”Nightfall”, a 1941 novelette by Isaac Asimov, is possibly his most well-known and acclaimed work. It was prompted by a discussion between Asimov and John W. Campbell concerning a quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson:
If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God!
Asimov’s take, as detailed in Nightfall, was that in this situation men would instead go insane.
I read about the genesis of the story more than ten years ago in “The Early Asimov, Volume 2” (published in 1974), where Asimov wrote that he had never been able to actually track down the source of the quotation. From that, I assumed that it must either be really obscure, or that it had simply been mis-attributed to Emerson. Today, however, it seems to be well-known that the quotation comes from Emerson’s essay “Nature”. When did the source quotation become known to the sci-fi community - did Asimov live to see its identification?