In 1844 Ralph Waldo Emerson published his 2nd collection of Essays.  If you’re familiar with Emerson’s poetry but haven’t read his Essay’s, I highly recommend it. Years ago my wife and I were searching through some old books at a flea market and I uncovered a 1890’s edition of Emerson’s 1st and 2nd collection of essays.  I’ve read them all but the essay on Character I’ve read several times. Since these were written during the 19th Century, the words “man” and “men” are used and women are left out. However, his words apply to individuals of both sexes of course. So, please keep that in mind. The following passages are my litmus test. This is what I strive for every moment of my life.  Shouldn’t we all?


“The reason why we feel one man’s presence, and do not feel another’s, is as simple as gravity. Truth is the summit of being: justice is the application of it to affairs. All individual natures stand in a scale, according to the purity of this element in them. The will of the pure runs down from them into other natures, as water runs down from a higher into a lower vessel. This natural force is no more to be withstood, than any other natural force. We can drive a stone upward for a moment into the air, but it is yet true that all stones will forever fall; and whatever instances can be quoted of unpunished theft, or of a lie which somebody credited, justice must prevail, and it is the privilege of truth to make itself believed. Character is this moral order seen through the medium of an individual nature…A healthy soul stands united with the Just and the True, as the magnet arranges itself with the pole, so that he stands to all beholders like a transparent object betwixt them and the sun, and whoso journeys towards the sun, journeys towards that person. He is thus the medium of the highest influence to all who are not on the same level. Thus, men of character are the conscience of the society to which they belong.

The natural measure of this power is the resistance of circumstances. Impure men consider life as it is reflected in opinions, events, and persons. They cannot see the action, until it is done. Yet its moral element pre-existed in the actor, and its quality as right or wrong, it was easy to predict. Everything in nature is bipolar, or has a positive and negative pole. There is a male and a female, a spirit and a fact, a north and a south. Spirit is the positive, the event is the negative. Will is the north, action the south pole. Character may be ranked as having its natural place in the north. It shares the magnetic currents of the system. The feeble souls are drawn to the south or negative pole. They look at the profit or hurt of the action. They never behold a principle until it is lodged in a person. They do not wish to be lovely, but to be loved. The class of character like to hear of their faults: the other class do not like to hear of faults; they worship events; secure to them a fact, a connexion, a certain chain of circumstances, and they will ask no more…”


If you’ve read this excerpt do yourself a favor and read it again. For a long time I’ve attempted to put into to words what I look for when I’m considering which public servant to cast my vote for in elections.  I seek individuals with character. And this short section spells it out beautifully. I will continue to use this as a checklist for who to vote for and as a check on my own person. Thanks for reading. 🙂