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Emerson Quotations

Emerson quotation illustrated by the scream by Edvard munch. Litography detail
Sometimes a scream is better than a thesis. - Emerson
A beautiful form . . . gives a higher pleasure than statues or pictures. - Emerson

A chief event of life is the day in which we have encountered a mind that startled us. - Emerson

A complete man should need no auxiliaries to his personal presence. - Emerson

A great part of courage is the courage of having done the thing before. - Emerson

A man bears beliefs as a tree bears apples. - Emerson

A man builds a fine house; and now he has a master, and a task for life; he is to furnish, watch, show it, and keep it in repair, the rest of his days. - Emerson

A man must consider what a rich realm he abdicates when he becomes a conformist. - Emerson

A man must consider what a rich realm he abdicates when he becomes a conformist. - Emerson

A man of genius is privileged only as far as he is genius. His dullness is as insupportable as any other dullness. - Emerson

A man's library is a sort of harem. - Emerson

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

A sign of health is cheerfulness. - With Emerson

Accept your genius and say what you think. - Emerson

All mankind love a lover. - Emerson

As soon as love is not sought, not even for pleasure, it stops degrading a person. - Cf. Emerson

Bad times have a scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss. - Emerson

Be a little careful about your library. Do you foresee what you will do with it? Very little to be sure. But the real question is, What it will do with you? - Emerson

Be true to your own act and congratulate yourself if you have done something strange and extravagant to break the monotony of a decorous age. - Emerson

Big changes of circumstances may sometimes mend defects of character. - Opp Emerson

Blunt creeds may reveal some common disease of the intellect. - Cf. Emerson

Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door. - With Emerson

But in the mud and scum of things / There always, always something sings. - Emerson

By his machines man can dive and remain under water like a shark . . . and divine the future possibility of the planet and its inhabitants by his perception of laws of nature. - Cf. Emerson

Character is higher than intellect . . . A great soul will be strong to live, as well as to think. - Emerson

Cherish mother wit [and] smuggle in a little contraband wit, fancy, imagination, and thought. [Ralph Waldo Emerson, aiming at good teachers. - Essence from book on great thinkers of education, by Dr. Adolphe Meyer - Meyer 1975, 267-8

Children are all foreigners. - Emerson

Cities force growth and make people . . . artificial. - Emerson

Criticism should be guiding, instructive, inspiring. - Emerson

Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself. Go forward and make your dreams come true. - Emerson

Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. - Emerson

Do not make life hard to any. - Emerson

Do what you know and perception is converted into character. - Emerson

Don't waste yourself in rejection, nor bark against the bad, but chant the beauty of the good. - Emerson

Enthusiasm is the leaping lightning, not to be measured by the horse-power of the understanding. - Emerson

Every artist was first an amateur. - Emerson

Every fact is related on one side to sensation, and, on the other, to morals. - Emerson

Every violation of truth is not only a sort of suicide in the liar, but is a stab at the health of human society. - Emerson

Every violation of truth is not only a sort of suicide in the liar, but is a stab at the health of human society. - Emerson

Fame is proof that the people are gullible. - Emerson

Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. - Emerson

Go oft to the house of thy friend, for weeds choke the unused path. - Emerson

Go often to the house of your friend, for weeds choke the unused path. - Emerson

Great hearts steadily send forth the secret forces that incessantly draw great events. - Emerson

He who has one enemy / Shall meet him everywhere. - Emerson

Hold your peace and do not pollute the morning. - With Emerson

How sad a spectacle to see a young man after . . . years of college education, come out ready for his voyage of life, and to see that the entire ship is made of rotten timber! - Emerson deploring some effects of secondary school and higher spheres, in Meyer 1975, 266

How soon it will be too late. - Emerson

I can reason down or deny everything, except this perpetual Belly: feed he must and will, and I cannot make him respectable. - Emerson

I have heard with admiring submission the experience of the lady who declared that the sense of being perfectly well dressed gives a feeling of inward tranquillity which religion is powerless to bestow. - Emerson

I pay the schoolmaster, but it is the school boys who educate my son. - Emerson

I would have the studies elective. Scholarship is to be created not by compulsion, but by awakening a pure interest in knowledge. The wise instructor accomplishes this by opening to his pupils precisely the attractions the study has for himself. The marking is a system for schools, not for the college; for boys, not for men; and it is an ungracious work to put on a professor. - Emerson

If a man can write a better book . . . or make a better mousetrap, than his neighbour, though he build his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door. - Emerson

If I cannot brag of knowing something, then I brag of not knowing it; at any rate, brag. - Emerson

If we do not use the gifts the hours bring, they carry them silently away. [From Emerson

If we live truly, we can see truly. - With Emerson

Imagination is not a talent of some men but is in the health of every man. - Cf. Emerson

Imitation is on the way to suicide. - With Emerson

In art the hand can never execute anything higher than the heart can inspire. - Emerson

In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. - Emerson

In much request is conformity, and it loves names and customs. - With Emerson

In skating over thin ice, one little help can be our speed. - Cf. Emerson

Inventors one is sometimes ashamed of. - Emerson

Is not marriage an open question, when it is alleged, from the beginning of the world, that such as are in the institution wish to get out, and such as are out wish to get in. - Emerson

It can be as difficult to appropriate the thoughts of others as it is to invent. - With Emerson

It is not length of life, but depth of life. - Emerson

It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them. - Emerson

It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them. - Emerson

It makes a great difference in the force of a sentence, whether a man be behind it or no. - Emerson

Know how to take a walk. The qualifications are endurance, good humour, nothing too much. - With Emerson

Let not a man guard his dignity, but let his dignity guard him. - Emerson

Let teachers insist on order and obedience, if they must . . . but if a boy stops you in your speech and cries out that you are wrong and sets you right, hug him! - Emerson, in Meyer 1975, 268

Let the child develop a decent respect for exactness.

Let us be silent that we may hear the whispers of the gods. - Emerson

Let us treat men and women well; treat them as if they were real. Perhaps they are. - Emerson

Liberty is difficult because freedom is the accomplishment and perfectness of man. - With Emerson

Like the vegetable bud, you have first an instinct, then an opinion, then a knowledge, as the plant has root, bud and fruit. Trust the instinct to the end, though you can render no reason. - Emerson

Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is for you. - Emerson

Man was born to . . . grow rich by use of his faculties, by the union of thought with nature. - Emerson

Manners are the happy way of doing things . . . They form at last a rich varnish. - Emerson

Many a consumer ought to search and strive to become more of a producer. - Cf. Emerson

Many are the prisoners of ideas. - Cf. Emerson

Many might go to Heaven with half the labour they go to hell. - Emerson

Masses need not to be flattered, but to be well schooled. I wish to divide and break them up, and draw individuals out of them. - With Emerson

May that good profit, which we can taste with all doors open, and which serves all men. - With Emerson

Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon, have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries, when they wrote these books. Hence, instead of Man Thinking, we have the book-worm. - Emerson

Men are what their mothers made them. - Emerson

Men talk as if victory were something fortunate. Work is victory. - Emerson

Men who prove their ability to outgrow small jobs seldom get fit jobs after that. - Opp. Emerson

Men's creeds may reveal some common disease of the intellect. - Cf. Emerson

Modern romantic art bears the stamp of caprice and chance. - Emerson

Money is the representative of a certain quantity of corn or other commodity. It is so much warmth, so much bread. - Emerson

Nature belongs to the eyes that see them. - With Emerson

Necessity does everything well. - Emerson

Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful; for beauty is God's handwriting . . . Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky, in every fair flower, and thank God for it as a cup of blessing. - Emerson

Next to the originator of a good sentence is the first quoter of it. - Emerson

No change of circumstances can repair a defect of character. - Emerson

No force of character can make any stand against good wit. - Cf. Emerson

Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. - Emerson

Of course, money will do after its kind, and will steadily work to unspiritualize and unchurch the people to whom it was bequeathed. - Emerson

One definition of man is "an intelligence served by organs". - Emerson

One of the benefits of a college education is [perhaps] to show the boy its little avail. - Emerson, a graduate from Harvard College - in Meyer 1975, 266

Only so much do I know as I have lived. - Emerson in Meyer 1975, 268

Our high respect for a well read person is praise enough for literature. - Emerson

Peace has its victories, but it takes brave men and women to win them. - Emerson

People do not deserve to have good writings; they are so pleased with the bad. - Emerson

People only see what they are prepared to see. - Emerson

Perhaps fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world. [- With Emerson

Respect the child. Trespass not on his solitude. - With Emerson

Science often does not know its debt to imagination. - With Emerson

Shall we judge a country by the majority or by the minority? By the minority, surely. - Emerson

Society acquires new arts, and loses old instincts. - Emerson

Solitude is the school of genius. - Emerson

Some aim above the mark to hit the mark. - Cf. Emerson

Sometimes a scream is better than a thesis. - Emerson

Spiritual . . . that which is its own evidence. - Emerson, in Atkinson 1950, 346

Teach (the child) the difference between the similar and the same. - Emerson, in Meyer 1975, 265

That man is idle who can do something better. - Emerson

The adventurer, after years of strife, has nothing broader than his shoes for his pedestal. - Cf. Emerson

The art of getting rich consists (mostly not) in saving, but in a better order, in timeliness, in being at the right spot. - Emerson

The arts and inventions of each period are only its costume, and do not invigorate men. - Emerson

The basis of many good manners is self-reliance. - With Emerson

The best effect of fine persons is felt after we have left their presence. - Emerson

The chief mourner does not always attend the funeral. - Emerson

The city is largely recruited from the country. - With Emerson

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. - Emerson

The faith that stands on authority is not faith. - Emerson

The German intellect . . . has a certain probity, which never rests in a superficial performance, but asks steadily, To what end? - Emerson

The glory of friendship is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when he discovers that someone else believes in him and is willing to trust him with his friendship. - Emerson

The god of the cannibals will be a cannibal, of the merchants a merchant. - With Emerson

The great God lets loose a thinker, and no man knows what is safe. - With Emerson

The great man seldom complains of want of opportunity. - Cf. Emerson

The heroic act is also decent enough. - Cf. Emerson

The intellectual man requires a fine bait; the sots are easily amused. - Emerson

The less a man thinks or knows about his virtues, the better we like him. - Emerson

The life of man is the true romance, which when it is valiantly conduced, will yield the imagination a higher joy than any fiction. - Emerson

The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble. - Emerson

The only way to have a friend is to be one. - Emerson

The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it. - Emerson

The perception of the comic is a tie of sympathy . . . and a protection from those perverse tendencies and gloomy insanities in which fine intellects sometimes lose themselves. - Emerson

The reward of a thing well done is to have done it. - Emerson

The right merchant is one who has the just average of faculties we call common sense. - Emerson

The search after the great men is the dream of youth, and the most serious occupation of manhood. - Emerson

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is [well-nigh] the greatest accomplishment. - Emerson

The years teach us much the days never knew. - Emerson

The secret in education lies in respecting the student. - Emerson

The studious class are their own victims: they are thin and pale, their feet are cold, their heads are hot, the night is without sleep, the day a fear of interruption - pallor, squalor, hunger, and egotism. - Emerson

The world is upheld by the veracity of good men: they make the earth wholesome. They who lived with them found life glad and nutritious. - Emerson

The worst of charity is that the lives you are asked to preserve are not worth preserving. - Emerson

There are men capable of wisdom, who, being put into certain company, or other conditions, become wise. - With Emerson

There are men whose manners have the same essential splendour as the simple and awful sculpture on the friezes of the Parthenon. - Emerson

There are no days in life so memorable as those which vibrated to some stroke of the imagination. - Emerson

There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction . . . that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion. - Emerson

There is also this benefit in brag, that the speaker is unconsciously expressing his own ideal. Humour him by all means, draw it all out, and hold him to it. - Emerson

There is always a reason . . . for one's good or bad fortune in making money. - Emerson

There is then creative reading as well as creative writing. - Emerson

There never was a child so lovely, but his mother was glad to get him asleep. - Emerson

They reckon ill who leave me out . . . I am the doubter and the doubt. - With Emerson, Brahma

This whole business of Trade gives me to pause and think. - Emerson

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not. - Emerson

'Tis a rule of manners to avoid exaggeration. - Emerson

To be great is (often) to be misunderstood. - With Emerson

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is an outstanding accomplishment. - Cf. Emerson

To believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men - that is genius. - Emerson

To different minds, the same world is a hell, and a heaven. - Emerson

To find the journey's end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom. - Emerson

To help the young soul, to inspire hope and blow the coals into a useful flame, is the work of living, divine man. - With Emerson

To laugh often and much; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and appreciate beauty; to leave the world a bit better because you have lived. This is to have succeeded. - With Emerson

To the illumined mind the whole world burns and sparkles with light. - Emerson

Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense. - Emerson

Treat (men) greatly, and they will show themselves great. - Of Emerson

Trust yourself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. - Emerson

Universities are . . . hostile to geniuses, which, seeing and using ways of their own, discredit the routine. - Emerson

We are as much informed of a writer's genius by what he selects as by what he originates. - Emerson

We boil at different degrees. - Emerson

We eat because the meat is savoury and the appetite is keen. - With Emerson

We estimate the wisdom of nations by seeing what they did with their surplus capital. - Emerson

We judge of man's wisdom by his hope. - Emerson

We learn geology the morning after the earthquake. - Emerson

We lie in the lap of immense intelligence. - Emerson

We live by our imagination, our admirations, and our sentiments. - Emerson

We should not count a man's years until we have nothing else to count. - Emerson

What a new face courage puts on everything. - Emerson

What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not been discovered. - Emerson

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. - Emerson

What torments of grief you endured, / From evils which never arrived. - Emerson

Whatever games are played with us, we must play no games with ourselves. - Emerson

When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the world, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to find it comes off in his hand,. - Emerson

When it's dark enough men see stars. - Emerson

When you have got a great fortune, it requires ten times as much skill to keep it. - With Emerson

When you have resolved to be great, abide by yourself, and do not weakly try to reconcile yourself with the world. - Emerson

Wise men put their trust in ideas and perhaps not in circumstances. - Cf. Emerson

More Emerson quotations


Emerson Quotations, Literature  

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

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

Bloom, Harold, ed. 2006. Bloom's Modern Critical Interpretations: Emerson Essays. New York: Chelsea House.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. 2014. The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Centenary ed. Ed. Edward Waldo Emerson. Hollister, MO: YOGeBooks. -- Twelve volumes in one. The Complete Works - from 1903-04 - are also online (separately) ◦at the University of Michigan. The names of the volumes:
    1. Nature addresses and lectures;
    2. Essays. 1st series:
    3. Essays. 2d series;
    4. Representative men;
    5. English traits;
    6. The conduct of life;
    7. Society and solitude;
    8. Letters and social aims;
    9. Poems;
    10. Lectures and biographical sketches;
    11. Miscellanies;
    12. Natural history of intellect, and other papers.

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

Meyer, Adolphe. 1975. Grandmasters of Educational Thought. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1975.

Rusk, Ralph. 1949. The Life of Ralph Waldo Emerson. New York: Charles Schribner's Sons.

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