Ralph Waldo Emerson has formed the core notions of many of our great intellects from the 1800’s. He influenced his American contemporaries, such as Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau and William James, as well as notable thinkers the stature of Friedrich Nietzsche, and more recently Harold Bloom and Barack Obama. Once asked to sum up his work, Emerson said his central thought was “the infinitude of the private man.”
Here are more of the BGJ’s 100 favourite Emerson quotes (tomorrow our top-ten RWE):
- Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.
- Character is that which can do without success.
- Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.
- Self-trust is the first secret of success.
- The one thing in the world, of value, is the active soul.
- For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else.
- Shallow men believe in luck, wise and strong men in cause and effect.
- Skill to do comes of doing.
- No great man ever complains of want of opportunity.
- He is only rich who owns the day. There is no king, rich man, fairy, or demon who possesses such power as that.
- A day is a miniature eternity.
- Adopt the pace of nature, her secret is patience.
- The only gift is a portion of thyself.
- The only way to have a friend is to be one.
- A friend might well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.
One side note: When Emerson befriended Henry David Thoreau, he asked Thoreau, “Do you keep a journal?” The question went on to have a lifelong inspiration for Thoreau – and today we have the benefit of reading Thoreau’s intimate evolution of personal feelings and thought. Emerson kept a journal throughout his life and his works are contained in 16 large volumes. Today’s scholars consider the journal to be Emerson’s key literary work.
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