Quotes by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Essay on Choosing Great Books (Nov. 2013)

Susan’s Thursday morning note November 21, 2013
Ralph Waldo Emerson Quotes and Essay on Choosing Great Books

Good morning!  Howling winds.  Great filler with a little coffee added.  Silence.  Time to write out for you a short reading this week that has replayed in my thoughts and has been read aloud to anyone in my house that would listen as they walked by.  An essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) on the chance of reading a great book that affects your life when you have millions to choose from.  A mathematical coincidence or a natural selection?  I am first going to write out famous quotes by Emerson, followed by sections of his essay entitled Books.  This essay was part of a book brought in by one of you that is inspiring from beginning to end on the importance of reading in our lives.  Reading in Bed: Personal Essays on the Glories of Reading selected by Steven Gilbar.  I hope you find this essay as interesting as I did – a longer note to send out, but I don’t know what to take out that wasn’t interesting to read!

 “When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.” 

 “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” 

 “The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, not the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when you discover that someone else believes in you and is willing to trust you with a friendship.”

 “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”

 “Whatever you do, you need courage. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising that tempt you to believe your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires some of the same courage that a soldier needs. Peace has its victories, but it takes brave men and women to win them.” 

 “Always do what you are afraid to do.” 

 “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” 

 “For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.”

 “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” 

 “Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.” 

 “I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.” 

 “All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen.” 

 “Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself. Go forward and make your dreams come true.” 

 “It is not the length of life, but the depth.” 

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

 “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.” 

 “The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” 

 “The earth laughs in flowers.” 

 “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” 

 “Make the most of yourself….for that is all there is of you.” 

 “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

 “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.”

“A man is what he thinks about all day long.”

“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.”

“Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly and they will show themselves great.”

Selection from an essay by Emerson on choosing a great book out of millions of choices: 
In a library we are surrounded by any hundred of dear friends, but they are imprisoned by an enchanter in these paper and leathern boxes; and though they know us, and have been waiting two, ten, or twenty centuries for us – some of them – and are eager to give us a sign, and unbosom themselves, it is the law of their limbo that they must not speak until spoken to; and as the enchanter has dressed them…by the thousand and ten thousand, your chance of hitting on the right one is to be computed by the arithmetical rule of Permutation and Combination – and not a choice out of three caskets, but out of half a million caskets all alike.  But it happens in our experience, that in this lottery there are at least 50 or 100 blanks to a prize…

 …In 1858 the number of printed books in the Imperial Library of Paris was estimated at 800,000 volumes, with an annual increase of 12,000 volumes; so that the number of printed books extant today may easily exceed a million.  It is easy to count the number of pages which a diligent man can read in a day, and the number of years which human life in favorable circumstances allows to reading; and to demonstrate that, though he should read from dawn till dark, for sixty years, he must die in the first alcoves.  But nothing can be more deceptive than this arithmetic, where none but a natural method is really pertinent.  I visit occasionally the Cambridge Library, and I can seldom go there without renewing the conviction that the best of it all is already within the four walls of my study at home.  The inspection of the catalogue brings me continually back to the few standard writers who are on every private shelf; and to these it can afford only the most slight and casual additions.  The crowds and centuries of books are only commentary and elucidation, echoes and weakeners of these few great voices of Time.

 The best rule of reading will be a method from nature, and not a mechanical one of hours and pages.  It holds each student to a pursuit of his native aim, instead of desultory miscellany.  Let him read what is proper to him and not waste his memory on a crowd of mediocrities…Nature is much our friend in this matter.  Nature is always clarifying her water and her wine.  No filtration can be so perfect.  She does the same thing by books as by her gasses and plants.  There is always a selection in writers, and then a selection from the selection…’Tis therefore an economy of time to read old and famed books.  Nothing can be preserved which is not good; and I know beforehand that Pindar, Martial, Terence, Galen, Kepler, Galileo, Bacon, Erasmus, More, will be superior to the average intellect…Shun the spawn of the press on the gossip of the hour.  Do not read what you shall learn, without asking, in the street and the train…Dr. Johnson said, “He always went into stately shops and good travelers stop at the best hotels; for, though they cost more, they do not cost much more, and here is the good company and the best information.  In like manner, the scholar knows that the famed books contain, first and last, the best thoughts and facts.  Now and then, by rarest luck, in some foolish Grub Street is the gem we want.  But in the best circles is the best information.  If you should transfer the amount of your reading day by day from the newspapers to the standard authors…Montaigne says, “Books are a languid pleasure,” but I find certain books vital and spermatic, not leaving the reader what he was; he shuts the book a richer man.  I would never willingly read any others than such.

Thank you for letting me again enter your Thursday.  Thanksgiving comes again.  So many of you reading this are sad this time of year.  So many others loving the holidays entering your scenes.  Regardless, the angel of dawn has chosen to enter our lives.  To give us personally the gift of today.  This month.  These holidays.  Can we make the gift worthy of receiving?  The gift of the beauty of life.  The beauty of what we do have?  No matter what any of us go through, just looking to the heavens gives a promise of a peace no one will understand.  Looking into the eyes of those we meet.  Can we be the ones to give the smile?  To see the eternal perspective?  To see the beauty?  To realize the smallest events in our day are possibly what life is about?  Tonight we write in our stone our epitaph of the moments we will not get back.  Will we make some moments worthy of inscription?  Have a beautiful day…even if your beauty possibly is only through entering a beautiful book.  The gift of reading.  I hope I see you in our store – how much you matter to our business & to giving me such a great store to have for you.  Don’t blow away!  Listen carefully – there has to be at least one bird calling hi to you as you enter this Thursday!  Susan


Latin for this week:
legere – to read
lego – to gather, choose, collect, pass through, read
legendo delector – I love to read.