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Ralph Waldo Emerson
Self-Reliance (1839-1840)
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"Ne te quaesiveris extra."*

"Man is his own star; and the soul that can
Render an honest and a perfect man,
Commands all light, all influence, all fate;
Nothing to him falls early or too late.
Our acts our angels are, or good or ill,
Our fatal shadows that walk by us still."
Epilogue to Beaumont and Fletcher's
Honest Man's Fortune

Cast the bantling on the rocks,
Suckle him with the she-wolf's teat,
Wintered with the hawk and fox,
Power and speed be hands and feet.


I read the other day some verses written by an eminent
painter which were original and not conventional. The soul always
hears an admonition in such lines, let the subject be what it may.
The sentiment they instill is of more value than any thought they
may contain. To believe your own thought, to believe that what is
true for you in your private heart is true for all men, -- that is genius.
Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense;
for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost, and our first
thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last
Judgment. Familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest
merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato and Milton is that they set at
naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men, but what
they, thought. A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam
of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the
lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses
without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius
we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us
with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more
affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our
spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most
when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else tomorrow a
stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have
thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with
shame our own opinion from another.

There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the
conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he
must take himself for better for worse as his portion; that though
the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can
come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground
which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new
in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do,
nor does he know until he has tried. Not for nothing one face, one
character, one fact, makes much impression on him, and another
none. This sculpture in the memory is not without preestablished
harmony. The eye was placed where one ray should fall, that it
might testify of that particular ray. We but half express ourselves,
and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents.
It may be safely trusted as proportionate and of good issues, so
it be faithfully imparted, but God will not have his work made
manifest by cowards. A man is relieved and gay when he has put
his heart into his work and done his best; but what he has said
or done otherwise shall give him no peace. It is a deliverance
which does not deliver. In the attempt his genius deserts him;
no muse befriends; no invention, no hope.

Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept
the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of
your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have
always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius
of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely
trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their
hands, predominating in all their being. And we are now men,
and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent
destiny; and not minors and invalids in a protected corner, not
cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers, and
benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort and advancing on Chaos
and the Dark.

What pretty oracles nature yields us on this text in the face
and behavior of children, babes, and even brutes! That divided
and rebel mind, that distrust of a sentiment because our arithmetic
has computed the strength and means opposed to our purpose,
these have not. Their mind being whole, their eye is as yet
unconquered, and when we look in their faces we are disconcerted.
Infancy conforms to nobody: all conform to it; so that one babe
commonly makes four or five out of the adults who prattle and play
to it. So God has armed youth and puberty and manhood no less
with its own piquancy and charm, and made it enviable and gracious
and its claims not to be put by, if it will stand by itself. Do not think
the youth has no force, because he cannot speak to you and me.
Hark! in the next room his voice is sufficiently clear and emphatic.
It seems he knows how to speak to his contemporaries. Bashful or
bold then, he will know how to make us seniors very unnecessary.

The nonchalance of boys who are sure of a dinner, and would
disdain as much as a lord to do or say aught to conciliate one, is
the healthy attitude of human nature. A boy is in the parlor what
the pit is in the playhouse; independent, irresponsible, looking out
from his corner on such people and facts as pass by, he tries and
sentences them on their merits, in the swift, summary way of boys,
as good, bad, interesting, silly, eloquent, troublesome. He cumbers
himself never about consequences, about interests; he gives an
independent, genuine verdict. You must court him; he does not
court you. But the man is, as it were, clapped into jail by his
consciousness. As soon as he has once acted or spoken with eclat,
he is a committed person, watched by the sympathy or the hatred
of hundreds, whose affections must now enter into his account.
There is no Lethe for this. Ah, that he could pass again into his
neutrality! Who can thus avoid all pledges and, having observed,
observe again from the same unaffected, unbiased, unbribable,
unaffrighted innocence,-- must always be formidable. He would
utter opinions on all passing affairs, which being seen to be not
private but necessary, would sink like darts into the ear of men
and put them in fear.

These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow
faint and inaudible as we enter into the world. Society everywhere
is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members.
Society is a joint-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.

Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist. He who
would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of
goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last
sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself,
and you shall have the suffrage of the world. I remember an answer
which when quite young I was prompted to make to a valued adviser
who was wont to importune me with the dear old doctrines of the
church. On my saying, "What have I to do with the sacredness of
traditions, if I live wholly from within?" my friend suggested,-- "But
these impulses may be from below, not from above." I replied, "They
do not seem to me to be such; but if I am the Devil's child, I will live
then from the Devil." No law can be sacred to me but that of my
nature. Good and bad are but names very readily transferable to
that or this; the only right is what is after my constitution; the only
wrong what is against it. A man is to carry himself in the presence
of all opposition as if every thing were titular and ephemeral but he.
I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and
names, to large societies and dead institutions. Every decent and
well-spoken individual affects and sways me more than is right. I
ought to go upright and vital, and speak the rude truth in all ways.
If malice and vanity wear the coat of philanthropy, shall that pass?
If an angry bigot assumes this bountiful cause of Abolition, and comes
to me with his last news from Barbadoes, why should I not say to him,
"Go love thy infant; love thy wood-chopper; be good-natured and
modest; have that grace; and never varnish your hard, uncharitable
ambition with this incredible tenderness for black folk a thousand
miles off. Thy love afar is spite at home." Rough and graceless
would be such greeting, but truth is handsomer than the affectation
of love. Your goodness must have some edge to it,-- else it is none.
The doctrine of hatred must be preached, as the counteraction of
the doctrine of love, when that pules and whines. I shun father and
mother and wife and brother when my genius calls me. I would write
on the lintels of the door-post, Whim. I hope it is somewhat better
than whim at last, but we cannot spend the day in explanation.
Expect me not to show cause why I seek or why I exclude company.
Then again, do not tell me, as a good man did today, of my
obligation to put all poor men in good situations. Are they my
poor? I tell thee, thou foolish philanthropist, that I grudge the dollar,
the dime, the cent, I give to such men as do not belong to me and
to whom I do not belong. There is a class of persons to whom by
all spiritual affinity I am bought and sold; for them I will go to prison
if need be; but your miscellaneous popular charities; the education
at college of fools; the building of meeting-houses to the vain end
to which many now stand; alms to sots; and the thousand-fold
Relief Societies;-- though I confess with shame I sometimes
succumb and give the dollar, it is a wicked dollar, which by and by
I shall have the manhood to withhold.

Virtues are, in the popular estimate, rather the exception than
the rule. There is the man and his virtues. Men do what is called
a good action, as some piece of courage or charity, much as they
would pay a fine in expiation of daily non-appearance on parade.
Their works are done as an apology or extenuation of their living
in the world,-- as invalids and the insane pay a high board. Their
virtues are penances. I do not wish to expiate, but to live. My life
is for itself and not for a spectacle. I much prefer that it should be
of a lower strain, so it be genuine and equal, than that it should
be glittering and unsteady. I wish it to be sound and sweet, and
not to need diet and bleeding. I ask primary evidence that you
are a man, and refuse this appeal from the man to his actions.
I know that for myself it makes no difference whether I do or
forbear those actions which are reckoned excellent. I cannot
consent to pay for a privilege where I have intrinsic right. Few
and mean as my gifts may be, I actually am, and do not need
for my own assurance or the assurance of my fellows any
secondary testimony.

What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people
think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life,
may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and
meanness. It is the harder because you will always find those
who think they know what is your duty better than you know it.
It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy
in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in
the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the
independence of solitude.

The objection to conforming to usages that have become
dead to you is that it scatters your force. It loses your time and
blurs the impression of your character. If you maintain a dead
church, contribute to a dead Bible-society, vote with a great
party either for the government or against it, spread your table
like base housekeepers, -- under all these screens I have
difficulty to detect the precise man you are: and of course so
much force is withdrawn from your proper life. But do your work,
and I shall know you. Do your work, and you shall reinforce
yourself. A man must consider what a blind-man's-buff is this
game of conformity. If I know your sect, I anticipate your
argument. I hear a preacher announce for his text and topic
the expediency of one of the institutions of his church. Do I not
know beforehand that not possibly can he say a new and
spontaneous word? Do I not know that, with all this ostentation
of examining the grounds of the institution, he will do no such
thing? Do I not know that he is pledged to himself not to look
but at one side, the permitted side, not as a man, but as a
parish minister? He is a retained attorney, and these airs of
the bench are the emptiest affectation. Well, most men have
bound their eyes with one or another handkerchief, and
attached themselves to some one of these communities of
opinion. This conformity makes them not false in a few particulars,
authors of a few lies, but false in all particulars. Their every truth
is not quite true. Their two is not the real two, their four not the
real four; so that every word they say chagrins us, and we know
not where to begin to set them right. Meantime nature is not
slow to equip us in the prison-uniform of the party to which we
adhere. We come to wear one cut of face and figure, and acquire
by degrees the gentlest asinine expression. There is a mortifying
experience in particular, which does not fail to wreak itself also in
the general history; I mean "the foolish face of praise," the forced
smile which we put on in company where we do not feel at ease,
in answer to conversation which does not interest us. The
muscles, not spontaneously moved but moved by a low usurping
wilfulness, grow tight about the outline of the face, with the
most disagreeable sensation.

For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure.
And therefore a man must know how to estimate a sour face.
The by-standers look askance on him in the public street or in
the friend's parlor. If this aversation had its origin in contempt
and resistance like his own, he might well go home with a sad
countenance; but the sour faces of the multitude, like their
sweet faces, have no deep cause, but are put on and off as the
wind blows and a newspaper directs. Yet is the discontent of the
multitude more formidable than that of the senate and the
college. It is easy enough for a firm man who knows the world
to brook the rage of the cultivated classes. Their rage is decorous
and prudent, for they are timid, as being very vulnerable
themselves. But when to their feminine rage the indignation of
the people is added, when the ignorant and the poor are
aroused, when the unintelligent brute force that lies at the
bottom of society is made to growl and mow, it needs the habit
of magnanimity and religion to treat it godlike as a trifle of no
concernment.

The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our
consistency; a reverence for our past act or word, because the
eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than
our past acts, and we are loath to disappoint them.

But why should you keep your head over your shoulder?
Why drag about this corpse of your memory, lest you
contradict somewhat you have stated in this or that public
place? Suppose you should contradict yourself; what then?
It seems to be a rule of wisdom never to rely on your memory
alone, scarcely even in acts of pure memory, but to bring the
past for judgment into the thousand-eyed present, and live
ever in a new day. In your metaphysics you have denied
personality to the Deity, yet when the devout motions of the
soul come, yield to them heart and life, though they should
clothe God with shape and color. Leave your theory, as
Joseph his coat in the hand of the harlot, and flee.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,
adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.
With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He
may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall.
Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow
speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it
contradict every thing you said to-day.-- "Ah, so you shall be
sure to be misunderstood." -- Is it so bad then to be
misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates,
and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and
Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh.
To be great is to be misunderstood.

I suppose no man can violate his nature. All the sallies of
his will are rounded in by the law of his being, as the
inequalities of Andes and Himmaleh are insignificant in the
curve of the sphere. Nor does it matter how you gauge and
try him. A character is like an acrostic or Alexandrian stanza;
-- read it forward, backward, or across, it still spells the same
thing. In this pleasing, contrite wood-life which God allows me,
let me record day by day my honest thought without prospect
or retrospect, and, I cannot doubt, it will be found symmetrical,
though I mean it not and see it not. My book should smell of
pines and resound with the hum of insects. The swallow over
my window should interweave that thread or straw he carries
in his bill into my web also. We pass for what we are.
Character teaches above our wills. Men imagine that they
communicate their virtue or vice only by overt actions, and
do not see that virtue or vice emit a breath every moment.

There will be an agreement in whatever variety of actions,
so they be each honest and natural in their hour. For of one
will, the actions will be harmonious, however unlike they seem.
These varieties are lost sight of at a little distance, at a little
height of thought. One tendency unites them all. The voyage
of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks. See the
line from a sufficient distance, and it straightens itself to the
average tendency. Your genuine action will explain itself and
will explain your other genuine actions. Your conformity
explains nothing. Act singly, and what you have already done
singly will justify you now. Greatness appeals to the future. If
I can be firm enough today to do right and scorn eyes, I must
have done so much right before as to defend me now. Be it
how it will, do right now. Always scorn appearances and you
always may. The force of character is cumulative. All the
foregone days of virtue work their health into this. What makes
the majesty of the heroes of the senate and the field, which so
fills the imagination? The consciousness of a train of great days
and victories behind. They shed a united light on the advancing
actor. He is attended as by a visible escort of angels. That is it
which throws thunder into Chatham's voice, and dignity into
Washington's port, and America into Adam's eye. Honor is
venerable to us because it is no ephemera. It is always ancient
virtue. We worship it today because it is not of today. We love it
and pay it homage because it is not a trap for our love and
homage, but is self-dependent, self-derived, and therefore of
an old immaculate pedigree, even if shown in a young person.

I hope in these days we have heard the last of conformity
and consistency. Let the words be gazetted and ridiculous
henceforward. Instead of the gong for dinner, let us hear a
whistle from the Spartan fife. Let us never bow and apologize
more. A great man is coming to eat at my house. I do not wish
to please him; I wish that he should wish to please me. I will
stand here for humanity, and though I would make it kind, I
would make it true. Let us affront and reprimand the smooth
mediocrity and squalid contentment of the times, and hurl in
the face of custom and trade and office, the fact which is the
upshot of all history, that there is a great responsible Thinker
and Actor working wherever a man works; that a true man
belongs to no other time or place, but is the center of things.
Where he is, there is nature. He measures you and all men
and all events. Ordinarily, every body in society reminds us
of somewhat else, or of some other person. Character, reality,
reminds you of nothing else; it takes place of the whole
creation. The man must be so much, that he must make all
circumstances indifferent. 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 itself very
easily into the biography of a few stout and earnest persons.

Let a man then know his worth, and keep things under his
feet. Let him not peep or steal, or skulk up and down with the
air of a charity-boy, a bastard, or an interloper in the world
which exists for him. But the man in the street, finding no worth
in himself which corresponds to the force which built a tower or
sculptured a marble god, feels poor when he looks on these.
To him a palace, a statue, or a costly book have an alien and
forbidding air, much like a gay equipage, and seem to say like
that, "Who are you, Sir?" Yet they all are his, suitors for his
notice, petitioners to his faculties that they will come out and
take possession. The picture waits for my verdict: it is not to
command me, but I am to settle its claims to praise. That
popular fable of the sot who was picked up dead-drunk in the
street, carried to the duke's house, washed and dressed and
laid in the duke's bed, and, on his waking, treated with all
obsequious ceremony like the duke, and assured that he had
been insane, owes its popularity to the fact that it symbolizes
so well the state of man, who is in the world a sort of sot, but
now and then wakes up, exercises his reason, and finds
himself a true prince.

Our reading is mendicant and sycophantic. In history our
imagination plays us false. Kingdom and lordship, power and
estate, are a gaudier vocabulary than private John and
Edward in a small house and common day's work; but the
things of life are the same to both; the sum total of both is
the same. Why all this deference to Alfred and Scanderbeg
and Gustavus? Suppose they were virtuous; did they wear
out virtue? As great a stake depends on your private act
today as followed their public and renowned steps. When
private men shall act with original views, the lustre will be
transferred from the actions of kings to those of gentlemen.

The world has been instructed by its kings, who have
so magnetized the eyes of nations. It has been taught by
this colossal symbol the mutual reverence that is due from
man to man. The joyful loyalty with which men have
everywhere suffered the king, the noble, or the great
proprietor to walk among them by a law of his own, make
his own scale of men and things, and reverse theirs, pay for
benefits not with money but with honor, and represent the
law in his person, was the hieroglyphic by which they obscurely
signified their consciousness of their own right and comeliness,
the right of every man.

The magnetism which all original action exerts is explained
when we inquire the reason of self-trust. Who is the Trustee?
What is the aboriginal Self, on which a universal reliance may
be grounded? What is the nature and power of that science-
baffling star, without parallax, without calculable elements,
which shoots a ray of beauty even into trivial and impure
actions, if the least mark of independence appear? The inquiry
leads us to that source, at once the essence of genius, of
virtue, and of life, which we call Spontaneity or Instinct. We
denote this primary wisdom as Intuition, whilst all later
teachings are tuitions. In that deep force, the last fact behind
which analysis cannot go, all things find their common origin.
For the sense of being which in calm hours rises, we know
not how, in the soul, is not diverse from things, from space,
from light, from time, from man, but one with them and proceeds
obviously from the same source whence their life and being also
proceed. We first share the life by which things exist and
afterwards see them as appearances in nature and forget that
we have shared their cause. Here is the fountain of action and
of thought. Here are the lungs of that inspiration which giveth
man wisdom and which cannot be denied without impiety and
atheism. We lie in the lap of immense intelligence, which makes
us receivers of its truth and organs of its activity. When we
discern justice, when we discern truth, we do nothing of ourselves,
but allow a passage to its beams. If we ask whence this comes, if
we seek to pry into the soul that causes, all philosophy is at fault.
Its presence or its absence is all we can affirm. Every man
discriminates between the voluntary acts of his mind and his
involuntary perceptions, and knows that to his involuntary perceptions
a perfect faith is due. He may err in the expression of them, but he
knows that these things are so, like day and night, not to be disputed.
My wilful actions and acquisitions are but roving; -- the idlest reverie,
the faintest native emotion, command my curiosity and respect.
Thoughtless people contradict as readily the statement of perceptions
as of opinions, or rather much more readily; for they do not distinguish
between perception and notion. They fancy that I choose to see this
or that thing. But perception is not whimsical, but fatal. If I see a trait,
my children will see it after me, and in course of time, all mankind, --
although it may chance that no one has seen it before me. For my
perception of it is as much a fact as the sun.

The relations of the soul to the divine spirit are so pure, that it
is profane to seek to interpose helps. It must be that when God
speaketh he should communicate, not one thing, but all things;
should fill the world with his voice; should scatter forth light,
nature, time, souls, from the centre of the present thought; and
new date and new create the whole. Whenever a mind is simple,
and receives a divine wisdom, old things pass away, -- means,
teachers, texts, temples fall; it lives now, and absorbs past and
future into the present hour. All things are made sacred by relation
to it, --one as much as another. All things are dissolved to their
center by their cause, and, in the universal miracle, petty and
particular miracles disappear. If, therefore, a man claims to know
and speak of God, and carries you backward to the phraseology
of some old moldered nation in another country, in another world,
believe him not. Is the acorn better than the oak which is its
fulness and completion? Is the parent better than the child into
whom he has cast his ripened being? Whence, then, this worship
of the past? The centuries are conspirators against the sanity and
authority of the soul. Time and space are but physiological colors
which the eye makes, but the soul is light; where it is, is day;
where it was, is night; and history is an impertinence and an injury,
if it be any thing more than a cheerful apologue or parable of my
being and becoming.

Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares
not say "I think," "I am," but quotes some saint or sage. He is
ashamed before the blade of grass or the blowing rose. These
roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to
better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God today.
There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in
every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its
whole life acts; in the full-blown flower there is no more; in the
leafless root there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies
nature, in all moments alike. But man postpones or remembers;
he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments
the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on
tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until
he too lives with nature in the present, above time.

This should be plain enough. Yet see what strong intellects
dare not yet hear God himself, unless he speak the phraseology
of I know not what David, or Jeremiah, or Paul. We shall not always
set so great a price on a few texts, on a few lives. We are like
children who repeat by rote the sentences of grandames and
tutors, and, as they grow older, of the men of talents and character
they chance to see, -- painfully recollecting the exact words they
spoke; afterwards, when they come into the point of view which
those had who uttered these sayings, they understand them,
and are willing to let the words go; for, at any time, they can
use words as good when occasion comes. If we live truly, we
shall see truly. It is as easy for the strong man to be strong, as
it is for the weak to be weak. When we have new perception, we
shall gladly disburden the memory of its hoarded treasures as old
rubbish. When a man lives with God, his voice shall be as sweet
as the murmur of the brook and the rustle of the corn.

And now at last the highest truth on this subject remains
unsaid; probably cannot be said; for all that we say is the far-off
remembering of the intuition. That thought, by what I can now
nearest approach to say it, is this. When good is near you, when
you have life in yourself, it is not by any known or accustomed
way; you shall not discern the foot-prints of any other; you shall
not see the face of man; you shall not hear any name;-- the way,
the thought, the good, shall be wholly strange and new. It shall
exclude example and experience. You take the way from man,
not to man. All persons that ever existed are its forgotten ministers.
Fear and hope are alike beneath it. There is somewhat low even in
hope. In the hour of vision, there is nothing that can be called
gratitude, nor properly joy. The soul raised over passion beholds
identity and eternal causation, perceives the self-existence of Truth
and Right, and calms itself with knowing that all things go well. Vast
spaces of nature, the Atlantic Ocean, the South Sea, -- long intervals
of time, years, centuries, -- are of no account. This which I think and
feel underlay every former state of life and circumstances, as it does
underlie my present, and what is called life and what is called death.

Life only avails, not the having lived. Power ceases in the instant
of repose; it resides in the moment of transition from a past to a new
state, in the shooting of the gulf, in the darting to an aim. This one fact
the world hates, that the soul becomes; for that for ever degrades the
past, turns all riches to poverty, all reputation to a shame, confounds
the saint with the rogue, shoves Jesus and Judas equally aside. Why,
then, do we prate of self-reliance? Inasmuch as the soul is present,
there will be power not confident but agent. To talk of reliance is a
poor external way of speaking. Speak rather of that which relies
because it works and is. Who has more obedience than I masters me,
though he should not raise his finger. Round him I must revolve by the
gravitation of spirits. We fancy it rhetoric when we speak of eminent
virtue. We do not yet see that virtue is Height, and that a man or a
company of men, plastic and permeable to principles, by the law of
nature must overpower and ride all cities, nations, kings, rich men,
poets, who are not.

This is the ultimate fact which we so quickly reach on this, as
on every topic, the resolution of all into the ever-blessed ONE.
Self-existence is the attribute of the Supreme Cause, and it
constitutes the measure of good by the degree in which it enters
into all lower forms. All things real are so by so much virtue as they
contain. Commerce, husbandry, hunting, whaling, war, eloquence,
personal weight, are somewhat, and engage my respect as
examples of its presence and impure action. I see the same law
working in nature for conservation and growth. Power is in nature
the essential measure of right. Nature suffers nothing to remain in
her kingdoms which cannot help itself. The genesis and maturation
of a planet, its poise and orbit, the bended tree recovering itself
from the strong wind, the vital resources of every animal and
vegetable, are demonstrations of the self-sufficing, and therefore
self-relying soul.

Thus all concentrates: let us not rove; let us sit at home with the
cause. Let us stun and astonish the intruding rabble of men and
books and institutions, by a simple declaration of the divine fact.
Bid the invaders take the shoes from off their feet, for God is here
within. Let our simplicity judge them, and our docility to our own law
demonstrate the poverty of nature and fortune beside our native riches.

But now we are a mob. Man does not stand in awe of man, nor
is his genius admonished to stay at home, to put itself in communication
with the internal ocean, but it goes abroad to beg a cup of water of the
urns of other men. We must go alone. I like the silent church before
the service begins, better than any preaching. How far off, how cool,
how chaste the persons look, begirt each one with a precinct or sanctuary!
So let us always sit. Why should we assume the faults of our friend,
or wife, or father, or child, because they sit around our hearth, or
are said to have the same blood? All men have my blood, and I
have all men's. Not for that will I adopt their petulance or folly, even
to the extent of being ashamed of it. But your isolation must not be
mechanical, but spiritual, that is, must be elevation. At times the
whole world seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with
emphatic trifles. Friend, client, child, sickness, fear, want, charity,
all knock at once at thy closet door, and say, -- "Come out unto us."
But keep thy state; come not into their confusion. The power men
possess to annoy me, I give them by a weak curiosity. No man can
come near me but through my act. "What we love that we have,
but by desire we bereave ourselves of the love."

If we cannot at once rise to the sanctities of obedience and
faith, let us at least resist our temptations; let us enter into the
state of war, and wake Thor and Woden, courage and constancy,
in our Saxon breasts. This is to be done in our smooth times by
speaking the truth. Check this lying hospitality and lying affection.
Live no longer to the expectation of these deceived and
deceiving people with whom we converse. Say to them,
"O father, O mother, O wife, O brother, O friend, I have lived
with you after appearances hitherto. Henceforward I am the truth's.
Be it known unto you that henceforward I obey no law less than the
eternal law. I will have no covenants but proximities. I shall
endeavour to nourish my parents, to support my family, to be
the chaste husband of one wife, -- but these relations I must fill
after a new and unprecedented way. I appeal from your customs.
I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you.
If you can love me for what I am, we shall be the happier. If you
cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should. I will not hide
my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy,
that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly
rejoices me and the heart appoints. If you are noble, I will love
you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical
attentions. If you are true, but not in the same truth with me,
cleave to your companions; I will seek my own. I do this not
selfishly, but humbly and truly. It is alike your interest, and
mine, and all men's, however long we have dwelt in lies, to live
in truth. Does this sound harsh today? You will soon love what
is dictated by your nature as well as mine, and, if we follow the
truth, it will bring us out safe at last." -- But so you may give
these friends pain. Yes, but I cannot sell my liberty and my
power, to save their sensibility. Besides, all persons have
their moments of reason, when they look out into the region of
absolute truth; then will they justify me, and do the same thing.

The populace think that your rejection of popular standards
is a rejection of all standard, and mere antinomianism; and the
bold sensualist will use the name of philosophy to gild his crimes.
But the law of consciousness abides. There are two confessionals,
in one or the other of which we must be shriven. You may fulfil
your round of duties by clearing yourself in the direct, or in the
reflex way. Consider whether you have satisfied your relations
to father, mother, cousin, neighbour, town, cat, and dog--whether
any of these can upbraid you. But I may also neglect this reflex
standard, and absolve me to myself. I have my own stern claims
and perfect circle. It denies the name of duty to many offices that
are called duties. But if I can discharge its debts, it enables me
to dispense with the popular code. If any one imagines that this
law is lax, let him keep its commandment one day.

And truly it demands something godlike in him who has cast
off the common motives of humanity, and has ventured to trust
himself for a taskmaster. High be his heart, faithful his will, clear
his sight, that he may in good earnest be doctrine, society, law,
to himself, that a simple purpose may be to him as strong as iron
necessity is to others!

If any man consider the present aspects of what is called by
distinction society, he will see the need of these ethics. The sinew
and heart of man seem to be drawn out, and we are become
timorous, desponding whimperers. We are afraid of truth, afraid
of fortune, afraid of death, and afraid of each other. Our age
yields no great and perfect persons. We want men and women
who shall renovate life and our social state, but we see that
most natures are insolvent, cannot satisfy their own wants,
have an ambition out of all proportion to their practical force,
and do lean and beg day and night continually. Our housekeeping
is mendicant, our arts, our occupations, our marriages, our religion,
we have not chosen, but society has chosen for us. We are parlor
soldiers. We shun the rugged battle of fate, where strength is born.

If our young men miscarry in their first enterprises, they lose all
heart. If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. If the finest
genius studies at one of our colleges, and is not installed in an office
within one year afterwards in the cities or suburbs of Boston or
New York, it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in
being disheartened, and in complaining the rest of his life. A sturdy
lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all the
professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school,
preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township,
and so forth, in successive years, and always, like a cat, falls on
his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls. He walks abreast
with his days, and feels no shame in not "studying a profession,"
for he does not postpone his life, but lives already. He has not one
chance, but a hundred chances. Let a Stoic open the resources of
man, and tell men they are not leaning willows, but can and must
detach themselves; that with the exercise of self-trust, new
powers shall appear; that a man is the word made flesh, born
to shed healing to the nations, that he should be ashamed of
our compassion, and that the moment he acts from himself,
tossing the laws, the books, idolatries, and customs out of the
window, we pity him no more, but thank and revere him, -- and
that teacher shall restore the life of man to splendor, and make
his name dear to all history.

It is easy to see that a greater self-reliance must work a
revolution in all the offices and relations of men; in their religion;
in their education; in their pursuits; their modes of living; their
association; in their property; in their speculative views.

1. In what prayers do men allow themselves! That which they
call a holy office is not so much as brave and manly. Prayer looks
abroad and asks for some foreign addition to come through
some foreign virtue, and loses itself in endless mazes of natural
and supernatural, and mediatorial and miraculous. Prayer that
craves a particular commodity, anything less than all good, is
vicious. Prayer is the contemplation of the facts of life from the
highest point of view. It is the soliloquy of a beholding and jubilant
soul. It is the spirit of God pronouncing his works good. But prayer
as a means to effect a private end is meanness and theft. It
supposes dualism and not unity in nature and consciousness. As
soon as the man is at one with God, he will not beg. He will then
see prayer in all action. The prayer of the farmer kneeling in his
field to weed it, the prayer of the rower kneeling with the stroke
of his oar, are true prayers heard throughout nature, though for
cheap ends. Caratach, in Fletcher's "Bonduca," when admonished
to inquire the mind of the god Audate, replies, --

"His hidden meaning lies in our endeavors;
Our valors are our best gods."

Another sort of false prayers are our regrets. Discontent is the
want of self-reliance: it is infirmity of will. Regret calamities, if you
can thereby help the sufferer; if not, attend your own work, and
already the evil begins to be repaired. Our sympathy is just as
base. We come to them who weep foolishly, and sit down and cry
for company, instead of imparting to them truth and health in rough
electric shocks, putting them once more in communication with their
own reason. The secret of fortune is joy in our hands. Welcome
evermore to gods and men is the self-helping man. For him all
doors are flung wide: him all tongues greet, all honors crown,
all eyes follow with desire. Our love goes out to him and embraces
him, because he did not need it. We solicitously and apologetically
caress and celebrate him, because he held on his way and scorned
our disapprobation. The gods love him because men hated him.
"To the persevering mortal," said Zoroaster, "the blessed Immortals
are swift."

As men's prayers are a disease of the will, so are their creeds a
disease of the intellect. They say with those foolish Israelites,
"Let not God speak to us, lest we die. Speak thou, speak any man
with us, and we will obey." Everywhere I am hindered of meeting
God in my brother, because he has shut his own temple doors,
and recites fables merely of his brother's, or his brother's brother's
God. Every new mind is a new classification. If it prove a mind of
uncommon activity and power, a Locke, a Lavoisier, a Hutton, a
Bentham, a Fourier, it imposes its classification on other men, and lo!
a new system. In proportion to the depth of the thought, and so to
the number of the objects it touches and brings within reach of the
pupil, is his complacency. But chiefly is this apparent in creeds and
churches, which are also classifications of some powerful mind acting
on the elemental thought of duty, and man's relation to the Highest.
Such is Calvinism, Quakerism, Swedenborgism. The pupil takes the
same delight in subordinating every thing to the new terminology,
as a girl who has just learned botany in seeing a new earth and
new seasons thereby. It will happen for a time, that the pupil
will find his intellectual power has grown by the study of his
master's mind. But in all unbalanced minds, the classification is
idolized, passes for the end, and not for a speedily exhaustible
means, so that the walls of the system blend to their eye in the
remote horizon with the walls of the universe; the luminaries of
heaven seem to them hung on the arch their master built. They
cannot imagine how you aliens have any right to see, -- how you
can see; "It must be somehow that you stole the light from us."
They do not yet perceive that light, unsystematic, indomitable,
will break into any cabin, even into theirs. Let them chirp awhile
and call it their own. If they are honest and do well, presently
their neat new pinfold will be too strait and low, will crack, will
lean, will rot and vanish, and the immortal light, all young and
joyful, million-orbed, million-colored, will beam over the universe
as on the first morning.

2. It is for want of self-culture that the superstition of Travelling,
whose idols are Italy, England, Egypt, retains its fascination for
all educated Americans. They who made England, Italy, or Greece
venerable in the imagination did so by sticking fast where they
were, like an axis of the earth. In manly hours, we feel that duty
is our place. The soul is no traveller; the wise man stays at home,
and when his necessities, his duties, on any occasion call him from
his house, or into foreign lands, he is at home still, and shall make
men sensible by the expression of his countenance, that he goes the
missionary of wisdom and virtue, and visits cities and men like a
sovereign, and not like an interloper or a valet.

I have no churlish objection to the circumnavigation of the globe,
for the purposes of art, of study, and benevolence, so that the man
is first domesticated, or does not go abroad with the hope of finding
somewhat greater than he knows. He who travels to be amused, or
to get somewhat which he does not carry, travels away from himself,
and grows old even in youth among old things. In Thebes, in Palmyra,
his will and mind have become old and dilapidated as they. He carries
ruins to ruins.

Travelling is a fool's paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the
indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can
be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk,
embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in
Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting,
identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect
to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated.
My giant goes with me wherever I go.

3. But the rage of travelling is a symptom of a deeper unsoundness
affecting the whole intellectual action. The intellect is vagabond, and
our system of education fosters restlessness. Our minds travel when
our bodies are forced to stay at home. We imitate; and what is
imitation but the travelling of the mind? Our houses are built with
foreign taste; our shelves are garnished with foreign ornaments;
our opinions, our tastes, our faculties, lean, and follow the Past and
the Distant. The soul created the arts wherever they have flourished.
It was in his own mind that the artist sought his model. It was an
application of his own thought to the thing to be done and the
conditions to be observed. And why need we copy the Doric or the
Gothic model? Beauty, convenience, grandeur of thought, and quaint
expression are as near to us as to any, and if the American artist will
study with hope and love the precise thing to be done by him,
considering the climate, the soil, the length of the day, the wants of
the people, the habit and form of the government, he will create a
house in which all these will find themselves fitted, and taste and
sentiment will be satisfied also.

Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present
every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation;
but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an
extemporaneous, half possession. That which each can do best,
none but his Maker can teach him. No man yet knows what it is,
nor can, till that person has exhibited it. Where is the master who
could have taught Shakspeare? Where is the master who could
have instructed Franklin, or Washington, or Bacon, or Newton?
Every great man is a unique. The Scipionism of Scipio is precisely
that part he could not borrow. Shakspeare will never be made
by the study of Shakspeare. Do that which is assigned you, and
you cannot hope too much or dare too much. There is at this
moment for you an utterance brave and grand as that of the
colossal chisel of Phidias, or trowel of the Egyptians, or the pen
of Moses, or Dante, but different from all these. Not possibly will
the soul all rich, all eloquent, with thousand-cloven tongue, deign
to repeat itself; but if you can hear what these patriarchs say,
surely you can reply to them in the same pitch of voice; for the
ear and the tongue are two organs of one nature. Abide in the
simple and noble regions of thy life, obey thy heart, and thou
shalt reproduce the Foreworld again.

4. As our Religion, our Education, our Art look abroad, so
does our spirit of society. All men plume themselves on the
improvement of society, and no man improves.

Society never advances. It recedes as fast on one side as it
gains on the other. It undergoes continual changes; it is barbarous,
it is civilized, it is christianized, it is rich, it is scientific; but this
change is not amelioration. For every thing that is given, something
is taken. Society acquires new arts, and loses old instincts. What a
contrast between the well-clad, reading, writing, thinking American,
with a watch, a pencil, and a bill of exchange in his pocket, and the
naked New Zealander, whose property is a club, a spear, a mat,
and an undivided twentieth of a shed to sleep under! But compare
the health of the two men, and you shall see that the white man
has lost his aboriginal strength. If the traveller tell us truly, strike
the savage with a broad axe, and in a day or two the flesh shall
unite and heal as if you struck the blow into soft pitch, and the
same blow shall send the white to his grave.

The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of
his feet. He is supported on crutches, but lacks so much support
of muscle. He has a fine Geneva watch, but he fails of the skill to
tell the hour by the sun. A Greenwich nautical almanac he has,
and so being sure of the information when he wants it, the man
in the street does not know a star in the sky. The solstice he does
not observe; the equinox he knows as little; and the whole bright
calendar of the year is without a dial in his mind. His note-books
impair his memory; his libraries overload his wit; the insurance-office
increases the number of accidents; and it may be a question whether
machinery does not encumber; whether we have not lost by refinement
some energy, by a Christianity entrenched in establishments and forms,
some vigor of wild virtue. For every Stoic was a Stoic; but in
Christendom where is the Christian?

There is no more deviation in the moral standard than in the
standard of height or bulk. No greater men are now than ever were.
A singular equality may be observed between the great men of the
first and of the last ages; nor can all the science, art, religion, and
philosophy of the nineteenth century avail to educate greater men
than Plutarch's heroes, three or four and twenty centuries ago. Not
in time is the race progressive. Phocion, Socrates, Anaxagoras, Diogenes,
are great men, but they leave no class. He who is really of their class will
not be called by their name, but will be his own man, and, in his turn, the
founder of a sect. The arts and inventions of each period are only its
costume, and do not invigorate men. The harm of the improved machinery
may compensate its good. Hudson and Behring accomplished so much in
their fishing-boats, as to astonish Parry and Franklin, whose equipment
exhausted the resources of science and art. Galileo, with an opera-glass,
discovered a more splendid series of celestial phenomena than any one
since. Columbus found the New World in an undecked boat. It is curious
to see the periodical disuse and perishing of means and machinery, which
were introduced with loud laudation a few years or centuries before. The
great genius returns to essential man. We reckoned the improvements
of the art of war among the triumphs of science, and yet Napoleon
conquered Europe by the bivouac, which consisted of falling back on
naked valor, and disencumbering it of all aids. The Emperor held it
impossible to make a perfect army, says Las Casas, "without abolishing
our arms, magazines, commissaries, and carriages, until, in imitation of
the Roman custom, the soldier should receive his supply of corn, grind it
in his hand-mill, and bake his bread himself."

Society is a wave. The wave moves onward, but the water of which
it is composed does not. The same particle does not rise from the valley
to the ridge. Its unity is only phenomenal. The persons who make up a
nation to-day, next year die, and their experience with them.

And so the reliance on Property, including the reliance on governments
which protect it, is the want of self-reliance. Men have looked away from
themselves and at things so long, that they have come to esteem the
religious, learned, and civil institutions as guards of property, and they
deprecate assaults on these, because they feel them to be assaults on
property. They measure their esteem of each other by what each has,
and not by what each is. But a cultivated man becomes ashamed of his
property, out of new respect for his nature. Especially he hates what he
has, if he see that it is accidental, -- came to him by inheritance, or gift,
or crime; then he feels that it is not having; it does not belong to him,
has no root in him, and merely lies there, because no revolution or no
robber takes it away. But that which a man is does always by necessity
acquire, and what the man acquires is living property, which does not
wait the beck of rulers, or mobs, or revolutions, or fire, or storm, or
bankruptcies, but perpetually renews itself wherever the man breathes.
"Thy lot or portion of life," said the Caliph Ali, "is seeking after thee;
therefore be at rest from seeking after it." Our dependence on these
foreign goods leads us to our slavish respect for numbers. The political
parties meet in numerous conventions; the greater the concourse, and
with each new uproar of announcement, The delegation from Essex! The
Democrats from New Hampshire! The Whigs of Maine! the young patriot
feels himself stronger than before by a new thousand of eyes and arms.
In like manner the reformers summon conventions, and vote and resolve
in multitude. Not so, O friends! will the God deign to enter and inhabit you,
but by a method precisely the reverse. It is only as a man puts off all foreign
support, and stands alone, that I see him to be strong and to prevail. He is
weaker by every recruit to his banner. Is not a man better than a town? Ask
nothing of men, and in the endless mutation, thou only firm column must
presently appear the upholder of all that surrounds thee. He who knows
that power is inborn, that he is weak because he has looked for good out
of him and elsewhere, and so perceiving, throws himself unhesitatingly on
his thought, instantly rights himself, stands in the erect position, commands
his limbs, works miracles; just as a man who stands on his feet is stronger
than a man who stands on his head.

So use all that is called Fortune. Most men gamble with her, and gain
all, and lose all, as her wheel rolls. But do thou leave as unlawful these
winnings, and deal with Cause and Effect, the chancellors of God. In the
Will work and acquire, and thou hast chained the wheel of Chance, and
shalt sit hereafter out of fear from her rotations. A political victory, a rise
of rents, the recovery of your sick, or the return of your absent friend, or
some other favorable event, raises your spirits, and you think good days
are preparing for you. Do not believe it. Nothing can bring you peace but
yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.


*Do not seek yourself outside yourself.
 

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