Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
Ralph Waldo Emerson was born in Boston, Massachusetts. Most of his ancestors were clergymen as his father. He was educated in Boston and Harvard, like his father, and graduated in 1821. While at Harvad, he began keeping a journal, which became a source of his later lectures, essays, and books. In 1825 he began to study at the Harvard Divinity School and next year he was licensed to preach by the Middlesex Association of Ministers. In 1829 Emerson married the seventeen-year-old Ellen Louisa Tucker, who died in 1831 from tuberculosis. Emerson's first and only settlement was at the important Second Unitarian Church of Boston, where he became sole pastor in 1830. Three years later he had a crisis of faith, finding that he "was not interested" in the rite of Communion. He once remarked, that if his teachers had been aware of his true thoughts, they would not have allowed him to become a minister. Eventually Emerson's controversial views caused his resignation. However, he never ceased to be both teacher and preacher, although without the support of any concrete idea of God.
Emerson's first book, NATURE, a collection of essays, appeared when he was 33 and summoned up his ideas. Emerson emphasized individualism and rejected traditional authority. He invited his readers to "enjoy an original relation to the universe," and emphasized "the infinitude of the private man." All creation is one, he believed - people should try to live a simple life in harmony with nature and with others. "... the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God," he wrote in Nature. His lectures 'The American Scholar' (1837) and 'Address at Divinity College' (1838) challenged the Harvard intelligentsia and warned about a lifeless Christian tradition. He was ostracized by Harvad for many years, but his message attracted young disciples, who joined the informal Transcendental Club, organized in 1836 by the Unitarian clergyman F.H. Hedge.
His essays have speech like character and a prophetic tone, a sermon like quality, often linked to his practice as an Unitarian minister. Emerson's aim was not merely to charm his readers, but encourage them to cultivate 'self-trust', to become what they ought to be, and to be open to the intuitive world of experience.
Emerson encouraged American scholars to break free of European influences and create a new American culture. He had formulated this idea in the mid-1830s in a Phi Beta Kappa address, which Oliver Wendell Holmes (Sr.) hailed as "our intellectual Declaration of Independence."
Emerson on Intuition
is an essay written by American transcendentalist philosopher and
essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson. It contains the most thorough statement
of one of Emerson's recurrent themes, the need for each individual to
avoid conformity and false consistency, and follow his or her own
instincts and ideas. It is the source of one of Emerson's most famous
quotations: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,
adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." This essay
is an analysis into the nature of the aboriginal self on which a
universal reliance may be grounded. (Wikipedia)
"Self-Reliance" is an essay written by American transcendentalist philosopher and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson. It contains the most thorough statement of one of Emerson's recurrent themes, the need for each individual to avoid conformity and false consistency, and follow his or her own instincts and ideas. It is the source of one of Emerson's most famous quotations: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." This essay is an analysis into the nature of the aboriginal self on which a universal reliance may be grounded. (Wikipedia)
To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, -- that is genius.
A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his.
There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.
Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events.
These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but
they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world. Society
everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its
members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree,
for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender
the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity.
Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but
names and customs.
Men do what is called a good action, as some piece of courage or charity, much as they would pay a fine in expiation of daily non-appearance on parade. Their works are done as an apology or extenuation of their living in the world, as invalids and the insane pay a high board. Their virtues are penances. I do not wish to expiate, but to live. My life is for itself and not for a spectacle....It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.
For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure. And therefore a man must know how to estimate a sour face. The by-standers look askance on him in the public street or in the friend's parlour. If this aversation had its origin in contempt and resistance like his own, he might well go home with a sad countenance; but the sour faces of the multitude, like their sweet faces, have no deep cause, but are put on and off as the wind blows and a newspaper directs.
The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word, because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loath to disappoint them . 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. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said to-day.
The magnetism which all original action exerts is explained when we inquire the reason of self-trust. Who is the Trustee? What is the aboriginal Self, on which a universal reliance may be grounded? What is the nature and power of that science-baffling star, without parallax, without calculable elements, which shoots a ray of beauty even into trivial and impure actions, if the least mark of independence appear? The inquiry leads us to that source, at once the essence of genius, of virtue, and of life, which we call Spontaneity or Instinct .
The inquiry leads us to that source, at once the essence of genius, of virtue, and of life, which we call Spontaneity or Instinct. We denote this primary wisdom as Intuition.... In that deep force, the last fact behind which analysis cannot go, all things find their common origin. For, the sense of being which in calm hours rises, we know not how, in the soul, is not diverse from things, from space, from light, from time, from man, but one with them, and proceeds obviously from the same source whence their life and being also proceed. We first share the life by which things exist, and afterwards see them as appearances in nature, and forget that we have shared their cause. Here is the fountain of action and of thought. Here are the lungs of that inspiration which giveth man wisdom, and which cannot be denied without impiety and atheism. We lie in the lap of immense intelligence, which makes us receivers of its truth and organs of its activity. When we discern justice, when we discern truth, we do nothing of ourselves, but allow a passage to its beams. If we ask whence this comes, if we seek to pry into the soul that causes, all philosophy is at fault. Its presence or its absence is all we can affirm. Every man discriminates between the voluntary acts of his mind, and his involuntary perceptions, and knows that to his involuntary perceptions a perfect faith is due. He may err in the expression of them, but he knows that these things are so, like day and night, not to be disputed.... For my perception of it is as much a fact as the sun....
timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say 'I
think,' 'I am,' but quotes some saint or sage. He is ashamed before the
blade of grass or the blowing rose. These roses under my window make no
reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they
are; they exist with God to-day. There is no time to them. There is
simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before
a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower
there is no more; in the leafless root there is no less. Its nature is
satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments alike. But man
postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with
reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround
him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and
strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time....
And now at last the highest truth on this subject remains unsaid; probably cannot be said; for all that we say is the far-off remembering of the intuition. That thought, by what I can now nearest approach to say it, is this. When good is near you, when you have life in yourself, it is not by any known or accustomed way; you shall not discern the foot-prints of any other; you shall not see the face of man; you shall not hear any name; the way, the thought, the good, shall be wholly strange and new. It shall exclude example and experience. You take the way from man, not to man. All persons that ever existed are its forgotten ministers. Fear and hope are alike beneath it. There is somewhat low even in hope. In the hour of vision, there is nothing that can be called gratitude, nor properly joy. The soul raised over passion beholds identity and eternal causation, perceives the self-existence of Truth and Right, and calms itself with knowing that all things go well. Vast spaces of nature, the Atlantic Ocean, the South Sea, long intervals of time, years, centuries, are of no account. This which I think and feel underlay every former state of life and circumstances, as it does underlie my present, and what is called life, and what is called death.