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Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

American lecturer, poet, and essayist

I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching.

The bitterest tragic element in life to be derived from an intellectual source is the belief in a brute Fate or Destiny.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, Natural History of Intellect

Every reform was once a private opinion.


I am not engaged to Christianity by decent forms, or saving ordinances; it is not usage, it is not what I do not understand, that binds me to it -- let these be the sandy foundations of falsehoods. What I revere and obey in it is its reality, its boundless charity, its deep interior life, the rest it gives to my mind, the echo it returns to my thoughts, the perfect accord it makes with my reason through all its representation of God and His Providence; and the persuasion and courage that come out thence to lead me upward and onward.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, sermon, Sept. 9, 1832

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do.


I hope in these days we have heard the last of conformity and consistency. Let the words be gazetted and ridiculous henceforward.


Language is fossil poetry.


An action is the perfection and publication of thought.


In a virtuous action, I properly am; in a virtuous act, I add to the world; I plant into deserts conquered from Chaos and Nothing, and see the darkness receding on the limits of the horizon.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, "Compensation," Essays

Every man alone is sincere. At the entrance of a second person, hypocrisy begins.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, "Friendship," Essays

Belief consists in accepting the affirmations of the soul; unbelief, in denying them. Some minds are incapable of skepticism.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, "Montaigne; or, the Skeptic," Representative Men

We boil at different degrees.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, Society and Solitude

Nothing shall warp me from the belief that every man is a lover of truth. There is no pure lie, no pure malignity in nature. The entertainment of the proposition of depravity is the last profligacy and profanation. There is no scepticism, no atheism but that. Could it be received into common belief, suicide would unpeople the planet.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, lecture, Mar. 3, 1844

Power ceases in the instant of repose; it resides in the moment of transition from a past to a new state, in the shooting of the gulf, in the darting to an aim.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, "Self Reliance," Essays

Art is a jealous mistress.


Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly and they will show themselves great.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, "Prudence," Essays

Belief consists in accepting the affirmations of the soul; unbelief, in denying them.

The angels are so enamored of the language that is spoken in heaven, that they will not distort their lips with the hissing and unmusical dialects of men, but speak their own, whether there be any who understand it or not.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, "Intellect," Essays

I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching.


When Nature has work to be done, she creates a genius to do it.


You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, "Fate," Essays and Lectures

Flowers and fruits are always fit presents; flowers, because they are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues all of the utilities of the world. These gay natures contrast with the somewhat stern countenance of ordinary nature: they are like music heard out of a work-house.


The first wealth is health.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, "Power," The Conduct of Life

Hitch your wagon to a star.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, Society and Solitude

Invention breeds invention.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, Society and Solitude

We flee away from cities, but we bring
The best of cities, these learned classifiers,
Men knowing what they seek, armed eyes of experts.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, "The Adirondacs," May-Day and Other Pieces

Murder in the murderer is no such ruinous thought as poets and romancers will have it; it does not unsettle him, or fright him from his ordinary notice of trifles: it is an act quite easy to be contemplated, but in its sequel, it turns out to be a horrible jangle and confounding of all relations.


As men's prayers are a disease of the will so are their creeds a disease of the intellect.


Magic and all that is ascribed to it is a deep presentiment of the powers of science.


Our life is not so much threatened as our perception. Ghostlike we glide through nature, and should not know our place again.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, "Experience," Essays

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

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, Letters and Social Aims

The sanity of society is a balance of a thousand insanities.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, "Nominalist and Realist," Essays

Slavery is no scholar, no improver; it does not love the whistle of the railroad; it does not love the newspaper, the mail-bag, a college, a book or a preacher who has the absurd whim of saying what he thinks; it does not increase the white population; it does not improve the soil; everything goes to decay.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, speech, Aug. 1, 1844

Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.


We are always getting ready to live, but never living.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, journal, Apr. 13, 1834

All conservatives are such from personal defects. They have been effeminated by position or nature, born halt and blind, through luxury of their parents, and can only, like invalids, act on the defensive.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, The Conduct of Life

Self-trust is the first secret of success.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, "Success," Society and Solitude

In skating over thin ice, our safety is in our speed.


London is the epitome of our times, and the Rome of to-day.


Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.


'Tis the good reader that makes the good book.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, Society and Solitude

A little integrity is better than any career.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, The Conduct of Life

Solitude, the safeguard of mediocrity, is to genius, the stern friend, the cold, obscure shelter where moult the wings which will bear it farther than suns and stars.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, The Conduct of Life

Democracy becomes a government of bullies tempered by editors.


O birds, your perfect virtues bring,
Your song, your forms, your rhythmic flight,
Your manners for your heart’s delight,
Nestle in hedge, or barn, or roof,
Here weave your chamber weather-proof,
Forgive our harms, and condescend
To man, as to a lubber friend,
And, generous, teach his awkward race
Courage, and probity, and grace!

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, May-Day and Other Pieces

Pay every debt as if God wrote the bill.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, fragment, May-Day and Other Pieces

Nothing astonishes men so much as common sense and plain dealing.


Friendship, like the immortality of the soul, is too good to be believed.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, "Friendship", Essays

Friendship should be surrounded with ceremonies and respects, and not crushed into corners. Friendship requires more time than poor busy men can usually command.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, "Behavior", The Conduct of Life

Commit a crime and the world is made of glass. Commit a crime, and it seems as if a coat of snow fell on the ground, such as reveals in the woods the track of every partridge and fox and squirrel and mole.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, "Compensation," Essays

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


Browse Ralph Waldo Emerson Quotes II

Browse Ralph Waldo Emerson Quotes III

Ralph Waldo Emerson Poems - a collection of his poetry.

Ralph Waldo Emerson Bibliography - a bibliography, including list of critical resources.


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