“Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”. — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) was an American poet and essayist. He was also a lecturer and gave over 1500 lectures across the USA. A great philosopher, he stated that his central teaching was “the infinitude of the private man.”
In his earlier years he was a religious man, serving as a pastor – however in later life his thoughts turned more philosophical.
He is now considered one of the foremost American writers of the 19th century. Nicknamed the “Concord Sage”, he became famous for his ability to inspire and influence. The quote we have chosen is a famous one – and refers to the path as a metaphor for the “inner world” of the thinker. Emerson, essentially, is encouraging us to think for ourselves and to apply our own reason. He also makes a portrayal here of the pioneering spirit and the “great adventure”, indicating that those who forge ahead are those who will make the greatest achievements.
Some of Emerson’s thinking is very troublesome to our modern outlook – for example he was a supporter of war, writing: “Wars, fires, plagues, break up immovable routine, clear the ground of rotten races and dens of distemper, and open a fair field to new men.”
It is his positive aphorisms however that are best known. The pioneering spirit is embedded deeply into American culture. Most of Emerson’s life was lived before the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1871. We take transportation for granted in these days – but back in the early 19th century, traveling across the USA was a serious adventure and reaching the West coast an achievement in itself.