Ralph Waldo Emerson on History...this I read and it raised a few questions...one, who thinks and writes like this today, so formal and eloquent and reasoned? And how he believes in the power of history and our knowledge of it. How many times the word man is used. Given that, do the same reflections apply to men and women and our world and history today? How have women's greater participation in society added to or changed this discourse.
the same and to all of the same. He that is once admitted to the right
of reason is made a freeman of the whole estate. What Plato has thought,
he may think; what a saint has felt, he may feel; what at any time has
befallen any man, he can understand. Who hath access to this universal
mind is a party to all that is or can be done, for this is the only and
Of the works of this mind history is the record. Its genius is
illustrated by the entire series of days. Man is explicable by nothing
less than all his history. Without hurry, without rest, the human spirit
goes forth from the beginning to embody every faculty, every thought,
every emotion, which belongs to it, in appropriate events. But the
thought is always prior to the fact; all the facts of history preexist
in the mind as laws. Each law in turn is made by circumstances
predominant, and the limits of nature give power to but one at a time.
A man is the whole encyclopaedia of facts. The creation of a thousand
forests is in one acorn, and Egypt, Greece, Rome, Gaul, Britain,
America, lie folded already in the first man. Epoch after epoch, camp,
kingdom, empire, republic, democracy, are merely the application of his
manifold spirit to the manifold world.
This human mind wrote history, and this must read it. The Sphinx must
solve her own riddle. If the whole of history is in one man, it is all
to be explained from individual experience. There is a relation between
the hours of our life and the centuries of time. As the air I breathe is
drawn from the great repositories of nature, as the light on my book is
yielded by a star a hundred millions of miles distant, as the poise
of my body depends on the equilibrium of centrifugal and centripetal
forces, so the hours should be instructed by the ages and the ages
explained by the hours. Of the universal mind each individual man is one
more incarnation. All its properties consist in him. Each new fact in
his private experience flashes a light on what great bodies of men
have done, and the crises of his life refer to national crises. Every
revolution was first a thought in one man's mind, and when the same
thought occurs to another man, it is the key to that era.