Spiritual Laws
Ralph Waldo Emerson

The living Heaven thy prayers respect,
House at once and architect,
Quarrying man's rejected hours,
Builds therewith eternal towers;
Sole and self-commanded works,
Fears not undermining days,
Grows by decays,
And, by the famous might that lurks
In reaction and recoil,
Makes flame to freeze, and ice to boil;
Forging, through swart arms of Offence,
The silver seat of Innocence.

Spiritual Laws

When the act of reflection takes place in the mind, when we
look at ourselves in the light of thought, we discover that our life
is embosomed in beauty. Behind us, as we go, all things assume
pleasing forms, as clouds do far off. Not only things familiar and
stale, but even the tragic and terrible, are comely, as they take
their place in the pictures of memory. The river-bank, the weed at
the water-side, the old house, the foolish person, -- however
neglected in the passing, -- have a grace in the past. Even the
corpse that has lain in the chambers has added a solemn ornament to
the house. The soul will not know either deformity or pain. If, in
the hours of clear reason, we should speak the severest truth, we
should say, that we had never made a sacrifice. In these hours the
mind seems so great, that nothing can be taken from us that seems
much. All loss, all pain, is particular; the universe remains to the
heart unhurt. Neither vexations nor calamities abate our trust. No
man ever stated his griefs as lightly as he might. Allow for
exaggeration in the most patient and sorely ridden hack that ever was
driven. For it is only the finite that has wrought and suffered; the
infinite lies stretched in smiling repose.

The intellectual life may be kept clean and healthful, if man
will live the life of nature, and not import into his mind
difficulties which are none of his. No man need be perplexed in his
speculations. Let him do and say what strictly belongs to him, and,
though very ignorant of books, his nature shall not yield him any
intellectual obstructions and doubts. Our young people are diseased
with the theological problems of original sin, origin of evil,
predestination, and the like. These never presented a practical
difficulty to any man, -- never darkened across any man's road, who
did not go out of his way to seek them. These are the soul's mumps,
and measles, and whooping-coughs, and those who have not caught them
cannot describe their health or prescribe the cure. A simple mind
will not know these enemies. It is quite another thing that he
should be able to give account of his faith, and expound to another
the theory of his self-union and freedom. This requires rare gifts.
Yet, without this self-knowledge, there may be a sylvan strength and
integrity in that which he is. "A few strong instincts and a few
plain rules" suffice us.

My will never gave the images in my mind the rank they now
take. The regular course of studies, the years of academical and
professional education, have not yielded me better facts than some
idle books under the bench at the Latin School. What we do not call
education is more precious than that which we call so. We form no
guess, at the time of receiving a thought, of its comparative value.
And education often wastes its effort in attempts to thwart and balk
this natural magnetism, which is sure to select what belongs to it.

In like manner, our moral nature is vitiated by any
interference of our will. People represent virtue as a struggle, and
take to themselves great airs upon their attainments, and the
question is everywhere vexed, when a noble nature is commended,
whether the man is not better who strives with temptation. But there
is no merit in the matter. Either God is there, or he is not there.
We love characters in proportion as they are impulsive and
spontaneous. The less a man thinks or knows about his virtues, the
better we like him. Timoleon's victories are the best victories;
which ran and flowed like Homer's verses, Plutarch said. When we see
a soul whose acts are all regal, graceful, and pleasant as roses, we
must thank God that such things can be and are, and not turn sourly
on the angel, and say, `Crump is a better man with his grunting
resistance to all his native devils.'

Not less conspicuous is the preponderance of nature over will
in all practical life. There is less intention in history than we
ascribe to it. We impute deep-laid, far-sighted plans to Caesar and
Napoleon; but the best of their power was in nature, not in them.
Men of an extraordinary success, in their honest moments, have always
sung, `Not unto us, not unto us.' According to the faith of their
times, they have built altars to Fortune, or to Destiny, or to St.
Julian. Their success lay in their parallelism to the course of
thought, which found in them an unobstructed channel; and the wonders
of which they were the visible conductors seemed to the eye their
deed. Did the wires generate the galvanism? It is even true that
there was less in them on which they could reflect, than in another;
as the virtue of a pipe is to be smooth and hollow. That which
externally seemed will and immovableness was willingness and
self-annihilation. Could Shakspeare give a theory of Shakspeare?
Could ever a man of prodigious mathematical genius convey to others
any insight into his methods? If he could communicate that secret,
it would instantly lose its exaggerated value, blending with the
daylight and the vital energy the power to stand and to go.

The lesson is forcibly taught by these observations, that our
life might be much easier and simpler than we make it; that the world
might be a happier place than it is; that there is no need of
struggles, convulsions, and despairs, of the wringing of the hands
and the gnashing of the teeth; that we miscreate our own evils. We
interfere with the optimism of nature; for, whenever we get this
vantage-ground of the past, or of a wiser mind in the present, we are
able to discern that we are begirt with laws which execute

The face of external nature teaches the same lesson. Nature
will not have us fret and fume. She does not like our benevolence or
our learning much better than she likes our frauds and wars. When we
come out of the caucus, or the bank, or the Abolition-convention, or
the Temperance-meeting, or the Transcendental club, into the fields
and woods, she says to us, `So hot? my little Sir.'

We are full of mechanical actions. We must needs intermeddle,
and have things in our own way, until the sacrifices and virtues of
society are odious. Love should make joy; but our benevolence is
unhappy. Our Sunday-schools, and churches, and pauper-societies are
yokes to the neck. We pain ourselves to please nobody. There are
natural ways of arriving at the same ends at which these aim, but do
not arrive. Why should all virtue work in one and the same way? Why
should all give dollars? It is very inconvenient to us country folk,
and we do not think any good will come of it. We have not dollars;
merchants have; let them give them. Farmers will give corn; poets
will sing; women will sew; laborers will lend a hand; the children
will bring flowers. And why drag this dead weight of a Sunday-school
over the whole Christendom? It is natural and beautiful that
childhood should inquire, and maturity should teach; but it is time
enough to answer questions when they are asked. Do not shut up the
young people against their will in a pew, and force the children to
ask them questions for an hour against their will.

If we look wider, things are all alike; laws, and letters, and
creeds, and modes of living, seem a travestie of truth. Our society
is encumbered by ponderous machinery, which resembles the endless
aqueducts which the Romans built over hill and dale, and which are
superseded by the discovery of the law that water rises to the level
of its source. It is a Chinese wall which any nimble Tartar can leap
over. It is a standing army, not so good as a peace. It is a
graduated, titled, richly appointed empire, quite superfluous when
town-meetings are found to answer just as well.

Let us draw a lesson from nature, which always works by short
ways. When the fruit is ripe, it falls. When the fruit is
despatched, the leaf falls. The circuit of the waters is mere
falling. The walking of man and all animals is a falling forward.
All our manual labor and works of strength, as prying, splitting,
digging, rowing, and so forth, are done by dint of continual falling,
and the globe, earth, moon, comet, sun, star, fall for ever and ever.

The simplicity of the universe is very different from the
simplicity of a machine. He who sees moral nature out and out, and
thoroughly knows how knowledge is acquired and character formed, is a
pedant. The simplicity of nature is not that which may easily be
read, but is inexhaustible. The last analysis can no wise be made.
We judge of a man's wisdom by his hope, knowing that the perception
of the inexhaustibleness of nature is an immortal youth. The wild
fertility of nature is felt in comparing our rigid names and
reputations with our fluid consciousness. We pass in the world for
sects and schools, for erudition and piety, and we are all the time
jejune babes. One sees very well how Pyrrhonism grew up. Every man
sees that he is that middle point, whereof every thing may be
affirmed and denied with equal reason. He is old, he is young, he is
very wise, he is altogether ignorant. He hears and feels what you
say of the seraphim, and of the tin-pedler. There is no permanent
wise man, except in the figment of the Stoics. We side with the
hero, as we read or paint, against the coward and the robber; but we
have been ourselves that coward and robber, and shall be again, not
in the low circumstance, but in comparison with the grandeurs
possible to the soul.

A little consideration of what takes place around us every day
would show us, that a higher law than that of our will regulates
events; that our painful labors are unnecessary, and fruitless; that
only in our easy, simple, spontaneous action are we strong, and by
contenting ourselves with obedience we become divine. Belief and
love, -- a believing love will relieve us of a vast load of care. O
my brothers, God exists. There is a soul at the centre of nature,
and over the will of every man, so that none of us can wrong the
universe. It has so infused its strong enchantment into nature, that
we prosper when we accept its advice, and when we struggle to wound
its creatures, our hands are glued to our sides, or they beat our own
breasts. The whole course of things goes to teach us faith. We need
only obey. There is guidance for each of us, and by lowly listening
we shall hear the right word. Why need you choose so painfully your
place, and occupation, and associates, and modes of action, and of
entertainment? Certainly there is a possible right for you that
precludes the need of balance and wilful election. For you there is
a reality, a fit place and congenial duties. Place yourself in the
middle of the stream of power and wisdom which animates all whom it
floats, and you are without effort impelled to truth, to right, and a
perfect contentment. Then you put all gainsayers in the wrong. Then
you are the world, the measure of right, of truth, of beauty. If we
will not be mar-plots with our miserable interferences, the work, the
society, letters, arts, science, religion of men would go on far
better than now, and the heaven predicted from the beginning of the
world, and still predicted from the bottom of the heart, would
organize itself, as do now the rose, and the air, and the sun.

I say, _do not choose_; but that is a figure of speech by which
I would distinguish what is commonly called _choice_ among men, and
which is a partial act, the choice of the hands, of the eyes, of the
appetites, and not a whole act of the man. But that which I call
right or goodness is the choice of my constitution; and that which I
call heaven, and inwardly aspire after, is the state or circumstance
desirable to my constitution; and the action which I in all my years
tend to do, is the work for my faculties. We must hold a man
amenable to reason for the choice of his daily craft or profession.
It is not an excuse any longer for his deeds, that they are the
custom of his trade. What business has he with an evil trade? Has
he not a _calling_ in his character.

Each man has his own vocation. The talent is the call. There
is one direction in which all space is open to him. He has faculties
silently inviting him thither to endless exertion. He is like a ship
in a river; he runs against obstructions on every side but one; on
that side all obstruction is taken away, and he sweeps serenely over
a deepening channel into an infinite sea. This talent and this call
depend on his organization, or the mode in which the general soul
incarnates itself in him. He inclines to do something which is easy
to him, and good when it is done, but which no other man can do. He
has no rival. For the more truly he consults his own powers, the
more difference will his work exhibit from the work of any other.
His ambition is exactly proportioned to his powers. The height of
the pinnacle is determined by the breadth of the base. Every man has
this call of the power to do somewhat unique, and no man has any
other call. The pretence that he has another call, a summons by name
and personal election and outward "signs that mark him extraordinary,
and not in the roll of common men," is fanaticism, and betrays
obtuseness to perceive that there is one mind in all the individuals,
and no respect of persons therein.

By doing his work, he makes the need felt which he can supply,
and creates the taste by which he is enjoyed. By doing his own work,
he unfolds himself. It is the vice of our public speaking that it
has not abandonment. Somewhere, not only every orator but every man
should let out all the length of all the reins; should find or make a
frank and hearty expression of what force and meaning is in him. The
common experience is, that the man fits himself as well as he can to
the customary details of that work or trade he falls into, and tends
it as a dog turns a spit. Then is he a part of the machine he moves;
the man is lost. Until he can manage to communicate himself to
others in his full stature and proportion, he does not yet find his
vocation. He must find in that an outlet for his character, so that
he may justify his work to their eyes. If the labor is mean, let him
by his thinking and character make it liberal. Whatever he knows and
thinks, whatever in his apprehension is worth doing, that let him
communicate, or men will never know and honor him aright. Foolish,
whenever you take the meanness and formality of that thing you do,
instead of converting it into the obedient spiracle of your character
and aims.

We like only such actions as have already long had the praise
of men, and do not perceive that any thing man can do may be divinely
done. We think greatness entailed or organized in some places or
duties, in certain offices or occasions, and do not see that Paganini
can extract rapture from a catgut, and Eulenstein from a jews-harp,
and a nimble-fingered lad out of shreds of paper with his scissors,
and Landseer out of swine, and the hero out of the pitiful habitation
and company in which he was hidden. What we call obscure condition
or vulgar society is that condition and society whose poetry is not
yet written, but which you shall presently make as enviable and
renowned as any. In our estimates, let us take a lesson from kings.
The parts of hospitality, the connection of families, the
impressiveness of death, and a thousand other things, royalty makes
its own estimate of, and a royal mind will. To make habitually a new
estimate, -- that is elevation.

What a man does, that he has. What has he to do with hope or
fear? In himself is his might. Let him regard no good as solid, but
that which is in his nature, and which must grow out of him as long
as he exists. The goods of fortune may come and go like summer
leaves; let him scatter them on every wind as the momentary signs of
his infinite productiveness.

He may have his own. A man's genius, the quality that
differences him from every other, the susceptibility to one class of
influences, the selection of what is fit for him, the rejection of
what is unfit, determines for him the character of the universe. A
man is a method, a progressive arrangement; a selecting principle,
gathering his like to him, wherever he goes. He takes only his own
out of the multiplicity that sweeps and circles round him. He is
like one of those booms which are set out from the shore on rivers to
catch drift-wood, or like the loadstone amongst splinters of steel.
Those facts, words, persons, which dwell in his memory without his
being able to say why, remain, because they have a relation to him
not less real for being as yet unapprehended. They are symbols of
value to him, as they can interpret parts of his consciousness which
he would vainly seek words for in the conventional images of books
and other minds. What attracts my attention shall have it, as I will
go to the man who knocks at my door, whilst a thousand persons, as
worthy, go by it, to whom I give no regard. It is enough that these
particulars speak to me. A few anecdotes, a few traits of character,
manners, face, a few incidents, have an emphasis in your memory out
of all proportion to their apparent significance, if you measure them
by the ordinary standards. They relate to your gift. Let them have
their weight, and do not reject them, and cast about for illustration
and facts more usual in literature. What your heart thinks great is
great. The soul's emphasis is always right.

Over all things that are agreeable to his nature and genius,
the man has the highest right. Everywhere he may take what belongs
to his spiritual estate, nor can he take any thing else, though all
doors were open, nor can all the force of men hinder him from taking
so much. It is vain to attempt to keep a secret from one who has a
right to know it. It will tell itself. That mood into which a
friend can bring us is his dominion over us. To the thoughts of that
state of mind he has a right. All the secrets of that state of mind
he can compel. This is a law which statesmen use in practice. All
the terrors of the French Republic, which held Austria in awe, were
unable to command her diplomacy. But Napoleon sent to Vienna M. de
Narbonne, one of the old noblesse, with the morals, manners, and name
of that interest, saying, that it was indispensable to send to the
old aristocracy of Europe men of the same connection, which, in fact,
constitutes a sort of free-masonry. M. de Narbonne, in less than a
fortnight, penetrated all the secrets of the imperial cabinet.

Nothing seems so easy as to speak and to be understood. Yet a
man may come to find _that_ the strongest of defences and of ties, --
that he has been understood; and he who has received an opinion may
come to find it the most inconvenient of bonds.

If a teacher have any opinion which he wishes to conceal, his
pupils will become as fully indoctrinated into that as into any which
he publishes. If you pour water into a vessel twisted into coils and
angles, it is vain to say, I will pour it only into this or that; --
it will find its level in all. Men feel and act the consequences of
your doctrine, without being able to show how they follow. Show us
an arc of the curve, and a good mathematician will find out the whole
figure. We are always reasoning from the seen to the unseen. Hence
the perfect intelligence that subsists between wise men of remote
ages. A man cannot bury his meanings so deep in his book, but time
and like-minded men will find them. Plato had a secret doctrine, had
he? What secret can he conceal from the eyes of Bacon? of Montaigne?
of Kant? Therefore, Aristotle said of his works, "They are published
and not published."

No man can learn what he has not preparation for learning,
however near to his eyes is the object. A chemist may tell his most
precious secrets to a carpenter, and he shall be never the wiser, --
the secrets he would not utter to a chemist for an estate. God
screens us evermore from premature ideas. Our eyes are holden that
we cannot see things that stare us in the face, until the hour
arrives when the mind is ripened; then we behold them, and the time
when we saw them not is like a dream.

Not in nature but in man is all the beauty and worth he sees.
The world is very empty, and is indebted to this gilding, exalting
soul for all its pride. "Earth fills her lap with splendors" _not
her own_. The vale of Tempe, Tivoli, and Rome are earth and water,
rocks and sky. There are as good earth and water in a thousand
places, yet how unaffecting!

People are not the better for the sun and moon, the horizon and
the trees; as it is not observed that the keepers of Roman galleries,
or the valets of painters, have any elevation of thought, or that
librarians are wiser men than others. There are graces in the
demeanour of a polished and noble person, which are lost upon the eye
of a churl. These are like the stars whose light has not yet reached

He may see what he maketh. Our dreams are the sequel of our
waking knowledge. The visions of the night bear some proportion to
the visions of the day. Hideous dreams are exaggerations of the sins
of the day. We see our evil affections embodied in bad
physiognomies. On the Alps, the traveller sometimes beholds his own
shadow magnified to a giant, so that every gesture of his hand is
terrific. "My children," said an old man to his boys scared by a
figure in the dark entry, "my children, you will never see any thing
worse than yourselves." As in dreams, so in the scarcely less fluid
events of the world, every man sees himself in colossal, without
knowing that it is himself. The good, compared to the evil which he
sees, is as his own good to his own evil. Every quality of his mind
is magnified in some one acquaintance, and every emotion of his heart
in some one. He is like a quincunx of trees, which counts five,
east, west, north, or south; or, an initial, medial, and terminal
acrostic. And why not? He cleaves to one person, and avoids
another, according to their likeness or unlikeness to himself, truly
seeking himself in his associates, and moreover in his trade, and
habits, and gestures, and meats, and drinks; and comes at last to be
faithfully represented by every view you take of his circumstances.

He may read what he writes. What can we see or acquire, but
what we are? You have observed a skilful man reading Virgil. Well,
that author is a thousand books to a thousand persons. Take the book
into your two hands, and read your eyes out; you will never find what
I find. If any ingenious reader would have a monopoly of the wisdom
or delight he gets, he is as secure now the book is Englished, as if
it were imprisoned in the Pelews' tongue. It is with a good book as
it is with good company. Introduce a base person among gentlemen; it
is all to no purpose; he is not their fellow. Every society protects
itself. The company is perfectly safe, and he is not one of them,
though his body is in the room.

What avails it to fight with the eternal laws of mind, which
adjust the relation of all persons to each other, by the mathematical
measure of their havings and beings? Gertrude is enamoured of Guy;
how high, how aristocratic, how Roman his mien and manners! to live
with him were life indeed, and no purchase is too great; and heaven
and earth are moved to that end. Well, Gertrude has Guy; but what
now avails how high, how aristocratic, how Roman his mien and
manners, if his heart and aims are in the senate, in the theatre, and
in the billiard-room, and she has no aims, no conversation, that can
enchant her graceful lord?

He shall have his own society. We can love nothing but nature.
The most wonderful talents, the most meritorious exertions, really
avail very little with us; but nearness or likeness of nature, -- how
beautiful is the ease of its victory! Persons approach us famous for
their beauty, for their accomplishments, worthy of all wonder for
their charms and gifts; they dedicate their whole skill to the hour
and the company, with very imperfect result. To be sure, it would be
ungrateful in us not to praise them loudly. Then, when all is done,
a person of related mind, a brother or sister by nature, comes to us
so softly and easily, so nearly and intimately, as if it were the
blood in our proper veins, that we feel as if some one was gone,
instead of another having come; we are utterly relieved and
refreshed; it is a sort of joyful solitude. We foolishly think in
our days of sin, that we must court friends by compliance to the
customs of society, to its dress, its breeding, and its estimates.
But only that soul can be my friend which I encounter on the line of
my own march, that soul to which I do not decline, and which does not
decline to me, but, native of the same celestial latitude, repeats in
its own all my experience. The scholar forgets himself, and apes the
customs and costumes of the man of the world, to deserve the smile of
beauty, and follows some giddy girl, not yet taught by religious
passion to know the noble woman with all that is serene, oracular,
and beautiful in her soul. Let him be great, and love shall follow
him. Nothing is more deeply punished than the neglect of the
affinities by which alone society should be formed, and the insane
levity of choosing associates by others' eyes.

He may set his own rate. It is a maxim worthy of all
acceptation, that a man may have that allowance he takes. Take the
place and attitude which belong to you, and all men acquiesce. The
world must be just. It leaves every man, with profound unconcern, to
set his own rate. Hero or driveller, it meddles not in the matter.
It will certainly accept your own measure of your doing and being,
whether you sneak about and deny your own name, or whether you see
your work produced to the concave sphere of the heavens, one with the
revolution of the stars.

The same reality pervades all teaching. The man may teach by
doing, and not otherwise. If he can communicate himself, he can
teach, but not by words. He teaches who gives, and he learns who
receives. There is no teaching until the pupil is brought into the
same state or principle in which you are; a transfusion takes place;
he is you, and you are he; then is a teaching; and by no unfriendly
chance or bad company can he ever quite lose the benefit. But your
propositions run out of one ear as they ran in at the other. We see
it advertised that Mr. Grand will deliver an oration on the Fourth of
July, and Mr. Hand before the Mechanics' Association, and we do not
go thither, because we know that these gentlemen will not communicate
their own character and experience to the company. If we had reason
to expect such a confidence, we should go through all inconvenience
and opposition. The sick would be carried in litters. But a public
oration is an escapade, a non-committal, an apology, a gag, and not a
communication, not a speech, not a man.

A like Nemesis presides over all intellectual works. We have
yet to learn, that the thing uttered in words is not therefore
affirmed. It must affirm itself, or no forms of logic or of oath can
give it evidence. The sentence must also contain its own apology for
being spoken.

The effect of any writing on the public mind is mathematically
measurable by its depth of thought. How much water does it draw? If
it awaken you to think, if it lift you from your feet with the great
voice of eloquence, then the effect is to be wide, slow, permanent,
over the minds of men; if the pages instruct you not, they will die
like flies in the hour. The way to speak and write what shall not go
out of fashion is, to speak and write sincerely. The argument which
has not power to reach my own practice, I may well doubt, will fail
to reach yours. But take Sidney's maxim: -- "Look in thy heart, and
write." He that writes to himself writes to an eternal public. That
statement only is fit to be made public, which you have come at in
attempting to satisfy your own curiosity. The writer who takes his
subject from his ear, and not from his heart, should know that he has
lost as much as he seems to have gained, and when the empty book has
gathered all its praise, and half the people say, `What poetry! what
genius!' it still needs fuel to make fire. That only profits which
is profitable. Life alone can impart life; and though we should
burst, we can only be valued as we make ourselves valuable. There is
no luck in literary reputation. They who make up the final verdict
upon every book are not the partial and noisy readers of the hour
when it appears; but a court as of angels, a public not to be bribed,
not to be entreated, and not to be overawed, decides upon every man's
title to fame. Only those books come down which deserve to last.
Gilt edges, vellum, and morocco, and presentation-copies to all the
libraries, will not preserve a book in circulation beyond its
intrinsic date. It must go with all Walpole's Noble and Royal
Authors to its fate. Blackmore, Kotzebue, or Pollok may endure for a
night, but Moses and Homer stand for ever. There are not in the
world at any one time more than a dozen persons who read and
understand Plato: -- never enough to pay for an edition of his works;
yet to every generation these come duly down, for the sake of those
few persons, as if God brought them in his hand. "No book," said
Bentley, "was ever written down by any but itself." The permanence of
all books is fixed by no effort friendly or hostile, but by their own
specific gravity, or the intrinsic importance of their contents to
the constant mind of man. "Do not trouble yourself too much about
the light on your statue," said Michel Angelo to the young sculptor;
"the light of the public square will test its value."

In like manner the effect of every action is measured by the
depth of the sentiment from which it proceeds. The great man knew
not that he was great. It took a century or two for that fact to
appear. What he did, he did because he must; it was the most natural
thing in the world, and grew out of the circumstances of the moment.
But now, every thing he did, even to the lifting of his finger or the
eating of bread, looks large, all-related, and is called an

These are the demonstrations in a few particulars of the genius
of nature; they show the direction of the stream. But the stream is
blood; every drop is alive. Truth has not single victories; all
things are its organs, -- not only dust and stones, but errors and
lies. The laws of disease, physicians say, are as beautiful as the
laws of health. Our philosophy is affirmative, and readily accepts
the testimony of negative facts, as every shadow points to the sun.
By a divine necessity, every fact in nature is constrained to offer
its testimony.

Human character evermore publishes itself. The most fugitive
deed and word, the mere air of doing a thing, the intimated purpose,
expresses character. If you act, you show character; if you sit
still, if you sleep, you show it. You think, because you have spoken
nothing when others spoke, and have given no opinion on the times, on
the church, on slavery, on marriage, on socialism, on secret
societies, on the college, on parties and persons, that your verdict
is still expected with curiosity as a reserved wisdom. Far
otherwise; your silence answers very loud. You have no oracle to
utter, and your fellow-men have learned that you cannot help them;
for, oracles speak. Doth not wisdom cry, and understanding put forth
her voice?

Dreadful limits are set in nature to the powers of
dissimulation. Truth tyrannizes over the unwilling members of the
body. Faces never lie, it is said. No man need be deceived, who
will study the changes of expression. When a man speaks the truth in
the spirit of truth, his eye is as clear as the heavens. When he has
base ends, and speaks falsely, the eye is muddy and sometimes

I have heard an experienced counsellor say, that he never
feared the effect upon a jury of a lawyer who does not believe in his
heart that his client ought to have a verdict. If he does not
believe it, his unbelief will appear to the jury, despite all his
protestations, and will become their unbelief. This is that law
whereby a work of art, of whatever kind, sets us in the same state of
mind wherein the artist was when he made it. That which we do not
believe, we cannot adequately say, though we may repeat the words
never so often. It was this conviction which Swedenborg expressed,
when he described a group of persons in the spiritual world
endeavouring in vain to articulate a proposition which they did not
believe; but they could not, though they twisted and folded their
lips even to indignation.

A man passes for that he is worth. Very idle is all curiosity
concerning other people's estimate of us, and all fear of remaining
unknown is not less so. If a man know that he can do any thing, --
that he can do it better than any one else, -- he has a pledge of the
acknowledgment of that fact by all persons. The world is full of
judgment-days, and into every assembly that a man enters, in every
action he attempts, he is gauged and stamped. In every troop of boys
that whoop and run in each yard and square, a new-comer is as well
and accurately weighed in the course of a few days, and stamped with
his right number, as if he had undergone a formal trial of his
strength, speed, and temper. A stranger comes from a distant school,
with better dress, with trinkets in his pockets, with airs and
pretensions: an older boy says to himself, `It 's of no use; we shall
find him out to-morrow.' `What has he done?' is the divine question
which searches men, and transpierces every false reputation. A fop
may sit in any chair of the world, nor be distinguished for his hour
from Homer and Washington; but there need never be any doubt
concerning the respective ability of human beings. Pretension may
sit still, but cannot act. Pretension never feigned an act of real
greatness. Pretension never wrote an Iliad, nor drove back Xerxes,
nor christianized the world, nor abolished slavery.

As much virtue as there is, so much appears; as much goodness
as there is, so much reverence it commands. All the devils respect
virtue. The high, the generous, the self-devoted sect will always
instruct and command mankind. Never was a sincere word utterly lost.
Never a magnanimity fell to the ground, but there is some heart to
greet and accept it unexpectedly. A man passes for that he is worth.
What he is engraves itself on his face, on his form, on his fortunes,
in letters of light. Concealment avails him nothing; boasting
nothing. There is confession in the glances of our eyes; in our
smiles; in salutations; and the grasp of hands. His sin bedaubs him,
mars all his good impression. Men know not why they do not trust
him; but they do not trust him. His vice glasses his eye, cuts lines
of mean expression in his cheek, pinches the nose, sets the mark of
the beast on the back of the head, and writes O fool! fool! on the
forehead of a king.

If you would not be known to do any thing, never do it. A man
may play the fool in the drifts of a desert, but every grain of sand
shall seem to see. He may be a solitary eater, but he cannot keep
his foolish counsel. A broken complexion, a swinish look, ungenerous
acts, and the want of due knowledge, -- all blab. Can a cook, a
Chiffinch, an Iachimo be mistaken for Zeno or Paul? Confucius
exclaimed, -- "How can a man be concealed! How can a man be

On the other hand, the hero fears not, that, if he withhold the
avowal of a just and brave act, it will go unwitnessed and unloved.
One knows it, -- himself, -- and is pledged by it to sweetness of
peace, and to nobleness of aim, which will prove in the end a better
proclamation of it than the relating of the incident. Virtue is the
adherence in action to the nature of things, and the nature of things
makes it prevalent. It consists in a perpetual substitution of being
for seeming, and with sublime propriety God is described as saying, I

The lesson which these observations convey is, Be, and not
seem. Let us acquiesce. Let us take our bloated nothingness out of
the path of the divine circuits. Let us unlearn our wisdom of the
world. Let us lie low in the Lord's power, and learn that truth
alone makes rich and great.

If you visit your friend, why need you apologize for not having
visited him, and waste his time and deface your own act? Visit him
now. Let him feel that the highest love has come to see him, in
thee, its lowest organ. Or why need you torment yourself and friend
by secret self-reproaches that you have not assisted him or
complimented him with gifts and salutations heretofore? Be a gift
and a benediction. Shine with real light, and not with the borrowed
reflection of gifts. Common men are apologies for men; they bow the
head, excuse themselves with prolix reasons, and accumulate
appearances, because the substance is not.

We are full of these superstitions of sense, the worship of
magnitude. We call the poet inactive, because he is not a president,
a merchant, or a porter. We adore an institution, and do not see
that it is founded on a thought which we have. But real action is in
silent moments. The epochs of our life are not in the visible facts
of our choice of a calling, our marriage, our acquisition of an
office, and the like, but in a silent thought by the way-side as we
walk; in a thought which revises our entire manner of life, and says,
-- `Thus hast thou done, but it were better thus.' And all our after
years, like menials, serve and wait on this, and, according to their
ability, execute its will. This revisal or correction is a constant
force, which, as a tendency, reaches through our lifetime. The
object of the man, the aim of these moments, is to make daylight
shine through him, to suffer the law to traverse his whole being
without obstruction, so that, on what point soever of his doing your
eye falls, it shall report truly of his character, whether it be his
diet, his house, his religious forms, his society, his mirth, his
vote, his opposition. Now he is not homogeneous, but heterogeneous,
and the ray does not traverse; there are no thorough lights: but the
eye of the beholder is puzzled, detecting many unlike tendencies, and
a life not yet at one.

Why should we make it a point with our false modesty to
disparage that man we are, and that form of being assigned to us? A
good man is contented. I love and honor Epaminondas, but I do not
wish to be Epaminondas. I hold it more just to love the world of
this hour, than the world of his hour. Nor can you, if I am true,
excite me to the least uneasiness by saying, `He acted, and thou
sittest still.' I see action to be good, when the need is, and
sitting still to be also good. Epaminondas, if he was the man I take
him for, would have sat still with joy and peace, if his lot had been
mine. Heaven is large, and affords space for all modes of love and
fortitude. Why should we be busybodies and superserviceable? Action
and inaction are alike to the true. One piece of the tree is cut for
a weathercock, and one for the sleeper of a bridge; the virtue of the
wood is apparent in both.

I desire not to disgrace the soul. The fact that I am here
certainly shows me that the soul had need of an organ here. Shall I
not assume the post? Shall I skulk and dodge and duck with my
unseasonable apologies and vain modesty, and imagine my being here
impertinent? less pertinent than Epaminondas or Homer being there?
and that the soul did not know its own needs? Besides, without any
reasoning on the matter, I have no discontent. The good soul
nourishes me, and unlocks new magazines of power and enjoyment to me
every day. I will not meanly decline the immensity of good, because
I have heard that it has come to others in another shape.

Besides, why should we be cowed by the name of Action? 'T is a
trick of the senses, -- no more. We know that the ancestor of every
action is a thought. The poor mind does not seem to itself to be any
thing, unless it have an outside badge, -- some Gentoo diet, or
Quaker coat, or Calvinistic prayer-meeting, or philanthropic society,
or a great donation, or a high office, or, any how, some wild
contrasting action to testify that it is somewhat. The rich mind
lies in the sun and sleeps, and is Nature. To think is to act.

Let us, if we must have great actions, make our own so. All
action is of an infinite elasticity, and the least admits of being
inflated with the celestial air until it eclipses the sun and moon.
Let us seek _one_ peace by fidelity. Let me heed my duties. Why
need I go gadding into the scenes and philosophy of Greek and Italian
history, before I have justified myself to my benefactors? How dare
I read Washington's campaigns, when I have not answered the letters
of my own correspondents? Is not that a just objection to much of
our reading? It is a pusillanimous desertion of our work to gaze
after our neighbours. It is peeping. Byron says of Jack Bunting, --

"He knew not what to say, and so he swore."

I may say it of our preposterous use of books, -- He knew not
what to do, and so _he read_. I can think of nothing to fill my time
with, and I find the Life of Brant. It is a very extravagant
compliment to pay to Brant, or to General Schuyler, or to General
Washington. My time should be as good as their time, -- my facts, my
net of relations, as good as theirs, or either of theirs. Rather let
me do my work so well that other idlers, if they choose, may compare
my texture with the texture of these and find it identical with the

This over-estimate of the possibilities of Paul and Pericles,
this under-estimate of our own, comes from a neglect of the fact of
an identical nature. Bonaparte knew but one merit, and rewarded in
one and the same way the good soldier, the good astronomer, the good
poet, the good player. The poet uses the names of Caesar, of
Tamerlane, of Bonduca, of Belisarius; the painter uses the
conventional story of the Virgin Mary, of Paul, of Peter. He does
not, therefore, defer to the nature of these accidental men, of these
stock heroes. If the poet write a true drama, then he is Caesar, and
not the player of Caesar; then the selfsame strain of thought,
emotion as pure, wit as subtle, motions as swift, mounting,
extravagant, and a heart as great, self-sufficing, dauntless, which
on the waves of its love and hope can uplift all that is reckoned
solid and precious in the world, -- palaces, gardens, money, navies,
kingdoms, -- marking its own incomparable worth by the slight it
casts on these gauds of men, -- these all are his, and by the power
of these he rouses the nations. Let a man believe in God, and not in
names and places and persons. Let the great soul incarnated in some
woman's form, poor and sad and single, in some Dolly or Joan, go out
to service, and sweep chambers and scour floors, and its effulgent
daybeams cannot be muffled or hid, but to sweep and scour will
instantly appear supreme and beautiful actions, the top and radiance
of human life, and all people will get mops and brooms; until, lo!
suddenly the great soul has enshrined itself in some other form, and
done some other deed, and that is now the flower and head of all
living nature.

We are the photometers, we the irritable goldleaf and tinfoil
that measure the accumulations of the subtle element. We know the
authentic effects of the true fire through every one of its million