I recently rediscovered the work of an American essayist, lecturer, and poet who was, without doubt, one of the most brilliant men of his, or any other time.
Ralph Waldo Emerson was born in Boston in 1803 and died in Concord, Massachusetts, in 1882 at the age of 78. He was a strong advocate of individualism who spread his thoughts through dozens of essays and more than 1,500 speeches across the country. His most famous essay, entitled “Nature,” was published in 1836 and was the foundation of the philosophy called Transcendentalism. Rather than leave you hanging, transcendentalism was a philosophical movement which taught that society and its institutions, especially organized religion and political parties, would lead to the corruption of the “purity of the individual.” Transcendentalists believed people are at their best when they are truly self-reliant and independent. “It is only from such real individuals that true community could be formed.”
Assuming the forgoing explanation helps a little, this week’s column is going to focus on some of Emerson’s most famous quotations. It is surprising how many of Emerson’s quotes have applicability today and how ahead of his time, if you will, he really was. That’s what thinking deep thoughts gets you, I imagine. Nevertheless, here are some famous quotations from Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of this country’s great thinkers. To give you an idea, this first one is, it seems to me, perfectly consistent with the notion of self-reliance. “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the great accomplishment.”
On the subject of happiness, Emerson wrote, “For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.”
Here’s a brilliant quotation on the subject of regret. “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”