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Ralph Waldo Emerson
1803 - 1882
American lecturer, poet, and essayist
Book by Ralph Waldo Emerson
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Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1965)
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Click here for essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Every sweet hath its sour.

1841 - from Essays
Nothing astonishes men so much as common sense and plain dealing.

1841 - from "Art" in Essays
Times of heroism are generally times of terror, but the day never shines in which this element may not work.

1841 - from "Heroism" in Essays
Self-trust is the essence of heroism. It is the state of the soul at war, and its ultimate objects are the last defiance of falsehood and wrong, and the power to bear all that can be inflicted by evil agents. It speaks the truth, and it is just, generous, hospitable, temperate, scornful of petty calculations, and scornful of being scorned. It persists; it is of an undaunted boldness, and of a fortitude not to be wearied out. Its jest is the littleness of common life.

1841 - from "Heroism" in Essays
The hero is a mind of such balance that no disturbances can shake his will, but pleasantly, and, as it were, merrily, he advances to his own music, alike in frightful alarms and in the tipsy mirth of universal dissoluteness.

1841 - from "Heroism" in Essays
The characteristic of a genuine heroism is its persistency. All men have wandering impulses, fits and starts of generosity. But when you have resolved to be great, abide by yourself, and do not weakly try to reconcile yourself with the world. The heroic cannot be common, nor the common heroic.

1841 - from "Heroism" in Essays
The great majority of men are bundles of beginnings.

1828 - from Journals
War educates the senses, calls into action the will, perfects the physical constitution, brings men into such swift and close collision in critical moments that man measures man.

1884 - from "War" in Miscellanies
The order of things consents to virtue.

1834 - from Journals
The essence of greatness is the perception that virtue is enough.

1841 - from "Heroism" in Essays
Begin and proceed on a settled and not-to-be-shaken conviction that but little is permitted to any man to do or to know, and if he complies with the first grand laws, he shall do well.

1832 - from his Journals
The democrat is a young conservative; the conservative is an old democrat.

We shall one day see that the most private is the most public energy, that quality atones for quantity, and grandeur of character acts in the dark, and succors them who never saw it.

1844 - from "Character", published in Essays: Second Series
It is a lesson which all history teaches wise men, to put trust in ideas, and not in circumstances.

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. Speak what you think today in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradicts everything you said today.

from "Self-Reliance", published in his Essays
Man exists for his own sake and not to add a laborer to the State.

1839 - from his Journals
The wise man always throws himself on the side of his assailants. It is more his interest than it is theirs to find his weak point.

from his essay "Compensation", published in The Portable Emerson
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 you first.

God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take which you please; you can never have both.

1841 - from his essay "Intellect" (First Series)
In skating over thin ice, our safety is in our speed.

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

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.

from "Circles", published in his Essays
For what avail the plough or sail, Or land or life, if freedom fail?

The true test of civilization is not the census, nor the size of cities, nor the crops - no, but the kind of man the country turns out. Our people are slow to learn the wisdom of sending character instead of talent to Congress. Again and again they have sent a man of great acuteness, a fine scholar, a fine forensic orator, and some master of the brawls has crunched him up in his hands like a bit of paper.

Taking to pieces is the trade of those who cannot construct.

A sect or a party is an elegant incognito devised to save a man from the vexation of thinking.

Democracy becomes a government of bullies tempered by editors.

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

from Voluntaries
If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, though he build his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.

1889 - quoted in Borrowings (1889) by Sarah Yule and Mary S. Keene
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.

It is a luxury to be understood.

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

from "Prudence", published in his Essays
The greatest homage we can pay to truth is to use it.

Work and acquire, and thou hast chained the wheel of Chance.