History

by

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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The Individual Character Analysis

The audience of the essay. The individual is a single member of the eternal collective of human beings, united with all other people through a universal mind and spirit. Emerson imparts responsibility onto the individual to bring forth the essay’s call to action—that is, to read and write history deeply, broadly, and personally for a more holistic and spiritually-grounded understanding of the self and of humanity.

The Individual Quotes in History

The History quotes below are all either spoken by The Individual or refer to The Individual. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover Thrift Editions edition of History published in 1993.
History Quotes

There is one mind common to all individual men. Every man is an inlet to the same and to all of the same … what at any time has befallen any man, he can understand.

Related Characters: Ralph Waldo Emerson (speaker), The Individual
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

Universal history, the poets, the romancers, do not in their stateliest pictures—in the sacerdotal, the imperial palaces, in the triumphs of will or of genius—anywhere lose our ear, anywhere make us feel that we intrude, that this is for better men; but rather it is true, that in their grandest strokes we feel most at home.

Related Characters: Ralph Waldo Emerson (speaker), The Individual
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:

We are always coming up with the emphatic facts of history in our private experience, and verifying them here. All history becomes subjective; in other words, there is properly no history; only biography.

Related Characters: Ralph Waldo Emerson (speaker), The Individual
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

If any one will but take pains to observe the variety of actions to which he is equally inclined in certain moods of mind, and those to which he is averse, he will see how deep is the chain of affinity.

Related Characters: Ralph Waldo Emerson (speaker), The Individual
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

In like manner, all public facts are to be individualized, all private facts are to be generalized. Then at once History becomes fluid and true, and Biography deep and sublime.

Related Characters: Ralph Waldo Emerson (speaker), The Individual
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

What is the foundation of that interest all men feel in Greek history, letters, art, and poetry, in all its periods, from the Heroic or Homeric age down to the domestic life of the Athenians and Spartans, four or five centuries later? What but this, that every man passes personally through a Grecian period.

Related Characters: Ralph Waldo Emerson (speaker), The Individual
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

When the voice of a prophet out of the deeps of antiquity merely echoes to him a sentiment of his infancy, a prayer of his youth, he then pierces to the truth through all the confusion of tradition and the caricature of institutions.

Related Characters: Ralph Waldo Emerson (speaker), The Individual
Related Symbols: The Gothic Cathedral
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

The advancing man discovers how deep a property he has in literature,—in all fable as well as in all history. He finds that the poet was no odd fellow who described strange and impossible situations, but that universal man wrote by his pen a confession true for one and true for all.

Related Characters: Ralph Waldo Emerson (speaker), The Individual
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:
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History PDF

The Individual Character Timeline in History

The timeline below shows where the character The Individual appears in History. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
History
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Emerson begins the essay by arguing that every individual has access to the “universal mind”—a collective consciousness of thoughts, feelings, and experiences that are... (full context)
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...of human history. He believes that distinct historical entities—peoples, nations, governments—are simply the result of individuals with the same universal mind experiencing different external circumstances. (full context)
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...writes history, Emerson argues that it must also read history. Since all experiences are universal, individuals can make sense of history through the perspective of their own lives. Emerson suggests that... (full context)
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...is ultimately what gives life its meaning. Since the same universal nature lives within all individuals, significant historical moments happened as much “for us” in the present as they did for... (full context)
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...There are divine morals and values that are intrinsic to the universal human spirit, and individuals therefore admire and seek to embody the same character of the “unattained but attainable self.”... (full context)
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...history is an ongoing record of the universal human mind and nature, Emerson implores the individual to “read history actively and not passively” by viewing their own life as the source... (full context)
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Emerson believes that since history encompasses the universal mind, the individual can relate any historical event to some aspect of their personal life. He urges men... (full context)
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...facts are subjective, Emerson believes that all history is essentially biography. He suggests that each individual is living their own personal representation of the same timeless human experience, and that it... (full context)
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...argues that all laws are based on the universal nature of human beings, and that individuals must come to understand historical events (the French Reign of Terror or the Salem Witch... (full context)
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...ignorance, and violence of the past. History, Emerson suggests, is a personal “problem” that each individual seeks to solve by distancing themselves from the “There or Then” and rooting themselves in... (full context)
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But the individual, argues Emerson, also cannot help but see himself in history. In Emerson’s view, a Gothic... (full context)
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...a man and “the strata of the rock” in nature. Emerson points out that the individual’s tendency to conjure their own associations of natural beauty when viewing art is a testament... (full context)
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...art. He notes that there are men today who resemble ancient Greek sculptures. Just an individual can only make sense of themselves by “becoming” history, an artist must “become” an element... (full context)
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...believes that civil and natural history (that of art and literature) must be explained by individual history. Grand works of architecture such as the Santa Croce, the Dome of St. Peter’s,... (full context)
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...Emerson, seemingly “trivial” everyday happenings are actually gateways to the timeless essence of humanity. Ordinary individuals often bear witness to the sublime beauty and power of nature in their daily lives.... (full context)
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Deepening his ongoing argument that history must be personalized, Emerson asserts that an individual’s private biography must be likewise be generalized and applied to all of humanity. He illustrates... (full context)
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Reiterating his belief that the universal mind authors history, Emerson notes that everything the individual observes in the external world will correspond to a deep, intrinsic truth within themselves. Conversely,... (full context)
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...history (ancient Greek literature, art, and poetry, for example) reflects the intrinsic unity of the individual and the universal. He argues that any given historical era is paralleled by a corresponding... (full context)
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...a recognition of what is natural and perfect in human beings. For example, the present-day individual who read Greek mythology are able to sense the “eternity of man” through an enduring... (full context)
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Emerson reiterates his belief that the individual experiences a historical age through a parallel “age” in their own life. An ancient prophet,... (full context)
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...becomes the oppressor who tyrannizes children, and thus perpetuates the cycle of history. When the individual recognizes the underlying universal principles in his own experiences, they are able to understand and... (full context)
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Emerson further emphasizes his point that the individual’s actions are merely personal manifestations of the universal mind. History is a perpetual record of... (full context)
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Transitioning to the topic of literature, Emerson discusses how the individual who studies works of the past will recognize the universal mind shared by all human... (full context)
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...to influence the entire Western tradition of language, literature, and religion. He believes that the individual is not truly separate from other people, nor from God, and that the soul transmigrates... (full context)
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...in the form of art, literature, religion, and other cultural facets. As a result, the individual is able to capture and articulate truths that they do not fully comprehend. For example,... (full context)
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...great stretches of time that brought the celestial body into being. Emerson also mentions the individual’s inherent connection to other people, stating his belief that no amount of time would allow... (full context)
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Emerson restates his central argument—that a singular unifying consciousness and spirit unites the individual with all other people and things, and that history is the record of this universal... (full context)
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...history to be broader and deeper. Only then, says Emerson, can the selfishness of the individual be overcome and the unity of all things, past and present, be understood. (full context)