Black and white photograph of American writer and exponent of Transcendentalism Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

(1803 - 1882)

Descended from a long line of clergymen, Ralph Waldo Emerson resigned from his pastorate in 1832, stating in his farewell sermon that he no longer believed in celebrating Holy Communion. Four years later he published Nature, effectively beginning the Transcendentalist movement. In 1845 Emerson allowed Henry David Thoreau use of a plot of land he owned beside Walden Pond, and in 1855, when Walt Whitman sent him a copy of Leaves of Grass, Emerson replied, “I greet you at the beginning of a great career.”

All Writing

Just to fill the hour—that is happiness.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1844

Sport is the bloom and glow of a perfect health.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1838

Good men must not obey the laws too well.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1844

Voices In Time

1837 | Cambridge, MA

Natural Order

Ralph Waldo Emerson plants a seed in the mind.More

What is the hardest task in the world? To think.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1841

Hospitality consists in a little fire, a little food, and an immense quiet.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1856

Voices In Time

1837 | Cambridge

Man Thinking

Emerson challenges bookworms to leave the library.More

Art is a jealous mistress, and if a man have a genius for painting, poetry, music, architecture, or philosophy, he makes a bad husband and an ill provider.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1860

‘Tis a superstition to insist on a special diet. All is made at last of the same chemical atoms.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1860


“The splendors of this age outshine all other recorded ages,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1871. “I have seen wrought five miracles—namely, the steamboat, the railroad, the electric telegraph, the application of the spectroscope to astronomy, the photograph.” He died in 1882, missing the invention of the machine gun by three years, the gramophone and radar by five years, and the diesel-fueled internal combustion engine by ten years.

Men are what their mothers made them.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1860

Language is the archives of history.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1844

It is a luxury to be understood.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1831

Children are all foreigners. We treat them as such.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1839


“A seaman in the coach told the story of an old sperm whale, which he called a white whale, which was known for many years by the whalemen as Old Tom, and who rushed upon the boats which attacked him, and crushed the boats to small chips in his jaws, the men generally escaping by jumping overboard and being picked up,” recorded Ralph Waldo Emerson in his journal on February 19, 1834, adding that the whale “was finally taken somewhere off Payta Head by the Winslow or the Essex.” It was the wreck of the Essex in 1820 from which Herman Melville drew inspiration for Moby Dick.

The most advanced nations are always those who navigate the most.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1870

Be not the slave of your own past. Plunge into the sublime seas, dive deep, and swim far, so shall you come back with self-respect, with new power, with an advanced experience that shall explain and overlook the old.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1838

The power which the sea requires in the sailor makes a man of him very fast, and the change of shores and population clears his head of much nonsense of his wigwam.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1870

Voices In Time

1841 | Concord, MA

All Things Renew

Ralph Waldo Emerson on the transience of all things.More

Issues Contributed