Self-Trust Is the First Secret of Success

Ralph Waldo Emerson? Apocryphal?

Portrait of EmersonDear Quote Investigator: Anxiety and self-doubt can sabotage one’s attempts to achieve success. The transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson said: Self-trust is the first secret of success.

Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1870 Ralph Waldo Emerson collected a set of his essays under the title “Society and Solitude: Twelve Chapters”. The essay on “Success” contained the following advice. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Self-trust is the first secret of success, the belief that, if you are here, the authorities of the universe put you here, and for cause, or with some task strictly appointed you in your constitution, and so long as you work at that you are well and successful. It by no means consists in rushing prematurely to a showy feat that shall catch the eye and satisfy spectators. It is enough if you work in the right direction.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1881 “The Elocutionist’s Journal: A Repository of the Choicest Standard and Current Pieces for Readings and Declamations” reprinted an excerpt from Emerson’s essay: 2

The following article, which we copy from an exchange, has the ring of the true metal in it, and we commend it to the attention of our readers, more especially to the younger and rising generation, who are to follow and carry on our noble art to a higher and grander state of perfection:

Self-trust is the first secret of success—the belief that, if you are here, the authorities of the universe put you here, and for cause, or with some task strictly appointed you in your constitution, and so long as you work at that you are successful. . .

In 1893 “Dictionary of Quotations From Ancient and Modern” compiled by the Reverend James Wood included the quotation: 3

Self-trust is the first secret of success. Emerson.

In 1949 “The Home Book of Quotations: Classical and Modern” selected by Burton Stevenson included the quotation with a proper citation: 4

Self-trust is the first secret of success.
EMERSON, Society and Solitude: Success.

In 1999 “What Now?: Words of Wisdom for Life after Graduation” compiled by Jennifer Leigh Selig listed the saying: 5

Self-trust is the first secret of success.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

In conclusion, Ralph Waldo Emerson should receive credit for the words presented in the first citation listed above.

Image Notes: Portrait of Ralph Waldo Emerson engraved by Stephen Alonzo Schoff and published circa 1878; accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

(Great thanks to Caitlin Steuben whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Thanks to Burton Stevenson and other compilers of reference works. Stevenson listed the correct citation in 1949. Thanks also to researcher Barry Popik who created a webpage on this topic.)

Notes:

  1. 1871 (1870 Copyright), Society and Solitude: Twelve Chapters by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Chapter: Success, Start Page 251, Quote Page 261 and 262, James R. Osgood and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1881 October, The Elocutionist’s Journal: A Repository of the Choicest Standard and Current Pieces for Readings and Declamations, Success, Quote Page 11, Column 2, Jesse Haney and Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1893, Dictionary of Quotations From Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources, Selected and Compiled by the Reverend James Wood, Topic: Self, Quote Page 386, Frederick Warne and Company, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  4. 1949, The Home Book of Quotations: Classical and Modern, Selected by Burton Stevenson, Sixth Edition, Topic: Self-Confidence, Quote Page 1785, Dodd, Mead and Company, New York. (Internet Archive at archive.org)
  5. 1999 Copyright, What Now?: Words of Wisdom for Life after Graduation by Jennifer Leigh Selig, Section: The Meaning of Success, Quote Page 110, Andrews McMeel Publishing, Kansas City, Missouri. (Verified with scans)