Ralph Waldo Emerson


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 general dimness, the outlines of the human world may be found in its blazing beacon lights.

*(6) The constant security of Mr Emerson's belief in Evolution in its highest sense appears hear as elsewhere in his prose and verse, and also his belief in the genius of mankind, which is another word for Universal Mind.

*(7) The less usual use of "secular," in its strict classical sense, to mean "that live through the ages."

*(8) Omar the Caliph was Mahomet's cousin and second successor.

*(9) From the Timaeus.

*(10) From the Theaetetus.

*(11) From the Gorgias.

*(12) Compare the Republic, Book VII.

*(13) From the Phaedrus.

*(14) See the Republic, Book VI.

*(15) What Mr. Emerson says here of Plato, and also earlier, "He cannot forgive in himself a partiality, but is resolved that the two poles of thought shall appear in his statement," cannot but recall his own method of presenting in turn different facets of the gem of truth. Churchman and Agnostic can easily find good weapons for argument in his works. Dr. Holmes says of this passage, "Some will smile at hearing him say this of another." It illustrates the felicity of the Doctor's remark that Emerson holds up the mirror to his characters at just such an angle that we see his own face as well as that of his hero.

*(16) ...his soliform eye and his boniform soul: Dr. Holmes says, "These two quaint adjectives are from the mint of Cudworth."

*(17) From Plato's Meno, where, as also in the Phaedrus, the doctrines of Reminiscence is brought forward, and here is reconciled with that of the Universal Mind.

*(18) John Selden (1584-1654), jurist, antiquarian, orientalist, author. His Table-Talk was published in 1681.

*(19) Marcello Malpighi of Bologna (1628-1694) is considered a founder of microscopic anatomy.

*(20) Leucippus: in the 5th century B.C. Leucippus held an atomic theory later expounded by Lucretius in his poem De Rerum Natura.

*(21) Swammerdam... Boerhaave: Swammerdam, a brilliant Dutch naturalist of the 17th century, was especially noted for his minute studies of the viscera and system of injection of vessels. Leuwenhoek, his countryman and contemporary, made notable discoveries with regard to capillary circulation and the blood corpuscles of man and animals... Winslow was a Dane, but worked in Paris, and wrote on purely descriptive anatomy. Eustachius of Salerno was a brilliant investigator of human structure, especially of the ear and viscera, though less reputed that the great Flemish anatomist Andreas Vesalius, who was persecuted for daring to teach the real facts of human anatomy in face of the mistaken authority of Galen. Heister was also an anatomist. Herman Boerhaave (1688-1738), born in Holland and educated at the University of Leyden... He studied philosophy and medicine and became a distinguished practitioner and writer mainly on medical subjects.

*(22) Leibnitz: the maxim of the broad and high-minded Leibnitz (1646-1715), "Everything is for the best in the best of possible worlds," would have recommended him.

*(23) The "flowing of nature" is the old doctrine of Heracleitus. The answer of Amasis, King of Egypt, is related in "The Banquet" in Plutarch's Morals.

*(24) In the Timaeus it is told that Solon heard from Egyptian priests this account of the great Athenians of the first State, which was destroyed by an earthquake thousands of years earlier.

*(25) Casella: Dante's friend, the beautiful singer, whom meeting, in Purgatory, he besought to sing. Casella began "Amor che nella mente mi ragiona," and all the souls flocked to hear.

*(26) One of the examples of Laconic speech given by Plutarch in the Life of Lycurgus.

*(27) I knew a philosopher... "Mankind is a damned rascal": this was the remark of Emerson's neighbor, a laborer.

*(28) The Proteus: Mr. Emerson recognized Nature's secret of Identity through all fugitive forms in the fable of the sea-god Proteus, who, when caught sleeping by a mortal, took shapes of beasts, of serpents, of fire, to disconcert his captor, yet, if held fast in spite of all, must answer his questions.

*(29) San Carlo: the valued friend here alluded to, Mr. Charles K. Newcomb, was of a sensitive and beautiful character, a mystic, but with the Hamlet temperament to such an extent that he was paralyzed for all action by the tenderness of his conscience and the power with which all sides of a question presented themselves to him in turn. He was a member of the Brooks Farm Community, a welcome but rare visitor at Mr. Emerson's house, and when he came he brought his writings, which interested his host greatly. I think they never came to publication, except a few papers in the Dial. His sense of duty sent him to the war for the Union in the ranks. He remained a bachelor all his life and in his last years lived much abroad.

*(30) The dates of Lydgate and Caxton show a mistake as to Emerson's use of them. Caxton, following Chaucer, when he introduced the printing press to England, printed his poems and those of Lydgate, who was younger than Chaucer.

*(31) While writing this, Mr. Emerson was surrounded by persons paralyzed for active life in the common world by the doubts of conscience or entangled in over-fine-spun webs of their intellect.

*(32) This line is probably a translation from some Arabic or Persian source, from the connection in which it appears in Emerson's notebook.

*(33) Xenien: from the Greek, was used by Goethe and Schiller to denote epigrams.

Ralph Waldo Emerson Self Reliance

Ralph Waldo Emerson left the ministry to pursue a career in writing and public speaking. Emerson became one of America's best known and best-loved 19th-century figures.
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Emerson Quotes

"Every man has his own courage, and is betrayed because he seeks in himself the courage of other persons."
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” 
– Ralph Waldo Emerson