Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson (Boston 1803-1882) was a poet and essayist associated strongly with Romanticism and one of the founders of Transcendentalism. These movements were reactions to the industrialization of the society at the turn of the 19th century, and reactions especially against the world's increasing complexity. Emerson, along with other trancendentalist poets, believed that a respect for or a return to the simplicity of the beauty of nature was required to preserve human uniqueness. A child prodigy having tremendous literary talent, Emerson graduated from Harvard University at the age of 18, and is well-known today for his many quips and insightful concise quotations.

Emerson was a critic of the intellectual elite at Harvard, and instead of joining its faculty Emerson instead earned his living as a popular public speaker, talented poet, and fabulous writer. His many pithy quotes continue to be widely repeated to this day, including a compilation of his 150 greatest quotations.[1] Emerson was far more successful and influential than the Harvard professors of whom he was critical.

When Emerson was about 30 and after his first wife had tragically passed away, he remarried and settled in Concord, Massachusetts, which is located about 15 miles west of Harvard and Cambridge. He became known as the "Sage of Concord" and his original home is preserved there,[2] along with a nearby museum for him.

Emerson's works are estimated to total 1,176,289, containing a remarkably diverse number of 30,507 words.[3]

Some paragraphs

His addresses—including "The Philosophy of History," "Human Culture," "Human Life," and "The Present Age"—were based on material in his Journals (published posthumously, 1909-1914), a collection of observations and notes that he had begun while a student at Harvard. His most detailed statement of belief was reserved for his first published book, Nature (1836), which appeared anonymously but was soon correctly attributed to him... The volume received little notice, but it has come to be regarded as Emerson's most original and significant work, offering the essence of his philosophy of transcendentalism.

Emerson applied these ideas to cultural and intellectual problems in his 1837 lecture "The American Scholar," which he delivered before the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Harvard. In it he called for American intellectual independence. A second address, commonly referred to as the "Address at Divinity College," delivered in 1838 to the graduating class of Cambridge Divinity College, aroused considerable controversy because it attacked formal religion and argued for self-reliance and intuitive spiritual experience. [4]

Emerson especially railed against the increasingly conformity in society brought about by industrialization. Fearing especially the influence of religion, he wrote to encourage men to be different, and rejoice in their difference. Towards that end, he wrote,

"Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist," and,
"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by petty statesmen."

These were both in his famous essay, "Self Reliance."

Famous quotations

Ralph Waldo Emerson said:

Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.
Nature is too thin a screen; the glory of the omnipresent God bursts through everywhere.[5]
Money often costs too much.
Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can.
- a chess champion quoted the above.[6]
See only that thou work and thou canst not escape the reward
Quotation confesses inferiority.[7]
It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.
Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.[8]

Views on Life

Emerson has 125 express references to "life" in merely one volume of his "The Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. 7 (Society and Solitude)"[9]

Analysis of his works

An automated analysis of Emerson's 62 works, published between 1838 and 1956 and filling 11,866 pages, found that these were his most commonly used words:

man (8911) one (7704) men (6260) every (5108) nature (4837) us (4652) life (4072) good (3904) must (3825) new (3812) great (3760) like (3518) world (3455) shall (3391) would (3359) see (3349) yet (3099) may (3092) much (2978) time (2928) thought (2902) never (2750) old (2700) mind (2692) day (2605)[3]

Emerson's poem "Brahma"

If the red slayer think he slays,
Or if the slain think he is slain,
They know not well the subtle ways
I keep, and pass, and turn again.

Far or forgot to me is near;
Shadow and sunlight are the same;
The vanished gods to me appear;
And one to me are shame and fame.

They reckon ill who leave me out;
When me they fly, I am the wings;
I am the doubter and the doubt,
I am the hymn the Brahmin sings.

The strong gods pine for my abode,
And pine in vain the sacred Seven;
But thou, meek lover of the good!
Find me, and turn thy back on heaven.

See also


  • Milton Birnbaum, "The Kaleidoscopic Emerson," Modern Age Volume 45, Number 1; Winter 2003 online edition
  • James Kalb, "Emerson and Us," Modern Age Volume 45, Number 1; Winter 2003 online edition


  1. https://parade.com/1079155/stephanieosmanski/ralph-waldo-emerson-quotes/#:~:text=1.,%2C%20drink%20the%20wild%20air.%E2%80%9D
  2. https://www.ralphwaldoemersonhouse.org/
  3. 3.0 3.1 https://sites.nd.edu/emorgan/2015/06/automated-emerson/
  4. Ralph Waldo Emerson
  5. http://www.bibleinsong.com/Promises/What_says_God/Omnipresence/Omnipresence.htm
  6. https://en.chessbase.com/post/speelman-agony-103
  7. http://www.bartleby.com/90/0806.html
  8. https://blog.hubspot.com/sales/famous-quotes
  9. https://oll.libertyfund.org/title/emerson-the-works-of-ralph-waldo-emerson-vol-7-society-and-solitude