Ralph Waldo Emerson

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 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.

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 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.

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 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.

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 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.

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

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 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.

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 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.

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 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

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 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.

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 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.

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 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.

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

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 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

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 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.

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

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

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

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

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 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 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

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 parlour 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

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, -- 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, --

"His hidden meaning lies in our endeavours;
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

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

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

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