But In Analysing History Do Not Be Too Profound, for Often the Causes Are Quite Superficial

Creator: Ralph Waldo Emerson, prominent American essayist and transcendentalist philosopher

Context: In 1836 when Emerson was 33 years old he wrote in his journal about bloody events in Spain and France. Emphasis added to excerpt: 1

But in analysing history do not be too profound, for often the causes are quite superficial. In the present state of Spain, in the old state of France, and in general in the reigns of Terror, everywhere, there is no Idea, no Principle. It is all scrambling for bread and money. It is the absence of all profound views; of all principle. It is the triumph of the senses, a total skepticism. They are all down on the floor striving each to pick the pocket, or cut the throat that he may pick the pocket, of the other, and the farthest view the miscreants have is the next tavern or brothel where their plunder may glut them.

Acknowledgement: Special thanks to Elisa Gabbert and Brent Gohde who via twitter wondered about the authenticity of this quotation and requested a citation.

Notes:

  1. 1910, Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson with Annotations, Edited by Edward Waldo Emerson and Waldo Emerson Forbes, 1836-1838, Volume 4, Journal Date: Nov. 29, 1836, Age of Ralph Waldo Emerson: 33, Quote Page 160 and 161, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (archive.org) link