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 instil 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, to-morrow 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.
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 pre-established 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.
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.
pretty oracles nature yields us on this text, in the face and behaviour
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.
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 parlour 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.
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.
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 to-day, 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 thousandfold
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.
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.
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.
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 blindman'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.
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 parlour. 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.
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.
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,
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 to-morrow speak
what to-morrow 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.
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.
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 to-day 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 an 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 Adams's eye. Honor is venerable to us because it is
no ephemeris. It is always
ancient virtue. We worship
it to-day because it is not of to-day.
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.
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 centre 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.
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.
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 to-day, 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.
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.
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
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 centre 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 mouldered 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.
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 to-day. 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.