Ralph Waldo Emerson? James Elliot Cabot? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: Each day should be greeted with our optimism and aspirations. We should forgive ourselves for yesterday’s missteps. The transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson apparently made this point in a passage that begins with one of the following two phrases:
- Finish every day and be done with it.
- Finish each day and be done with it.
Would you please help me to determine precisely what Emerson said and where he said it?
Quote Investigator: After the death of Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1882 his letters and notebooks were carefully preserved. Decades later, Columbia University Press released a six volume collection of his letters. The quotation appeared in volume four which was published in 1939 under the editorship of Ralph L. Rusk.
On April 8, 1854 Emerson sent a missive to his daughter Ellen with guidance about maintaining a positive attitude toward each new day. The informally punctuated letter included run-on sentences. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1
You must finish a term & finish every day, & be done with it. For manners, & for wise living, it is a vice to remember. You have done what you could — some blunders & absurdities no doubt crept in forget them as fast as you can tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it well & serenely, & with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense. This day for all that is good & fair. It is too dear with its hopes & invitations to waste a moment on the rotten yesterdays.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1939, The Letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson in Six Volumes, Edited by Ralph L. Rusk (Professor of English at Columbia University), Volume 4, Letter from: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Letter to: Ellen Emerson, Letter date: April 8, 1854, Letter location: Concord, Start Page 438, Quote Page 439, Columbia University Press, New York. (Google Books Preview) ↩