Talk:Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Wrongly Attributed[edit]

  • Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.
    • Emerson actually said, "If a man has good corn, or wood, or boards, or pigs, to sell ... you will find a broad hard-beaten road to his house." [1]
  • "Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be." -- attributed sometimes to Emerson
    • In fact the quote is "If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming." by Goethe

Further Amendment[edit]

The original quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson writing in his journal in 1855 was "I trust a good deal to common fame, as we all must. If a man has good corn, or wood, or boards, or pigs to sell, or can make better chairs or knives, crucibles or church organs than anybody else, you will find a broad hard-beaten road to his house, though it be in the woods.".

The popular version was born when in 1889 Sarah S. B. Yule and Mary S. Keene, preparing a lecture, tried to recall Emerson's exact words. They could not. But they came close, deciding he had said: "If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, though he builds his house in the woods the world will make a beaten path to his door." [2]

That link is dead, I added the quote to the Misattributions section, and found another source. Johndburger 15:20, 18 May 2007 (UTC)
Duh, turns out to be same source as in the first section above. Any reason this (very common) misatt isn't in the main article? Johndburger 15:22, 18 May 2007 (UTC)
I have added the Yule/Keene initiated misquote, but the link you gave is also dead, so I havent described that misquote. John Vandenberg 10:12, 13 April 2009 (UTC)

formatting[edit]

why are some quotes in bold? Better to keep it all consistent (non-bold font).

See Wikiquote:Village_pump_archive_3#Emphasis where it's discussed in general. But if you disagree with what's here specifically, you can either discuss or edit it, and you'd see what others who edited here might have to say. Also see Wikiquote:How_to_edit_a_page about using ~~~~ in order to sign your comments. iddo999 21:25, 20 July 2005 (UTC)

Sources Please[edit]

No doubt this has been discussed before, but as a scholar, I badly need a published source for all quotations. This is a major problem with all other quotation lists I've found -- they seem to be aimed at after-dinner speakers or pop newspaper writers -- but it is sorely needed for writing academic papers. My particular need is for Ralph Waldo Emerson's quotation, "I hate quotation." I do have May 1849 journal, but the source of the quote would be great -- Not all of us have libraries which would have a published edition of the RWE's journals. Cheers, 20:39, 11 November 2006 (UTC)

Source Needed[edit]

"The key to the period is that the mind became aware of itself." Can anyone provide a source and add it to the article? Thanks, --75.165.18.223 06:22, 11 February 2008 (UTC)


Did He Say This?[edit]

"For every minute you spend angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness." I have seen this on the internet as being attributed to him, but I do not see it here and cannot find it anywhere on the entire site. Does anyone know if he said this, and if he didn't who did? I know this is a book of photographs by Julian Germain, but I doubt he coined this phrase. Thanks. Gammatigerx 19:23, 24 February 2008 (UTC)

"What you do speaks so loud I cannot hear what you say" This quote has also been attributed to him on the internet, but I cannot find it anywhere either in this page or with a the literary work where it was pulled out from. Does anyone know if he did say this? and if not, does anyone know who actually did? Thanks.

It certainly does appear in a million places online! From his Journals (In my Signet Classic Selected Writings of RWE, p95.):
"August-September, 1840. Do not say things. What you are stands over you the while & thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary." Yesenadam (talk) 00:41, 2 July 2014 (UTC)

"Life is a journey, not a destination." This quote is widely attributed to Emerson on the Internet, but I have never seen it sourced.

"Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow." Yet another widely attributed to Emerson yet never sourced.

"Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful; for beauty is God’s handwriting- a wayside sacrament. Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky, in every fair flower, and thank God for it as a cup of blessing." - earliest source I have found thus far is in A dictionary of Thoughts by Tryon Edwards published in 1908 (avail. via Google Books - but it isn't sourced in that book. I can't find it sourced anywhere but it is attributed to Emerson on the Internet multiple times.—This unsigned comment is by 66.62.165.180 (talkcontribs) .

The earliest appearance I could find of this quote was in the People's & Howitt's Journal, Vol. V (1846), p. 320. [3] Unfortunately, only a "snippet view" is available online, so I couldn't see who the author of the essay is. In any case, I transcribed the passage, in the hopes that someone will be able to find it.—
«...Oh! there are precious and sweetly insinuating avenues into human hearts which nature only knows; and while we gaze upon her face, her loveliness appeals so growingly, so irresistibly to human affection; and the best of it is, we grow better by loving her. Why should we muddle ourselves in dull despondency, or fret because of evils which, if we cannot altogether shake off, may be wonderfully alleviated by intercourse, not so much with man in pent-up cities, as with the forests, and sky, and rocks, and water; with the babbling brooks and green fields which are so easily accessible. Men may deceive us, but the silent voice of the pathless woods—never; the stars look down with their brilliant eyes into the recesses of our troubled spirits, and, as the psalmist poetically yet truly expresses it, "There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard."
Working men! chained to that oar which, once fast tied to, men shall quit no more, add not another link to your fetters; come out occasionally from the smoke and din and bustle, from the wordy warfare, and from the agitation of complaining strife; come to the green fields, and, as the summer breeze fans your temples, and the evening sunlight gleams on the tranquil water; hold for a few moments sweet intercourse with self. Bring your children with you. Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful—remembering that a tree is always far more exquisitely so than a picture of a tree in a royal gallery, even thong painted by a Turner or a Stanfield. Recognise loveliness in nature, whether in the changeful clouds or sparkling water wending its own-sweet way like a thread of silver at its own quiet will—as the sign-manual of Deity, purity in the blush of the morning sky-you will interpret that as the transcript of his holiness to be reflected into your own feelings, your own life...»
In the meantime, I added the quote as you presented it to the main article, as an attribution. [4] Cheers, DanielTom (talk) 18:52, 10 March 2014 (UTC)

Unsourced[edit]

  • A man is made by the books he reads.
  • A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.
  • Do not believe that you can possibly escape the reward of your action.
  • Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
    • Also attributed to Muriel Strode.
  • Fear always springs from ignorance.
  • Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.
  • Finish every day and be done with it. For manners and for wise living it is a vice to remember. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. To-morrow is a new day; you shall begin it well and serenely, and with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense.
    • According to James Elliot Cabot's Memoir of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1888) this was something he wrote 'To one of his daughters who was away from home, at school'.
  • I no more remember the books I have read than the meals I have eaten, but they have made me.
  • If I have lost confidence in myself, I have the universe against me.
  • It is an amiable illusion, which the shape of our planet prompts, that every man is at the top of the world.
  • Let not a man guard his dignity, but let his dignity guard him.
  • Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.
    • Works, p. 426
  • People only see what they are prepared to see.
    • Derived (as Emerson states) from Elliott Cabot's "on the Relation of Art to Nature" (1864) -- not having access to that paper, I do not know what Cabot has said exactly, although I would be interested in knowing so.
  • Salvation would not be a question of accepting a creed, but of acquiring insight.
  • The Bhagavad Gita is an empire of thought and in its philosophical teachings Lord Krishna has all the attributes of the full-fledged montheistic deity and at the same time the attributes of the Upanisadic absolute.
  • The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization.
  • The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when you discover that someone else believes in you and is willing to trust you with their friendship.
  • The torpid artist seeks inspiration at any cost, by virtue or by vice, by friend or by fiend, by prayer or by wine.
  • Truth is beautiful, without doubt; but so are lies. (see also: Truth & Lies)
  • To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.
    • This seems to be a misattribution of a passage from E.E. Cummings's A Poet's Advice: "To be nobody - but -yourself-- in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else--means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting."
  • What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.
    • This has also been attributed to Thoreau, William Maran, William Morrow and Oliver Wendell Holmes (father and son), but no precise source has been found in any of their works. It does appear in Henry Stanley Haskins's Meditations in Wall Street (1940) and may possibly be Haskins's own coinage..
  • When you strike at a King, you must kill him.
    • Oliver Wendell Holmes, in his Ralph Waldo Emerson (1885), gives this as Emerson's reply to 'a young friend of mine in his college days' who had told Emerson that he was writing an essay about, and presumably critical of, Plato.
  • Whoever is open, loyal, true; of humane and affable demeanour; honourable himself, and in his judgement of others; faithful to his word as to law, and faithful alike to God and man....such a man is a true gentleman.
  • When it is darkest, men see the stars.
  • Be silly, be honest, be kind.
  • It requires a great deal of boldness and a great deal of caution to make a great fortune, and when you have it, it requires ten times as much skill to keep it.
  • Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.
  • Our strength grows out of our weaknesses.
  • Nothing is more simple than greatness; indeed, to be simple is to be great.

Quote: The Universe Conspires to make it happen[edit]

Attribution to this quote -- Joseph Campbell, Follow Your Bliss ... Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen. Campbell makes this statement in the interview he did with Bill Moyers in 1988.

Immortality ... Tell me what you know.[edit]

  • Immortality. I notice that as soon as writers broach this question they begin to quote. I hate quotation. Tell me what you know.
    • May 1849: This is a remark Emerson wrote referring to the unreliability of second hand testimony and worse upon the subject of immortality. It is often taken out of proper context, and has even begun appearing on the internet as "I hate quotations. Tell me

I just restored the above factual commentary regarding this quote. A simple Google search for "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know" presently yields "about 282,000 results." One for "I hate quotations" yields About 355,000 results, and one for I hate quotations emerson (without quotemarks) yields "about 657,000 results." I believe this confirms the statements regarding misquotations of the statement, and the factual assertion of the actual context, which introduces the observations on its misquotation, can be confirmed by simply reading the statement itself, where he is perhaps making allusions to mystical conceptions or experiences of immortality, but whether that is clear or definite or not, he is certainly referring to immortality. ~ Kalki·· 00:15, 21 June 2013 (UTC)