Less Is More – R W Emerson


All our progress is an unfolding, like a vegetable bud.
You have first an instinct, then an opinion, then a knowledge as the plant has root, bud, and fruit.  Trust the instinct to the end, though you can render no reason.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Rules of Rhetoric
Less is More


Ralph Waldo Emerson

The following is excerpted from “Rules of Rhetoric,” part of an incomplete essay by Emerson titled “Art and Criticism.”

Through this series that revisits 19th century authors, BriteLites invites discussion of topics that remain important to WordSmiths today.


 Rhetoric is compression, the science of omitting, which makes good the old verse of Hesiod, “Fools, they did not know that half was better than the whole.” The French have a neat phrase, that the secret of boring you is that of telling all, –“Le secret d’ennuyer est celui de tout dire”; which we translate short, “Touch and go.”

The silences, pauses, of an orator are as telling as his words. What the poet omits exalts every syllable that he writes. In good hands it will never become sterility. A good writer must convey the feeling of a flamboyant witness, and at the same time of chemic selection – as if in his densest period was no cramp, but room to turn a chariot and horses between his valid words. …

In Hindoo mythology, “Viswaharman” placed the sun on his lathe to grind off some of his effulgence … in archectecture the beauty is increased in the degree in which the material is safely diminished.

Resolute blotting rids you of all those phrases that sound like something and mean nothing.


In this essay, Emerson reminds WordSmiths to leave spaces where reading can be done between the lines.

In The 47th Samurai, I particularly liked how author Stephen Hunter revealed that an experience in the United States had a pivotal influence on the anti-hero, but left that space for the reader to fill in.

What are some of your favorite examples? Your thoughts are welcomed


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4 thoughts on “Less Is More – R W Emerson

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    • Thank you so much for your comments on my BriteLites blog. I hope you find today’s post of interest and share your thoughts. (There’s also a link to a Charlie Rose-Him Holt conversation about the nature of existence. Great for SciFi writers. Woo!)

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