Representative Men (1850)

Ralph Waldo Emerson Representative Men

Uses of Great Men

Uses of Great Men IT IS NATURAL to believe in great men. If the companions of our childhood should turn out to be heroes, and their condition regal it would not surprise us. All mythology opens with demigods, and the circumstance is high and poetic; that is, their genius is paramount. In the legends of the Gautama, the first men ate the earth and found it deliciously sweet. Nature seems to exist for the excellent. The world is upheld by the veracity of good men: they make the earth wholesome. They who lived with them found life glad and nutritious. Life is sweet and tolerable only in our belief in…

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Plato; or, the Philosopher

Plato; or, the Philosopher AMONG secular *(7) books, Plato only is entitled to Omar’s *(8) fanatical compliment to the Koran, when he said, “Burn the libraries; for their value is in this book.” These sentences contain the culture of nations; these are the corner-stone of schools; these are the fountain-head of literatures. A discipline it is in logic, arithmetic, taste, symmetry, poetry, language, rhetoric, ontology, morals or practical wisdom. There was never such range of speculation. Out of Plato come all things that are still written and debated among men of thought. Great havoc makes he among our originalities. We have reached the mountain from which all these drift boulders were detached.…

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Plato: New Readings

Plato: New Readings The publication, in Mr. Bohn’s “Serial Library,” of the excellent translations of Plato, which we esteem one of the chief benefits the cheap press has yielded, gives us an occasion to take hastily a few more notes of the elevation and bearings of this fixed star; or to add a bulletin, like the journals, of Plato at the latest dates. Modern science, by the extent of its generalization, has learned to indemnify the student of man for the defects of individuals by tracing growth and ascent in races; and, by the simple expedient of lighting up the vast background, generates a feeling of complacency and hope. The…

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Swedenborg; or, the Mystic

Swedenborg; Or The Mystic Swedenborg AMONG eminent persons, those who are most dear to men are not of the class which the economist calls producers: they have nothing in their hands; they have not cultivated corn, nor made bread; they have not led out a colony, nor invented a loom. A higher class, in the estimation and love of this city-building market-going race of mankind, are the poets, who, from the intellectual kingdom, feed the thought and imagination with ideas and pictures which raise men out of the world of corn and money, and console them for the shortcomings of the day and the meanness of labor and traffic. Then,…

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Montaigne; or, the Skeptic

Montaigne; or, the Skeptic Montaigne Skepticism EVERY FACT is related on one side to sensation, and on the other to morals. The game of thought is, on the appearance of one of these two sides, to find the other: given the upper, to find the under side. Nothing so thin but has these two faces, and when the observer has seen the obverse, he turns it over to see the reverse. Life is a pitching of this penny,- heads or tails. We never tire of this game, because there is still a slight shudder of astonishment at the exhibition of the other face, at the contrast of the two faces.…

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Shakspeare; or, the Poet

Shakspeare; or, the Poet GREAT MEN are more distinguished by range and tent than by originality. If we require the originality which consists in weaving, like a spider, their web from their own bowels; in finding clay and making bricks and building the house; no great men are original. Nor does valuable originality consist in unlikeness to other men. The hero is in the press of knights and the thick of events; and seeing what men want and sharing their desire, he adds the needful length of sight and of arm, to come at the desired point. The greatest genius is the most indebted man. A poet is no rattle-brain,…

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Napoleon; Man of the World

Napoleon; Man of the World AMONG the eminent persons of the nineteenth century, Bonaparte is far the best known and the most powerful; and owes his predominance to the fidelity with which he expresses the tone of thought and belief, the aims of the masses of active and cultivated men. It is Swedenborg’s theory that every organ is made up of homogeneous particles; or as it is sometimes expressed, every whole is made of similars; that is, the lungs are composed of infinitely small lungs; the liver, of infinitely small livers; the kidney, of little kidneys, etc. Following this analogy, if any man is found to carry with him the…

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Goethe; or, the Writer

Goethe; Or The Writer Which best describes emerson’s central message to his contemporaries in “self-reliance”? I FIND a provision in the constitution of the world for the writer, or secretary, who is to report the doings of the miraculous spirit of life that everywhere throbs and works. His office is a reception of the facts into the mind, and then a selection of the eminent and characteristic experiences. Nature will be reported. All things are engaged in writing their history. The planet, the pebble, goes attended by its shadow. The rolling rock leaves its scratches on the mountain; the river its channel in the soil; the animal its bones in…

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Notes

Notes Notes from the Centenary Edition of Emerson’s Complete Works, edited by his son, Edward Waldo Emerson. * Jacob Behmen, or Boehme, a Silesian of humble birth in the sixteenth century, a mystic whose writings later attracted much attention. Mr. Emerson was early interested in his works and often mentions them. *( 2) William Gilbert (1540-1603), the greatest man of science of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, especially noted for his discovery that the earth is a great magnet. *( 3) That is, the ideal, instead of the outward shows of things. *( 4) federal errors: a Latinism for mistakes sanctioned by custom. *( 5) flagrant: a Latinism suggesting that, in the…

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