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Reservations Collection  

Ralph Waldo Emerson. Biography

It is not the length of life, but the depth. [Ralph Waldo Emerson]

Some books leave us free and some books make us free. [Ralph Waldo Emerson]

Success comes from within, not from without. [Ralph Waldo Emerson]

That which we persist in doing becomes easier to do, not that the nature of the thing has changed but that our power to do has increased. [Ralph Waldo Emerson]

The purpose of life is . . . to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well. [Ralph Waldo Emerson]

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not. [Ralph Waldo Emerson]

To win the affection of children; to endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate the best in others; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded. [Ralph Waldo Emerson, abr.]

What lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. [Ralph Waldo Emerson]

You become what you think about all day long. [Ralph Waldo Emerson]

Your spare moments . . . are like uncut diamonds. [Ralph Waldo Emerson]

The selected Emerson quotations above are of the sort that many like him for. They may seem penetrating and philosophic and valuable to have in mind too, some of them. Yet there is "another Emerson" also - the essayist, poet and the writer of little valuable, but infamous quotations too. Here are some from his essay "Ability":

The . . . sots of England are of a tougher texture.

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.

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

I am not so sure he has got it right. Anyway, Emerson was a formidable North American essayist, philosopher, and poet born on May 25, 1803 - a powerful, inspirational writer who died in 1882 after a brief illness. Emerson was nicknamed the Concord Sage by fellow Americans, and as a lecturer and orator he became the leading voice of intellectual culture in the United States at the time. Hope can accomplish such feats. Works of this American catalyst writer have a style almost without equal. It was a style of peculiar power and almost without equal, for he never tried to put plan in his essays. Instead he said what he had to say as it came to him, ever on the alert for "the first glimmer". In this way he excelled. When he travelled about lecturing, most people did not understand him.

Emerson held that human spiritual renewal proceeds from the individual's intimate personal experience of his own portion of the divine oversoul, and his "God is in every man" is the keynote of what is called the Transcendentalist movement of the early 1800s. Emerson led it. He was seen as a champion of individualism, and someone who warned against tensions growing in society.

The young Emerson had high, candid notions on such as self-expression and self-reliance. What Emerson strove for in his way and day, seems to be "Let us honestly state the facts [in "Fate"]." His essential philosophy is found in the little book Nature (1836). Afterwards he wrote extensions, amplifications, or amendments of ideas in it and added some more themes. He warned against scholarship unrelated to life, a washed-up Christian tradition, imitation of others, and pedantry. ("The American Scholar", 1837; "Address at Divinity College" at Harvard University, 1838).

From ongoing lecture series, he gathered his Essays into two volumes (1841, 1844). In the first volume he vented idealistic notions on such as self-expression and self-reliance and much else. In the second volume he accommodated his earlier idealism to limitations of life.

Later in life Emerson showed less reliance on self.

His collected Poems (1846) were supplemented by others in 1867, and made him known as a major American poet. The Conduct of Life (1860) is his most mature work.

Many famous men he met, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, seemed to him inferior in intellect, except Thomas Carlyle. Emerson warned against academic pedantry and sallow faith and also made himself thoroughly unwelcome at Harvard University; he was ostracized by Harvard for many years. But his reputation increased until the old Emerson was regarded as the internationally famous Sage of Concord. [cf. Ebu]

Today many of his critics are dead and forgotten, while the poet and thinker - a challenging and in part anti-academic Emerson - is widely studied in universities the world over, and quoted at large.

Words of warning

Write how you want, the critic shall show the world you could have written better. [Oliver Goldsmith]

On top of the page the "Concord Sage" describes Englishmen. He is likely to be far out and tendentious, as you can see. I have gathered other outstanding Emerson remarks on the following pages; including handy ones too. And on another page there is a series of popular Emerson quotations. But in this collection another kind of assortment is found too, along with more notable sayings.

"Where is the evidence for what he says?" should be an apt question to tag on most of his various utterances. It may be missing, frankly. But the next pages give that sort of evidence that informs about what essay he said various thing in, and by that you can also get an overview of the context. It is lack of solid proof that makes the philosopher, and looking for it makes a less duped person, hopefully. Less duped ones may rise higher.

If Emerson had made apt reservations against exaggerations and wild claims in the first series of essays, he might have escaped years of amplifying and elaborating on his early works and have time for much else. I have learnt that from the Emerson study too, and this learning rides above isolated paragraphs of his.

And if you read into the reservations and the given Emerson example under "elaborating", you could end up coping better. I just mention it, for it often pays to be well reserved in public.


Ralph Waldo Emerson selections, Literature  

Atkinson, Brooks, ed: Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. New York: Modern Library, 1950.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Bloom's Classic Critical Views: Ralph Waldo Emerson. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2008.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Ralph Waldo Emerson Essays and Lectures. New York: The Library of America, 1983.

Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica 2015 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD. London: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2015, sv. "Ralph Waldo Emerson".

Levine, Allan M., and Daniel S. Malachuk, eds. A Political Companion to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2011.

Porte, Joel and Saundra Morris, eds: The Cambridge Companion to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Cambridge UP. Cambridge, 1999.

Rusk, Ralph: The Life of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Columbia University. New York, 1949.

The Ralph Waldo Emerson Institute. The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Centerary Edition., 2005-2009. On-line, and searchable:

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