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Emerson on Aristocracy

The foundations of these families lie deep in Norwegian exploits by sea. - Emerson

Here are quotations and fragments from Emerson's Essay "Aristocracy". They are selected and arranged by Tormod Kinnes. Some of Emerson's views of the English in it might have been more appropriate in the middle 1800s than today.

LoThe horizons of the English aristocracy had tact added, and probably by necessity and in support of the aristocracy too

Of what use are the lords? Of what use is a baby? [With Emerson]

Power of any kind readily appears in the manners; and beneficent power.

Every man who becomes rich buys land, and does what he can to fortify the nobility, into which he hopes to rise.

The estates, names, and manners of the nobles flatter the fancy of the people, and conciliate the necessary support.

The foundations of these families lie deep in Norwegian exploits by sea.

Loyalty is in the English a sub-religion. ◊

LoThe aspiring ones all over England learnt to prepare for a life in the countryside

The upper classes have only birth, say the people here, and not thoughts. Yes, but they have manners.

They have the sense of superiority, the absence of all the ambitious effort which disgusts in the aspiring . . .

I suppose, too, that a feeling of self-respect is driving cultivated men out of this society.

Fuller records "the observation of foreigners, that Englishmen, by making their children gentlemen, before they are men, cause they are so seldom wise men."

The English go to their estates for grandeur. ◊

Prostitutes taken from the theatres, were made duchesses, their bastards dukes and earls.

LoThe Norwegian pirate-nobles respected their own castles

The Norwegian pirate got what he could, and held it for his eldest son. The Norman noble, who was the Norwegian pirate baptized, did likewise.

When a man once knows that he has done justice to himself, let him dismiss all terrors of aristocracy. MM

They belong, with wigs, powder, and scarlet coats, to an earlier age.

In general, all that is required of them is to sit securely, to preside at public meetings, to countenance charities, and to give the example of that decorum so dear to the British heart.

Whatever tends to form manners, or to finish men, has a great value.

I was surprised to observe the very small attendance usually in the House of Lords . . . Where are they? I asked. "At home on their estates, devoured by ennui, or in the Alps, or up the Rhine, in the Harz Mountains, or in Egypt, or in India, on the Ghauts." ◊◊

The fiction with which the noble and the bystander equally please themselves is, that the former . . . has never worked for eight hundred years.

War is not the worst part of aristocratic history.

These lords are the treasurers and librarians of mankind, engaged by their pride and wealth to this function. ◊◊◊

A creative economy is the fuel of magnificence.


  1. The horizons of the English aristocracy had tact added by necessity, a kind of galvanized smugness in support of the aristocracy.
  2. The aspiring ones all over England learnt to prepare for an aristocracy-similar life in the countryside.
  3. While the English admire the castles of the "old robbers" that became barons and the like, the mobile Norwegian pirate-nobles respected their own castles and raided the castles of others. There is a difference to note here.
IN NUCE Galvanize the kind of smugness that helps your own home life, Dee-Dee.

To a bird, a home can be a nest on a branch. To cave-men, that is not full well. Buildings and houses dear to British clergy and nobility may be said to come in between.


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