, delighted with every new thing, lies down at night overpowered by the fatigue, which this day of continual pretty madness has incurred. But Nature has answered her purpose with the curly, dimpled lunatic. She has tasked every faculty, and has secured the symmetrical growth of the bodily frame, by all these attitudes and exertions --an end of the first importance, which could not be trusted to any care less perfect than her own.
There never was a child so lovely, but his mother was glad to get him asleep.
So of cheerfulness, or a good temper, the more it is spent, the more it remains.
Do not tell me of my obligation to put all poor men in good situations. Are they my poor? I tell thee, thou foolish philanthropist, that I grudge the dollar, the dime, the cent, I give to such men as do not belong to me and to whom I do not belong.
Give no bounties: make equal laws: secure life and prosperity and you need not give alms.
A character is like an acrostic or Alexandrian stanza; read it forward, backward, or across, it still spells the same thing.
Gross and obscure natures, however decorated, seem impure shambles; but character gives splendor to youth, and awe to wrinkled skin and gray hairs.
That which we call character is a reserved force which acts directly by presence, and without means. It is conceived of as a certain undemonstrable force, a familiar or genius, by whose impulses the man is guided, but whose counsels he cannot impart.
Every calamity is a spur and valuable hint.
The right merchant is one who has the just average of faculties we call common sense; a man of a strong affinity for facts, who makes up his decision on what he has seen. He is thoroughly persuaded of the truths of arithmetic. There is always a reason, in the man, for his good or bad fortune in making money. Men talk as if there were some magic about this. He knows that all goes on the old road, pound for pound, cent for cent -- for every effect a perfect cause -- and that good luck is another name for tenacity of purpose.
Every man is a consumer and ought to be a producer.
There is also this benefit in brag, that the speaker is unconsciously expressing his own ideal. Humor him by all means, draw it all out, and hold him to it.
If I cannot brag of knowing something, then I brag of not knowing it; at any rate, brag.
We are too civil to books. For a few golden sentences we will turn over and actually read a volume of four or five hundred pages.
Books are the best of things if well used; if abused, among the worst. They are good for nothing but to inspire. I had better never see a book than be warped by its attraction clean out of my own orbit, and made a satellite instead of a system.
Never read any book that is not a year old.
Our high respect for a well read person is praise enough for literature.
There are books which take rank in your life with parents and lovers and passionate experiences, so medicinal, so stringent, so revolutionary, so authoritative.
There is properly no history; only biography.
Great geniuses have the shortest biographies.
Religion is as effectually destroyed by bigotry as by indifference.
The death of a dear friend, wife, brother, lover, which seemed nothing but privation, somewhat later assumes the aspect of a guide or genius; for it commonly operates revolutions in our way of life, terminates an epoch of infancy or of youth which was waiting to be closed, breaks up a wonted occupation, or a household, or style of living, and allows the formation of new ones more friendly to the growth of character.
All the great ages have been ages of belief.
The great majority of men are bundles of beginnings.
As soon as beauty is sought not from religion and love, but for pleasure, it degrades the seeker.
We ascribe beauty to that which is simple; which has no superfluous parts; which exactly answers its end; which stands related to all things; which is the mean of many extremes.
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.
It is long ere we discover how rich we are. Our history, we are sure, is quite tame: we have nothing to write, nothing to infer. But our wiser years still run back to the despised recollections of childhood, and always we are fishing up some wonderful article out of that pond; until, by and by, we begin to suspect that the biography of the one foolish person we know is, in reality, nothing less than the miniature paraphrase of the hundred volumes of the Universal History.
Artists must be sacrificed to their art.
Every artist was first an amateur.
The True Artist has the planet for his pedestal; the adventurer, after years of strife, has nothing broader than his shoes.
Art is the path of the creator to his work.
Each work of art excludes the world, concentrates attention on itself. For the time it is the only thing worth doing --to do just that; be it a sonnet, a statue, a landscape, an outline head of Caesar, or an oration. Presently we return to the sight of another that globes itself into a whole as did the first, for example, a beautiful garden; and nothing seems worth doing in life but laying out a garden.
Art is a jealous mistress; and if a man have a genius for painting, poetry, music, architecture or philosophy, he makes a bad husband and an ill provider.
Classic art was the art of necessity: modern romantic art bears the stamp of caprice and chance.
Perpetual modernness is the measure of merit in every work of art.
Sculpture and painting have the effect of teaching us manners and abolishing hurry.
The true poem is the poet's mind.