Ralph Waldo Emerson

The wings of Time are black and white,
Pied with morning and with night.
Mountain tall and ocean deep
Trembling balance duly keep.
In changing moon, in tidal wave,
Glows the feud of Want and Have.
Gauge of more and less through space
Electric star and pencil plays.
The lonely Earth amid the balls
That hurry through the eternal halls,
A makeweight flying to the void,
Supplemental asteroid,
Or compensatory spark,
Shoots across the neutral Dark.

Man's the elm, and Wealth the vine;
Stanch and strong the tendrils twine:
Though the frail ringlets thee deceive,
None from its stock that vine can reave.
Fear not, then, thou child infirm,
There's no god dare wrong a worm.
Laurel crowns cleave to deserts,
And power to him who power exerts;
Hast not thy share? On winged feet,
Lo! it rushes thee to meet;
And all that Nature made thy own,
Floating in air or pent in stone,
Will rive the hills and swim the sea,
And, like thy shadow, follow thee.


Ever since I was a boy, I have wished to write a discourse on
Compensation: for it seemed to me when very young, that on this
subject life was ahead of theology, and the people knew more than the
preachers taught. The documents, too, from which the doctrine is to
be drawn, charmed my fancy by their endless variety, and lay always
before me, even in sleep; for they are the tools in our hands, the
bread in our basket, the transactions of the street, the farm, and
the dwelling-house, greetings, relations, debts and credits, the
influence of character, the nature and endowment of all men. It
seemed to me, also, that in it might be shown men a ray of divinity,
the present action of the soul of this world, clean from all vestige
of tradition, and so the heart of man might be bathed by an
inundation of eternal love, conversing with that which he knows was
always and always must be, because it really is now. It appeared,
moreover, that if this doctrine could be stated in terms with any
resemblance to those bright intuitions in which this truth is
sometimes revealed to us, it would be a star in many dark hours and
crooked passages in our journey that would not suffer us to lose our

I was lately confirmed in these desires by hearing a sermon at
church. The preacher, a man esteemed for his orthodoxy, unfolded in
the ordinary manner the doctrine of the Last Judgment. He assumed,
that judgment is not executed in this world; that the wicked are
successful; that the good are miserable; and then urged from reason
and from Scripture a compensation to be made to both parties in the
next life. No offence appeared to be taken by the congregation at
this doctrine. As far as I could observe, when the meeting broke up,
they separated without remark on the sermon.

Yet what was the import of this teaching? What did the
preacher mean by saying that the good are miserable in the present
life? Was it that houses and lands, offices, wine, horses, dress,
luxury, are had by unprincipled men, whilst the saints are poor and
despised; and that a compensation is to be made to these last
hereafter, by giving them the like gratifications another day, --
bank-stock and doubloons, venison and champagne? This must be the
compensation intended; for what else? Is it that they are to have
leave to pray and praise? to love and serve men? Why, that they can
do now. The legitimate inference the disciple would draw was, -- `We
are to have _such_ a good time as the sinners have now'; -- or, to
push it to its extreme import, -- `You sin now; we shall sin by and
by; we would sin now, if we could; not being successful, we expect
our revenge to-morrow.'

The fallacy lay in the immense concession, that the bad are
successful; that justice is not done now. The blindness of the
preacher consisted in deferring to the base estimate of the market of
what constitutes a manly success, instead of confronting and
convicting the world from the truth; announcing the presence of the
soul; the omnipotence of the will: and so establishing the standard
of good and ill, of success and falsehood.

I find a similar base tone in the popular religious works of
the day, and the same doctrines assumed by the literary men when
occasionally they treat the related topics. I think that our popular
theology has gained in decorum, and not in principle, over the
superstitions it has displaced. But men are better than this
theology. Their daily life gives it the lie. Every ingenuous and
aspiring soul leaves the doctrine behind him in his own experience;
and all men feel sometimes the falsehood which they cannot
demonstrate. For men are wiser than they know. That which they hear
in schools and pulpits without after-thought, if said in
conversation, would probably be questioned in silence. If a man
dogmatize in a mixed company on Providence and the divine laws, he is
answered by a silence which conveys well enough to an observer the
dissatisfaction of the hearer, but his incapacity to make his own

I shall attempt in this and the following chapter to record
some facts that indicate the path of the law of Compensation; happy
beyond my expectation, if I shall truly draw the smallest arc of this

POLARITY, or action and reaction, we meet in every part of
nature; in darkness and light; in heat and cold; in the ebb and flow
of waters; in male and female; in the inspiration and expiration of
plants and animals; in the equation of quantity and quality in the
fluids of the animal body; in the systole and diastole of the heart;
in the undulations of fluids, and of sound; in the centrifugal and
centripetal gravity; in electricity, galvanism, and chemical
affinity. Superinduce magnetism at one end of a needle; the opposite
magnetism takes place at the other end. If the south attracts, the
north repels. To empty here, you must condense there. An inevitable
dualism bisects nature, so that each thing is a half, and suggests
another thing to make it whole; as, spirit, matter; man, woman; odd,
even; subjective, objective; in, out; upper, under; motion, rest;
yea, nay.

Whilst the world is thus dual, so is every one of its parts.
The entire system of things gets represented in every particle.
There is somewhat that resembles the ebb and flow of the sea, day and
night, man and woman, in a single needle of the pine, in a kernel of
corn, in each individual of every animal tribe. The reaction, so
grand in the elements, is repeated within these small boundaries.
For example, in the animal kingdom the physiologist has observed that
no creatures are favorites, but a certain compensation balances every
gift and every defect. A surplusage given to one part is paid out of
a reduction from another part of the same creature. If the head and
neck are enlarged, the trunk and extremities are cut short.

The theory of the mechanic forces is another example. What we
gain in power is lost in time; and the converse. The periodic or
compensating errors of the planets is another instance. The
influences of climate and soil in political history are another. The
cold climate invigorates. The barren soil does not breed fevers,
crocodiles, tigers, or scorpions.

The same dualism underlies the nature and condition of man.
Every excess causes a defect; every defect an excess. Every sweet
hath its sour; every evil its good. Every faculty which is a
receiver of pleasure has an equal penalty put on its abuse. It is to
answer for its moderation with its life. For every grain of wit
there is a grain of folly. For every thing you have missed, you have
gained something else; and for every thing you gain, you lose
something. If riches increase, they are increased that use them. If
the gatherer gathers too much, nature takes out of the man what she
puts into his chest; swells the estate, but kills the owner. Nature
hates monopolies and exceptions. The waves of the sea do not more
speedily seek a level from their loftiest tossing, than the varieties
of condition tend to equalize themselves. There is always some
levelling circumstance that puts down the overbearing, the strong,
the rich, the fortunate, substantially on the same ground with all
others. Is a man too strong and fierce for society, and by temper
and position a bad citizen, -- a morose ruffian, with a dash of the
pirate in him;---- nature sends him a troop of pretty sons and
daughters, who are getting along in the dame's classes at the village
school, and love and fear for them smooths his grim scowl to
courtesy. Thus she contrives to intenerate the granite and felspar,
takes the boar out and puts the lamb in, and keeps her balance true.

The farmer imagines power and place are fine things. But the
President has paid dear for his White House. It has commonly cost
him all his peace, and the best of his manly attributes. To preserve
for a short time so conspicuous an appearance before the world, he is
content to eat dust before the real masters who stand erect behind
the throne. Or, do men desire the more substantial and permanent
grandeur of genius? Neither has this an immunity. He who by force
of will or of thought is great, and overlooks thousands, has the
charges of that eminence. With every influx of light comes new
danger. Has he light? he must bear witness to the light, and always
outrun that sympathy which gives him such keen satisfaction, by his
fidelity to new revelations of the incessant soul. He must hate
father and mother, wife and child. Has he all that the world loves
and admires and covets? -- he must cast behind him their admiration,
and afflict them by faithfulness to his truth, and become a byword
and a hissing.

This law writes the laws of cities and nations. It is in vain
to build or plot or combine against it. Things refuse to be
mismanaged long. _Res nolunt diu male administrari_. Though no
checks to a new evil appear, the checks exist, and will appear. If
the government is cruel, the governor's life is not safe. If you tax
too high, the revenue will yield nothing. If you make the criminal
code sanguinary, juries will not convict. If the law is too mild,
private vengeance comes in. If the government is a terrific
democracy, the pressure is resisted by an overcharge of energy in the
citizen, and life glows with a fiercer flame. The true life and
satisfactions of man seem to elude the utmost rigors or felicities of
condition, and to establish themselves with great indifferency under
all varieties of circumstances. Under all governments the influence
of character remains the same, -- in Turkey and in New England about
alike. Under the primeval despots of Egypt, history honestly
confesses that man must have been as free as culture could make him.

These appearances indicate the fact that the universe is
represented in every one of its particles. Every thing in nature
contains all the powers of nature. Every thing is made of one hidden
stuff; as the naturalist sees one type under every metamorphosis, and
regards a horse as a running man, a fish as a swimming man, a bird as
a flying man, a tree as a rooted man. Each new form repeats not only
the main character of the type, but part for part all the details,
all the aims, furtherances, hindrances, energies, and whole system of
every other. Every occupation, trade, art, transaction, is a compend
of the world, and a correlative of every other. Each one is an
entire emblem of human life; of its good and ill, its trials, its
enemies, its course and its end. And each one must somehow
accommodate the whole man, and recite all his destiny.

The world globes itself in a drop of dew. The microscope
cannot find the animalcule which is less perfect for being little.
Eyes, ears, taste, smell, motion, resistance, appetite, and organs of
reproduction that take hold on eternity, -- all find room to consist
in the small creature. So do we put our life into every act. The
true doctrine of omnipresence is, that God reappears with all his
parts in every moss and cobweb. The value of the universe contrives
to throw itself into every point. If the good is there, so is the
evil; if the affinity, so the repulsion; if the force, so the

Thus is the universe alive. All things are moral. That soul,
which within us is a sentiment, outside of us is a law. We feel its
inspiration; out there in history we can see its fatal strength. "It
is in the world, and the world was made by it." Justice is not
postponed. A perfect equity adjusts its balance in all parts of
life. {Oi chusoi Dios aei enpiptousi}, -- The dice of God are always
loaded. The world looks like a multiplication-table, or a
mathematical equation, which, turn it how you will, balances itself.
Take what figure you will, its exact value, nor more nor less, still
returns to you. Every secret is told, every crime is punished, every
virtue rewarded, every wrong redressed, in silence and certainty.
What we call retribution is the universal necessity by which the
whole appears wherever a part appears. If you see smoke, there must
be fire. If you see a hand or a limb, you know that the trunk to
which it belongs is there behind.

Every act rewards itself, or, in other words, integrates
itself, in a twofold manner; first, in the thing, or in real nature;
and secondly, in the circumstance, or in apparent nature. Men call
the circumstance the retribution. The causal retribution is in the
thing, and is seen by the soul. The retribution in the circumstance
is seen by the understanding; it is inseparable from the thing, but
is often spread over a long time, and so does not become distinct
until after many years. The specific stripes may follow late after
the offence, but they follow because they accompany it. Crime and
punishment grow out of one stem. Punishment is a fruit that
unsuspected ripens within the flower of the pleasure which concealed
it. Cause and effect, means and ends, seed and fruit, cannot be
severed; for the effect already blooms in the cause, the end
preexists in the means, the fruit in the seed.

Whilst thus the world will be whole, and refuses to be
disparted, we seek to act partially, to sunder, to appropriate; for
example, -- to gratify the senses, we sever the pleasure of the
senses from the needs of the character. The ingenuity of man has
always been dedicated to the solution of one problem, -- how to
detach the sensual sweet, the sensual strong, the sensual bright,
&c., from the moral sweet, the moral deep, the moral fair; that is,
again, to contrive to cut clean off this upper surface so thin as to
leave it bottomless; to get a _one end_, without an _other end_. The
soul says, Eat; the body would feast. The soul says, The man and
woman shall be one flesh and one soul; the body would join the flesh
only. The soul says, Have dominion over all things to the ends of
virtue; the body would have the power over things to its own ends.

The soul strives amain to live and work through all things. It
would be the only fact. All things shall be added unto it power,
pleasure, knowledge, beauty. The particular man aims to be somebody;
to set up for himself; to truck and higgle for a private good; and,
in particulars, to ride, that he may ride; to dress, that he may be
dressed; to eat, that he may eat; and to govern, that he may be seen.
Men seek to be great; they would have offices, wealth, power, and
fame. They think that to be great is to possess one side of nature,
-- the sweet, without the other side, -- the bitter.

This dividing and detaching is steadily counteracted. Up to
this day, it must be owned, no projector has had the smallest
success. The parted water reunites behind our hand. Pleasure is
taken out of pleasant things, profit out of profitable things, power
out of strong things, as soon as we seek to separate them from the
whole. We can no more halve things and get the sensual good, by
itself, than we can get an inside that shall have no outside, or a
light without a shadow. "Drive out nature with a fork, she comes
running back."

Life invests itself with inevitable conditions, which the
unwise seek to dodge, which one and another brags that he does not
know; that they do not touch him; -- but the brag is on his lips, the
conditions are in his soul. If he escapes them in one part, they
attack him in another more vital part. If he has escaped them in
form, and in the appearance, it is because he has resisted his life,
and fled from himself, and the retribution is so much death. So
signal is the failure of all attempts to make this separation of the
good from the tax, that the experiment would not be tried, -- since
to try it is to be mad, -- but for the circumstance, that when the
disease began in the will, of rebellion and separation, the intellect
is at once infected, so that the man ceases to see God whole in each
object, but is able to see the sensual allurement of an object, and
not see the sensual hurt; he sees the mermaid's head, but not the
dragon's tail; and thinks he can cut off that which he would have,
from that which he would not have. "How secret art thou who dwellest
in the highest heavens in silence, O thou only great God, sprinkling
with an unwearied Providence certain penal blindnesses upon such as
have unbridled desires!"

The human soul is true to these facts in the painting of fable,
of history, of law, of proverbs, of conversation. It finds a tongue
in literature unawares. Thus the Greeks called Jupiter, Supreme
Mind; but having traditionally ascribed to him many base actions,
they involuntarily made amends to reason, by tying up the hands of so
bad a god. He is made as helpless as a king of England. Prometheus
knows one secret which Jove must bargain for; Minerva, another. He
cannot get his own thunders; Minerva keeps the key of them.

"Of all the gods, I only know the keys
That ope the solid doors within whose vaults
His thunders sleep."

A plain confession of the in-working of the All, and of its
moral aim. The Indian mythology ends in the same ethics; and it
would seem impossible for any fable to be invented and get any
currency which was not moral. Aurora forgot to ask youth for her
lover, and though Tithonus is immortal, he is old. Achilles is not
quite invulnerable; the sacred waters did not wash the heel by which
Thetis held him. Siegfried, in the Nibelungen, is not quite
immortal, for a leaf fell on his back whilst he was bathing in the
dragon's blood, and that spot which it covered is mortal. And so it
must be. There is a crack in every thing God has made. It would
seem, there is always this vindictive circumstance stealing in at
unawares, even into the wild poesy in which the human fancy attempted
to make bold holiday, and to shake itself free of the old laws, --
this back-stroke, this kick of the gun, certifying that the law is
fatal; that in nature nothing can be given, all things are sold.

This is that ancient doctrine of Nemesis, who keeps watch in
the universe, and lets no offence go unchastised. The Furies, they
said, are attendants on justice, and if the sun in heaven should
transgress his path, they would punish him. The poets related that
stone walls, and iron swords, and leathern thongs had an occult
sympathy with the wrongs of their owners; that the belt which Ajax
gave Hector dragged the Trojan hero over the field at the wheels of
the car of Achilles, and the sword which Hector gave Ajax was that on
whose point Ajax fell. They recorded, that when the Thasians erected
a statue to Theagenes, a victor in the games, one of his rivals went
to it by night, and endeavoured to throw it down by repeated blows,
until at last he moved it from its pedestal, and was crushed to death
beneath its fall.

This voice of fable has in it somewhat divine. It came from
thought above the will of the writer. That is the best part of each
writer, which has nothing private in it; that which he does not know;
that which flowed out of his constitution, and not from his too
active invention; that which in the study of a single artist you
might not easily find, but in the study of many, you would abstract
as the spirit of them all. Phidias it is not, but the work of man in
that early Hellenic world, that I would know. The name and
circumstance of Phidias, however convenient for history, embarrass
when we come to the highest criticism. We are to see that which man
was tending to do in a given period, and was hindered, or, if you
will, modified in doing, by the interfering volitions of Phidias, of
Dante, of Shakspeare, the organ whereby man at the moment wrought.

Still more striking is the expression of this fact in the
proverbs of all nations, which are always the literature of reason,
or the statements of an absolute truth, without qualification.
Proverbs, like the sacred books of each nation, are the sanctuary of
the intuitions. That which the droning world, chained to
appearances, will not allow the realist to say in his own words, it
will suffer him to say in proverbs without contradiction. And this
law of laws which the pulpit, the senate, and the college deny, is
hourly preached in all markets and workshops by flights of proverbs,
whose teaching is as true and as omnipresent as that of birds and

All things are double, one against another. -- Tit for tat; an
eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth; blood for blood; measure for
measure; love for love. -- Give and it shall be given you. -- He
that watereth shall be watered himself. -- What will you have? quoth
God; pay for it and take it. -- Nothing venture, nothing have. --
Thou shalt be paid exactly for what thou hast done, no more, no less.
-- Who doth not work shall not eat. -- Harm watch, harm catch. --
Curses always recoil on the head of him who imprecates them. -- If
you put a chain around the neck of a slave, the other end fastens
itself around your own. -- Bad counsel confounds the adviser. --
The Devil is an ass.

It is thus written, because it is thus in life. Our action is
overmastered and characterized above our will by the law of nature.
We aim at a petty end quite aside from the public good, but our act
arranges itself by irresistible magnetism in a line with the poles of
the world.

A man cannot speak but he judges himself. With his will, or
against his will, he draws his portrait to the eye of his companions
by every word. Every opinion reacts on him who utters it. It is a
thread-ball thrown at a mark, but the other end remains in the
thrower's bag. Or, rather, it is a harpoon hurled at the whale,
unwinding, as it flies, a coil of cord in the boat, and if the
harpoon is not good, or not well thrown, it will go nigh to cut the
steersman in twain, or to sink the boat.

You cannot do wrong without suffering wrong. "No man had ever
a point of pride that was not injurious to him," said Burke. The
exclusive in fashionable life does not see that he excludes himself
from enjoyment, in the attempt to appropriate it. The exclusionist
in religion does not see that he shuts the door of heaven on himself,
in striving to shut out others. Treat men as pawns and ninepins, and
you shall suffer as well as they. If you leave out their heart, you
shall lose your own. The senses would make things of all persons; of
women, of children, of the poor. The vulgar proverb, "I will get it
from his purse or get it from his skin," is sound philosophy.

All infractions of love and equity in our social relations are
speedily punished. They are punished by fear. Whilst I stand in
simple relations to my fellow-man, I have no displeasure in meeting
him. We meet as water meets water, or as two currents of air mix,
with perfect diffusion and interpenetration of nature. But as soon
as there is any departure from simplicity, and attempt at halfness,
or good for me that is not good for him, my neighbour feels the
wrong; he shrinks from me as far as I have shrunk from him; his eyes
no longer seek mine; there is war between us; there is hate in him
and fear in me.

All the old abuses in society, universal and particular, all
unjust accumulations of property and power, are avenged in the same
manner. Fear is an instructer of great sagacity, and the herald of
all revolutions. One thing he teaches, that there is rottenness
where he appears. He is a carrion crow, and though you see not well
what he hovers for, there is death somewhere. Our property is timid,
our laws are timid, our cultivated classes are timid. Fear for ages
has boded and mowed and gibbered over government and property. That
obscene bird is not there for nothing. He indicates great wrongs
which must be revised.

Of the like nature is that expectation of change which
instantly follows the suspension of our voluntary activity. The
terror of cloudless noon, the emerald of Polycrates, the awe of
prosperity, the instinct which leads every generous soul to impose on
itself tasks of a noble asceticism and vicarious virtue, are the
tremblings of the balance of justice through the heart and mind of

Experienced men of the world know very well that it is best to
pay scot and lot as they go along, and that a man often pays dear for
a small frugality. The borrower runs in his own debt. Has a man
gained any thing who has received a hundred favors and rendered none?
Has he gained by borrowing, through indolence or cunning, his
neighbour's wares, or horses, or money? There arises on the deed the
instant acknowledgment of benefit on the one part, and of debt on the
other; that is, of superiority and inferiority. The transaction
remains in the memory of himself and his neighbour; and every new
transaction alters, according to its nature, their relation to each
other. He may soon come to see that he had better have broken his
own bones than to have ridden in his neighbour's coach, and that "the
highest price he can pay for a thing is to ask for it."

A wise man will extend this lesson to all parts of life, and
know that it is the part of prudence to face every claimant, and pay
every just demand on your time, your talents, or your heart. Always
pay; for, first or last, you must pay your entire debt. Persons and
events may stand for a time between you and justice, but it is only a
postponement. You must pay at last your own debt. If you are wise,
you will dread a prosperity which only loads you with more. Benefit
is the end of nature. But for every benefit which you receive, a tax
is levied. He is great who confers the most benefits. He is base --
and that is the one base thing in the universe -- to receive favors
and render none. In the order of nature we cannot render benefits to
those from whom we receive them, or only seldom. But the benefit we
receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent
for cent, to somebody. Beware of too much good staying in your hand.
It will fast corrupt and worm worms. Pay it away quickly in some

Labor is watched over by the same pitiless laws. Cheapest, say
the prudent, is the dearest labor. What we buy in a broom, a mat, a
wagon, a knife, is some application of good sense to a common want.
It is best to pay in your land a skilful gardener, or to buy good
sense applied to gardening; in your sailor, good sense applied to
navigation; in the house, good sense applied to cooking, sewing,
serving; in your agent, good sense applied to accounts and affairs.
So do you multiply your presence, or spread yourself throughout your
estate. But because of the dual constitution of things, in labor as
in life there can be no cheating. The thief steals from himself.
The swindler swindles himself. For the real price of labor is
knowledge and virtue, whereof wealth and credit are signs. These
signs, like paper money, may be counterfeited or stolen, but that
which they represent, namely, knowledge and virtue, cannot be
counterfeited or stolen. These ends of labor cannot be answered but
by real exertions of the mind, and in obedience to pure motives. The
cheat, the defaulter, the gambler, cannot extort the knowledge of
material and moral nature which his honest care and pains yield to
the operative. The law of nature is, Do the thing, and you shall
have the power: but they who do not the thing have not the power.

Human labor, through all its forms, from the sharpening of a
stake to the construction of a city or an epic, is one immense
illustration of the perfect compensation of the universe. The
absolute balance of Give and Take, the doctrine that every thing has
its price, -- and if that price is not paid, not that thing but
something else is obtained, and that it is impossible to get any
thing without its price, -- is not less sublime in the columns of a
leger than in the budgets of states, in the laws of light and
darkness, in all the action and reaction of nature. I cannot doubt
that the high laws which each man sees implicated in those processes
with which he is conversant, the stern ethics which sparkle on his
chisel-edge, which are measured out by his plumb and foot-rule, which
stand as manifest in the footing of the shop-bill as in the history
of a state, -- do recommend to him his trade, and though seldom
named, exalt his business to his imagination.

The league between virtue and nature engages all things to
assume a hostile front to vice. The beautiful laws and substances of
the world persecute and whip the traitor. He finds that things are
arranged for truth and benefit, but there is no den in the wide world
to hide a rogue. Commit a crime, and the earth is made of glass.
Commit a crime, and it seems as if a coat of snow fell on the ground,
such as reveals in the woods the track of every partridge and fox and
squirrel and mole. You cannot recall the spoken word, you cannot
wipe out the foot-track, you cannot draw up the ladder, so as to
leave no inlet or clew. Some damning circumstance always transpires.
The laws and substances of nature -- water, snow, wind, gravitation
-- become penalties to the thief.

On the other hand, the law holds with equal sureness for all
right action. Love, and you shall be loved. All love is
mathematically just, as much as the two sides of an algebraic
equation. The good man has absolute good, which like fire turns
every thing to its own nature, so that you cannot do him any harm;
but as the royal armies sent against Napoleon, when he approached,
cast down their colors and from enemies became friends, so disasters
of all kinds, as sickness, offence, poverty, prove benefactors: --

"Winds blow and waters roll
Strength to the brave, and power and deity,
Yet in themselves are nothing."

The good are befriended even by weakness and defect. As no man
had ever a point of pride that was not injurious to him, so no man
had ever a defect that was not somewhere made useful to him. The
stag in the fable admired his horns and blamed his feet, but when the
hunter came, his feet saved him, and afterwards, caught in the
thicket, his horns destroyed him. Every man in his lifetime needs to
thank his faults. As no man thoroughly understands a truth until he
has contended against it, so no man has a thorough acquaintance with
the hindrances or talents of men, until he has suffered from the one,
and seen the triumph of the other over his own want of the same. Has
he a defect of temper that unfits him to live in society? Thereby he
is driven to entertain himself alone, and acquire habits of
self-help; and thus, like the wounded oyster, he mends his shell with

Our strength grows out of our weakness. The indignation which
arms itself with secret forces does not awaken until we are pricked
and stung and sorely assailed. A great man is always willing to be
little. Whilst he sits on the cushion of advantages, he goes to
sleep. When he is pushed, tormented, defeated, he has a chance to
learn something; he has been put on his wits, on his manhood; he has
gained facts; learns his ignorance; is cured of the insanity of
conceit; has got moderation and real skill. The wise man throws
himself on the side of his assailants. It is more his interest than
it is theirs to find his weak point. The wound cicatrizes and falls
off from him like a dead skin, and when they would triumph, lo! he
has passed on invulnerable. Blame is safer than praise. I hate to
be defended in a newspaper. As long as all that is said is said
against me, I feel a certain assurance of success. But as soon as
honeyed words of praise are spoken for me, I feel as one that lies
unprotected before his enemies. In general, every evil to which we
do not succumb is a benefactor. As the Sandwich Islander believes
that the strength and valor of the enemy he kills passes into
himself, so we gain the strength of the temptation we resist.

The same guards which protect us from disaster, defect, and
enmity, defend us, if we will, from selfishness and fraud. Bolts and
bars are not the best of our institutions, nor is shrewdness in trade
a mark of wisdom. Men suffer all their life long, under the foolish
superstition that they can be cheated. But it is as impossible for a
man to be cheated by any one but himself, as for a thing to be and
not to be at the same time. There is a third silent party to all our
bargains. The nature and soul of things takes on itself the guaranty
of the fulfilment of every contract, so that honest service cannot
come to loss. If you serve an ungrateful master, serve him the more.
Put God in your debt. Every stroke shall be repaid. The longer the
payment is withholden, the better for you; for compound interest on
compound interest is the rate and usage of this exchequer.

The history of persecution is a history of endeavours to cheat
nature, to make water run up hill, to twist a rope of sand. It makes
no difference whether the actors be many or one, a tyrant or a mob.
A mob is a society of bodies voluntarily bereaving themselves of
reason, and traversing its work. The mob is man voluntarily
descending to the nature of the beast. Its fit hour of activity is
night. Its actions are insane like its whole constitution. It
persecutes a principle; it would whip a right; it would tar and
feather justice, by inflicting fire and outrage upon the houses and
persons of those who have these. It resembles the prank of boys, who
run with fire-engines to put out the ruddy aurora streaming to the
stars. The inviolate spirit turns their spite against the
wrongdoers. The martyr cannot be dishonored. Every lash inflicted
is a tongue of fame; every prison, a more illustrious abode; every
burned book or house enlightens the world; every suppressed or
expunged word reverberates through the earth from side to side.
Hours of sanity and consideration are always arriving to communities,
as to individuals, when the truth is seen, and the martyrs are

Thus do all things preach the indifferency of circumstances.
The man is all. Every thing has two sides, a good and an evil.
Every advantage has its tax. I learn to be content. But the
doctrine of compensation is not the doctrine of indifferency. The
thoughtless say, on hearing these representations, -- What boots it
to do well? there is one event to good and evil; if I gain any good,
I must pay for it; if I lose any good, I gain some other; all actions
are indifferent.

There is a deeper fact in the soul than compensation, to wit,
its own nature. The soul is not a compensation, but a life. The
soul _is_. Under all this running sea of circumstance, whose waters
ebb and flow with perfect balance, lies the aboriginal abyss of real
Being. Essence, or God, is not a relation, or a part, but the whole.
Being is the vast affirmative, excluding negation, self-balanced, and
swallowing up all relations, parts, and times within itself. Nature,
truth, virtue, are the influx from thence. Vice is the absence or
departure of the same. Nothing, Falsehood, may indeed stand as the
great Night or shade, on which, as a background, the living universe
paints itself forth; but no fact is begotten by it; it cannot work;
for it is not. It cannot work any good; it cannot work any harm. It
is harm inasmuch as it is worse not to be than to be.

We feel defrauded of the retribution due to evil acts, because
the criminal adheres to his vice and contumacy, and does not come to
a crisis or judgment anywhere in visible nature. There is no
stunning confutation of his nonsense before men and angels. Has he
therefore outwitted the law? Inasmuch as he carries the malignity
and the lie with him, he so far deceases from nature. In some manner
there will be a demonstration of the wrong to the understanding also;
but should we not see it, this deadly deduction makes square the
eternal account.

Neither can it be said, on the other hand, that the gain of
rectitude must be bought by any loss. There is no penalty to virtue;
no penalty to wisdom; they are proper additions of being. In a
virtuous action, I properly _am_; in a virtuous act, I add to the
world; I plant into deserts conquered from Chaos and Nothing, and see
the darkness receding on the limits of the horizon. There can be no
excess to love; none to knowledge; none to beauty, when these
attributes are considered in the purest sense. The soul refuses
limits, and always affirms an Optimism, never a Pessimism.

His life is a progress, and not a station. His instinct is
trust. Our instinct uses "more" and "less" in application to man, of
the _presence of the soul_, and not of its absence; the brave man is
greater than the coward; the true, the benevolent, the wise, is more
a man, and not less, than the fool and knave. There is no tax on the
good of virtue; for that is the incoming of God himself, or absolute
existence, without any comparative. Material good has its tax, and
if it came without desert or sweat, has no root in me, and the next
wind will blow it away. But all the good of nature is the soul's,
and may be had, if paid for in nature's lawful coin, that is, by
labor which the heart and the head allow. I no longer wish to meet a
good I do not earn, for example, to find a pot of buried gold,
knowing that it brings with it new burdens. I do not wish more
external goods, -- neither possessions, nor honors, nor powers, nor
persons. The gain is apparent; the tax is certain. But there is no
tax on the knowledge that the compensation exists, and that it is not
desirable to dig up treasure. Herein I rejoice with a serene eternal
peace. I contract the boundaries of possible mischief. I learn the
wisdom of St. Bernard, -- "Nothing can work me damage except myself;
the harm that I sustain I carry about with me, and never am a real
sufferer but by my own fault."

In the nature of the soul is the compensation for the
inequalities of condition. The radical tragedy of nature seems to be
the distinction of More and Less. How can Less not feel the pain;
how not feel indignation or malevolence towards More? Look at those
who have less faculty, and one feels sad, and knows not well what to
make of it. He almost shuns their eye; he fears they will upbraid
God. What should they do? It seems a great injustice. But see the
facts nearly, and these mountainous inequalities vanish. Love
reduces them, as the sun melts the iceberg in the sea. The heart and
soul of all men being one, this bitterness of _His_ and _Mine_
ceases. His is mine. I am my brother, and my brother is me. If I
feel overshadowed and outdone by great neighbours, I can yet love; I
can still receive; and he that loveth maketh his own the grandeur he
loves. Thereby I make the discovery that my brother is my guardian,
acting for me with the friendliest designs, and the estate I so
admired and envied is my own. It is the nature of the soul to
appropriate all things. Jesus and Shakspeare are fragments of the
soul, and by love I conquer and incorporate them in my own conscious
domain. His virtue, -- is not that mine? His wit, -- if it cannot
be made mine, it is not wit.

Such, also, is the natural history of calamity. The changes
which break up at short intervals the prosperity of men are
advertisements of a nature whose law is growth. Every soul is by
this intrinsic necessity quitting its whole system of things, its
friends, and home, and laws, and faith, as the shell-fish crawls out
of its beautiful but stony case, because it no longer admits of its
growth, and slowly forms a new house. In proportion to the vigor of
the individual, these revolutions are frequent, until in some happier
mind they are incessant, and all worldly relations hang very loosely
about him, becoming, as it were, a transparent fluid membrane through
which the living form is seen, and not, as in most men, an indurated
heterogeneous fabric of many dates, and of no settled character in
which the man is imprisoned. Then there can be enlargement, and the
man of to-day scarcely recognizes the man of yesterday. And such
should be the outward biography of man in time, a putting off of dead
circumstances day by day, as he renews his raiment day by day. But
to us, in our lapsed estate, resting, not advancing, resisting, not
cooperating with the divine expansion, this growth comes by shocks.

We cannot part with our friends. We cannot let our angels go.
We do not see that they only go out, that archangels may come in. We
are idolaters of the old. We do not believe in the riches of the
soul, in its proper eternity and omnipresence. We do not believe
there is any force in to-day to rival or recreate that beautiful
yesterday. We linger in the ruins of the old tent, where once we had
bread and shelter and organs, nor believe that the spirit can feed,
cover, and nerve us again. We cannot again find aught so dear, so
sweet, so graceful. But we sit and weep in vain. The voice of the
Almighty saith, `Up and onward for evermore!' We cannot stay amid the
ruins. Neither will we rely on the new; and so we walk ever with
reverted eyes, like those monsters who look backwards.

And yet the compensations of calamity are made apparent to the
understanding also, after long intervals of time. A fever, a
mutilation, a cruel disappointment, a loss of wealth, a loss of
friends, seems at the moment unpaid loss, and unpayable. But the
sure years reveal the deep remedial force that underlies all facts.
The death of a dear friend, wife, brother, lover, which seemed
nothing but privation, somewhat later assumes the aspect of a guide
or genius; for it commonly operates revolutions in our way of life,
terminates an epoch of infancy or of youth which was waiting to be
closed, breaks up a wonted occupation, or a household, or style of
living, and allows the formation of new ones more friendly to the
growth of character. It permits or constrains the formation of new
acquaintances, and the reception of new influences that prove of the
first importance to the next years; and the man or woman who would
have remained a sunny garden-flower, with no room for its roots and
too much sunshine for its head, by the falling of the walls and the
neglect of the gardener, is made the banian of the forest, yielding
shade and fruit to wide neighbourhoods of men.