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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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."
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
interest, and mine, and all men's, however long we have dwelt in lies,
to live in truth. Does
this sound harsh to-day? 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
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
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.
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!
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 parlour soldiers. We shun the rugged battle of fate, where
strength is born.
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.
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.
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, -- any thing 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, --
hidden meaning lies in our endeavours; Our valors are our best gods."
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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."
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.
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.
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.