We pass for what we are. Character teaches above our wills. Men imagine that they communicate thier virtue or vice by overt actions, and do not see that virtue or vice emit a breath ever moment....One tendency unites them all. The voyage of the best ship is a zsig zag line of a hundred tacks. See the line from a sufficent distance and it straightens itslef to the average tendency.
Every true man is a cause, a country, and an age; requires infinite spaces and numbers and time fully to accomplish his design; - and posterity seem to follow his steps as a train of clients. A man Caesar is born, and for ages after we have a Roman Empire. Christ is born, and millions of minds so grow and cleave to his genius that he is confounded with virtue and the possible of man. An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man; as Monachism, of the Hermit Antony; the Reformation, of Luther; Quakerism, of Fox; Methodism, of Wesley; Abolition, of Clarkson. Scipio, Milton called "the height of Rome;" and all history resolves itslef very easity into the biography of a few stout and earnest persons. Let a man then know his worth, and keep things under his feet.
We lie in the lap of immense intelligence, which makes us receiver of its truth and organs of its activity. When we discern justice, when we discern truth, we do nothing of ourselves, but allow passage to its beams.
Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint stock-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.
To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 - 1882)
Source: although this quote has always been attributed to Emerson, it has never been located within any of his work.