Ralph Waldo Emerson on Character

Defining character is the first step in understanding its significance to human life. Fortunately, we are the benefactors of innumerable scholarly perspectives. This excerpt from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Character” gives us one such perspective.

Certain biases, talents, executive skills, are special to each individual; but the high, contemplative, all-commanding vision, the sense of Right and Wrong, is alike in all. Its attributes are self-existence, eternity, intuition and command. It is the mind of the mind. We belong to it, not it to us. It is in all men, and constitutes them men. In bad men it is dormant, as health is in men entranced or drunken; but, however inoperative, it exists underneath whatever vices and errors. The extreme simplicity of this intuition embarrasses every attempt at analysis. We can only mark, one by one, the perfections which it combines in every act. It admits of no appeal, looks to no superior essence. It is the reason of things.

Read the whole essay from Emerson’s The Complete Works (1904), Vol. X, at Bartleby.

Virginia Murr