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: Ralph Waldo Emerson died in 1882, and James Elliot Cabot became his literary executor and family-approved biographer. 1 In 1887 Cabot’s biography of Emerson was published as two volumes under the title “A Memoir of Ralph Waldo Emerson”. A section of chapter 13 described Emerson’s methods of childrearing. An advice-filled letter to a daughter was reprinted. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2
To one of his daughters who was away from home, at school, he writes:—
“Finish every day and be done with it. For manners and for wise living it is a vice to remember. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. To-morrow is a new day; you shall begin it well and serenely, and with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense. This day for all that is good and fair. It is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on the rotten yesterdays.”
Cabot had comprehensive access to Emerson’s papers and the support of his family, so QI believes that the text from the letter is probably accurate.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1983, Studies in the American Renaissance, Arranging the Sibylline Leaves: James Elliot Cabot’s Work as Emerson’s Literary Executor by Nancy Craig Simmon, Start Page 335, End Page 389, Published by Joel Myerson. (JSTOR) link ↩
- 1887, A Memoir of Ralph Waldo Emerson by James Elliot Cabot, Volume 2 of 2, Chapter 13: His Ways With His Children, Quote Page 106 and 107, Macmillan and Company, London and New York. (Google Books Full View) link ↩