We regard Ralph Waldo Emerson as the perfect example of spiritual independence. He seems beholden to no man and draws all his light from within. How did he arrive at this condition? For in his early thirties, he wrote to his Aunt Mary, "A teacher . . . when will God send me one full of truth and of boundless benevolence?" This question was written soon after he came to Europe. There were four literary heroes across the Atlantic among whom he hoped to find his teacher. They were Carlyle, Landor, Coleridge, and Wordsworth. But when he met them in the flesh, Landor severely disappointed him. The Coleridge visit was "of no use beyond the satisfaction of my curiosity." Emerson's interview with Wordsworth was more successful but still so fruitless that he was glad to end it. The first glance at Carlyle made him believe that his search for a teacher was over, that here was his man. The actuality was that he found a lifelong friend, even a fellow-pilgrim and seeker. But he did not become a pupil. He had gone in search of a master. He failed to find one. Indeed he tells his aunt as much, that he seeks a man who is wise and true but that he never gets used to men. "They always awaken expectations in me which they always disappoint." He left Europe, writing in his journal on shipboard the melancholy after-reflection, "I shall judge more justly, less timidly, of wise men forevermore." And it was there, in his little cabin, that he received the illumination which he could not find in Europe. He need look outside himself no more. Out of his illumination, whilst still afloat on the ocean, he wrote down such sentences as these: "A man contains all that is needful within himself." "Nothing can be given to him or taken away from him but always there is a compensation." "The purpose of life seems to be to acquaint a man with himself."
-- Notebooks Category 1: Overview of the Quest > Chapter 3: Independent Path > # 87