Friday, February 5, 2010

Ralph Waldo Emerson - An Intellectual Giant

British playwright William Shakespeare (1564-1616) is one of the most often-quoted authors of all time. I ought to know. I'm an English major and I've been collecting quotes for over 30 years, all of them related to personal strength. Over 20 quotes in my stash of 3,000 favorites are from Shakespeare.

But guess what. Shakespeare isn't my main man. The hands-down winner is American 19th century philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), with 47 quotes.

Emerson was a Harvard scholar who kept a journal most of his life. An ordained minister, he discovered that he was uncomfortable with established religion, so he associated himself with the American philosophical movement called Transcendentalism. He published poems, lectures and essays, many of which were collected into books, such as Representative Men and The Conduct of Life. Because of his brilliant intellect, he became friends with many of the major literary figures of his time: William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Stuart Mill, Thomas Carlyle, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, and Herman Melville. He became known as the leading voice of culture in America.

A keen observor and truth-teller, his writing style was both formal and straightforward. Here are some of my favorite Emerson quotes....

ACCOUNTABILITY - “The sower may mistake and sow his peas crookedly: the peas make no mistake, but come up and show his line.” 

CHANGE - “Life is a progress, and not a station.” 

CHARACTER -  "Character is higher than intellect."

COOPERATION -  "No member of a crew is praised for the rugged individuality of his rowing." 

DECISIVENESS -  "Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen." 

EFFORT -  “The world belongs to the energetic.”

EXCELLENCE -  “If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, though he build his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.” 

FAIRNESS -  “Every man I meet is my superior in some way. In that, I learn of him.” 

FOCUS -  "Concentration is the secret of strengths in politics, war, in trade, in short in all management of human affairs." 

FRIENDSHIP - "Go often to the house of thy friend, for weeds choke the unused path." 

GENEROSITY - “It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” 

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

INTEGRITY - “What you are speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say.” 

PASSION - “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” 

SELF-CONFIDENCE - “No matter how often you are defeated, you are born to victory.” 

SELF-DEVELOPMENT - “Life is a succession of lessons, which must be lived to be understood.” 

SELF-DISCIPLINE -  "Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds." 

SELF-ESTEEM - “It is easy to live for others; everybody does. I call on you to live for yourselves.” 

SPIRITUALITY - “If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore!” 

And this one, my favorite: 

VISION - “Hitch your wagon to a star.”

It's easy for me to get carried away with Emerson. I hope you don't feel that twenty is too many.

1 comment:

David Weedmark said...

This was a nice post, thank you. Emerson has always been one of my favourites as well. Its unfortunate so many know of him, but so few have read him, but I hope your collection of quotes may encourage people to pick up one of his works and delve into it.