I seem to recall a quote from either Ralph Waldo Emerson or Henry David Thoreau that was something like "Tradition is meant to be broken." Which of them said it?


There are a number of things said by both your candidates which have some resonance with the phrase or express ideas about breaking with tradition, eg:

When we have broken our god of tradition and ceased from our god of rhetoric, then may God fire the heart with his presence.

Ralph Waldo Emerson. The Spiritual Emerson: Essential Works by Ralph Waldo Emerson p.65 Penguin

So easy it is, though many housekeepers doubt it, to establish new and better customs in the place of the old

Henry David Thoreau. Walden and Civil Disobedience p.103 Xist Publishing

All men are partially buried in the grave of custom, and of some we see only the crown of the head above ground.  Better are the physically dead, for they more lively rot.  Even virtue is no longer such if it be stagnant.  A man's life should be constantly as fresh as this river.  It should be the same channel, but a new water every instant.

Henry David Thoreau. A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers p.93 Xist Publishing

But I wonder if this popular aphorism isn’t actually a bit of a mash up of a number of things, for example the Somerset Maugham line

Tradition is a guide and not a jailer

The Summing Up 1938

and the common phrase ‘rules are made to be broken’.

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