Ralph Waldo Emerson: 12 quotes on his birthday

Ralph Waldo Emerson led the American transcendentalist movement of the mid-1800s. A prominent lecturer, poet, and essayist, Emerson's ideas about nature, freedom, and individuality greatly influenced the thought of his contemporaries – including Walt Whitman, John Muir, and Henry David Thoreau – as well as following generations. To celebrate the life of this great American thinker, here are 12 quotes.


John Nordin/Staff

“Money often costs too much.”

–The Conduct of Life

We make our own experience

“To different minds, the same world is a hell, and a heaven.”

–Journal 20 December, 1822

What we see is who we are

“People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character.”

–The Conduct of Life


John Nordin/Staff

“Sometimes a scream is better than a thesis.”

–Journal: 1836

Personal presence unnecessary

“The best effect of fine persons is felt after we have left their presence.”

–Journal: 1839

Inner child

“The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood.”


Universal truth

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“All that Shakespeare says of the king, yonder slip of a boy that reads in the corner feels to be true of himself.”

–Essays: History

The one that got away

“In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.”

–Essays: Self-Reliance

Pregnant silence

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

–Essays: Self-Reliance


John Nordin/Staff

“It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

–Essays: Self-Reliance

Honesty is the best policy

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

–Essays: Art

Don't hold back

“You can never do a kindness too soon…”

–The Conduct of Life: Culture