When Ralph Waldo Emerson published what is probably his most famous essay in 1841, drawing from a lecture he had given a few years earlier, it was in the aftermath of the calamitous financial collapse of 1837. His positive vision for the power of individualism and personal responsibility was issued in a climate filled with panic and uncertainty and at a time when the values of society and humanity were in the process of being reformed.
It is less than once in a generation that events reshape our world and our thinking, and it is in such times that we should be reminded of the timeless works that offer us reassurance, provide inspiration when surrounded by pessimism, give trust when scepticism is everywhere. To suggest that the richest lives are lived with an independent mind, spirit and creativity surely deserves to be celebrated.
Emerson’s text is widely available to read online, but this new Volume edition, produced with Design Observer, elevates his wisdom through the printed word. It is needed perhaps now more than ever when circumstances, information and connections can vanish before our eyes.
As Emerson wrote in “Self-Reliance”, and which resonates as strongly now, “The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks. See the line from a sufficient distance, and it straightens itself to the average tendency. Your genuine action will explain itself, and will explain your other genuine actions. Your conformity explains nothing.”