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Words of Wisdom

Excerpt from the Essay “Compensation” by Ralph Waldo Emerson (vegetarian), Part 1 of 2

2022-07-04
Language:English
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Ralph Waldo Emerson was a renowned 19th-century American essayist, philosopher, lecturer, poet, and a leader of the transcendental philosophical movement. His literature influenced many celebrated writers, including Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman. Today, we will read a selection from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Essays, First Series, Essay 3, entitled “Compensation,” in which the philosopher talks about how a person is compensated similarly for that which they have contributed.

“Polarity, or action and reaction, we meet in every part of nature; in darkness and light; in heat and cold; in the ebb and flow of waters; in male and female; in the inspiration and expiration of plants and animals; in the centrifugal and centripetal gravity; in electricity, galvanism, and chemical affinity. Superinduce magnetism at one end of a needle; the opposite magnetism takes place at the other end. If the south attracts, the north repels.”

The same dualism underlies the nature and condition of man. Every excess causes a defect, every defect an excess. Every sweet hath its sour; every evil its good. Every faculty which is a receiver of pleasure has an equal penalty put on its abuse. It is to answer for its moderation with its life. For every grain of wit there is a grain of folly. For everything you have missed, you have gained something else; and for everything you gain, you lose something. If riches increase, they are increased that use them. If the gatherer gathers too much, nature takes out of the man what she puts into his chest, swells the estate, but kills the owner. Nature hates monopolies and exceptions.”

The farmer imagines power and place are fine things. But the President has paid dear for his White House. It has commonly cost him all his peace, and the best of his many attributes. To preserve for a short time so conspicuous an appearance before the world, he is content to eat dust before the real masters who stand erect behind the throne. Or do men desire the more substantial and permanent grandeur of genius? Neither has this an immunity.”
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