RW Emerson on Growth, Maturity and True Greatness

“Once you saw phoenixes: they are gone; the world is not therefore disenchanted. 

The vessels on which you read sacred emblems turn out to be common pottery; but the sense of the pictures is sacred, and you may still read them transferred to the walls of the world. 

For a time our teachers serve us personally, as meters or milestones of progress. 

Once they were angels of knowledge and their figures touched the sky. 

Then we drew near, saw their means, culture and limits; and they yielded their place to other geniuses. 

Happy, if a few names remain so high that we have not been able to read them nearer, and age and comparison have not robbed them of a ray. 

But at last we shall cease to look in men for completeness, and shall content ourselves with their social and delegated quality. 

All that respects the individual is temporary and prospective, like the individual himself, who is ascending out of his limits into a universal existence. 

We have never come at the true and best benefit of any genius so long as we believe him an original force. 

In the moment when he ceases to help us as a cause, he begins to help us more as an effect. 

Then he appears as an exponent of a vaster mind and will. 

The opaque self becomes transparent with the light of the First Cause. 

Yet, within the limits of human education and agency, we may say great men exist that there may be greater men.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

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