The Wisdom of Ralph Waldo Emerson

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomDo you recall who wrote this famous line: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”? If you answered Ralph Waldo Emerson you can pat yourself on the back. Well done, you! The latest edition of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (Nineteenth Edition) features five full pages of quotations from one of America’s most famous writers and philosophers. Consider that Emerson’s content exceeds the contributions of two other prolific American authors: Mark Twain (3.5 pages) and John Steinbeck (.5 pages). Even more impressive is the number you see when you search “Best Emerson Quotations” on the internet: 18.5 million results! Therefore, it can be reasonably argued that Emerson is one of the most quoted American writers — and for good reason. “If Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton and Franklin are our Founding Fathers, Ralph Waldo Emerson is our Founding Thinker,” writes Emerson scholar Richard Geldard. “Born in 1803 in Boston, Emerson became in his lifetime America’s seer and prophet. His collected works, including poems, essays, and extensive journals not only inspired such notable figures as Henry David Thoreau, William James, Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, and numerous nineteenth and twentieth century poets, painters, and musicians, but also a wide readership of ordinary Americans who found in Emerson a teacher of profound depth and idealism… Emerson  was the conscience of his nation and a man of great moral courage.”

The previous excerpt appears in the introduction to Emphatically Emerson: Gems From the Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson edited by Frank Crocitto. Although there are many worthy collections of Emerson’s quotations both in print and on the internet, Crocitto’s collection is unique because it presents Emerson through the thoughts expressed in his journals. The editor has arranged them chronologically and has included Emerson’s age at the time of writing. The first entry is dated 1820, when Emerson was 17; the last from 1874 when he was 71 (he lived until 1882, aged 78). Here are some notable quotations.

“When the whole nation is roaring Patriotism at the top of its voice, I am fain to explore the cleanness of its hands and purity of its heart.” (1824, age 21)

“All the mistakes I make arise from forsaking my own station and trying to see the object from another person’s point of view.” (1834, age 30)

“Be an opener of doors for such as come after thee, and do not try to make the universe a blind alley.” (1844, age 41)

“Do the duty of the day. Just now, the supreme public duty of all thinking men is to assert freedom.. Go where it is threatened, and say, “I am for it. and do not wish to live in the world a moment longer than it exists.'” (1861, age 57)

“Within, I do not find wrinkles and used heart, but unspent youth.” (1864, age 61)

“The secret of poetry is never explained, is always new. We have not got farther than mere wonder at the delicacy of touch, and the eternity it inherits.” (1874, age 71)

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: The Wisdom of a Grandmother
The Wisdom of Tom Shadyac
The Wisdom of Martin Luther King
The Wisdom of Maya Angelou
The Wisdom of a Grandmother
The Wisdom of the Ancient Greeks
The Wisdom of Lady Grantham
The Wisdom of Morrie Schwartz
The Wisdom of Yoda
The Wisdom of George Carlin
The Wisdom of Saint-Exupery
The Wisdom of Steven Wright
The Wisdom of Spock
The Wisdom of Elie Wiesel

To learn more about Alexander Atkins Design please visit