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From "Ability" in English Traits (1856)

The Emerson quotations below are all taken from the essay "Ability", about English traits. Thus, the various statements are about the English, unless Emerson says differently. Emerson is most likely intent on describing more than prescribing, for example here: "Heavy fellows, steeped in beer and fleshpots, they are hard of hearing and dim of sight. Their drowsy minds need to be flagellated by war." I don't think Emerson advocates (prescribes) that the English be sent to war for their "drowsy minds", at least I hope so.

Selections and arrangement are by me. - TK


The Scandinavian fancied himself surrounded by Trolls, - a kind of goblin men, with vast power of work and skilful production . . . In all English history, this dream comes to pass. Certain Trolls or working brains, under the names of Alfred, Bede, . . . Newton, . . . Watt, . . . dwell in the troll-mounts of Britain. [Emerson]

When they [the English] have pounded each other to a poultice, they will shake hands and be friends for the remainder of their lives. [Emerson]

Singular fairness and its results strike the French with surprise. [Emerson]

The choice of means to reach their ends, are as admirable as with ants and bees. [Emerson]

Their toys are steam and galvanism. [Emerson]

The Englishman wears a sensible coat buttoned to the chin, of rough but solid and lasting texture. If he is a lord, he dresses a little worse than a commoner. [Emerson]

They think him the best dressed man, whose dress is so fit for his use that you cannot notice or remember to describe it. [Emerson]

They have no Indian taste for a tomahawk-dance. [Emerson]

They are capable of larger views; but the indulgence is expensive to them. [Emerson]

Heavy fellows, steeped in beer and fleshpots, they are hard of hearing and dim of sight. Their drowsy minds need to be flagellated by war. [Emerson]

The . . . posterity of Thor [is a] nation of labourers, every man is trained to some one art or detail, and aims at perfection in that; not content unless he has something in which he thinks he surpasses all other men. He would rather not do any thing at all, than not do it well. [Emerson]

They have a wonderful heat in the pursuit of a public aim. [Emerson]

All England will be drained, and rise a second time out of the waters. [Emerson]

Steam is almost an Englishman. [Emerson]

They make ponchos for the Mexican . . . ginseng for the Chinese, [and] cannons for kings. [Emerson]

The nearer we look, the more artificial is their social system. [Emerson]

Better, they say in England, kill a man than a hare. [Emerson]

All the people have good minds. [Emerson]

The Danish poet Ohlenschlager complains, that who writes in Danish, writes to two hundred readers . . . But in England, the language of the noble is the language of the poor. [Emerson]


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