English Traits (1856)

Ralph Waldo Emerson English Traits

First Visit to England

First Visit to England By Ralph Waldo Emerson I have been twice in England. In 1833, on my return from a short tour in Sicily, Italy, and France, I crossed from Boulogne, and landed in London at the Tower stairs. It was a dark Sunday morning; there were few people in the streets; and I remember the pleasure of that first walk on English ground, with my companion, an American artist. Summary: On looking over the diary of my journey in 1833, I find nothing to publish in my memoranda of visits to places. But I have copied the few notes I made of visits…

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Voyage to England

Voyage to England By Ralph Waldo Emerson The occasion of my second visit to England was an invitation from some Mechanics’ Institutes in Lancashire and Yorkshire, which separately are organized much in the same way as our New England Lyceums. Summary: I did not go very willingly. I am not a good traveller, nor have I found that long journeys yield a fair share of reasonable hours. But the invitation was repeated and pressed at a moment of more leisure, and when I was a little spent by some unusual studies. I wanted a change and a tonic, and England was proposed to me. Besides,…

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Land

Land By Ralph Waldo Emerson Alfieri thought Italy and England the only countries worth living in; the former, because there nature vindicates her rights, and triumphs over the evils inflicted by the governments; the latter, because art conquers nature, and transforms a rude, ungenial land into a paradise of comfort and plenty. England is a garden. Summary: A wise traveller will naturally choose to visit the best of actual nations; and an American has more reasons than another to draw him to Britain. In all that is done or begun by the Americans towards right thinking or practice, we are met by a civilization already…

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Race

Race By Ralph Waldo Emerson An ingenious anatomist has written a book to prove that races are imperishable, but nations are pliant political constructions, easily changed or destroyed. But this writer did not found his assumed races on any necessary law, disclosing their ideal or metaphysical necessity; nor did he, on the other hand, count with precision the existing races, and settle the true bounds. Summary: We anticipate in the doctrine of race something like that law of physiology, that, whatever bone, muscle, or essential organ is found in one healthy individual, the same part or organ may be found in or near the same place…

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Ability

Ability By Ralph Waldo Emerson History does not allow us to fix the limits of the application of these names with any accuracy; but from the residence of a portion of these people in France, and from some effect of that powerful soil on their blood and manners, the Norman has come popularly to represent in England the aristocratic, – and the Saxon the democratic principle. Summary: If the race is good, so is the place. Nobody landed on this spellbound island with impunity. The enchantments of barren shingle and rough weather, transformed every adventurer into a laborer. Each vagabond that arrived bent his neck to…

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Manners

Manners By Ralph Waldo Emerson I find the Englishman to be him of all men who stands firmest in his shoes. They have in themselves what they value in their horses, mettle and bottom. On the day of my arrival at Liverpool, a gentleman, happened to say, “Lord Clarendon has pluck like a cock, and will fight till he dies;” and, what I heard first I heard last, and the one thing the English value, is pluck. Summary: Every Englishman is an embryonic chancellor: His instinct is to search for a precedent. The favorite phrase of their law, is, “a custom whereof the memory of man…

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Truth

Truth By Ralph Waldo Emerson The Teutonic tribes have a national singleness of heart, which contrasts with the Latin races. The German name has a proverbial significance of sincerity and honest meaning. The arts bear testimony to it. The faces of clergy and laity in old sculptures and illuminated missals are charged with earnest belief. Summary: In the power of saying rude truth, sometimes in the lion’s mouth, no men surpass them. On the king’s birthday, when each bishop was expected to offer the king a purse of gold, Latimer gave Henry VIII. a copy of the Vulgate, with a mark at the passage, “Whoremongers…

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Character

Character By Ralph Waldo Emerson The English race are reputed morose. I do not know that they have sadder brows than their neighbors of northern climates. They are sad by comparison with the singing and dancing nations: not sadder, but slow and staid, as finding their joys at home. Summary: There is an English hero superior to the French, the German, the Italian, or the Greek. When he is brought to the strife with fate, he sacrifices a richer material possession, and on more purely metaphysical grounds. He is there with his own consent, face to face with fortune, which he defies. On deliberate choice,…

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Cockayne

Cockayne By Ralph Waldo Emerson The English are a nation of humorists. Individual right is pushed to the uttermost bound compatible with public order. Property is so perfect, that it seems the craft of that race, and not to exist elsewhere. The king cannot step on an acre which the peasant refuses to sell. Summary: There is no freak so ridiculous but some Englishman has attempted to immortalize by money and law. British citizenship is as omnipotent as Roman was. Mr. Cockayne is very sensible of this. The pursy man means by freedom the right to do as he pleases, and does wrong in order…

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Wealth

Wealth By Ralph Waldo Emerson There is no country in which so absolute a homage is paid to wealth. In America, there is a touch of shame when a man exhibits the evidences of large property, as if, after all, it needed apology. But the Englishman has pure pride in his wealth, and esteems it a final certificate. Summary: The ambition to create value evokes every kind of ability, government becomes a manufacturing corporation, and every house a mill. The headlong bias to utility will let no talent lie in a napkin, – if possible, will teach spiders to weave silk stockings. An Englishman, while…

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