ESSAYS First Series

by Ralph Waldo Emerson

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    ESSAY I _History_ *

    ESSAY II _Self-Reliance_ *

    ESSAY III _Compensation_ *

    ESSAY IV _Spiritual Laws_ *

    ESSAY V _Love_ *

    ESSAY VI _Friendship_ *

    ESSAY VII _Prudence_ *

    ESSAY VIII _Heroism_ *

    ESSAY IX _The Over-Soul_ *

    ESSAY X _Circles_ *

    ESSAY XI _Intellect_ *

    ESSAY XII _Art_ *



There is no great and no small

To the Soul that maketh all:

And where it cometh, all things are;

And it cometh everywhere.

I am owner of the sphere,

Of the seven stars and the solar year,

Of Caesar's hand, and Plato's brain,

Of Lord Christ's heart, and Shakspeare's strain.

ESSAY I _History_

There is one mind common to all individual men. Every man is

an inlet to the same and to all of the same. He that is once

admitted to the right of reason is made a freeman of the whole

estate. What Plato has thought, he may think; what a saint has felt,

he may feel; what at any time has be-fallen any man, he can

understand. Who hath access to this universal mind is a party to all

that is or can be done, for this is the only and sovereign agent.

Of the works of this mind history is the record. Its genius is

illustrated by the entire series of days. Man is explicable by

nothing less than all his history. Without hurry, without rest, the

human spirit goes forth from the beginning to embody every faculty,

every thought, every emotion, which belongs to it in appropriate

events. But the thought is always prior to the fact; all the facts

of history preexist in the mind as laws. Each law in turn is made by

circumstances predominant, and the limits of nature give power to but

one at a time. A man is the whole encyclopaedia of facts. The

creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn, and Egypt, Greece,

Rome, Gaul, Britain, America, lie folded already in the first man.

Epoch after epoch, camp, kingdom, empire, republic, democracy, are

merely the application of his manifold spirit to the manifold world.

This human mind wrote history, and this must read it. The

Sphinx must solve her own riddle. If the whole of history is in one

man, it is all to be explained from individual experience. There is

a relation between the hours of our life and the centuries of time.

As the air I breathe is drawn from the great repositories of nature,

as the light on my book is yielded by a star a hundred millions of

miles distant, as the poise of my body depends on the equilibrium of

centrifugal and centripetal forces, so the hours should be instructed

by the ages, and the ages explained by the hours. Of the universal

mind each individual man is one more incarnation. All its properties

consist in him. Each new fact in his private experience flashes a

light on what great bodies of men have done, and the crises of his

life refer to national crises. Every revolution was first a thought

in one man's mind, and when the same thought occurs to another man,

it is the key to that era. Every reform was once a private opinion,

and when it shall be a private opinion again, it will solve the

problem of the age. The fact narrated must correspond to something

in me to be credible or intelligible. We as we read must become

Greeks, Romans, Turks, priest and king, martyr and executioner, must

fasten these images to some reality in our secret experience, or we

shall learn nothing rightly. What befell Asdrubal or Caesar Borgia

is as much an illustration of the mind's powers and depravations as

what has befallen us. Each new law and political movement has

meaning for you. Stand before each of its tablets and say, `Under

this mask did my Proteus nature hide itself.' This remedies the

defect of our too great nearness to ourselves. This throws our

actions into perspective: and as crabs, goats, scorpions, the

balance, and the waterpot lose their meanness when hung as signs in

the zodiac, so I can see my own vices without heat in the distant

persons of Solomon, Alcibiades, and Catiline.

It is the universal nature which gives worth to particular men

and things. Human life as containing this is mysterious and

inviolable, and we hedge it round with penalties and laws. All laws

derive hence their ultimate reason; all express more or less

distinctly some command of this supreme, illimitable essence.

Property also holds of the soul, covers great spiritual facts, and

instinctively we at first hold to it with swords and laws, and wide

and complex combinations. The obscure consciousness of this fact is

the light of all our day, the claim of claims; the plea for

education, for justice, for charity, the foundation of friendship and

love, and of the heroism and grandeur which belong to acts of

self-reliance. It is remarkable that involuntarily we always read as

superior beings. Universal history, the poets, the romancers, do not

in their stateliest pictures -- in the sacerdotal, the imperial

palaces, in the triumphs of will or of genius -- anywhere lose our

ear, anywhere make us feel that we intrude, that this is for better

men; but rather is it true, that in their grandest strokes we feel

most at home. All that Shakspeare says of the king, yonder slip of a

boy that reads in the corner feels to be true of himself. We

sympathize in the great moments of history, in the great discoveries,

the great resistances, the great prosperities of men; -- because

there law was enacted, the sea was searched, the land was found, or

the blow was struck _for us_, as we ourselves in that place would

have done or applauded.

We have the same interest in condition and character. We honor

the rich, because they have externally the freedom, power, and grace

which we feel to be proper to man, proper to us. So all that is said

of the wise man by Stoic, or oriental or modern essayist, describes

to each reader his own idea, describes his unattained but attainable

self. All literature writes the character of the wise man. Books,

monuments, pictures, conversation, are portraits in which he finds

the lineaments he is forming. The silent and the eloquent praise him

and accost him, and he is stimulated wherever he moves as by personal

allusions. A true aspirant, therefore, never needs look for

allusions personal and laudatory in discourse. He hears the

commendation, not of himself, but more sweet, of that character he

seeks, in every word that is said concerning character, yea, further,

in every fact and circumstance, -- in the running river and the

rustling corn. Praise is looked, homage tendered, love flows from

mute nature, from the mountains and the lights of the firmament.

These hints, dropped as it were from sleep and night, let us

use in broad day. The student is to read history actively and not

passively; to esteem his own life the text, and books the commentary.

Thus compelled, the Muse of history will utter oracles, as never to

those who do not respect themselves. I have no expectation that any

man will read history aright, who thinks that what was done in a

remote age, by men whose names have resounded far, has any deeper

sense than what he is doing to-day.

The world exists for the education of each man. There is no

age or state of society or mode of action in history, to which there

is not somewhat corresponding in his life. Every thing tends in a

wonderful manner to abbreviate itself and yield its own virtue to

him. He should see that he can live all history in his own person.

He must sit solidly at home, and not suffer himself to be bullied by

kings or empires, but know that he is greater than all the geography

and all the government of the world; he must transfer the point of

view from which history is commonly read, from Rome and Athens and

London to himself, and not deny his conviction that he is the court,

and if England or Egypt have any thing to say to him, he will try the

case; if not, let them for ever be silent. He must attain and

maintain that lofty sight where facts yield their secret sense, and

poetry and annals are alike. The instinct of the mind, the purpose

of nature, betrays itself in the use we make of the signal narrations

of history. Time dissipates to shining ether the solid angularity of

facts. No anchor, no cable, no fences, avail to keep a fact a fact.

Babylon, Troy, Tyre, Palestine, and even early Rome, are passing

already into fiction. The Garden of Eden, the sun standing still in

Gibeon, is poetry thenceforward to all nations. Who cares what the

fact was, when we have made a constellation of it to hang in heaven

an immortal sign? London and Paris and New York must go the same

way. "What is History," said Napoleon, "but a fable agreed upon?"

This life of ours is stuck round with Egypt, Greece, Gaul, England,

War, Colonization, Church, Court, and Commerce, as with so many

flowers and wild ornaments grave and gay. I will not make more

account of them. I believe in Eternity. I can find Greece, Asia,

Italy, Spain, and the Islands, -- the genius and creative principle

of each and of all eras in my own mind.

We are always coming up with the emphatic facts of history in

our private experience, and verifying them here. All history becomes

subjective; in other words, there is properly no history; only

biography. Every mind must know the whole lesson for itself, -- must

go over the whole ground. What it does not see, what it does not

live, it will not know. What the former age has epitomized into a

formula or rule for manipular convenience, it will lose all the good

of verifying for itself, by means of the wall of that rule.

Somewhere, sometime, it will demand and find compensation for that

loss by doing the work itself. Ferguson discovered many things in

astronomy which had long been known. The better for him.

History must be this or it is nothing. Every law which the

state enacts indicates a fact in human nature; that is all. We must

in ourselves see the necessary reason of every fact, -- see how it

could and must be. So stand before every public and private work;

before an oration of Burke, before a victory of Napoleon, before a

martyrdom of Sir Thomas More, of Sidney, of Marmaduke Robinson,

before a French Reign of Terror, and a Salem hanging of witches,

before a fanatic Revival, and the Animal Magnetism in Paris, or in

Providence. We assume that we under like influence should be alike

affected, and should achieve the like; and we aim to master

intellectually the steps, and reach the same height or the same

degradation, that our fellow, our proxy, has done.

All inquiry into antiquity, -- all curiosity respecting the

Pyramids, the excavated cities, Stonehenge, the Ohio Circles, Mexico,

Memphis, -- is the desire to do away this wild, savage, and

preposterous There or Then, and introduce in its place the Here and

the Now. Belzoni digs and measures in the mummy-pits and pyramids of

Thebes, until he can see the end of the difference between the

monstrous work and himself. When he has satisfied himself, in

general and in detail, that it was made by such a person as he, so

armed and so motived, and to ends to which he himself should also

have worked, the problem is solved; his thought lives along the whole

line of temples and sphinxes and catacombs, passes through them all

with satisfaction, and they live again to the mind, or are _now_.

A Gothic cathedral affirms that it was done by us, and not done

by us. Surely it was by man, but we find it not in our man. But we

apply ourselves to the history of its production. We put ourselves

into the place and state of the builder. We remember the

forest-dwellers, the first temples, the adherence to the first type,

and the decoration of it as the wealth of the nation increased; the

value which is given to wood by carving led to the carving over the

whole mountain of stone of a cathedral. When we have gone through

this process, and added thereto the Catholic Church, its cross, its

music, its processions, its Saints' days and image-worship, we have,

as it were, been the man that made the minster; we have seen how it

could and must be. We have the sufficient reason.

The difference between men is in their principle of

association. Some men classify objects by color and size and other

accidents of appearance; others by intrinsic likeness, or by the

relation of cause and effect. The progress of the intellect is to

the clearer vision of causes, which neglects surface differences. To

the poet, to the philosopher, to the saint, all things are friendly

and sacred, all events profitable, all days holy, all men divine.

For the eye is fastened on the life, and slights the circumstance.

Every chemical substance, every plant, every animal in its growth,

teaches the unity of cause, the variety of appearance.

Upborne and surrounded as we are by this all-creating nature,

soft and fluid as a cloud or the air, why should we be such hard

pedants, and magnify a few forms? Why should we make account of

time, or of magnitude, or of figure? The soul knows them not, and

genius, obeying its law, knows how to play with them as a young child

plays with graybeards and in churches. Genius studies the causal

thought, and, far back in the womb of things, sees the rays parting

from one orb, that diverge ere they fall by infinite diameters.

Genius watches the monad through all his masks as he performs the

metempsychosis of nature. Genius detects through the fly, through

the caterpillar, through the grub, through the egg, the constant

individual; through countless individuals, the fixed species; through

many species, the genus; through all genera, the steadfast type;

through all the kingdoms of organized life, the eternal unity.

Nature is a mutable cloud, which is always and never the same. She

casts the same thought into troops of forms, as a poet makes twenty

fables with one moral. Through the bruteness and toughness of

matter, a subtle spirit bends all things to its own will. The

adamant streams into soft but precise form before it, and, whilst I

look at it, its outline and texture are changed again. Nothing is so

fleeting as form; yet never does it quite deny itself. In man we

still trace the remains or hints of all that we esteem badges of

servitude in the lower races; yet in him they enhance his nobleness

and grace; as Io, in Aeschylus, transformed to a cow, offends the

imagination; but how changed, when as Isis in Egypt she meets

Osiris-Jove, a beautiful woman, with nothing of the metamorphosis

left but the lunar horns as the splendid ornament of her brows!

The identity of history is equally intrinsic, the diversity

equally obvious. There is at the surface infinite variety of things;

at the centre there is simplicity of cause. How many are the acts of

one man in which we recognize the same character! Observe the

sources of our information in respect to the Greek genius. We have

the _civil history_ of that people, as Herodotus, Thucydides,

Xenophon, and Plutarch have given it; a very sufficient account of

what manner of persons they were, and what they did. We have the

same national mind expressed for us again in their _literature_, in

epic and lyric poems, drama, and philosophy; a very complete form.

Then we have it once more in their _architecture_, a beauty as of

temperance itself, limited to the straight line and the square, -- a

builded geometry. Then we have it once again in _sculpture_, the

"tongue on the balance of expression," a multitude of forms in the

utmost freedom of action, and never transgressing the ideal serenity;

like votaries performing some religious dance before the gods, and,

though in convulsive pain or mortal combat, never daring to break the

figure and decorum of their dance. Thus, of the genius of one

remarkable people, we have a fourfold representation: and to the

senses what more unlike than an ode of Pindar, a marble centaur, the

peristyle of the Parthenon, and the last actions of Phocion?

Every one must have observed faces and forms which, without any

resembling feature, make a like impression on the beholder. A

particular picture or copy of verses, if it do not awaken the same

train of images, will yet superinduce the same sentiment as some wild

mountain walk, although the resemblance is nowise obvious to the

senses, but is occult and out of the reach of the understanding.

Nature is an endless combination and repetition of a very few laws.

She hums the old well-known air through innumerable variations.

Nature is full of a sublime family likeness throughout her

works; and delights in startling us with resemblances in the most

unexpected quarters. I have seen the head of an old sachem of the

forest, which at once reminded the eye of a bald mountain summit, and

the furrows of the brow suggested the strata of the rock. There are

men whose manners have the same essential splendor as the simple and

awful sculpture on the friezes of the Parthenon, and the remains of

the earliest Greek art. And there are compositions of the same

strain to be found in the books of all ages. What is Guido's

Rospigliosi Aurora but a morning thought, as the horses in it are

only a morning cloud. If any one will but take pains to observe the

variety of actions to which he is equally inclined in certain moods

of mind, and those to which he is averse, he will see how deep is the

chain of affinity.

A painter told me that nobody could draw a tree without in some

sort becoming a tree; or draw a child by studying the outlines of its

form merely, -- but, by watching for a time his motions and plays,

the painter enters into his nature, and can then draw him at will in

every attitude. So Roos "entered into the inmost nature of a sheep."

I knew a draughtsman employed in a public survey, who found that he

could not sketch the rocks until their geological structure was first

explained to him. In a certain state of thought is the common origin

of very diverse works. It is the spirit and not the fact that is

identical. By a deeper apprehension, and not primarily by a painful

acquisition of many manual skills, the artist attains the power of

awakening other souls to a given activity.

It has been said, that "common souls pay with what they do;

nobler souls with that which they are." And why? Because a profound

nature awakens in us by its actions and words, by its very looks and

manners, the same power and beauty that a gallery of sculpture, or of

pictures, addresses.

Civil and natural history, the history of art and of

literature, must be explained from individual history, or must remain

words. There is nothing but is related to us, nothing that does not

interest us, -- kingdom, college, tree, horse, or iron shoe, the

roots of all things are in man. Santa Croce and the Dome of St.

Peter's are lame copies after a divine model. Strasburg Cathedral is

a material counterpart of the soul of Erwin of Steinbach. The true

poem is the poet's mind; the true ship is the ship-builder. In the

man, could we lay him open, we should see the reason for the last

flourish and tendril of his work; as every spine and tint in the

sea-shell preexist in the secreting organs of the fish. The whole of

heraldry and of chivalry is in courtesy. A man of fine manners shall

pronounce your name with all the ornament that titles of nobility

could ever add.

The trivial experience of every day is always verifying some

old prediction to us, and converting into things the words and signs

which we had heard and seen without heed. A lady, with whom I was

riding in the forest, said to me, that the woods always seemed to her

_to wait_, as if the genii who inhabit them suspended their deeds

until the wayfarer has passed onward: a thought which poetry has

celebrated in the dance of the fairies, which breaks off on the

approach of human feet. The man who has seen the rising moon break

out of the clouds at midnight has been present like an archangel at

the creation of light and of the world. I remember one summer day,

in the fields, my companion pointed out to me a broad cloud, which

might extend a quarter of a mile parallel to the horizon, quite

accurately in the form of a cherub as painted over churches, -- a

round block in the centre, which it was easy to animate with eyes and

mouth, supported on either side by wide-stretched symmetrical wings.

What appears once in the atmosphere may appear often, and it was

undoubtedly the archetype of that familiar ornament. I have seen in

the sky a chain of summer lightning which at once showed to me that

the Greeks drew from nature when they painted the thunderbolt in the

hand of Jove. I have seen a snow-drift along the sides of the stone

wall which obviously gave the idea of the common architectural scroll

to abut a tower.

By surrounding ourselves with the original circumstances, we

invent anew the orders and the ornaments of architecture, as we see

how each people merely decorated its primitive abodes. The Doric

temple preserves the semblance of the wooden cabin in which the

Dorian dwelt. The Chinese pagoda is plainly a Tartar tent. The

Indian and Egyptian temples still betray the mounds and subterranean

houses of their forefathers. "The custom of making houses and tombs

in the living rock," says Heeren, in his Researches on the

Ethiopians, "determined very naturally the principal character of the

Nubian Egyptian architecture to the colossal form which it assumed.

In these caverns, already prepared by nature, the eye was accustomed

to dwell on huge shapes and masses, so that, when art came to the

assistance of nature, it could not move on a small scale without

degrading itself. What would statues of the usual size, or neat

porches and wings, have been, associated with those gigantic halls

before which only Colossi could sit as watchmen, or lean on the

pillars of the interior?"

The Gothic church plainly originated in a rude adaptation of

the forest trees with all their boughs to a festal or solemn arcade,

as the bands about the cleft pillars still indicate the green withes

that tied them. No one can walk in a road cut through pine woods,

without being struck with the architectural appearance of the grove,

especially in winter, when the bareness of all other trees shows the

low arch of the Saxons. In the woods in a winter afternoon one will

see as readily the origin of the stained glass window, with which the

Gothic cathedrals are adorned, in the colors of the western sky seen

through the bare and crossing branches of the forest. Nor can any

lover of nature enter the old piles of Oxford and the English

cathedrals, without feeling that the forest overpowered the mind of

the builder, and that his chisel, his saw, and plane still reproduced

its ferns, its spikes of flowers, its locust, elm, oak, pine, fir,

and spruce.

The Gothic cathedral is a blossoming in stone subdued by the

insatiable demand of harmony in man. The mountain of granite blooms

into an eternal flower, with the lightness and delicate finish, as

well as the aerial proportions and perspective, of vegetable beauty.

In like manner, all public facts are to be individualized, all

private facts are to be generalized. Then at once History becomes

fluid and true, and Biography deep and sublime. As the Persian

imitated in the slender shafts and capitals of his architecture the

stem and flower of the lotus and palm, so the Persian court in its

magnificent era never gave over the nomadism of its barbarous tribes,

but travelled from Ecbatana, where the spring was spent, to Susa in

summer, and to Babylon for the winter.

In the early history of Asia and Africa, Nomadism and

Agriculture are the two antagonist facts. The geography of Asia and

of Africa necessitated a nomadic life. But the nomads were the

terror of all those whom the soil, or the advantages of a market, had

induced to build towns. Agriculture, therefore, was a religious

injunction, because of the perils of the state from nomadism. And in

these late and civil countries of England and America, these

propensities still fight out the old battle in the nation and in the

individual. The nomads of Africa were constrained to wander by the

attacks of the gad-fly, which drives the cattle mad, and so compels

the tribe to emigrate in the rainy season, and to drive off the

cattle to the higher sandy regions. The nomads of Asia follow the

pasturage from month to month. In America and Europe, the nomadism

is of trade and curiosity; a progress, certainly, from the gad-fly of

Astaboras to the Anglo and Italo-mania of Boston Bay. Sacred cities,

to which a periodical religious pilgrimage was enjoined, or stringent

laws and customs, tending to invigorate the national bond, were the

check on the old rovers; and the cumulative values of long residence

are the restraints on the itineracy of the present day. The

antagonism of the two tendencies is not less active in individuals,

as the love of adventure or the love of repose happens to

predominate. A man of rude health and flowing spirits has the

faculty of rapid domestication, lives in his wagon, and roams through

all latitudes as easily as a Calmuc. At sea, or in the forest, or in

the snow, he sleeps as warm, dines with as good appetite, and

associates as happily, as beside his own chimneys. Or perhaps his

facility is deeper seated, in the increased range of his faculties of

observation, which yield him points of interest wherever fresh

objects meet his eyes. The pastoral nations were needy and hungry to

desperation; and this intellectual nomadism, in its excess, bankrupts

the mind, through the dissipation of power on a miscellany of

objects. The home-keeping wit, on the other hand, is that continence

or content which finds all the elements of life in its own soil; and

which has its own perils of monotony and deterioration, if not

stimulated by foreign infusions.

Every thing the individual sees without him corresponds to his

states of mind, and every thing is in turn intelligible to him, as

his onward thinking leads him into the truth to which that fact or

series belongs.

The primeval world, -- the Fore-World, as the Germans say, -- I

can dive to it in myself as well as grope for it with researching

fingers in catacombs, libraries, and the broken reliefs and torsos of

ruined villas.

What is the foundation of that interest all men feel in Greek

history, letters, art, and poetry, in all its periods, from the

Heroic or Homeric age down to the domestic life of the Athenians and

Spartans, four or five centuries later? What but this, that every

man passes personally through a Grecian period. The Grecian state is

the era of the bodily nature, the perfection of the senses, -- of the

spiritual nature unfolded in strict unity with the body. In it

existed those human forms which supplied the sculptor with his models

of Hercules, Ph;oebus, and Jove; not like the forms abounding in the

streets of modern cities, wherein the face is a confused blur of

features, but composed of incorrupt, sharply defined, and symmetrical

features, whose eye-sockets are so formed that it would be impossible

for such eyes to squint, and take furtive glances on this side and on

that, but they must turn the whole head. The manners of that period

are plain and fierce. The reverence exhibited is for personal

qualities, courage, address, self-command, justice, strength,

swiftness, a loud voice, a broad chest. Luxury and elegance are not

known. A sparse population and want make every man his own valet,

cook, butcher, and soldier, and the habit of supplying his own needs

educates the body to wonderful performances. Such are the Agamemnon

and Diomed of Homer, and not far different is the picture Xenophon

gives of himself and his compatriots in the Retreat of the Ten

Thousand. "After the army had crossed the river Teleboas in Armenia,

there fell much snow, and the troops lay miserably on the ground

covered with it. But Xenophon arose naked, and, taking an axe, began

to split wood; whereupon others rose and did the like." Throughout

his army exists a boundless liberty of speech. They quarrel for

plunder, they wrangle with the generals on each new order, and

Xenophon is as sharp-tongued as any, and sharper-tongued than most,

and so gives as good as he gets. Who does not see that this is a

gang of great boys, with such a code of honor and such lax discipline

as great boys have?

The costly charm of the ancient tragedy, and indeed of all the

old literature, is, that the persons speak simply, -- speak as

persons who have great good sense without knowing it, before yet the

reflective habit has become the predominant habit of the mind. Our

admiration of the antique is not admiration of the old, but of the

natural. The Greeks are not reflective, but perfect in their senses

and in their health, with the finest physical organization in the

world. Adults acted with the simplicity and grace of children. They

made vases, tragedies, and statues, such as healthy senses

should,---- that is, in good taste. Such things have continued to be

made in all ages, and are now, wherever a healthy physique exists;

but, as a class, from their superior organization, they have

surpassed all. They combine the energy of manhood with the engaging

unconsciousness of childhood. The attraction of these manners is

that they belong to man, and are known to every man in virtue of his

being once a child; besides that there are always individuals who

retain these characteristics. A person of childlike genius and

inborn energy is still a Greek, and revives our love of the Muse of

Hellas. I admire the love of nature in the Philoctetes. In reading

those fine apostrophes to sleep, to the stars, rocks, mountains, and

waves, I feel time passing away as an ebbing sea. I feel the

eternity of man, the identity of his thought. The Greek had, it

seems, the same fellow-beings as I. The sun and moon, water and

fire, met his heart precisely as they meet mine. Then the vaunted

distinction between Greek and English, between Classic and Romantic

schools, seems superficial and pedantic. When a thought of Plato

becomes a thought to me, -- when a truth that fired the soul of

Pindar fires mine, time is no more. When I feel that we two meet in

a perception, that our two souls are tinged with the same hue, and

do, as it were, run into one, why should I measure degrees of

latitude, why should I count Egyptian years?

The student interprets the age of chivalry by his own age of

chivalry, and the days of maritime adventure and circumnavigation by

quite parallel miniature experiences of his own. To the sacred

history of the world, he has the same key. When the voice of a

prophet out of the deeps of antiquity merely echoes to him a

sentiment of his infancy, a prayer of his youth, he then pierces to

the truth through all the confusion of tradition and the caricature

of institutions.

Rare, extravagant spirits come by us at intervals, who disclose

to us new facts in nature. I see that men of God have, from time to

time, walked among men and made their commission felt in the heart

and soul of the commonest hearer. Hence, evidently, the tripod, the

priest, the priestess inspired by the divine afflatus.

Jesus astonishes and overpowers sensual people. They cannot

unite him to history, or reconcile him with themselves. As they come

to revere their intuitions and aspire to live holily, their own piety

explains every fact, every word.

How easily these old worships of Moses, of Zoroaster, of Menu,

of Socrates, domesticate themselves in the mind. I cannot find any

antiquity in them. They are mine as much as theirs.

I have seen the first monks and anchorets without crossing seas

or centuries. More than once some individual has appeared to me with

such negligence of labor and such commanding contemplation, a haughty

beneficiary, begging in the name of God, as made good to the

nineteenth century Simeon the Stylite, the Thebais, and the first


The priestcraft of the East and West, of the Magian, Brahmin,

Druid, and Inca, is expounded in the individual's private life. The

cramping influence of a hard formalist on a young child in repressing

his spirits and courage, paralyzing the understanding, and that

without producing indignation, but only fear and obedience, and even

much sympathy with the tyranny, -- is a familiar fact explained to

the child when he becomes a man, only by seeing that the oppressor of

his youth is himself a child tyrannized over by those names and words

and forms, of whose influence he was merely the organ to the youth.

The fact teaches him how Belus was worshipped, and how the Pyramids

were built, better than the discovery by Champollion of the names of

all the workmen and the cost of every tile. He finds Assyria and the

Mounds of Cholula at his door, and himself has laid the courses.

Again, in that protest which each considerate person makes

against the superstition of his times, he repeats step for step the

part of old reformers, and in the search after truth finds like them

new perils to virtue. He learns again what moral vigor is needed to

supply the girdle of a superstition. A great licentiousness treads

on the heels of a reformation. How many times in the history of the

world has the Luther of the day had to lament the decay of piety in

his own household! "Doctor," said his wife to Martin Luther, one

day, "how is it that, whilst subject to papacy, we prayed so often

and with such fervor, whilst now we pray with the utmost coldness and

very seldom?"

The advancing man discovers how deep a property he has in

literature, -- in all fable as well as in all history. He finds that

the poet was no odd fellow who described strange and impossible

situations, but that universal man wrote by his pen a confession true

for one and true for all. His own secret biography he finds in lines

wonderfully intelligible to him, dotted down before he was born. One

after another he comes up in his private adventures with every fable

of Aesop, of Homer, of Hafiz, of Ariosto, of Chaucer, of Scott, and

verifies them with his own head and hands.

The beautiful fables of the Greeks, being proper creations of

the imagination and not of the fancy, are universal verities. What a

range of meanings and what perpetual pertinence has the story of

Prometheus! Beside its primary value as the first chapter of the

history of Europe, (the mythology thinly veiling authentic facts, the

invention of the mechanic arts, and the migration of colonies,) it

gives the history of religion with some closeness to the faith of

later ages. Prometheus is the Jesus of the old mythology. He is the

friend of man; stands between the unjust "justice" of the Eternal

Father and the race of mortals, and readily suffers all things on

their account. But where it departs from the Calvinistic

Christianity, and exhibits him as the defier of Jove, it represents a

state of mind which readily appears wherever the doctrine of Theism

is taught in a crude, objective form, and which seems the

self-defence of man against this untruth, namely, a discontent with

the believed fact that a God exists, and a feeling that the

obligation of reverence is onerous. It would steal, if it could, the

fire of the Creator, and live apart from him, and independent of him.

The Prometheus Vinctus is the romance of skepticism. Not less true

to all time are the details of that stately apologue. Apollo kept

the flocks of Admetus, said the poets. When the gods come among men,

they are not known. Jesus was not; Socrates and Shakspeare were not.

Antaeus was suffocated by the gripe of Hercules, but every time he

touched his mother earth, his strength was renewed. Man is the

broken giant, and, in all his weakness, both his body and his mind

are invigorated by habits of conversation with nature. The power of

music, the power of poetry to unfix, and, as it were, clap wings to

solid nature, interprets the riddle of Orpheus. The philosophical

perception of identity through endless mutations of form makes him

know the Proteus. What else am I who laughed or wept yesterday, who

slept last night like a corpse, and this morning stood and ran? And

what see I on any side but the transmigrations of Proteus? I can

symbolize my thought by using the name of any creature, of any fact,

because every creature is man agent or patient. Tantalus is but a

name for you and me. Tantalus means the impossibility of drinking

the waters of thought which are always gleaming and waving within

sight of the soul. The transmigration of souls is no fable. I would

it were; but men and women are only half human. Every animal of the

barn-yard, the field, and the forest, of the earth and of the waters

that are under the earth, has contrived to get a footing and to leave

the print of its features and form in some one or other of these

upright, heaven-facing speakers. Ah! brother, stop the ebb of thy

soul, -- ebbing downward into the forms into whose habits thou hast

now for many years slid. As near and proper to us is also that old

fable of the Sphinx, who was said to sit in the road-side and put

riddles to every passenger. If the man could not answer, she

swallowed him alive. If he could solve the riddle, the Sphinx was

slain. What is our life but an endless flight of winged facts or

events! In splendid variety these changes come, all putting

questions to the human spirit. Those men who cannot answer by a

superior wisdom these facts or questions of time, serve them. Facts

encumber them, tyrannize over them, and make the men of routine the

men of _sense_, in whom a literal obedience to facts has extinguished

every spark of that light by which man is truly man. But if the man

is true to his better instincts or sentiments, and refuses the

dominion of facts, as one that comes of a higher race, remains fast

by the soul and sees the principle, then the facts fall aptly and

supple into their places; they know their master, and the meanest of

them glorifies him.

See in Goethe's Helena the same desire that every word should

be a thing. These figures, he would say, these Chirons, Griffins,

Phorkyas, Helen, and Leda, are somewhat, and do exert a specific

influence on the mind. So far then are they eternal entities, as

real to-day as in the first Olympiad. Much revolving them, he writes

out freely his humor, and gives them body tohis own imagination. And

although that poem be as vague and fantastic as a dream, yet is it

much more attractive than the more regular dramatic pieces of the

same author, for the reason that it operates a wonderful relief to

the mind from the routine of customary images, -- awakens the

reader's invention and fancy by the wild freedom of the design, and

by the unceasing succession of brisk shocks of surprise.

The universal nature, too strong for the petty nature of the

bard, sits on his neck and writes through his hand; so that when he

seems to vent a mere caprice and wild romance, the issue is an exact

allegory. Hence Plato said that "poets utter great and wise things

which they do not themselves understand." All the fictions of the

Middle Age explain themselves as a masked or frolic expression of

that which in grave earnest the mind of that period toiled to

achieve. Magic, and all that is ascribed to it, is a deep

presentiment of the powers of science. The shoes of swiftness, the

sword of sharpness, the power of subduing the elements, of using the

secret virtues of minerals, of understanding the voices of birds, are

the obscure efforts of the mind in a right direction. The

preternatural prowess of the hero, the gift of perpetual youth, and

the like, are alike the endeavour of the human spirit "to bend the

shows of things to the desires of the mind."

In Perceforest and Amadis de Gaul, a garland and a rose bloom

on the head of her who is faithful, and fade on the brow of the

inconstant. In the story of the Boy and the Mantle, even a mature

reader may be surprised with a glow of virtuous pleasure at the

triumph of the gentle Genelas; and, indeed, all the postulates of

elfin annals, -- that the fairies do not like to be named; that their

gifts are capricious and not to be trusted; that who seeks a treasure

must not speak; and the like, -- I find true in Concord, however they

might be in Cornwall or Bretagne.

Is it otherwise in the newest romance? I read the Bride of

Lammermoor. Sir William Ashton is a mask for a vulgar temptation,

Ravenswood Castle a fine name for proud poverty, and the foreign

mission of state only a Bunyan disguise for honest industry. We may

all shoot a wild bull that would toss the good and beautiful, by

fighting down the unjust and sensual. Lucy Ashton is another name

for fidelity, which is always beautiful and always liable to calamity

in this world.


But along with the civil and metaphysical history of man,

another history goes daily forward, -- that of the external world, --

in which he is not less strictly implicated. He is the compend of

time; he is also the correlative of nature. His power consists in

the multitude of his affinities, in the fact that his life is

intertwined with the whole chain of organic and inorganic being. In

old Rome the public roads beginning at the Forum proceeded north,

south, east, west, to the centre of every province of the empire,

making each market-town of Persia, Spain, and Britain pervious to the

soldiers of the capital: so out of the human heart go, as it were,

highways to the heart of every object in nature, to reduce it under

the dominion of man. A man is a bundle of relations, a knot of

roots, whose flower and fruitage is the world. His faculties refer

to natures out of him, and predict the world he is to inhabit, as the

fins of the fish foreshow that water exists, or the wings of an eagle

in the egg presuppose air. He cannot live without a world. Put

Napoleon in an island prison, let his faculties find no men to act

on, no Alps to climb, no stake to play for, and he would beat the air

and appear stupid. Transport him to large countries, dense

population, complex interests, and antagonist power, and you shall

see that the man Napoleon, bounded, that is, by such a profile and

outline, is not the virtual Napoleon. This is but Talbot's shadow;

"His substance is not here:

For what you see is but the smallest part

And least proportion of humanity;

But were the whole frame here,

It is of such a spacious, lofty pitch,

Your roof were not sufficient to contain it."

_Henry VI._

Columbus needs a planet to shape his course upon. Newton and

Laplace need myriads of ages and thick-strewn celestial areas. One

may say a gravitating solar system is already prophesied in the

nature of Newton's mind. Not less does the brain of Davy or of

Gay-Lussac, from childhood exploring the affinities and repulsions of

particles, anticipate the laws of organization. Does not the eye of

the human embryo predict the light? the ear of Handel predict the

witchcraft of harmonic sound? Do not the constructive fingers of

Watt, Fulton, Whittemore, Arkwright, predict the fusible, hard, and

temperable texture of metals, the properties of stone, water, and

wood? Do not the lovely attributes of the maiden child predict the

refinements and decorations of civil society? Here also we are

reminded of the action of man on man. A mind might ponder its

thought for ages, and not gain so much self-knowledge as the passion

of love shall teach it in a day. Who knows himself before he has

been thrilled with indignation at an outrage, or has heard an

eloquent tongue, or has shared the throb of thousands in a national

exultation or alarm? No man can antedate his experience, or guess

what faculty or feeling a new object shall unlock, any more than he

can draw to-day the face of a person whom he shall see to-morrow for

the first time.

I will not now go behind the general statement to explore the

reason of this correspondency. Let it suffice that in the light of

these two facts, namely, that the mind is One, and that nature is its

correlative, history is to be read and written.

Thus in all ways does the soul concentrate and reproduce its

treasures for each pupil. He, too, shall pass through the whole

cycle of experience. He shall collect into a focus the rays of

nature. History no longer shall be a dull book. It shall walk

incarnate in every just and wise man. You shall not tell me by

languages and titles a catalogue of the volumes you have read. You

shall make me feel what periods you have lived. A man shall be the

Temple of Fame. He shall walk, as the poets have described that

goddess, in a robe painted all over with wonderful events and

experiences; -- his own form and features by their exalted

intelligence shall be that variegated vest. I shall find in him the

Foreworld; in his childhood the Age of Gold; the Apples of Knowledge;

the Argonautic Expedition; the calling of Abraham; the building of

the Temple; the Advent of Christ; Dark Ages; the Revival of Letters;

the Reformation; the discovery of new lands; the opening of new

sciences, and new regions in man. He shall be the priest of Pan, and

bring with him into humble cottages the blessing of the morning stars

and all the recorded benefits of heaven and earth.

Is there somewhat overweening in this claim? Then I reject all

I have written, for what is the use of pretending to know what we

know not? But it is the fault of our rhetoric that we cannot

strongly state one fact without seeming to belie some other. I hold

our actual knowledge very cheap. Hear the rats in the wall, see the

lizard on the fence, the fungus under foot, the lichen on the log.

What do I know sympathetically, morally, of either of these worlds of

life? As old as the Caucasian man, -- perhaps older, -- these

creatures have kept their counsel beside him, and there is no record

of any word or sign that has passed from one to the other. What

connection do the books show between the fifty or sixty chemical

elements, and the historical eras? Nay, what does history yet record

of the metaphysical annals of man? What light does it shed on those

mysteries which we hide under the names Death and Immortality? Yet

every history should be written in a wisdom which divined the range

of our affinities and looked at facts as symbols. I am ashamed to

see what a shallow village tale our so-called History is. How many

times we must say Rome, and Paris, and Constantinople! What does

Rome know of rat and lizard? What are Olympiads and Consulates to

these neighbouring systems of being? Nay, what food or experience or

succour have they for the Esquimaux seal-hunter, for the Kanaka in

his canoe, for the fisherman, the stevedore, the porter?

Broader and deeper we must write our annals, -- from an ethical

reformation, from an influx of the ever new, ever sanative

conscience, -- if we would trulier express our central and

wide-related nature, instead of this old chronology of selfishness

and pride to which we have too long lent our eyes. Already that day

exists for us, shines in on us at unawares, but the path of science

and of letters is not the way into nature. The idiot, the Indian,

the child, and unschooled farmer's boy, stand nearer to the light by

which nature is to be read, than the dissector or the antiquary.


"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.

ESSAY II _Self-Reliance_

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



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.

ESSAY III _Compensation_

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.


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.

ESSAY IV _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




"I was as a gem concealed;

Me my burning ray revealed."


ESSAY V _Love_

Every promise of the soul has innumerable fulfilments; each

ofnt. Nature, uncontainable, flowing, forelooking, in the first

sentiment of kindness anticipates already a benevolence which shall

lose all particular regards in its general light. The introduction

to this felicity is in a private and tender relation of one to one,

which is the enchantment of human life; which, like a certain divine

rage and enthusiasm, seizes on man at one period, and works a

revolution in his mind and body; unites him to his race, pledges him

to the domestic and civic relations, carries him with new sympathy

into nature, enhances the power of the senses, opens the imagination,

adds to his character heroic and sacred attributes, establishes

marriage, and gives permanence to human society.

The natural association of the sentiment of love with the

heyday of the blood seems to require, that in order to portray it in

vivid tints, which every youth and maid should confess to be true to

their throbbing experience, one must not be too old. The delicious

fancies of youth reject the least savour of a mature philosophy, as

chilling with age and pedantry their purple bloom. And, therefore, I

know I incur the imputation of unnecessary hardness and stoicism from

those who compose the Court and Parliament of Love. But from these

formidable censors I shall appeal to my seniors. For it is to be

considered that this passion of which we speak, though it begin with

the young, yet forsakes not the old, or rather suffers no one who is

truly its servant to grow old, but makes the aged participators of

it, not less than the tender maiden, though in a different and nobler

sort. For it is a fire that, kindling its first embers in the narrow

nook of a private bosom, caught from a wandering spark out of another

private heart, glows and enlarges until it warms and beams upon

multitudes of men and women, upon the universal heart of all, and so

lights up the whole world and all nature with its generous flames.

It matters not, therefore, whether we attempt to describe the passion

at twenty, at thirty, or at eighty years. He who paints it at the

first period will lose some of its later, he who paints it at the

last, some of its earlier traits. Only it is to be hoped that, by

patience and the Muses' aid, we may attain to that inward view of the

law, which shall describe a truth ever young and beautiful, so

central that it shall commend itself to the eye, at whatever angle


And the first condition is, that we must leave a too close and

lingering adherence to facts, and study the sentiment as it appeared

in hope and not in history. For each man sees his own life defaced

and disfigured, as the life of man is not, to his imagination. Each

man sees over his own experience a certain stain of error, whilst

that of other men looks fair and ideal. Let any man go back to those

delicious relations which make the beauty of his life, which have

given him sincerest instruction and nourishment, he will shrink and

moan. Alas! I know not why, but infinite compunctions embitter in

mature life the remembrances of budding joy, and cover every beloved

name. Every thing is beautiful seen from the point of the intellect,

or as truth. But all is sour, if seen as experience. Details are

melancholy; the plan is seemly and noble. In the actual world -- the

painful kingdom of time and place -- dwell care, and canker, and

fear. With thought, with the ideal, is immortal hilarity, the rose

of joy. Round it all the Muses sing. But grief cleaves to names,

and persons, and the partial interests of to-day and yesterday.

The strong bent of nature is seen in the proportion which this

topic of personal relations usurps in the conversation of society.

What do we wish to know of any worthy person so much, as how he has

sped in the history of this sentiment? What books in the circulating

libraries circulate? How we glow over these novels of passion, when

the story is told with any spark of truth and nature! And what

fastens attention, in the intercourse of life, like any passage

betraying affection between two parties? Perhaps we never saw them

before, and never shall meet them again. But we see them exchange a

glance, or betray a deep emotion, and we are no longer strangers. We

understand them, and take the warmest interest in the development of

the romance. All mankind love a lover. The earliest demonstrations

of complacency and kindness are nature's most winning pictures. It

is the dawn of civility and grace in the coarse and rustic. The rude

village boy teases the girls about the school-house door; -- but

to-day he comes running into the entry, and meets one fair child

disposing her satchel; he holds her books to help her, and instantly

it seems to him as if she removed herself from him infinitely, and

was a sacred precinct. Among the throng of girls he runs rudely

enough, but one alone distances him; and these two little neighbours,

that were so close just now, have learned to respect each other's

personality. Or who can avert his eyes from the engaging,

half-artful, half-artless ways of school-girls who go into the

country shops to buy a skein of silk or a sheet of paper, and talk

half an hour about nothing with the broad-faced, good-natured

shop-boy. In the village they are on a perfect equality, which love

delights in, and without any coquetry the happy, affectionate nature

of woman flows out in this pretty gossip. The girls may have little

beauty, yet plainly do they establish between them and the good boy

the most agreeable, confiding relations, what with their fun and

their earnest, about Edgar, and Jonas, and Almira, and who was

invited to the party, and who danced at the dancing-school, and when

the singing-school would begin, and other nothings concerning which

the parties cooed. By and by that boy wants a wife, and very truly

and heartily will he know where to find a sincere and sweet mate,

without any risk such as Milton deplores as incident to scholars and

great men.

I have been told, that in some public discourses of mine my

reverence for the intellect has made me unjustly cold to the personal

relations. But now I almost shrink at the remembrance of such

disparaging words. For persons are love's world, and the coldest

philosopher cannot recount the debt of the young soul wandering here

in nature to the power of love, without being tempted to unsay, as

treasonable to nature, aught derogatory to the social instincts.

For, though the celestial rapture falling out of heaven seizes only

upon those of tender age, and although a beauty overpowering all

analysis or comparison, and putting us quite beside ourselves, we can

seldom see after thirty years, yet the remembrance of these visions

outlasts all other remembrances, and is a wreath of flowers on the

oldest brows. But here is a strange fact; it may seem to many men,

in revising their experience, that they have no fairer page in their

life's book than the delicious memory of some passages wherein

affection contrived to give a witchcraft surpassing the deep

attraction of its own truth to a parcel of accidental and trivial

circumstances. In looking backward, they may find that several

things which were not the charm have more reality to this groping

memory than the charm itself which embalmed them. But be our

experience in particulars what it may, no man ever forgot the

visitations of that power to his heart and brain, which created all

things new; which was the dawn in him of music, poetry, and art;

which made the face of nature radiant with purple light, the morning

and the night varied enchantments; when a single tone of one voice

could make the heart bound, and the most trivial circumstance

associated with one form is put in the amber of memory; when he

became all eye when one was present, and all memory when one was

gone; when the youth becomes a watcher of windows, and studious of a

glove, a veil, a ribbon, or the wheels of a carriage; when no place

is too solitary, and none too silent, for him who has richer company

and sweeter conversation in his new thoughts, than any old friends,

though best and purest, can give him; for the figures, the motions,

the words of the beloved object are not like other images written in

water, but, as Plutarch said, "enamelled in fire," and make the study

of midnight.

"Thou art not gone being gone, where'er thou art,

Thou leav'st in him thy watchful eyes, in him thy loving


In the noon and the afternoon of life we still throb at the

recollection of days when happiness was not happy enough, but must be

drugged with the relish of pain and fear; for he touched the secret

of the matter, who said of love, --

"All other pleasures are not worth its pains";

and when the day was not long enough, but the night, too, must

be consumed in keen recollections; when the head boiled all night on

the pillow with the generous deed it resolved on; when the moonlight

was a pleasing fever, and the stars were letters, and the flowers

ciphers, and the air was coined into song; when all business seemed

an impertinence, and all the men and women running to and fro in the

streets, mere pictures.

The passion rebuilds the world for the youth. It makes all

things alive and significant. Nature grows conscious. Every bird on

the boughs of the tree sings now to his heart and soul. The notes

are almost articulate. The clouds have faces as he looks on them.

The trees of the forest, the waving grass, and the peeping flowers

have grown intelligent; and he almost fears to trust them with the

secret which they seem to invite. Yet nature soothes and

sympathizes. In the green solitude he finds a dearer home than with


"Fountain-heads and pathless groves,

Places which pale passion loves,

Moonlight walks, when all the fowls

Are safely housed, save bats and owls,

A midnight bell, a passing groan, --

These are the sounds we feed upon."

Behold there in the wood the fine madman! He is a palace of

sweet sounds and sights; he dilates; he is twice a man; he walks with

arms akimbo; he soliloquizes; he accosts the grass and the trees; he

feels the blood of the violet, the clover, and the lily in his veins;

and he talks with the brook that wets his foot.

The heats that have opened his perceptions of natural beauty

have made him love music and verse. It is a fact often observed,

that men have written good verses under the inspiration of passion,

who cannot write well under any other circumstances.

The like force has the passion over all his nature. It expands

the sentiment; it makes the clown gentle, and gives the coward heart.

Into the most pitiful and abject it will infuse a heart and courage

to defy the world, so only it have the countenance of the beloved

object. In giving him to another, it still more gives him to

himself. He is a new man, with new perceptions, new and keener

purposes, and a religious solemnity of character and aims. He does

not longer appertain to his family and society; _he_ is somewhat;

_he_ is a person; _he_ is a soul.

And here let us examine a little nearer the nature of that

influence which is thus potent over the human youth. Beauty, whose

revelation to man we now celebrate, welcome as the sun wherever it

pleases to shine, which pleases everybody with it and with

themselves, seems sufficient to itself. The lover cannot paint his

maiden to his fancy poor and solitary. Like a tree in flower, so

much soft, budding, informing love-liness is society for itself, and

she teaches his eye why Beauty was pictured with Loves and Graces

attending her steps. Her existence makes the world rich. Though she

extrudes all other persons from his attention as cheap and unworthy,

she indemnifies him by carrying out her own being into somewhat

impersonal, large, mundane, so that the maiden stands to him for a

representative of all select things and virtues. For that reason,

the lover never sees personal resemblances in his mistress to her

kindred or to others. His friends find in her a likeness to her

mother, or her sisters, or to persons not of her blood. The lover

sees no resemblance except to summer evenings and diamond mornings,

to rainbows and the song of birds.

The ancients called beauty the flowering of virtue. Who can

analyze the nameless charm which glances from one and another face

and form? We are touched with emotions of tenderness and

complacency, but we cannot find whereat this dainty emotion, this

wandering gleam, points. It is destroyed for the imagination by any

attempt to refer it to organization. Nor does it point to any

relations of friendship or love known and described in society, but,

as it seems to me, to a quite other and unattainable sphere, to

relations of transcendent delicacy and sweetness, to what roses and

violets hint and fore-show. We cannot approach beauty. Its nature

is like opaline doves'-neck lustres, hovering and evanescent. Herein

it resembles the most excellent things, which all have this rainbow

character, defying all attempts at appropriation and use. What else

did Jean Paul Richter signify, when he said to music, "Away! away!

thou speakest to me of things which in all my endless life I have not

found, and shall not find." The same fluency may be observed in every

work of the plastic arts. The statue is then beautiful when it

begins to be incomprehensible, when it is passing out of criticism,

and can no longer be defined by compass and measuring-wand, but

demands an active imagination to go with it, and to say what it is in

the act of doing. The god or hero of the sculptor is always

represented in a transition _from_ that which is representable to the

senses, _to_ that which is not. Then first it ceases to be a stone.

The same remark holds of painting. And of poetry, the success is not

attained when it lulls and satisfies, but when it astonishes and

fires us with new endeavours after the unattainable. Concerning it,

Landor inquires "whether it is not to be referred to some purer state

of sensation and existence."

In like manner, personal beauty is then first charming and

itself, when it dissatisfies us with any end; when it becomes a story

without an end; when it suggests gleams and visions, and not earthly

satisfactions; when it makes the beholder feel his unworthiness; when

he cannot feel his right to it, though he were Caesar; he cannot feel

more right to it than to the firmament and the splendors of a sunset.


Hence arose the saying, "If I love you, what is that to you?"

We say so, because we feel that what we love is not in your will, but

above it. It is not you, but your radiance. It is that which you

know not in yourself, and can never know.

This agrees well with that high philosophy of Beauty which the

ancient writers delighted in; for they said that the soul of man,

embodied here on earth, went roaming up and down in quest of that

other world of its own, out of which it came into this, but was soon

stupefied by the light of the natural sun, and unable to see any

other objects than those of this world, which are but shadows of real

things. Therefore, the Deity sends the glory of youth before the

soul, that it may avail itself of beautiful bodies as aids to its

recollection of the celestial good and fair; and the man beholding

such a person in the female sex runs to her, and finds the highest

joy in contemplating the form, movement, and intelligence of this

person, because it suggests to him the presence of that which indeed

is within the beauty, and the cause of the beauty.

If, however, from too much conversing with material objects,

the soul was gross, and misplaced its satisfaction in the body, it

reaped nothing but sorrow; body being unable to fulfil the promise

which beauty holds out; but if, accepting the hint of these visions

and suggestions which beauty makes to his mind, the soul passes

through the body, and falls to admire strokes of character, and the

lovers contemplate one another in their discourses and their actions,

then they pass to the true palace of beauty, more and more inflame

their love of it, and by this love extinguishing the base affection,

as the sun puts out the fire by shining on the hearth, they become

pure and hallowed. By conversation with that which is in itself

excellent, magnanimous, lowly, and just, the lover comes to a warmer

love of these nobilities, and a quicker apprehension of them. Then

he passes from loving them in one to loving them in all, and so is

the one beautiful soul only the door through which he enters to the

society of all true and pure souls. In the particular society of his

mate, he attains a clearer sight of any spot, any taint, which her

beauty has contracted from this world, and is able to point it out,

and this with mutual joy that they are now able, without offence, to

indicate blemishes and hindrances in each other, and give to each all

help and comfort in curing the same. And, beholding in many souls

the traits of the divine beauty, and separating in each soul that

which is divine from the taint which it has contracted in the world,

the lover ascends to the highest beauty, to the love and knowledge of

the Divinity, by steps on this ladder of created souls.

Somewhat like this have the truly wise told us of love in all

ages. The doctrine is not old, nor is it new. If Plato, Plutarch,

and Apuleius taught it, so have Petrarch, Angelo, and Milton. It

awaits a truer unfolding in opposition and rebuke to that

subterranean prudence which presides at marriages with words that

take hold of the upper world, whilst one eye is prowling in the

cellar, so that its gravest discourse has a savor of hams and

powdering-tubs. Worst, when this sensualism intrudes into the

education of young women, and withers the hope and affection of human

nature, by teaching that marriage signifies nothing but a housewife's

thrift, and that woman's life has no other aim.

But this dream of love, though beautiful, is only one scene in

our play. In the procession of the soul from within outward, it

enlarges its circles ever, like the pebble thrown into the pond, or

the light proceeding from an orb. The rays of the soul alight first

on things nearest, on every utensil and toy, on nurses and domestics,

on the house, and yard, and passengers, on the circle of household

acquaintance, on politics, and geography, and history. But things

are ever grouping themselves according to higher or more interior

laws. Neighbourhood, size, numbers, habits, persons, lose by degrees

their power over us. Cause and effect, real affinities, the longing

for harmony between the soul and the circumstance, the progressive,

idealizing instinct, predominate later, and the step backward from

the higher to the lower relations is impossible. Thus even love,

which is the deification of persons, must become more impersonal

every day. Of this at first it gives no hint. Little think the

youth and maiden who are glancing at each other across crowded rooms,

with eyes so full of mutual intelligence, of the precious fruit long

hereafter to proceed from this new, quite external stimulus. The

work of vegetation begins first in the irritability of the bark and

leaf-buds. From exchanging glances, they advance to acts of

courtesy, of gallantry, then to fiery passion, to plighting troth,

and marriage. Passion beholds its object as a perfect unit. The

soul is wholly embodied, and the body is wholly ensouled.

"Her pure and eloquent blood

Spoke in her cheeks, and so distinctly wrought,

That one might almost say her body thought."

Romeo, if dead, should be cut up into little stars to make

the heavens fine. Life, with this pair, has no other aim, asks no

more, than Juliet, -- than Romeo. Night, day, studies, talents,

kingdoms, religion, are all contained in this form full of soul, in

this soul which is all form. The lovers delight in endearments, in

avowals of love, in comparisons of their regards. When alone, they

solace themselves with the remembered image of the other. Does that

other see the same star, the same melting cloud, read the same book,

feel the same emotion, that now delight me? They try and weigh their

affection, and, adding up costly advantages, friends, opportunities,

properties, exult in discovering that willingly, joyfully, they would

give all as a ransom for the beautiful, the beloved head, not one

hair of which shall be harmed. But the lot of humanity is on these

children. Danger, sorrow, and pain arrive to them, as to all. Love

prays. It makes covenants with Eternal Power in behalf of this dear

mate. The union which is thus effected, and which adds a new value

to every atom in nature, for it transmutes every thread throughout

the whole web of relation into a golden ray, and bathes the soul in a

new and sweeter element, is yet a temporary state. Not always can

flowers, pearls, poetry, protestations, nor even home in another

heart, content the awful soul that dwells in clay. It arouses itself

at last from these endearments, as toys, and puts on the harness, and

aspires to vast and universal aims. The soul which is in the soul of

each, craving a perfect beatitude, detects incongruities, defects,

and disproportion in the behaviour of the other. Hence arise

surprise, expostulation, and pain. Yet that which drew them to each

other was signs of loveliness, signs of virtue; and these virtues are

there, however eclipsed. They appear and reappear, and continue to

attract; but the regard changes, quits the sign, and attaches to the

substance. This repairs the wounded affection. Meantime, as life

wears on, it proves a game of permutation and combination of all

possible positions of the parties, to employ all the resources of

each, and acquaint each with the strength and weakness of the other.

For it is the nature and end of this relation, that they should

represent the human race to each other. All that is in the world,

which is or ought to be known, is cunningly wrought into the texture

of man, of woman.

"The person love does to us fit,

Like manna, has the taste of all in it."

The world rolls; the circumstances vary every hour. The angels

that inhabit this temple of the body appear at the windows, and the

gnomes and vices also. By all the virtues they are united. If there

be virtue, all the vices are known as such; they confess and flee.

Their once flaming regard is sobered by time in either breast, and,

losing in violence what it gains in extent, it becomes a thorough

good understanding. They resign each other, without complaint, to

the good offices which man and woman are severally appointed to

discharge in time, and exchange the passion which once could not lose

sight of its object, for a cheerful, disengaged furtherance, whether

present or absent, of each other's designs. At last they discover

that all which at first drew them together,---- those once sacred

features, that magical play of charms, -- was deciduous, had a

prospective end, like the scaffolding by which the house was built;

and the purification of the intellect and the heart, from year to

year, is the real marriage, foreseen and prepared from the first, and

wholly above their consciousness. Looking at these aims with which

two persons, a man and a woman, so variously and correlatively

gifted, are shut up in one house to spend in the nuptial society

forty or fifty years, I do not wonder at the emphasis with which the

heart prophesies this crisis from early infancy, at the profuse

beauty with which the instincts deck the nuptial bower, and nature,

and intellect, and art emulate each other in the gifts and the melody

they bring to the epithalamium.

Thus are we put in training for a love which knows not sex, nor

person, nor partiality, but which seeks virtue and wisdom everywhere,

to the end of increasing virtue and wisdom. We are by nature

observers, and thereby learners. That is our permanent state. But

we are often made to feel that our affections are but tents of a

night. Though slowly and with pain, the objects of the affections

change, as the objects of thought do. There are moments when the

affections rule and absorb the man, and make his happiness dependent

on a person or persons. But in health the mind is presently seen

again, -- its overarching vault, bright with galaxies of immutable

lights, and the warm loves and fears that swept over us as clouds,

must lose their finite character and blend with God, to attain their

own perfection. But we need not fear that we can lose any thing by

the progress of the soul. The soul may be trusted to the end. That

which is so beautiful and attractive as these relations must be

succeeded and supplanted only by what is more beautiful, and so on

for ever.


A ruddy drop of manly blood

The surging sea outweighs,

The world uncertain comes and goes,

The lover rooted stays.

I fancied he was fled,

And, after many a year,

Glowed unexhausted kindliness

Like daily sunrise there.

My careful heart was free again, --

O friend, my bosom said,

Through thee alone the sky is arched,

Through thee the rose is red,

All things through thee take nobler form,

And look beyond the earth,

And is the mill-round of our fate

A sun-path in thy worth.

Me too thy nobleness has taught

To master my despair;

The fountains of my hidden life

Are through thy friendship fair.

ESSAY VI _Friendship_

We have a great selfishness that chills like east winds the

world, the whole human family is bathed with an element of love like

a fine ether. How many persons we meet in houses, whom we scarcely

speak to, whom yet we honor, and who honor us! How many we see in

the street, or sit with in church, whom, though silently, we warmly

rejoice to be with! Read the language of these wandering eye-beams.

The heart knoweth.

The effect of the indulgence of this human affection is a

certain cordial exhilaration. In poetry, and in common speech, the

emotions of benevolence and complacency which are felt towards others

are likened to the material effects of fire; so swift, or much more

swift, more active, more cheering, are these fine inward

irradiations. From the highest degree of passionate love, to the

lowest degree of good-will, they make the sweetness of life.

Our intellectual and active powers increase with our affection.

The scholar sits down to write, and all his years of meditation do

not furnish him with one good thought or happy expression; but it is

necessary to write a letter to a friend, -- and, forthwith, troops of

gentle thoughts invest themselves, on every hand, with chosen words.

See, in any house where virtue and self-respect abide, the

palpitation which the approach of a stranger causes. A commended

stranger is expected and announced, and an uneasiness betwixt

pleasure and pain invades all the hearts of a household. His arrival

almost brings fear to the good hearts that would welcome him. The

house is dusted, all things fly into their places, the old coat is

exchanged for the new, and they must get up a dinner if they can. Of

a commended stranger, only the good report is told by others, only

the good and new is heard by us. He stands to us for humanity. He

is what we wish. Having imagined and invested him, we ask how we

should stand related in conversation and action with such a man, and

are uneasy with fear. The same idea exalts conversation with him.

We talk better than we are wont. We have the nimblest fancy, a

richer memory, and our dumb devil has taken leave for the time. For

long hours we can continue a series of sincere, graceful, rich

communications, drawn from the oldest, secretest experience, so that

they who sit by, of our own kinsfolk and acquaintance, shall feel a

lively surprise at our unusual powers. But as soon as the stranger

begins to intrude his partialities, his definitions, his defects,

into the conversation, it is all over. He has heard the first, the

last and best he will ever hear from us. He is no stranger now.

Vulgarity, ignorance, misapprehension are old acquaintances. Now,

when he comes, he may get the order, the dress, and the dinner, --

but the throbbing of the heart, and the communications of the soul,

no more.

What is so pleasant as these jets of affection which make a

young world for me again? What so delicious as a just and firm

encounter of two, in a thought, in a feeling? How beautiful, on

their approach to this beating heart, the steps and forms of the

gifted and the true! The moment we indulge our affections, the earth

is metamorphosed; there is no winter, and no night; all tragedies,

all ennuis, vanish, -- all duties even; nothing fills the proceeding

eternity but the forms all radiant of beloved persons. Let the soul

be assured that somewhere in the universe it should rejoin its

friend, and it would be content and cheerful alone for a thousand


I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends,

the old and the new. Shall I not call God the Beautiful, who daily

showeth himself so to me in his gifts? I chide society, I embrace

solitude, and yet I am not so ungrateful as not to see the wise, the

lovely, and the noble-minded, as from time to time they pass my gate.

Who hears me, who understands me, becomes mine, -- a possession for

all time. Nor is nature so poor but she gives me this joy several

times, and thus we weave social threads of our own, a new web of

relations; and, as many thoughts in succession substantiate

themselves, we shall by and by stand in a new world of our own

creation, and no longer strangers and pilgrims in a traditionary

globe. My friends have come to me unsought. The great God gave them

to me. By oldest right, by the divine affinity of virtue with

itself, I find them, or rather not I, but the Deity in me and in them

derides and cancels the thick walls of individual character,

relation, age, sex, circumstance, at which he usually connives, and

now makes many one. High thanks I owe you, excellent lovers, who

carry out the world for me to new and noble depths, and enlarge the

meaning of all my thoughts. These are new poetry of the first Bard,

-- poetry without stop, -- hymn, ode, and epic, poetry still flowing,

Apollo and the Muses chanting still. Will these, too, separate

themselves from me again, or some of them? I know not, but I fear it

not; for my relation to them is so pure, that we hold by simple

affinity, and the Genius of my life being thus social, the same

affinity will exert its energy on whomsoever is as noble as these men

and women, wherever I may be.

I confess to an extreme tenderness of nature on this point. It

is almost dangerous to me to "crush the sweet poison of misused wine"

of the affections. A new person is to me a great event, and hinders

me from sleep. I have often had fine fancies about persons which

have given me delicious hours; but the joy ends in the day; it yields

no fruit. Thought is not born of it; my action is very little

modified. I must feel pride in my friend's accomplishments as if

they were mine, -- and a property in his virtues. I feel as warmly

when he is praised, as the lover when he hears applause of his

engaged maiden. We over-estimate the conscience of our friend. His

goodness seems better than our goodness, his nature finer, his

temptations less. Every thing that is his, -- his name, his form,

his dress, books, and instruments, -- fancy enhances. Our own

thought sounds new and larger from his mouth.

Yet the systole and diastole of the heart are not without their

analogy in the ebb and flow of love. Friendship, like the

immortality of the soul, is too good to be believed. The lover,

beholding his maiden, half knows that she is not verily that which he

worships; and in the golden hour of friendship, we are surprised with

shades of suspicion and unbelief. We doubt that we bestow on our

hero the virtues in which he shines, and afterwards worship the form

to which we have ascribed this divine inhabitation. In strictness,

the soul does not respect men as it respects itself. In strict

science all persons underlie the same condition of an infinite

remoteness. Shall we fear to cool our love by mining for the

metaphysical foundation of this Elysian temple? Shall I not be as

real as the things I see? If I am, I shall not fear to know them for

what they are. Their essence is not less beautiful than their

appearance, though it needs finer organs for its apprehension. The

root of the plant is not unsightly to science, though for chaplets

and festoons we cut the stem short. And I must hazard the production

of the bald fact amidst these pleasing reveries, though it should

prove an Egyptian skull at our banquet. A man who stands united with

his thought conceives magnificently of himself. He is conscious of a

universal success, even though bought by uniform particular failures.

No advantages, no powers, no gold or force, can be any match for him.

I cannot choose but rely on my own poverty more than on your wealth.

I cannot make your consciousness tantamount to mine. Only the star

dazzles; the planet has a faint, moon-like ray. I hear what you say

of the admirable parts and tried temper of the party you praise, but

I see well that for all his purple cloaks I shall not like him,

unless he is at last a poor Greek like me. I cannot deny it, O

friend, that the vast shadow of the Phenomenal includes thee also in

its pied and painted immensity, -- thee, also, compared with whom all

else is shadow. Thou art not Being, as Truth is, as Justice is, --

thou art not my soul, but a picture and effigy of that. Thou hast

come to me lately, and already thou art seizing thy hat and cloak.

Is it not that the soul puts forth friends as the tree puts forth

leaves, and presently, by the germination of new buds, extrudes the

old leaf? The law of nature is alternation for evermore. Each

electrical state superinduces the opposite. The soul environs itself

with friends, that it may enter into a grander self-acquaintance or

solitude; and it goes alone for a season, that it may exalt its

conversation or society. This method betrays itself along the whole

history of our personal relations. The instinct of affection revives

the hope of union with our mates, and the returning sense of

insulation recalls us from the chase. Thus every man passes his life

in the search after friendship, and if he should record his true

sentiment, he might write a letter like this to each new candidate

for his love.


If I was sure of thee, sure of thy capacity, sure to match my

mood with thine, I should never think again of trifles in relation to

thy comings and goings. I am not very wise; my moods are quite

attainable; and I respect thy genius; it is to me as yet unfathomed;

yet dare I not presume in thee a perfect intelligence of me, and so

thou art to me a delicious torment. Thine ever, or never.

Yet these uneasy pleasures and fine pains are for curiosity,

and not for life. They are not to be indulged. This is to weave

cobweb, and not cloth. Our friendships hurry to short and poor

conclusions, because we have made them a texture of wine and dreams,

instead of the tough fibre of the human heart. The laws of

friendship are austere and eternal, of one web with the laws of

nature and of morals. But we have aimed at a swift and petty

benefit, to suck a sudden sweetness. We snatch at the slowest fruit

in the whole garden of God, which many summers and many winters must

ripen. We seek our friend not sacredly, but with an adulterate

passion which would appropriate him to ourselves. In vain. We are

armed all over with subtle antagonisms, which, as soon as we meet,

begin to play, and translate all poetry into stale prose. Almost all

people descend to meet. All association must be a compromise, and,

what is worst, the very flower and aroma of the flower of each of the

beautiful natures disappears as they approach each other. What a

perpetual disappointment is actual society, even of the virtuous and

gifted! After interviews have been compassed with long foresight, we

must be tormented presently by baffled blows, by sudden, unseasonable

apathies, by epilepsies of wit and of animal spirits, in the heyday

of friendship and thought. Our faculties do not play us true, and

both parties are relieved by solitude.

I ought to be equal to every relation. It makes no difference

how many friends I have, and what content I can find in conversing

with each, if there be one to whom I am not equal. If I have shrunk

unequal from one contest, the joy I find in all the rest becomes mean

and cowardly. I should hate myself, if then I made my other friends

my asylum.

"The valiant warrior famoused for fight,

After a hundred victories, once foiled,

Is from the book of honor razed quite,

And all the rest forgot for which he toiled."

Our impatience is thus sharply rebuked. Bashfulness and apathy

are a tough husk, in which a delicate organization is protected from

premature ripening. It would be lost if it knew itself before any of

the best souls were yet ripe enough to know and own it. Respect the

_naturlangsamkeit_ which hardens the ruby in a million years, and

works in duration, in which Alps and Andes come and go as rainbows.

The good spirit of our life has no heaven which is the price of

rashness. Love, which is the essence of God, is not for levity, but

for the total worth of man. Let us not have this childish luxury in

our regards, but the austerest worth; let us approach our friend with

an audacious trust in the truth of his heart, in the breadth,

impossible to be overturned, of his foundations.

The attractions of this subject are not to be resisted, and I

leave, for the time, all account of subordinate social benefit, to

speak of that select and sacred relation which is a kind of absolute,

and which even leaves the language of love suspicious and common, so

much is this purer, and nothing is so much divine.

I do not wish to treat friendships daintily, but with roughest

courage. When they are real, they are not glass threads or

frostwork, but the solidest thing we know. For now, after so many

ages of experience, what do we know of nature, or of ourselves? Not

one step has man taken toward the solution of the problem of his

destiny. In one condemnation of folly stand the whole universe of

men. But the sweet sincerity of joy and peace, which I draw from

this alliance with my brother's soul, is the nut itself, whereof all

nature and all thought is but the husk and shell. Happy is the house

that shelters a friend! It might well be built, like a festal bower

or arch, to entertain him a single day. Happier, if he know the

solemnity of that relation, and honor its law! He who offers himself

a candidate for that covenant comes up, like an Olympian, to the

great games, where the first-born of the world are the competitors.

He proposes himself for contests where Time, Want, Danger, are in the

lists, and he alone is victor who has truth enough in his

constitution to preserve the delicacy of his beauty from the wear and

tear of all these. The gifts of fortune may be present or absent,

but all the speed in that contest depends on intrinsic nobleness, and

the contempt of trifles. There are two elements that go to the

composition of friendship, each so sovereign that I can detect no

superiority in either, no reason why either should be first named.

One is Truth. A friend is a person with whom I may be sincere.

Before him I may think aloud. I am arrived at last in the presence

of a man so real and equal, that I may drop even those undermost

garments of dissimulation, courtesy, and second thought, which men

never put off, and may deal with him with the simplicity and

wholeness with which one chemical atom meets another. Sincerity is

the luxury allowed, like diadems and authority, only to the highest

rank, _that_ being permitted to speak truth, as having none above it

to court or conform unto. Every man alone is sincere. At the

entrance of a second person, hypocrisy begins. We parry and fend the

approach of our fellow-man by compliments, by gossip, by amusements,

by affairs. We cover up our thought from him under a hundred folds.

I knew a man, who, under a certain religious frenzy, cast off this

drapery, and, omitting all compliment and commonplace, spoke to the

conscience of every person he encountered, and that with great

insight and beauty. At first he was resisted, and all men agreed he

was mad. But persisting, as indeed he could not help doing, for some

time in this course, he attained to the advantage of bringing every

man of his acquaintance into true relations with him. No man would

think of speaking falsely with him, or of putting him off with any

chat of markets or reading-rooms. But every man was constrained by

so much sincerity to the like plaindealing, and what love of nature,

what poetry, what symbol of truth he had, he did certainly show him.

But to most of us society shows not its face and eye, but its side

and its back. To stand in true relations with men in a false age is

worth a fit of insanity, is it not? We can seldom go erect. Almost

every man we meet requires some civility, -- requires to be humored;

he has some fame, some talent, some whim of religion or philanthropy

in his head that is not to be questioned, and which spoils all

conversation with him. But a friend is a sane man who exercises not

my ingenuity, but me. My friend gives me entertainment without

requiring any stipulation on my part. A friend, therefore, is a sort

of paradox in nature. I who alone am, I who see nothing in nature

whose existence I can affirm with equal evidence to my own, behold

now the semblance of my being, in all its height, variety, and

curiosity, reiterated in a foreign form; so that a friend may well be

reckoned the masterpiece of nature.

The other element of friendship is tenderness. We are holden

to men by every sort of tie, by blood, by pride, by fear, by hope, by

lucre, by lust, by hate, by admiration, by every circumstance and

badge and trifle, but we can scarce believe that so much character

can subsist in another as to draw us by love. Can another be so

blessed, and we so pure, that we can offer him tenderness? When a

man becomes dear to me, I have touched the goal of fortune. I find

very little written directly to the heart of this matter in books.

And yet I have one text which I cannot choose but remember. My

author says, -- "I offer myself faintly and bluntly to those whose I

effectually am, and tender myself least to him to whom I am the most

devoted." I wish that friendship should have feet, as well as eyes

and eloquence. It must plant itself on the ground, before it vaults

over the moon. I wish it to be a little of a citizen, before it is

quite a cherub. We chide the citizen because he makes love a

commodity. It is an exchange of gifts, of useful loans; it is good

neighbourhood; it watches with the sick; it holds the pall at the

funeral; and quite loses sight of the delicacies and nobility of the

relation. But though we cannot find the god under this disguise of a

sutler, yet, on the other hand, we cannot forgive the poet if he

spins his thread too fine, and does not substantiate his romance by

the municipal virtues of justice, punctuality, fidelity, and pity. I

hate the prostitution of the name of friendship to signify modish and

worldly alliances. I much prefer the company of ploughboys and

tin-peddlers, to the silken and perfumed amity which celebrates its

days of encounter by a frivolous display, by rides in a curricle, and

dinners at the best taverns. The end of friendship is a commerce the

most strict and homely that can be joined; more strict than any of

which we have experience. It is for aid and comfort through all the

relations and passages of life and death. It is fit for serene days,

and graceful gifts, and country rambles, but also for rough roads and

hard fare, shipwreck, poverty, and persecution. It keeps company

with the sallies of the wit and the trances of religion. We are to

dignify to each other the daily needs and offices of man's life, and

embellish it by courage, wisdom, and unity. It should never fall

into something usual and settled, but should be alert and inventive,

and add rhyme and reason to what was drudgery.

Friendship may be said to require natures so rare and costly,

each so well tempered and so happily adapted, and withal so

circumstanced, (for even in that particular, a poet says, love

demands that the parties be altogether paired,) that its satisfaction

can very seldom be assured. It cannot subsist in its perfection, say

some of those who are learned in this warm lore of the heart, betwixt

more than two. I am not quite so strict in my terms, perhaps because

I have never known so high a fellowship as others. I please my

imagination more with a circle of godlike men and women variously

related to each other, and between whom subsists a lofty

intelligence. But I find this law of _one to one_ peremptory for

conversation, which is the practice and consummation of friendship.

Do not mix waters too much. The best mix as ill as good and bad.

You shall have very useful and cheering discourse at several times

with two several men, but let all three of you come together, and you

shall not have one new and hearty word. Two may talk and one may

hear, but three cannot take part in a conversation of the most

sincere and searching sort. In good company there is never such

discourse between two, across the table, as takes place when you

leave them alone. In good company, the individuals merge their

egotism into a social soul exactly co-extensive with the several

consciousnesses there present. No partialities of friend to friend,

no fondnesses of brother to sister, of wife to husband, are there

pertinent, but quite otherwise. Only he may then speak who can sail

on the common thought of the party, and not poorly limited to his

own. Now this convention, which good sense demands, destroys the

high freedom of great conversation, which requires an absolute

running of two souls into one.

No two men but, being left alone with each other, enter into

simpler relations. Yet it is affinity that determines _which_ two

shall converse. Unrelated men give little joy to each other; will

never suspect the latent powers of each. We talk sometimes of a

great talent for conversation, as if it were a permanent property in

some individuals. Conversation is an evanescent relation, -- no

more. A man is reputed to have thought and eloquence; he cannot, for

all that, say a word to his cousin or his uncle. They accuse his

silence with as much reason as they would blame the insignificance of

a dial in the shade. In the sun it will mark the hour. Among those

who enjoy his thought, he will regain his tongue.

Friendship requires that rare mean betwixt likeness and

unlikeness, that piques each with the presence of power and of

consent in the other party. Let me be alone to the end of the world,

rather than that my friend should overstep, by a word or a look, his

real sympathy. I am equally balked by antagonism and by compliance.

Let him not cease an instant to be himself. The only joy I have in

his being mine, is that the _not mine_ is _mine_. I hate, where I

looked for a manly furtherance, or at least a manly resistance, to

find a mush of concession. Better be a nettle in the side of your

friend than his echo. The condition which high friendship demands is

ability to do without it. That high office requires great and

sublime parts. There must be very two, before there can be very one.

Let it be an alliance of two large, formidable natures, mutually

beheld, mutually feared, before yet they recognize the deep identity

which beneath these disparities unites them.

He only is fit for this society who is magnanimous; who is sure

that greatness and goodness are always economy; who is not swift to

intermeddle with his fortunes. Let him not intermeddle with this.

Leave to the diamond its ages to grow, nor expect to accelerate the

births of the eternal. Friendship demands a religious treatment. We

talk of choosing our friends, but friends are self-elected.

Reverence is a great part of it. Treat your friend as a spectacle.

Of course he has merits that are not yours, and that you cannot

honor, if you must needs hold him close to your person. Stand aside;

give those merits room; let them mount and expand. Are you the

friend of your friend's buttons, or of his thought? To a great heart

he will still be a stranger in a thousand particulars, that he may

come near in the holiest ground. Leave it to girls and boys to

regard a friend as property, and to suck a short and all-confounding

pleasure, instead of the noblest benefit.

Let us buy our entrance to this guild by a long probation. Why

should we desecrate noble and beautiful souls by intruding on them?

Why insist on rash personal relations with your friend? Why go to

his house, or know his mother and brother and sisters? Why be

visited by him at your own? Are these things material to our

covenant? Leave this touching and clawing. Let him be to me a

spirit. A message, a thought, a sincerity, a glance from him, I

want, but not news, nor pottage. I can get politics, and chat, and

neighbourly conveniences from cheaper companions. Should not the

society of my friend be to me poetic, pure, universal, and great as

nature itself? Ought I to feel that our tie is profane in comparison

with yonder bar of cloud that sleeps on the horizon, or that clump of

waving grass that divides the brook? Let us not vilify, but raise it

to that standard. That great, defying eye, that scornful beauty of

his mien and action, do not pique yourself on reducing, but rather

fortify and enhance. Worship his superiorities; wish him not less by

a thought, but hoard and tell them all. Guard him as thy

counterpart. Let him be to thee for ever a sort of beautiful enemy,

untamable, devoutly revered, and not a trivial conveniency to be soon

outgrown and cast aside. The hues of the opal, the light of the

diamond, are not to be seen, if the eye is too near. To my friend I

write a letter, and from him I receive a letter. That seems to you a

little. It suffices me. It is a spiritual gift worthy of him to

give, and of me to receive. It profanes nobody. In these warm lines

the heart will trust itself, as it will not to the tongue, and pour

out the prophecy of a godlier existence than all the annals of

heroism have yet made good.

Respect so far the holy laws of this fellowship as not to

prejudice its perfect flower by your impatience for its opening. We

must be our own before we can be another's. There is at least this

satisfaction in crime, according to the Latin proverb; -- you can

speak to your accomplice on even terms. _Crimen quos inquinat,

aequat_. To those whom we admire and love, at first we cannot. Yet

the least defect of self-possession vitiates, in my judgment, the

entire relation. There can never be deep peace between two spirits,

never mutual respect, until, in their dialogue, each stands for the

whole world.

What is so great as friendship, let us carry with what grandeur

of spirit we can. Let us be silent, -- so we may hear the whisper of

the gods. Let us not interfere. Who set you to cast about what you

should say to the select souls, or how to say any thing to such? No

matter how ingenious, no matter how graceful and bland. There are

innumerable degrees of folly and wisdom, and for you to say aught is

to be frivolous. Wait, and thy heart shall speak. Wait until the

necessary and everlasting overpowers you, until day and night avail

themselves of your lips. The only reward of virtue is virtue; the

only way to have a friend is to be one. You shall not come nearer a

man by getting into his house. If unlike, his soul only flees the

faster from you, and you shall never catch a true glance of his eye.

We see the noble afar off, and they repel us; why should we intrude?

Late, -- very late, -- we perceive that no arrangements, no

introductions, no consuetudes or habits of society, would be of any

avail to establish us in such relations with them as we desire, --

but solely the uprise of nature in us to the same degree it is in

them; then shall we meet as water with water; and if we should not

meet them then, we shall not want them, for we are already they. In

the last analysis, love is only the reflection of a man's own

worthiness from other men. Men have sometimes exchanged names with

their friends, as if they would signify that in their friend each

loved his own soul.

The higher the style we demand of friendship, of course the

less easy to establish it with flesh and blood. We walk alone in the

world. Friends, such as we desire, are dreams and fables. But a

sublime hope cheers ever the faithful heart, that elsewhere, in other

regions of the universal power, souls are now acting, enduring, and

daring, which can love us, and which we can love. We may

congratulate ourselves that the period of nonage, of follies, of

blunders, and of shame, is passed in solitude, and when we are

finished men, we shall grasp heroic hands in heroic hands. Only be

admonished by what you already see, not to strike leagues of

friendship with cheap persons, where no friendship can be. Our

impatience betrays us into rash and foolish alliances which no God

attends. By persisting in your path, though you forfeit the little

you gain the great. You demonstrate yourself, so as to put yourself

out of the reach of false relations, and you draw to you the

first-born of the world, -- those rare pilgrims whereof only one or

two wander in nature at once, and before whom the vulgar great show

as spectres and shadows merely.

It is foolish to be afraid of making our ties too spiritual, as

if so we could lose any genuine love. Whatever correction of our

popular views we make from insight, nature will be sure to bear us

out in, and though it seem to rob us of some joy, will repay us with

a greater. Let us feel, if we will, the absolute insulation of man.

We are sure that we have all in us. We go to Europe, or we pursue

persons, or we read books, in the instinctive faith that these will

call it out and reveal us to ourselves. Beggars all. The persons

are such as we; the Europe an old faded garment of dead persons; the

books their ghosts. Let us drop this idolatry. Let us give over

this mendicancy. Let us even bid our dearest friends farewell, and

defy them, saying, `Who are you? Unhand me: I will be dependent no

more.' Ah! seest thou not, O brother, that thus we part only to meet

again on a higher platform, and only be more each other's, because we

are more our own? A friend is Janus-faced: he looks to the past and

the future. He is the child of all my foregoing hours, the prophet

of those to come, and the harbinger of a greater friend.

I do then with my friends as I do with my books. I would have

them where I can find them, but I seldom use them. We must have

society on our own terms, and admit or exclude it on the slightest

cause. I cannot afford to speak much with my friend. If he is

great, he makes me so great that I cannot descend to converse. In

the great days, presentiments hover before me in the firmament. I

ought then to dedicate myself to them. I go in that I may seize

them, I go out that I may seize them. I fear only that I may lose

them receding into the sky in which now they are only a patch of

brighter light. Then, though I prize my friends, I cannot afford to

talk with them and study their visions, lest I lose my own. It would

indeed give me a certain household joy to quit this lofty seeking,

this spiritual astronomy, or search of stars, and come down to warm

sympathies with you; but then I know well I shall mourn always the

vanishing of my mighty gods. It is true, next week I shall have

languid moods, when I can well afford to occupy myself with foreign

objects; then I shall regret the lost literature of your mind, and

wish you were by my side again. But if you come, perhaps you will

fill my mind only with new visions, not with yourself but with your

lustres, and I shall not be able any more than now to converse with

you. So I will owe to my friends this evanescent intercourse. I

will receive from them, not what they have, but what they are. They

shall give me that which properly they cannot give, but which

emanates from them. But they shall not hold me by any relations less

subtile and pure. We will meet as though we met not, and part as

though we parted not.

It has seemed to me lately more possible than I knew, to carry

a friendship greatly, on one side, without due correspondence on the

other. Why should I cumber myself with regrets that the receiver is

not capacious? It never troubles the sun that some of his rays fall

wide and vain into ungrateful space, and only a small part on the

reflecting planet. Let your greatness educate the crude and cold

companion. If he is unequal, he will presently pass away; but thou

art enlarged by thy own shining, and, no longer a mate for frogs and

worms, dost soar and burn with the gods of the empyrean. It is

thought a disgrace to love unrequited. But the great will see that

true love cannot be unrequited. True love transcends the unworthy

object, and dwells and broods on the eternal, and when the poor

interposed mask crumbles, it is not sad, but feels rid of so much

earth, and feels its independency the surer. Yet these things may

hardly be said without a sort of treachery to the relation. The

essence of friendship is entireness, a total magnanimity and trust.

It must not surmise or provide for infirmity. It treats its object

as a god, that it may deify both.


Theme no poet gladly sung,

Fair to old and foul to young,

Scorn not thou the love of parts,

And the articles of arts.

Grandeur of the perfect sphere

Thanks the atoms that cohere.


ESSAY VII _Prudence_

What right have I to write ont of the negative sort? My

prudence consists in avoiding and going without, not in the inventing

of means and methods, not in adroit steering, not in gentle

repairing. I have no skill to make money spend well, no genius in my

economy, and whoever sees my garden discovers that I must have some

other garden. Yet I love facts, and hate lubricity, and people

without perception. Then I have the same title to write on prudence,

that I have to write on poetry or holiness. We write from aspiration

and antagonism, as well as from experience. We paint those qualities

which we do not possess. The poet admires the man of energy and

tactics; the merchant breeds his son for the church or the bar: and

where a man is not vain and egotistic, you shall find what he has not

by his praise. Moreover, it would be hardly honest in me not to

balance these fine lyric words of Love and Friendship with words of

coarser sound, and, whilst my debt to my senses is real and constant,

not to own it in passing.

Prudence is the virtue of the senses. It is the science of

appearances. It is the outmost action of the inward life. It is God

taking thought for oxen. It moves matter after the laws of matter.

It is content to seek health of body by complying with physical

conditions, and health of mind by the laws of the intellect.

The world of the senses is a world of shows; it does not exist

for itself, but has a symbolic character; and a true prudence or law

of shows recognizes the copresence of other laws, and knows that its

own office is subaltern; knows that it is surface and not centre

where it works. Prudence is false when detached. It is legitimate

when it is the Natural History of the soul incarnate; when it unfolds

the beauty of laws within the narrow scope of the senses.

There are all degrees of proficiency in knowledge of the world.

It is sufficient, to our present purpose, to indicate three. One

class live to the utility of the symbol; esteeming health and wealth

a final good. Another class live above this mark to the beauty of

the symbol; as the poet, and artist, and the naturalist, and man of

science. A third class live above the beauty of the symbol to the

beauty of the thing signified; these are wise men. The first class

have common sense; the second, taste; and the third, spiritual

perception. Once in a long time, a man traverses the whole scale,

and sees and enjoys the symbol solidly; then also has a clear eye for

its beauty, and, lastly, whilst he pitches his tent on this sacred

volcanic isle of nature, does not offer to build houses and barns

thereon, reverencing the splendor of the God which he sees bursting

through each chink and cranny.

The world is filled with the proverbs and acts and winkings of

a base prudence, which is a devotion to matter, as if we possessed no

other faculties than the palate, the nose, the touch, the eye and

ear; a prudence which adores the Rule of Three, which never

subscribes, which never gives, which seldom lends, and asks but one

question of any project, -- Will it bake bread? This is a disease

like a thickening of the skin until the vital organs are destroyed.

But culture, revealing the high origin of the apparent world, and

aiming at the perfection of the man as the end, degrades every thing

else, as health and bodily life, into means. It sees prudence not to

be a several faculty, but a name for wisdom and virtue conversing

with the body and its wants. Cultivated men always feel and speak

so, as if a great fortune, the achievement of a civil or social

measure, great personal influence, a graceful and commanding address,

had their value as proofs of the energy of the spirit. If a man lose

his balance, and immerse himself in any trades or pleasures for their

own sake, he may be a good wheel or pin, but he is not a cultivated


The spurious prudence, making the senses final, is the god of

sots and cowards, and is the subject of all comedy. It is nature's

joke, and therefore literature's. The true prudence limits this

sensualism by admitting the knowledge of an internal and real world.

This recognition once made, -- the order of the world and the

distribution of affairs and times being studied with the

co-perception of their subordinate place, will reward any degree of

attention. For our existence, thus apparently attached in nature to

the sun and the returning moon and the periods which they mark, -- so

susceptible to climate and to country, so alive to social good and

evil, so fond of splendor, and so tender to hunger and cold and debt,

-- reads all its primary lessons out of these books.

Prudence does not go behind nature, and ask whence it is. It

takes the laws of the world, whereby man's being is conditioned, as

they are, and keeps these laws, that it may enjoy their proper good.

It respects space and time, climate, want, sleep, the law of

polarity, growth, and death. There revolve to give bound and period

to his being, on all sides, the sun and moon, the great formalists in

the sky: here lies stubborn matter, and will not swerve from its

chemical routine. Here is a planted globe, pierced and belted with

natural laws, and fenced and distributed externally with civil

partitions and properties which impose new restraints on the young


We eat of the bread which grows in the field. We live by the

air which blows around us, and we are poisoned by the air that is too

cold or too hot, too dry or too wet. Time, which shows so vacant,

indivisible, and divine in its coming, is slit and peddled into

trifles and tatters. A door is to be painted, a lock to be repaired.

I want wood, or oil, or meal, or salt; the house smokes, or I have a

headache; then the tax; and an affair to be transacted with a man

without heart or brains; and the stinging recollection of an

injurious or very awkward word, -- these eat up the hours. Do what

we can, summer will have its flies: if we walk in the woods, we must

feed mosquitos: if we go a-fishing, we must expect a wet coat. Then

climate is a great impediment to idle persons: we often resolve to

give up the care of the weather, but still we regard the clouds and

the rain.

We are instructed by these petty experiences which usurp the

hours and years. The hard soil and four months of snow make the

inhabitant of the northern temperate zone wiser and abler than his

fellow who enjoys the fixed smile of the tropics. The islander may

ramble all day at will. At night, he may sleep on a mat under the

moon, and wherever a wild date-tree grows, nature has, without a

prayer even, spread a table for his morning meal. The northerner is

perforce a householder. He must brew, bake, salt, and preserve his

food, and pile wood and coal. But as it happens that not one stroke

can labor lay to, without some new acquaintance with nature; and as

nature is inexhaustibly significant, the inhabitants of these

climates have always excelled the southerner in force. Such is the

value of these matters, that a man who knows other things can never

know too much of these. Let him have accurate perceptions. Let him,

if he have hands, handle; if eyes, measure and discriminate; let him

accept and hive every fact of chemistry, natural history, and

economics; the more he has, the less is he willing to spare any one.

Time is always bringing the occasions that disclose their value.

Some wisdom comes out of every natural and innocent action. The

domestic man, who loves no music so well as his kitchen clock, and

the airs which the logs sing to him as they burn on the hearth, has

solaces which others never dream of. The application of means to

ends insures victory and the songs of victory, not less in a farm or

a shop than in the tactics of party or of war. The good husband

finds method as efficient in the packing of fire-wood in a shed, or

in the harvesting of fruits in the cellar, as in Peninsular campaigns

or the files of the Department of State. In the rainy day, he builds

a work-bench, or gets his tool-box set in the corner of the

barn-chamber, and stored with nails, gimlet, pincers, screwdriver,

and chisel. Herein he tastes an old joy of youth and childhood, the

cat-like love of garrets, presses, and corn-chambers, and of the

conveniences of long housekeeping. His garden or his poultry-yard

tells him many pleasant anecdotes. One might find argument for

optimism in the abundant flow of this saccharine element of pleasure

in every suburb and extremity of the good world. Let a man keep the

law, -- any law, -- and his way will be strown with satisfactions.

There is more difference in the quality of our pleasures than in the


On the other hand, nature punishes any neglect of prudence. If

you think the senses final, obey their law. If you believe in the

soul, do not clutch at sensual sweetness before it is ripe on the

slow tree of cause and effect. It is vinegar to the eyes, to deal

with men of loose and imperfect perception. Dr. Johnson is reported

to have said, -- "If the child says he looked out of this window,

when he looked out of that, -- whip him." Our American character is

marked by a more than average delight in accurate perception, which

is shown by the currency of the byword, "No mistake." But the

discomfort of unpunctuality, of confusion of thought about facts, of

inattention to the wants of to-morrow, is of no nation. The

beautiful laws of time and space, once dislocated by our inaptitude,

are holes and dens. If the hive be disturbed by rash and stupid

hands, instead of honey, it will yield us bees. Our words and

actions to be fair must be timely. A gay and pleasant sound is the

whetting of the scythe in the mornings of June; yet what is more

lonesome and sad than the sound of a whetstone or mower's rifle, when

it is too late in the season to make hay? Scatter-brained and

"afternoon men" spoil much more than their own affair, in spoiling

the temper of those who deal with them. I have seen a criticism on

some paintings, of which I am reminded when I see the shiftless and

unhappy men who are not true to their senses. The last Grand Duke of

Weimar, a man of superior understanding, said: -- "I have sometimes

remarked in the presence of great works of art, and just now

especially, in Dresden, how much a certain property contributes to

the effect which gives life to the figures, and to the life an

irresistible truth. This property is the hitting, in all the figures

we draw, the right centre of gravity. I mean, the placing the

figures firm upon their feet, making the hands grasp, and fastening

the eyes on the spot where they should look. Even lifeless figures,

as vessels and stools, -- let them be drawn ever so correctly, --

lose all effect so soon as they lack the resting upon their centre of

gravity, and have a certain swimming and oscillating appearance. The

Raphael, in the Dresden gallery, (the only greatly affecting picture

which I have seen,) is the quietest and most passionless piece you

can imagine; a couple of saints who worship the Virgin and Child.

Nevertheless, it awakens a deeper impression than the contortions of

ten crucified martyrs. For, beside all the resistless beauty of

form, it possesses in the highest degree the property of the

perpendicularity of all the figures." This perpendicularity we demand

of all the figures in this picture of life. Let them stand on their

feet, and not float and swing. Let us know where to find them. Let

them discriminate between what they remember and what they dreamed,

call a spade a spade, give us facts, and honor their own senses with


But what man shall dare tax another with imprudence? Who is

prudent? The men we call greatest are least in this kingdom. There

is a certain fatal dislocation in our relation to nature, distorting

our modes of living, and making every law our enemy, which seems at

last to have aroused all the wit and virtue in the world to ponder

the question of Reform. We must call the highest prudence to

counsel, and ask why health and beauty and genius should now be the

exception, rather than the rule, of human nature? We do not know the

properties of plants and animals and the laws of nature through our

sympathy with the same; but this remains the dream of poets. Poetry

and prudence should be coincident. Poets should be lawgivers; that

is, the boldest lyric inspiration should not chide and insult, but

should announce and lead, the civil code, and the day's work. But

now the two things seem irreconcilably parted. We have violated law

upon law, until we stand amidst ruins, and when by chance we espy a

coincidence between reason and the phenomena, we are surprised.

Beauty should be the dowry of every man and woman, as invariably as

sensation; but it is rare. Health or sound organization should be

universal. Genius should be the child of genius, and every child

should be inspired; but now it is not to be predicted of any child,

and nowhere is it pure. We call partial half-lights, by courtesy,

genius; talent which converts itself to money; talent which glitters

to-day, that it may dine and sleep well to-morrow; and society is

officered by _men of parts_, as they are properly called, and not by

divine men. These use their gifts to refine luxury, not to abolish

it. Genius is always ascetic; and piety and love. Appetite shows to

the finer souls as a disease, and they find beauty in rites and

bounds that resist it.

We have found out fine names to cover our sensuality withal,

but no gifts can raise intemperance. The man of talent affects to

call his transgressions of the laws of the senses trivial, and to

count them nothing considered with his devotion to his art. His art

never taught him lewdness, nor the love of wine, nor the wish to reap

where he had not sowed. His art is less for every deduction from his

holiness, and less for every defect of common sense. On him who

scorned the world, as he said, the scorned world wreaks its revenge.

He that despiseth small things will perish by little and little.

Goethe's Tasso is very likely to be a pretty fair historical

portrait, and that is true tragedy. It does not seem to me so

genuine grief when some tyrannous Richard the Third oppresses and

slays a score of innocent persons, as when Antonio and Tasso, both

apparently right, wrong each other. One living after the maxims of

this world, and consistent and true to them, the other fired with all

divine sentiments, yet grasping also at the pleasures of sense,

without submitting to their law. That is a grief we all feel, a knot

we cannot untie. Tasso's is no infrequent case in modern biography.

A man of genius, of an ardent temperament, reckless of physical laws,

self-indulgent, becomes presently unfortunate, querulous, a

"discomfortable cousin," a thorn to himself and to others.

The scholar shames us by his bifold life. Whilst something

higher than prudence is active, he is admirable; when common sense is

wanted, he is an encumbrance. Yesterday, Caesar was not so great;

to-day, the felon at the gallows' foot is not more miserable.

Yesterday, radiant with the light of an ideal world, in which he

lives, the first of men; and now oppressed by wants and by sickness,

for which he must thank himself. He resembles the pitiful

drivellers, whom travellers describe as frequenting the bazaars of

Constantinople, who skulk about all day, yellow, emaciated, ragged,

sneaking; and at evening, when the bazaars are open, slink to the

opium-shop, swallow their morsel, and become tranquil and glorified

seers. And who has not seen the tragedy of imprudent genius,

struggling for years with paltry pecuniary difficulties, at last

sinking, chilled, exhausted, and fruitless, like a giant slaughtered

by pins?

Is it not better that a man should accept the first pains and

mortifications of this sort, which nature is not slack in sending

him, as hints that he must expect no other good than the just fruit

of his own labor and self-denial? Health, bread, climate, social

position, have their importance, and he will give them their due.

Let him esteem Nature a perpetual counsellor, and her perfections the

exact measure of our deviations. Let him make the night night, and

the day day. Let him control the habit of expense. Let him see that

as much wisdom may be expended on a private economy as on an empire,

and as much wisdom may be drawn from it. The laws of the world are

written out for him on every piece of money in his hand. There is

nothing he will not be the better for knowing, were it only the

wisdom of Poor Richard; or the State-Street prudence of buying by the

acre to sell by the foot; or the thrift of the agriculturist, to

stick a tree between whiles, because it will grow whilst he sleeps;

or the prudence which consists in husbanding little strokes of the

tool, little portions of time, particles of stock, and small gains.

The eye of prudence may never shut. Iron, if kept at the

ironmonger's, will rust; beer, if not brewed in the right state of

the atmosphere, will sour; timber of ships will rot at sea, or, if

laid up high and dry, will strain, warp, and dry-rot; money, if kept

by us, yields no rent, and is liable to loss; if invested, is liable

to depreciation of the particular kind of stock. Strike, says the

smith, the iron is white; keep the rake, says the haymaker, as nigh

the scythe as you can, and the cart as nigh the rake. Our Yankee

trade is reputed to be very much on the extreme of this prudence. It

takes bank-notes, -- good, bad, clean, ragged, -- and saves itself by

the speed with which it passes them off. Iron cannot rust, nor beer

sour, nor timber rot, nor calicoes go out of fashion, nor money

stocks depreciate, in the few swift moments in which the Yankee

suffers any one of them to remain in his possession. In skating over

thin ice, our safety is in our speed.

Let him learn a prudence of a higher strain. Let him learn

that every thing in nature, even motes and feathers, go by law and

not by luck, and that what he sows he reaps. By diligence and

self-command, let him put the bread he eats at his own disposal, that

he may not stand in bitter and false relations to other men; for the

best good of wealth is freedom. Let him practise the minor virtues.

How much of human life is lost in waiting! let him not make his

fellow-creatures wait. How many words and promises are promises of

conversation! let his be words of fate. When he sees a folded and

sealed scrap of paper float round the globe in a pine ship, and come

safe to the eye for which it was written, amidst a swarming

population, let him likewise feel the admonition to integrate his

being across all these distracting forces, and keep a slender human

word among the storms, distances, and accidents that drive us hither

and thither, and, by persistency, make the paltry force of one man

reappear to redeem its pledge, after months and years, in the most

distant climates.

We must not try to write the laws of any one virtue, looking at

that only. Human nature loves no contradictions, but is symmetrical.

The prudence which secures an outward well-being is not to be studied

by one set of men, whilst heroism and holiness are studied by

another, but they are reconcilable. Prudence concerns the present

time, persons, property, and existing forms. But as every fact hath

its roots in the soul, and, if the soul were changed, would cease to

be, or would become some other thing, the proper administration of

outward things will always rest on a just apprehension of their cause

and origin, that is, the good man will be the wise man, and the

single-hearted, the politic man. Every violation of truth is not

only a sort of suicide in the liar, but is a stab at the health of

human society. On the most profitable lie, the course of events

presently lays a destructive tax; whilst frankness invites frankness,

puts the parties on a convenient footing, and makes their business a

friendship. Trust men, and they will be true to you; treat them

greatly, and they will show themselves great, though they make an

exception in your favor to all their rules of trade.

So, in regard to disagreeable and formidable things, prudence

does not consist in evasion, or in flight, but in courage. He who

wishes to walk in the most peaceful parts of life with any serenity

must screw himself up to resolution. Let him front the object of his

worst apprehension, and his stoutness will commonly make his fear

groundless. The Latin proverb says, that "in battles the eye is

first overcome." Entire self-possession may make a battle very little

more dangerous to life than a match at foils or at football.

Examples are cited by soldiers, of men who have seen the cannon

pointed, and the fire given to it, and who have stepped aside from

the path of the ball. The terrors of the storm are chiefly confined

to the parlour and the cabin. The drover, the sailor, buffets it all

day, and his health renews itself at as vigorous a pulse under the

sleet, as under the sun of June.

In the occurrence of unpleasant things among neighbours, fear

comes readily to heart, and magnifies the consequence of the other

party; but it is a bad counsellor. Every man is actually weak, and

apparently strong. To himself, he seems weak; to others, formidable.

You are afraid of Grim; but Grim also is afraid of you. You are

solicitous of the good-will of the meanest person, uneasy at his

ill-will. But the sturdiest offender of your peace and of the

neighbourhood, if you rip up _his_ claims, is as thin and timid as

any; and the peace of society is often kept, because, as children

say, one is afraid, and the other dares not. Far off, men swell,

bully, and threaten; bring them hand to hand, and they are a feeble


It is a proverb, that `courtesy costs nothing'; but calculation

might come to value love for its profit. Love is fabled to be blind;

but kindness is necessary to perception; love is not a hood, but an

eye-water. If you meet a sectary, or a hostile partisan, never

recognize the dividing lines; but meet on what common ground remains,

-- if only that the sun shines, and the rain rains for both; the area

will widen very fast, and ere you know it the boundary mountains, on

which the eye had fastened, have melted into air. If they set out to

contend, Saint Paul will lie, and Saint John will hate. What low,

poor, paltry, hypocritical people an argument on religion will make

of the pure and chosen souls! They will shuffle, and crow, crook,

and hide, feign to confess here, only that they may brag and conquer

there, and not a thought has enriched either party, and not an

emotion of bravery, modesty, or hope. So neither should you put

yourself in a false position with your contemporaries, by indulging a

vein of hostility and bitterness. Though your views are in straight

antagonism to theirs, assume an identity of sentiment, assume that

you are saying precisely that which all think, and in the flow of wit

and love roll out your paradoxes in solid column, with not the

infirmity of a doubt. So at least shall you get an adequate

deliverance. The natural motions of the soul are so much better than

the voluntary ones, that you will never do yourself justice in

dispute. The thought is not then taken hold of by the right handle,

does not show itself proportioned, and in its true bearings, but

bears extorted, hoarse, and half witness. But assume a consent, and

it shall presently be granted, since, really, and underneath their

external diversities, all men are of one heart and mind.

Wisdom will never let us stand with any man or men on an

unfriendly footing. We refuse sympathy and intimacy with people, as

if we waited for some better sympathy and intimacy to come. But

whence and when? To-morrow will be like to-day. Life wastes itself

whilst we are preparing to live. Our friends and fellow-workers die

off from us. Scarcely can we say, we see new men, new women,

approaching us. We are too old to regard fashion, too old to expect

patronage of any greater or more powerful. Let us suck the sweetness

of those affections and consuetudes that grow near us. These old

shoes are easy to the feet. Undoubtedly, we can easily pick faults

in our company, can easily whisper names prouder, and that tickle the

fancy more. Every man's imagination hath its friends; and life would

be dearer with such companions. But, if you cannot have them on good

mutual terms, you cannot have them. If not the Deity, but our

ambition, hews and shapes the new relations, their virtue escapes, as

strawberries lose their flavor in garden-beds.

Thus truth, frankness, courage, love, humility, and all the

virtues, range themselves on the side of prudence, or the art of

securing a present well-being. I do not know if all matter will be

found to be made of one element, as oxygen or hydrogen, at last, but

the world of manners and actions is wrought of one stuff, and, begin

where we will, we are pretty sure in a short space to be mumbling our

ten commandments.


"Paradise is under the shadow of swords."


Ruby wine is drunk by knaves,

Sugar spends to fatten slaves,

Rose and vine-leaf deck buffoons;

Thunderclouds are Jove's festoons,

Drooping oft in wreaths of dread

Lightning-knotted round his head;

The hero is not fed on sweets,

Daily his own heart he eats;

Chambers of the great are jails,

And head-winds right for royal sails.

ESSAY VIII _Heroism_

In the elder English dramaetcher, there is a constant

recognition of gentility, as if a noble behaviour were as easily

marked in the society of their age, as color is in our American

population. When any Rodrigo, Pedro, or Valerio enters, though he be

a stranger, the duke or governor exclaims, This is a gentleman, --

and proffers civilities without end; but all the rest are slag and

refuse. In harmony with this delight in personal advantages, there

is in their plays a certain heroic cast of character and dialogue, --

as in Bonduca, Sophocles, the Mad Lover, the Double Marriage, --

wherein the speaker is so earnest and cordial, and on such deep

grounds of character, that the dialogue, on the slightest additional

incident in the plot, rises naturally into poetry. Among many texts,

take the following. The Roman Martius has conquered Athens, -- all

but the invincible spirits of Sophocles, the duke of Athens, and

Dorigen, his wife. The beauty of the latter inflames Martius, and he

seeks to save her husband; but Sophocles will not ask his life,

although assured that a word will save him, and the execution of both


"_Valerius_. Bid thy wife farewell.

_Soph_. No, I will take no leave. My Dorigen,

Yonder, above, 'bout Ariadne's crown,

My spirit shall hover for thee. Prithee, haste.

_Dor_. Stay, Sophocles, -- with this tie up my sight;

Let not soft nature so transformed be,

And lose her gentler sexed humanity,

To make me see my lord bleed. So, 't is well;

Never one object underneath the sun

Will I behold before my Sophocles:

Farewell; now teach the Romans how to die.

_Mar_. Dost know what 't is to die?

_Soph_. Thou dost not, Martius,

And, therefore, not what 't is to live; to die

Is to begin to live. It is to end |P372|p1

An old, stale, weary work, and to commence

A newer and a better. 'T is to leave

Deceitful knaves for the society

Of gods and goodness. Thou thyself must part

At last from all thy garlands, pleasures, triumphs,

And prove thy fortitude what then 't will do.

_Val_. But art not grieved nor vexed to leave thy life thus?

_Soph_. Why should I grieve or vex for being sent

To them I ever loved best? Now I'll kneel,

But with my back toward thee; 't is the last duty

This trunk can do the gods.

_Mar_. Strike, strike, Valerius,

Or Martius' heart will leap out at his mouth:

This is a man, a woman! Kiss thy lord,

And live with all the freedom you were wont.

O love! thou doubly hast afflicted me

With virtue and with beauty. Treacherous heart,

My hand shall cast thee quick into my urn,

Ere thou transgress this knot of piety.

_Val_. What ails my brother?

_Soph_. Martius, O Martius,

Thou now hast found a way to conquer me.

_Dor_. O star of Rome! what gratitude can speak

Fit words to follow such a deed as this?

_Mar_. This admirable duke, Valerius,

With his disdain of fortune and of death,

Captived himself, has captivated me,

And though my arm hath ta'en his body here,

His soul hath subjugated Martius' soul.

By Romulus, he is all soul, I think;

He hath no flesh, and spirit cannot be gyved;

Then we have vanquished nothing; he is free,

And Martius walks now in captivity."

I do not readily remember any poem, play, sermon, novel, or

oration, that our press vents in the last few years, which goes to

the same tune. We have a great many flutes and flageolets, but not

often the sound of any fife. Yet, Wordsworth's Laodamia, and the ode

of "Dion," and some sonnets, have a certain noble music; and Scott

will sometimes draw a stroke like the protrait of Lord Evandale,

given by Balfour of Burley. Thomas Carlyle, with his natural taste

for what is manly and daring in character, has suffered no heroic

trait in his favorites to drop from his biographical and historical

pictures. Earlier, Robert Burns has given us a song or two. In the

Harleian Miscellanies, there is an account of the battle of Lutzen,

which deserves to be read. And Simon Ockley's History of the

Saracens recounts the prodigies of individual valor with admiration,

all the more evident on the part of the narrator, that he seems to

think that his place in Christian Oxford requires of him some proper

protestations of abhorrence. But, if we explore the literature of

Heroism, we shall quickly come to Plutarch, who is its Doctor and

historian. To him we owe the Brasidas, the Dion, the Epaminondas,

the Scipio of old, and I must think we are more deeply indebted to

him than to all the ancient writers. Each of his "Lives" is a

refutation to the despondency and cowardice of our religious and

political theorists. A wild courage, a Stoicism not of the schools,

but of the blood, shines in every anecdote, and has given that book

its immense fame.

We need books of this tart cathartic virtue, more than books of

political science, or of private economy. Life is a festival only to

the wise. Seen from the nook and chimney-side of prudence, it wears

a ragged and dangerous front. The violations of the laws of nature

by our predecessors and our contemporaries are punished in us also.

The disease and deformity around us certify the infraction of

natural, intellectual, and moral laws, and often violation on

violation to breed such compound misery. A lock-jaw that bends a

man's head back to his heels, hydrophobia, that makes him bark at his

wife and babes, insanity, that makes him eat grass; war, plague,

cholera, famine, indicate a certain ferocity in nature, which, as it

had its inlet by human crime, must have its outlet by human

suffering. Unhappily, no man exists who has not in his own person

become, to some amount, a stockholder in the sin, and so made himself

liable to a share in the expiation.

Our culture, therefore, must not omit the arming of the man.

Let him hear in season, that he is born into the state of war, and

that the commonwealth and his own well-being require that he should

not go dancing in the weeds of peace, but warned, self-collected, and

neither defying nor dreading the thunder, let him take both

reputation and life in his hand, and, with perfect urbanity, dare the

gibbet and the mob by the absolute truth of his speech, and the

rectitude of his behaviour.

Towards all this external evil, the man within the breast

assumes a warlike attitude, and affirms his ability to cope

single-handed with the infinite army of enemies. To this military

attitude of the soul we give the name of Heroism. Its rudest form is

the contempt for safety and ease, which makes the attractiveness of

war. It is a self-trust which slights the restraints of prudence, in

the plenitude of its energy and power to repair the harms it may

suffer. The hero is a mind of such balance that no disturbances can

shake his will, but pleasantly, and, as it were, merrily, he advances

to his own music, alike in frightful alarms and in the tipsy mirth of

universal dissoluteness. There is somewhat not philosophical in

heroism; there is somewhat not holy in it; it seems not to know that

other souls are of one texture with it; it has pride; it is the

extreme of individual nature. Nevertheless, we must profoundly

revere it. There is somewhat in great actions, which does not allow

us to go behind them. Heroism feels and never reasons, and therefore

is always right; and although a different breeding, different

religion, and greater intellectual activity would have modified or

even reversed the particular action, yet for the hero that thing he

does is the highest deed, and is not open to the censure of

philosophers or divines. It is the avowal of the unschooled man,

that he finds a quality in him that is negligent of expense, of

health, of life, of danger, of hatred, of reproach, and knows that

his will is higher and more excellent than all actual and all

possible antagonists.

Heroism works in contradiction to the voice of mankind, and in

contradiction, for a time, to the voice of the great and good.

Heroism is an obedience to a secret impulse of an individual's

character. Now to no other man can its wisdom appear as it does to

him, for every man must be supposed to see a little farther on his

own proper path than any one else. Therefore, just and wise men take

umbrage at his act, until after some little time be past: then they

see it to be in unison with their acts. All prudent men see that the

action is clean contrary to a sensual prosperity; for every heroic

act measures itself by its contempt of some external good. But it

finds its own success at last, and then the prudent also extol.

Self-trust is the essence of heroism. It is the state of the

soul at war, and its ultimate objects are the last defiance of

falsehood and wrong, and the power to bear all that can be inflicted

by evil agents. It speaks the truth, and it is just, generous,

hospitable, temperate, scornful of petty calculations, and scornful

of being scorned. It persists; it is of an undaunted boldness, and

of a fortitude not to be wearied out. Its jest is the littleness of

common life. That false prudence which dotes on health and wealth is

the butt and merriment of heroism. Heroism, like Plotinus, is almost

ashamed of its body. What shall it say, then, to the sugar-plums and

cats'-cradles, to the toilet, compliments, quarrels, cards, and

custard, which rack the wit of all society. What joys has kind

nature provided for us dear creatures! There seems to be no interval

between greatness and meanness. When the spirit is not master of the

world, then it is its dupe. Yet the little man takes the great hoax

so innocently, works in it so headlong and believing, is born red,

and dies gray, arranging his toilet, attending on his own health,

laying traps for sweet food and strong wine, setting his heart on a

horse or a rifle, made happy with a little gossip or a little praise,

that the great soul cannot choose but laugh at such earnest nonsense.

"Indeed, these humble considerations make me out of love with

greatness. What a disgrace is it to me to take note how many pairs

of silk stockings thou hast, namely, these and those that were the

peach-colored ones; or to bear the inventory of thy shirts, as one

for superfluity, and one other for use!"

Citizens, thinking after the laws of arithmetic, consider the

inconvenience of receiving strangers at their fireside, reckon

narrowly the loss of time and the unusual display: the soul of a

better quality thrusts back the unseasonable economy into the vaults

of life, and says, I will obey the God, and the sacrifice and the

fire he will provide. Ibn Haukal, the Arabian geographer, describes

a heroic extreme in the hospitality of Sogd, in Bukharia. "When I

was in Sogd, I saw a great building, like a palace, the gates of

which were open and fixed back to the wall with large nails. I asked

the reason, and was told that the house had not been shut, night or

day, for a hundred years. Strangers may present themselves at any

hour, and in whatever number; the master has amply provided for the

reception of the men and their animals, and is never happier than

when they tarry for some time. Nothing of the kind have I seen in

any other country." The magnanimous know very well that they who give

time, or money, or shelter, to the stranger -- so it be done for

love, and not for ostentation -- do, as it were, put God under

obligation to them, so perfect are the compensations of the universe.

In some way the time they seem to lose is redeemed, and the pains

they seem to take remunerate themselves. These men fan the flame of

human love, and raise the standard of civil virtue among mankind.

But hospitality must be for service, and not for show, or it pulls

down the host. The brave soul rates itself too high to value itself

by the splendor of its table and draperies. It gives what it hath,

and all it hath, but its own majesty can lend a better grace to

bannocks and fair water than belong to city feasts.

The temperance of the hero proceeds from the same wish to do no

dishonor to the worthiness he has. But he loves it for its elegancy,

not for its austerity. It seems not worth his while to be solemn,

and denounce with bitterness flesh-eating or wine-drinking, the use

of tobacco, or opium, or tea, or silk, or gold. A great man scarcely

knows how he dines, how he dresses; but without railing or precision,

his living is natural and poetic. John Eliot, the Indian Apostle,

drank water, and said of wine, -- "It is a noble, generous liquor,

and we should be humbly thankful for it, but, as I remember, water

was made before it." Better still is the temperance of King David,

who poured out on the ground unto the Lord the water which three of

his warriors had brought him to drink, at the peril of their lives.

It is told of Brutus, that when he fell on his sword, after the

battle of Philippi, he quoted a line of Euripides, -- "O virtue! I

have followed thee through life, and I find thee at last but a

shade." I doubt not the hero is slandered by this report. The heroic

soul does not sell its justice and its nobleness. It does not ask to

dine nicely, and to sleep warm. The essence of greatness is the

perception that virtue is enough. Poverty is its ornament. It does

not need plenty, and can very well abide its loss.

But that which takes my fancy most, in the heroic class, is the

good-humor and hilarity they exhibit. It is a height to which common

duty can very well attain, to suffer and to dare with solemnity. But

these rare souls set opinion, success, and life, at so cheap a rate,

that they will not soothe their enemies by petitions, or the show of

sorrow, but wear their own habitual greatness. Scipio, charged with

peculation, refuses to do himself so great a disgrace as to wait for

justification, though he had the scroll of his accounts in his hands,

but tears it to pieces before the tribunes. Socrates's condemnation

of himself to be maintained in all honor in the Prytaneum, during his

life, and Sir Thomas More's playfulness at the scaffold, are of the

same strain. In Beaumont and Fletcher's "Sea Voyage," Juletta tells

the stout captain and his company, --

_Jul_. Why, slaves, 't is in our power to hang ye.

_Master_. Very likely,

'T is in our powers, then, to be hanged, and scorn ye."

These replies are sound and whole. Sport is the bloom and glow

of a perfect health. The great will not condescend to take any thing

seriously; all must be as gay as the song of a canary, though it were

the building of cities, or the eradication of old and foolish

churches and nations, which have cumbered the earth long thousands of

years. Simple hearts put all the history and customs of this world

behind them, and play their own game in innocent defiance of the

Blue-Laws of the world; and such would appear, could we see the human

race assembled in vision, like little children frolicking together;

though, to the eyes of mankind at large, they wear a stately and

solemn garb of works and influences.

The interest these fine stories have for us, the power of a

romance over the boy who grasps the forbidden book under his bench at

school, our delight in the hero, is the main fact to our purpose.

All these great and transcendent properties are ours. If we dilate

in beholding the Greek energy, the Roman pride, it is that we are

already domesticating the same sentiment. Let us find room for this

great guest in our small houses. The first step of worthiness will

be to disabuse us of our superstitious associations with places and

times, with number and size. Why should these words, Athenian,

Roman, Asia, and England, so tingle in the ear? Where the heart is,

there the muses, there the gods sojourn, and not in any geography of

fame. Massachusetts, Connecticut River, and Boston Bay, you think

paltry places, and the ear loves names of foreign and classic

topography. But here we are; and, if we will tarry a little, we may

come to learn that here is best. See to it, only, that thyself is

here; -- and art and nature, hope and fate, friends, angels, and the

Supreme Being, shall not be absent from the chamber where thou

sittest. Epaminondas, brave and affectionate, does not seem to us to

need Olympus to die upon, nor the Syrian sunshine. He lies very well

where he is. The Jerseys were handsome ground enough for Washington

to tread, and London streets for the feet of Milton. A great man

makes his climate genial in the imagination of men, and its air the

beloved element of all delicate spirits. That country is the

fairest, which is inhabited by the noblest minds. The pictures which

fill the imagination in reading the actions of Pericles, Xenophon,

Columbus, Bayard, Sidney, Hampden, teach us how needlessly mean our

life is, that we, by the depth of our living, should deck it with

more than regal or national splendor, and act on principles that

should interest man and nature in the length of our days.

We have seen or heard of many extraordinary young men, who

never ripened, or whose performance in actual life was not

extraordinary. When we see their air and mien, when we hear them

speak of society, of books, of religion, we admire their superiority,

they seem to throw contempt on our entire polity and social state;

theirs is the tone of a youthful giant, who is sent to work

revolutions. But they enter an active profession, and the forming

Colossus shrinks to the common size of man. The magic they used was

the ideal tendencies, which always make the Actual ridiculous; but

the tough world had its revenge the moment they put their horses of

the sun to plough in its furrow. They found no example and no

companion, and their heart fainted. What then? The lesson they gave

in their first aspirations is yet true; and a better valor and a

purer truth shall one day organize their belief. Or why should a

woman liken herself to any historical woman, and think, because

Sappho, or Sevigne, or De Stael, or the cloistered souls who have had

genius and cultivation, do not satisfy the imagination and the serene

Themis, none can, -- certainly not she. Why not? She has a new and

unattempted problem to solve, perchance that of the happiest nature

that ever bloomed. Let the maiden, with erect soul, walk serenely on

her way, accept the hint of each new experience, search in turn all

the objects that solicit her eye, that she may learn the power and

the charm of her new-born being, which is the kindling of a new dawn

in the recesses of space. The fair girl, who repels interference by

a decided and proud choice of influences, so careless of pleasing, so

wilful and lofty, inspires every beholder with somewhat of her own

nobleness. The silent heart encourages her; O friend, never strike

sail to a fear! Come into port greatly, or sail with God the seas.

Not in vain you live, for every passing eye is cheered and refined by

the vision.

The characteristic of heroism is its persistency. All men have

wandering impulses, fits, and starts of generosity. But when you

have chosen your part, abide by it, and do not weakly try to

reconcile yourself with the world. The heroic cannot be the common,

nor the common the heroic. Yet we have the weakness to expect the

sympathy of people in those actions whose excellence is that they

outrun sympathy, and appeal to a tardy justice. If you would serve

your brother, because it is fit for you to serve him, do not take

back your words when you find that prudent people do not commend you.

Adhere to your own act, and congratulate yourself if you have done

something strange and extravagant, and broken the monotony of a

decorous age. It was a high counsel that I once heard given to a

young person, -- "Always do what you are afraid to do." A simple,

manly character need never make an apology, but should regard its

past action with the calmness of Phocion, when he admitted that the

event of the battle was happy, yet did not regret his dissuasion from

the battle.

There is no weakness or exposure for which we cannot find

consolation in the thought, -- this is a part of my constitution,

part of my relation and office to my fellow-creature. Has nature

covenanted with me that I should never appear to disadvantage, never

make a ridiculous figure? Let us be generous of our dignity, as well

as of our money. Greatness once and for ever has done with opinion.

We tell our charities, not because we wish to be praised for them,

not because we think they have great merit, but for our

justification. It is a capital blunder; as you discover, when

another man recites his charities.

To speak the truth, even with some austerity, to live with some

rigor of temperance, or some extremes of generosity, seems to be an

asceticism which common good-nature would appoint to those who are at

ease and in plenty, in sign that they feel a brotherhood with the

great multitude of suffering men. And not only need we breathe and

exercise the soul by assuming the penalties of abstinence, of debt,

of solitude, of unpopularity, but it behooves the wise man to look

with a bold eye into those rarer dangers which sometimes invade men,

and to familiarize himself with disgusting forms of disease, with

sounds of execration, and the vision of violent death.

Times of heroism are generally times of terror, but the day

never shines in which this element may not work. The circumstances

of man, we say, are historically somewhat better in this country, and

at this hour, than perhaps ever before. More freedom exists for

culture. It will not now run against an axe at the first step out of

the beaten track of opinion. But whoso is heroic will always find

crises to try his edge. Human virtue demands her champions and

martyrs, and the trial of persecution always proceeds. It is but the

other day that the brave Lovejoy gave his breast to the bullets of a

mob, for the rights of free speech and opinion, and died when it was

better not to live.

I see not any road of perfect peace which a man can walk, but

after the counsel of his own bosom. Let him quit too much

association, let him go home much, and stablish himself in those

courses he approves. The unremitting retention of simple and high

sentiments in obscure duties is hardening the character to that

temper which will work with honor, if need be, in the tumult, or on

the scaffold. Whatever outrages have happened to men may befall a

man again; and very easily in a republic, if there appear any signs

of a decay of religion. Coarse slander, fire, tar and feathers, and

the gibbet, the youth may freely bring home to his mind, and with

what sweetness of temper he can, and inquire how fast he can fix his

sense of duty, braving such penalties, whenever it may please the

next newspaper and a sufficient number of his neighbours to pronounce

his opinions incendiary.

It may calm the apprehension of calamity in the most

susceptible heart to see how quick a bound nature has set to the

utmost infliction of malice. We rapidly approach a brink over which

no enemy can follow us.

"Let them rave:

Thou art quiet in thy grave."

In the gloom of our ignorance of what shall be, in the hour

when we are deaf to the higher voices, who does not envy those who

have seen safely to an end their manful endeavour? Who that sees the

meanness of our politics, but inly congratulates Washington that he

is long already wrapped in his shroud, and for ever safe; that he was

laid sweet in his grave, the hope of humanity not yet subjugated in

him? Who does not sometimes envy the good and brave, who are no more

to suffer from the tumults of the natural world, and await with

curious complacency the speedy term of his own conversation with

finite nature? And yet the love that will be annihilated sooner than

treacherous has already made death impossible, and affirms itself no

mortal, but a native of the deeps of absolute and inextinguishable



"But souls that of his own good life partake,

He loves as his own self; dear as his eye

They are to Him: He'll never them forsake:

When they shall die, then God himself shall die:

They live, they live in blest eternity."

_Henry More_

Space is ample, east and west,

But two cannot go abreast,

Cannot travel in it two:

Yonder masterful cuckoo

Crowds every egg out of the nest,

Quick or dead, except its own;

A spell is laid on sod and stone,

Night and Day 've been tampered with,

Every quality and pith

Surcharged and sultry with a power

That works its will on age and hour.

ESSAY IX _The Over-Soul_

There is a difference between one and another hour of life, in

their authority and subsequent effect. Our faith comes in moments;

our vice is habitual. Yet there is a depth in those brief moments

which constrains us to ascribe more reality to them than to all other

experiences. For this reason, the argument which is always

forthcoming to silence those who conceive extraordinary hopes of man,

namely, the appeal to experience, is for ever invalid and vain. We

give up the past to the objector, and yet we hope. He must explain

this hope. We grant that human life is mean; but how did we find out

that it was mean? What is the ground of this uneasiness of ours; of

this old discontent? What is the universal sense of want and

ignorance, but the fine inuendo by which the soul makes its enormous

claim? Why do men feel that the natural history of man has never

been written, but he is always leaving behind what you have said of

him, and it becomes old, and books of metaphysics worthless? The

philosophy of six thousand years has not searched the chambers and

magazines of the soul. In its experiments there has always remained,

in the last analysis, a residuum it could not resolve. Man is a

stream whose source is hidden. Our being is descending into us from

we know not whence. The most exact calculator has no prescience that

somewhat incalculable may not balk the very next moment. I am

constrained every moment to acknowledge a higher origin for events

than the will I call mine.

As with events, so is it with thoughts. When I watch that

flowing river, which, out of regions I see not, pours for a season

its streams into me, I see that I am a pensioner; not a cause, but a

surprised spectator of this ethereal water; that I desire and look

up, and put myself in the attitude of reception, but from some alien

energy the visions come.

The Supreme Critic on the errors of the past and the present,

and the only prophet of that which must be, is that great nature in

which we rest, as the earth lies in the soft arms of the atmosphere;

that Unity, that Over-soul, within which every man's particular being

is contained and made one with all other;that common heart, of which

all sincere conversation is the worship, to which all right action is

submission; that overpowering reality which confutes our tricks and

talents, and constrains every one to pass for what he is, and to

speak from his character, and not from his tongue, and which evermore

tends to pass into our thought and hand, and become wisdom, and

virtue, and power, and beauty. We live in succession, in division,

in parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of the

whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part

and particle is equally related; the eternal ONE. And this deep

power in which we exist, and whose beatitude is all accessible to us,

is not only self-sufficing and perfect in every hour, but the act of

seeing and the thing seen, the seer and the spectacle, the subject

and the object, are one. We see the world piece by piece, as the

sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these

are the shining parts, is the soul. Only by the vision of that

Wisdom can the horoscope of the ages be read, and by falling back on

our better thoughts, by yielding to the spirit of prophecy which is

innate in every man, we can know what it saith. Every man's words,

who speaks from that life, must sound vain to those who do not dwell

in the same thought on their own part. I dare not speak for it. My

words do not carry its august sense; they fall short and cold. Only

itself can inspire whom it will, and behold! their speech shall be

lyrical, and sweet, and universal as the rising of the wind. Yet I

desire, even by profane words, if I may not use sacred, to indicate

the heaven of this deity, and to report what hints I have collected

of the transcendent simplicity and energy of the Highest Law.

If we consider what happens in conversation, in reveries, in

remorse, in times of passion, in surprises, in the instructions of

dreams, wherein often we see ourselves in masquerade, -- the droll

disguises only magnifying and enhancing a real element, and forcing

it on our distinct notice, -- we shall catch many hints that will

broaden and lighten into knowledge of the secret of nature. All goes

to show that the soul in man is not an organ, but animates and

exercises all the organs; is not a function, like the power of

memory, of calculation, of comparison, but uses these as hands and

feet; is not a faculty, but a light; is not the intellect or the

will, but the master of the intellect and the will; is the background

of our being, in which they lie, -- an immensity not possessed and

that cannot be possessed. From within or from behind, a light shines

through us upon things, and makes us aware that we are nothing, but

the light is all. A man is the fasade of a temple wherein all wisdom

and all good abide. What we commonly call man, the eating, drinking,

planting, counting man, does not, as we know him, represent himself,

but misrepresents himself. Him we do not respect, but the soul,

whose organ he is, would he let it appear through his action, would

make our knees bend. When it breathes through his intellect, it is

genius; when it breathes through his will, it is virtue; when it

flows through his affection, it is love. And the blindness of the

intellect begins, when it would be something of itself. The weakness

of the will begins, when the individual would be something of

himself. All reform aims, in some one particular, to let the soul

have its way through us; in other words, to engage us to obey.

Of this pure nature every man is at some time sensible.

Language cannot paint it with his colors. It is too subtile. It is

undefinable, unmeasurable, but we know that it pervades and contains

us. We know that all spiritual being is in man. A wise old proverb

says, "God comes to see us without bell"; that is, as there is no

screen or ceiling between our heads and the infinite heavens, so is

there no bar or wall in the soul where man, the effect, ceases, and

God, the cause, begins. The walls are taken away. We lie open on

one side to the deeps of spiritual nature, to the attributes of God.

Justice we see and know, Love, Freedom, Power. These natures no man

ever got above, but they tower over us, and most in the moment when

our interests tempt us to wound them.

The sovereignty of this nature whereof we speak is made known

by its independency of those limitations which circumscribe us on

every hand. The soul circumscribes all things. As I have said, it

contradicts all experience. In like manner it abolishes time and

space. The influence of the senses has, in most men, overpowered the

mind to that degree, that the walls of time and space have come to

look real and insurmountable; and to speak with levity of these

limits is, in the world, the sign of insanity. Yet time and space

are but inverse measures of the force of the soul. The spirit sports

with time, --

"Can crowd eternity into an hour,

Or stretch an hour to eternity."

We are often made to feel that there is another youth and age

than that which is measured from the year of our natural birth. Some

thoughts always find us young, and keep us so. Such a thought is the

love of the universal and eternal beauty. Every man parts from that

contemplation with the feeling that it rather belongs to ages than to

mortal life. The least activity of the intellectual powers redeems

us in a degree from the conditions of time. In sickness, in languor,

give us a strain of poetry, or a profound sentence, and we are

refreshed; or produce a volume of Plato, or Shakspeare, or remind us

of their names, and instantly we come into a feeling of longevity.

See how the deep, divine thought reduces centuries, and millenniums,

and makes itself present through all ages. Is the teaching of Christ

less effective now than it was when first his mouth was opened? The

emphasis of facts and persons in my thought has nothing to do with

time. And so, always, the soul's scale is one; the scale of the

senses and the understanding is another. Before the revelations of

the soul, Time, Space, and Nature shrink away. In common speech, we

refer all things to time, as we habitually refer the immensely

sundered stars to one concave sphere. And so we say that the

Judgment is distant or near, that the Millennium approaches, that a

day of certain political, moral, social reforms is at hand, and the

like, when we mean, that, in the nature of things, one of the facts

we contemplate is external and fugitive, and the other is permanent

and connate with the soul. The things we now esteem fixed shall, one

by one, detach themselves, like ripe fruit, from our experience, and

fall. The wind shall blow them none knows whither. The landscape,

the figures, Boston, London, are facts as fugitive as any institution

past, or any whiff of mist or smoke, and so is society, and so is the

world. The soul looketh steadily forwards, creating a world before

her, leaving worlds behind her. She has no dates, nor rites, nor

persons, nor specialties, nor men. The soul knows only the soul; the

web of events is the flowing robe in which she is clothed.

After its own law and not by arithmetic is the rate of its

progress to be computed. The soul's advances are not made by

gradation, such as can be represented by motion in a straight line;

but rather by ascension of state, such as can be represented by

metamorphosis, -- from the egg to the worm, from the worm to the fly.

The growths of genius are of a certain _total_ character, that does

not advance the elect individual first over John, then Adam, then

Richard, and give to each the pain of discovered inferiority, but by

every throe of growth the man expands there where he works, passing,

at each pulsation, classes, populations, of men. With each divine

impulse the mind rends the thin rinds of the visible and finite, and

comes out into eternity, and inspires and expires its air. It

converses with truths that have always been spoken in the world, and

becomes conscious of a closer sympathy with Zeno and Arrian, than

with persons in the house.

This is the law of moral and of mental gain. The simple rise

as by specific levity, not into a particular virtue, but into the

region of all the virtues. They are in the spirit which contains

them all. The soul requires purity, but purity is not it; requires

justice, but justice is not that; requires beneficence, but is

somewhat better; so that there is a kind of descent and accommodation

felt when we leave speaking of moral nature, to urge a virtue which

it enjoins. To the well-born child, all the virtues are natural, and

not painfully acquired. Speak to his heart, and the man becomes

suddenly virtuous.

Within the same sentiment is the germ of intellectual growth,

which obeys the same law. Those who are capable of humility, of

justice, of love, of aspiration, stand already on a platform that

commands the sciences and arts, speech and poetry, action and grace.

For whoso dwells in this moral beatitude already anticipates those

special powers which men prize so highly. The lover has no talent,

no skill, which passes for quite nothing with his enamoured maiden,

however little she may possess of related faculty; and the heart

which abandons itself to the Supreme Mind finds itself related to all

its works, and will travel a royal road to particular knowledges and

powers. In ascending to this primary and aboriginal sentiment, we

have come from our remote station on the circumference

instantaneously to the centre of the world, where, as in the closet

of God, we see causes, and anticipate the universe, which is but a

slow effect.

One mode of the divine teaching is the incarnation of the

spirit in a form, -- in forms, like my own. I live in society; with

persons who answer to thoughts in my own mind, or express a certain

obedience to the great instincts to which I live. I see its presence

to them. I am certified of a common nature; and these other souls,

these separated selves, draw me as nothing else can. They stir in me

the new emotions we call passion; of love, hatred, fear, admiration,

pity; thence comes conversation, competition, persuasion, cities, and

war. Persons are supplementary to the primary teaching of the soul.

In youth we are mad for persons. Childhood and youth see all the

world in them. But the larger experience of man discovers the

identical nature appearing through them all. Persons themselves

acquaint us with the impersonal. In all conversation between two

persons, tacit reference is made, as to a third party, to a common

nature. That third party or common nature is not social; it is

impersonal; is God. And so in groups where debate is earnest, and

especially on high questions, the company become aware that the

thought rises to an equal level in all bosoms, that all have a

spiritual property in what was said, as well as the sayer. They all

become wiser than they were. It arches over them like a temple, this

unity of thought, in which every heart beats with nobler sense of

power and duty, and thinks and acts with unusual solemnity. All are

conscious of attaining to a higher self-possession. It shines for

all. There is a certain wisdom of humanity which is common to the

greatest men with the lowest, and which our ordinary education often

labors to silence and obstruct. The mind is one, and the best minds,

who love truth for its own sake, think much less of property in

truth. They accept it thankfully everywhere, and do not label or

stamp it with any man's name, for it is theirs long beforehand, and

from eternity. The learned and the studious of thought have no

monopoly of wisdom. Their violence of direction in some degree

disqualifies them to think truly. We owe many valuable observations

to people who are not very acute or profound, and who say the thing

without effort, which we want and have long been hunting in vain.

The action of the soul is oftener in that which is felt and left

unsaid, than in that which is said in any conversation. It broods

over every society, and they unconsciously seek for it in each other.

We know better than we do. We do not yet possess ourselves, and we

know at the same time that we are much more. I feel the same truth

how often in my trivial conversation with my neighbours, that

somewhat higher in each of us overlooks this by-play, and Jove nods

to Jove from behind each of us.

Men descend to meet. In their habitual and mean service to the

world, for which they forsake their native nobleness, they resemble

those Arabian sheiks, who dwell in mean houses, and affect an

external poverty, to escape the rapacity of the Pacha, and reserve

all their display of wealth for their interior and guarded


As it is present in all persons, so it is in every period of

life. It is adult already in the infant man. In my dealing with my

child, my Latin and Greek, my accomplishments and my money stead me

nothing; but as much soul as I have avails. If I am wilful, he sets

his will against mine, one for one, and leaves me, if I please, the

degradation of beating him by my superiority of strength. But if I

renounce my will, and act for the soul, setting that up as umpire

between us two, out of his young eyes looks the same soul; he reveres

and loves with me.

The soul is the perceiver and revealer of truth. We know truth

when we see it, let skeptic and scoffer say what they choose.

Foolish people ask you, when you have spoken what they do not wish to

hear, `How do you know it is truth, and not an error of your own?' We

know truth when we see it, from opinion, as we know when we are awake

that we are awake. It was a grand sentence of Emanuel Swedenborg,

which would alone indicate the greatness of that man's perception, --

"It is no proof of a man's understanding to be able to confirm

whatever he pleases; but to be able to discern that what is true is

true, and that what is false is false, this is the mark and character

of intelligence." In the book I read, the good thought returns to me,

as every truth will, the image of the whole soul. To the bad thought

which I find in it, the same soul becomes a discerning, separating

sword, and lops it away. We are wiser than we know. If we will not

interfere with our thought, but will act entirely, or see how the

thing stands in God, we know the particular thing, and every thing,

and every man. For the Maker of all things and all persons stands

behind us, and casts his dread omniscience through us over things.

But beyond this recognition of its own in particular passages

of the individual's experience, it also reveals truth. And here we

should seek to reinforce ourselves by its very presence, and to speak

with a worthier, loftier strain of that advent. For the soul's

communication of truth is the highest event in nature, since it then

does not give somewhat from itself, but it gives itself, or passes

into and becomes that man whom it enlightens; or, in proportion to

that truth he receives, it takes him to itself.

We distinguish the announcements of the soul, its

manifestations of its own nature, by the term _Revelation_. These

are always attended by the emotion of the sublime. For this

communication is an influx of the Divine mind into our mind. It is

an ebb of the individual rivulet before the flowing surges of the sea

of life. Every distinct apprehension of this central commandment

agitates men with awe and delight. A thrill passes through all men

at the reception of new truth, or at the performance of a great

action, which comes out of the heart of nature. In these

communications, the power to see is not separated from the will to

do, but the insight proceeds from obedience, and the obedience

proceeds from a joyful perception. Every moment when the individual

feels himself invaded by it is memorable. By the necessity of our

constitution, a certain enthusiasm attends the individual's

consciousness of that divine presence. The character and duration of

this enthusiasm varies with the state of the individual, from an

ecstasy and trance and prophetic inspiration, -- which is its rarer

appearance, -- to the faintest glow of virtuous emotion, in which

form it warms, like our household fires, all the families and

associations of men, and makes society possible. A certain tendency

to insanity has always attended the opening of the religious sense in

men, as if they had been "blasted with excess of light." The trances

of Socrates, the "union" of Plotinus, the vision of Porphyry, the

conversion of Paul, the aurora of Behmen, the convulsions of George

Fox and his Quakers, the illumination of Swedenborg, are of this

kind. What was in the case of these remarkable persons a ravishment

has, in innumerable instances in common life, been exhibited in less

striking manner. Everywhere the history of religion betrays a

tendency to enthusiasm. The rapture of the Moravian and Quietist;

the opening of the internal sense of the Word, in the language of the

New Jerusalem Church; the _revival_ of the Calvinistic churches; the

_experiences_ of the Methodists, are varying forms of that shudder of

awe and delight with which the individual soul always mingles with

the universal soul.

The nature of these revelations is the same; they are

perceptions of the absolute law. They are solutions of the soul's

own questions. They do not answer the questions which the

understanding asks. The soul answers never by words, but by the

thing itself that is inquired after.

Revelation is the disclosure of the soul. The popular notion

of a revelation is, that it is a telling of fortunes. In past

oracles of the soul, the understanding seeks to find answers to

sensual questions, and undertakes to tell from God how long men shall

exist, what their hands shall do, and who shall be their company,

adding names, and dates, and places. But we must pick no locks. We

must check this low curiosity. An answer in words is delusive; it is

really no answer to the questions you ask. Do not require a

description of the countries towards which you sail. The description

does not describe them to you, and to-morrow you arrive there, and

know them by inhabiting them. Men ask concerning the immortality of

the soul, the employments of heaven, the state of the sinner, and so

forth. They even dream that Jesus has left replies to precisely

these interrogatories. Never a moment did that sublime spirit speak

in their _patois_. To truth, justice, love, the attributes of the

soul, the idea of immutableness is essentially associated. Jesus,

living in these moral sentiments, heedless of sensual fortunes,

heeding only the manifestations of these, never made the separation

of the idea of duration from the essence of these attributes, nor

uttered a syllable concerning the duration of the soul. It was left

to his disciples to sever duration from the moral elements, and to

teach the immortality of the soul as a doctrine, and maintain it by

evidences. The moment the doctrine of the immortality is separately

taught, man is already fallen. In the flowing of love, in the

adoration of humility, there is no question of continuance. No

inspired man ever asks this question, or condescends to these

evidences. For the soul is true to itself, and the man in whom it is

shed abroad cannot wander from the present, which is infinite, to a

future which would be finite.

These questions which we lust to ask about the future are a

confession of sin. God has no answer for them. No answer in words

can reply to a question of things. It is not in an arbitrary "decree

of God," but in the nature of man, that a veil shuts down on the

facts of to-morrow; for the soul will not have us read any other

cipher than that of cause and effect. By this veil, which curtains

events, it instructs the children of men to live in to-day. The only

mode of obtaining an answer to these questions of the senses is to

forego all low curiosity, and, accepting the tide of being which

floats us into the secret of nature, work and live, work and live,

and all unawares the advancing soul has built and forged for itself a

new condition, and the question and the answer are one.

By the same fire, vital, consecrating, celestial, which burns

until it shall dissolve all things into the waves and surges of an

ocean of light, we see and know each other, and what spirit each is

of. Who can tell the grounds of his knowledge of the character of

the several individuals in his circle of friends? No man. Yet their

acts and words do not disappoint him. In that man, though he knew no

ill of him, he put no trust. In that other, though they had seldom

met, authentic signs had yet passed, to signify that he might be

trusted as one who had an interest in his own character. We know

each other very well, -- which of us has been just to himself, and

whether that which we teach or behold is only an aspiration, or is

our honest effort also.

We are all discerners of spirits. That diagnosis lies aloft in

our life or unconscious power. The intercourse of society, -- its

trade, its religion, its friendships, its quarrels,--- is one wide,

judicial investigation of character. In full court, or in small

committee, or confronted face to face, accuser and accused, men offer

themselves to be judged. Against their will they exhibit those

decisive trifles by which character is read. But who judges? and

what? Not our understanding. We do not read them by learning or

craft. No; the wisdom of the wise man consists herein, that he does

not judge them; he lets them judge themselves, and merely reads and

records their own verdict.

By virtue of this inevitable nature, private will is

overpowered, and, maugre our efforts or our imperfections, your

genius will speak from you, and mine from me. That which we are, we

shall teach, not voluntarily, but involuntarily. Thoughts come into

our minds by avenues which we never left open, and thoughts go out of

our minds through avenues which we never voluntarily opened.

Character teaches over our head. The infallible index of true

progress is found in the tone the man takes. Neither his age, nor

his breeding, nor company, nor books, nor actions, nor talents, nor

all together, can hinder him from being deferential to a higher

spirit than his own. If he have not found his home in God, his

manners, his forms of speech, the turn of his sentences, the build,

shall I say, of all his opinions, will involuntarily confess it, let

him brave it out how he will. If he have found his centre, the Deity

will shine through him, through all the disguises of ignorance, of

ungenial temperament, of unfavorable circumstance. The tone of

seeking is one, and the tone of having is another.

The great distinction between teachers sacred or literary, --

between poets like Herbert, and poets like Pope, -- between

philosophers like Spinoza, Kant, and Coleridge, and philosophers like

Locke, Paley, Mackintosh, and Stewart, -- between men of the world,

who are reckoned accomplished talkers, and here and there a fervent

mystic, prophesying, half insane under the infinitude of his thought,

-- is, that one class speak _from within_, or from experience, as

parties and possessors of the fact; and the other class, _from

without_, as spectators merely, or perhaps as acquainted with the

fact on the evidence of third persons. It is of no use to preach to

me from without. I can do that too easily myself. Jesus speaks

always from within, and in a degree that transcends all others. In

that is the miracle. I believe beforehand that it ought so to be.

All men stand continually in the expectation of the appearance of

such a teacher. But if a man do not speak from within the veil,

where the word is one with that it tells of, let him lowly confess


The same Omniscience flows into the intellect, and makes what

we call genius. Much of the wisdom of the world is not wisdom, and

the most illuminated class of men are no doubt superior to literary

fame, and are not writers. Among the multitude of scholars and

authors, we feel no hallowing presence; we are sensible of a knack

and skill rather than of inspiration; they have a light, and know not

whence it comes, and call it their own; their talent is some

exaggerated faculty, some overgrown member, so that their strength is

a disease. In these instances the intellectual gifts do not make the

impression of virtue, but almost of vice; and we feel that a man's

talents stand in the way of his advancement in truth. But genius is

religious. It is a larger imbibing of the common heart. It is not

anomalous, but more like, and not less like other men. There is, in

all great poets, a wisdom of humanity which is superior to any

talents they exercise. The author, the wit, the partisan, the fine

gentleman, does not take place of the man. Humanity shines in Homer,

in Chaucer, in Spenser, in Shakspeare, in Milton. They are content

with truth. They use the positive degree. They seem frigid and

phlegmatic to those who have been spiced with the frantic passion and

violent coloring of inferior, but popular writers. For they are

poets by the free course which they allow to the informing soul,

which through their eyes beholds again, and blesses the things which

it hath made. The soul is superior to its knowledge; wiser than any

of its works. The great poet makes us feel our own wealth, and then

we think less of his compositions. His best communication to our

mind is to teach us to despise all he has done. Shakspeare carries

us to such a lofty strain of intelligent activity, as to suggest a

wealth which beggars his own; and we then feel that the splendid

works which he has created, and which in other hours we extol as a

sort of self-existent poetry, take no stronger hold of real nature

than the shadow of a passing traveller on the rock. The inspiration

which uttered itself in Hamlet and Lear could utter things as good

from day to day, for ever. Why, then, should I make account of

Hamlet and Lear, as if we had not the soul from which they fell as

syllables from the tongue?

This energy does not descend into individual life on any other

condition than entire possession. It comes to the lowly and simple;

it comes to whomsoever will put off what is foreign and proud; it

comes as insight; it comes as serenity and grandeur. When we see

those whom it inhabits, we are apprized of new degrees of greatness.

From that inspiration the man comes back with a changed tone. He

does not talk with men with an eye to their opinion. He tries them.

It requires of us to be plain and true. The vain traveller attempts

to embellish his life by quoting my lord, and the prince, and the

countess, who thus said or did to _him._ The ambitious vulgar show

you their spoons, and brooches, and rings, and preserve their cards

and compliments. The more cultivated, in their account of their own

experience, cull out the pleasing, poetic circumstance, -- the visit

to Rome, the man of genius they saw, the brilliant friend they know;

still further on, perhaps, the gorgeous landscape, the mountain

lights, the mountain thoughts, they enjoyed yesterday, -- and so seek

to throw a romantic color over their life. But the soul that ascends

to worship the great God is plain and true; has no rose-color, no

fine friends, no chivalry, no adventures; does not want admiration;

dwells in the hour that now is, in the earnest experience of the

common day, -- by reason of the present moment and the mere trifle

having become porous to thought, and bibulous of the sea of light.

Converse with a mind that is grandly simple, and literature

looks like word-catching. The simplest utterances are worthiest to

be written, yet are they so cheap, and so things of course, that, in

the infinite riches of the soul, it is like gathering a few pebbles

off the ground, or bottling a little air in a phial, when the whole

earth and the whole atmosphere are ours. Nothing can pass there, or

make you one of the circle, but the casting aside your trappings, and

dealing man to man in naked truth, plain confession, and omniscient


Souls such as these treat you as gods would; walk as gods in

the earth, accepting without any admiration your wit, your bounty,

your virtue even, -- say rather your act of duty, for your virtue

they own as their proper blood, royal as themselves, and over-royal,

and the father of the gods. But what rebuke their plain fraternal

bearing casts on the mutual flattery with which authors solace each

other and wound themselves! These flatter not. I do not wonder that

these men go to see Cromwell, and Christina, and Charles the Second,

and James the First, and the Grand Turk. For they are, in their own

elevation, the fellows of kings, and must feel the servile tone of

conversation in the world. They must always be a godsend to princes,

for they confront them, a king to a king, without ducking or

concession, and give a high nature the refreshment and satisfaction

of resistance, of plain humanity, of even companionship, and of new

ideas. They leave them wiser and superior men. Souls like these

make us feel that sincerity is more excellent than flattery. Deal so

plainly with man and woman, as to constrain the utmost sincerity, and

destroy all hope of trifling with you. It is the highest compliment

you can pay. Their "highest praising," said Milton, "is not

flattery, and their plainest advice is a kind of praising."

Ineffable is the union of man and God in every act of the soul.

The simplest person, who in his integrity worships God, becomes God;

yet for ever and ever the influx of this better and universal self is

new and unsearchable. It inspires awe and astonishment. How dear,

how soothing to man, arises the idea of God, peopling the lonely

place, effacing the scars of our mistakes and disappointments! When

we have broken our god of tradition, and ceased from our god of

rhetoric, then may God fire the heart with his presence. It is the

doubling of the heart itself, nay, the infinite enlargement of the

heart with a power of growth to a new infinity on every side. It

inspires in man an infallible trust. He has not the conviction, but

the sight, that the best is the true, and may in that thought easily

dismiss all particular uncertainties and fears, and adjourn to the

sure revelation of time, the solution of his private riddles. He is

sure that his welfare is dear to the heart of being. In the presence

of law to his mind, he is overflowed with a reliance so universal,

that it sweeps away all cherished hopes and the most stable projects

of mortal condition in its flood. He believes that he cannot escape

from his good. The things that are really for thee gravitate to

thee. You are running to seek your friend. Let your feet run, but

your mind need not. If you do not find him, will you not acquiesce

that it is best you should not find him? for there is a power, which,

as it is in you, is in him also, and could therefore very well bring

you together, if it were for the best. You are preparing with

eagerness to go and render a service to which your talent and your

taste invite you, the love of men and the hope of fame. Has it not

occurred to you, that you have no right to go, unless you are equally

willing to be prevented from going? O, believe, as thou livest, that

every sound that is spoken over the round world, which thou oughtest

to hear, will vibrate on thine ear! Every proverb, every book, every

byword that belongs to thee for aid or comfort, shall surely come

home through open or winding passages. Every friend whom not thy

fantastic will, but the great and tender heart in thee craveth, shall

lock thee in his embrace. And this, because the heart in thee is the

heart of all; not a valve, not a wall, not an intersection is there

anywhere in nature, but one blood rolls uninterruptedly an endless

circulation through all men, as the water of the globe is all one

sea, and, truly seen, its tide is one.

Let man, then, learn the revelation of all nature and all

thought to his heart; this, namely; that the Highest dwells with him;

that the sources of nature are in his own mind, if the sentiment of

duty is there. But if he would know what the great God speaketh, he

must `go into his closet and shut the door,' as Jesus said. God will

not make himself manifest to cowards. He must greatly listen to

himself, withdrawing himself from all the accents of other men's

devotion. Even their prayers are hurtful to him, until he have made

his own. Our religion vulgarly stands on numbers of believers.

Whenever the appeal is made -- no matter how indirectly -- to

numbers, proclamation is then and there made, that religion is not.

He that finds God a sweet, enveloping thought to him never counts his

company. When I sit in that presence, who shall dare to come in?

When I rest in perfect humility, when I burn with pure love, what can

Calvin or Swedenborg say?

It makes no difference whether the appeal is to numbers or to

one. The faith that stands on authority is not faith. The reliance

on authority measures the decline of religion, the withdrawal of the

soul. The position men have given to Jesus, now for many centuries

of history, is a position of authority. It characterizes themselves.

It cannot alter the eternal facts. Great is the soul, and plain. It

is no flatterer, it is no follower; it never appeals from itself. It

believes in itself. Before the immense possibilities of man, all

mere experience, all past biography, however spotless and sainted,

shrinks away. Before that heaven which our presentiments foreshow

us, we cannot easily praise any form of life we have seen or read of.

We not only affirm that we have few great men, but, absolutely

speaking, that we have none; that we have no history, no record of

any character or mode of living, that entirely contents us. The

saints and demigods whom history worships we are constrained to

accept with a grain of allowance. Though in our lonely hours we draw

a new strength out of their memory, yet, pressed on our attention, as

they are by the thoughtless and customary, they fatigue and invade.

The soul gives itself, alone, original, and pure, to the Lonely,

Original, and Pure, who, on that condition, gladly inhabits, leads,

and speaks through it. Then is it glad, young, and nimble. It is

not wise, but it sees through all things. It is not called

religious, but it is innocent. It calls the light its own, and feels

that the grass grows and the stone falls by a law inferior to, and

dependent on, its nature. Behold, it saith, I am born into the

great, the universal mind. I, the imperfect, adore my own Perfect.

I am somehow receptive of the great soul, and thereby I do overlook

the sun and the stars, and feel them to be the fair accidents and

effects which change and pass. More and more the surges of

everlasting nature enter into me, and I become public and human in my

regards and actions. So come I to live in thoughts, and act with

energies, which are immortal. Thus revering the soul, and learning,

as the ancient said, that "its beauty is immense," man will come to

see that the world is the perennial miracle which the soul worketh,

and be less astonished at particular wonders; he will learn that

there is no profane history; that all history is sacred; that the

universe is represented in an atom, in a moment of time. He will

weave no longer a spotted life of shreds and patches, but he will

live with a divine unity. He will cease from what is base and

frivolous in his life, and be content with all places and with any

service he can render. He will calmly front the morrow in the

negligency of that trust which carries God with it, and so hath

already the whole future in the bottom of the heart.


Nature centres into balls,

And her proud ephemerals,

Fast to surface and outside,

Scan the profile of the sphere;

Knew they what that signified,

A new genesis were here.


ESSAY X _Circles_

The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the

second; and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without

end. It is the highest emblem in the cipher of the world. St.

Augustine described the nature of God as a circle whose centre was

everywhere, and its circumference nowhere. We are all our lifetime

reading the copious sense of this first of forms. One moral we have

already deduced, in considering the circular or compensatory

character of every human action. Another analogy we shall now trace;

that every action admits of being outdone. Our life is an

apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be

drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning;

that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every

deep a lower deep opens.

This fact, as far as it symbolizes the moral fact of the

Unattainable, the flying Perfect, around which the hands of man can

never meet, at once the inspirer and the condemner of every success,

may conveniently serve us to connect many illustrations of human

power in every department.

There are no fixtures in nature. The universe is fluid and

volatile. Permanence is but a word of degrees. Our globe seen by

God is a transparent law, not a mass of facts. The law dissolves the

fact and holds it fluid. Our culture is the predominance of an idea

which draws after it this train of cities and institutions. Let us

rise into another idea: they will disappear. The Greek sculpture is

all melted away, as if it had been statues of ice; here and there a

solitary figure or fragment remaining, as we see flecks and scraps of

snow left in cold dells and mountain clefts, in June and July. For

the genius that created it creates now somewhat else. The Greek

letters last a little longer, but are already passing under the same

sentence, and tumbling into the inevitable pit which the creation of

new thought opens for all that is old. The new continents are built

out of the ruins of an old planet; the new races fed out of the

decomposition of the foregoing. New arts destroy the old. See the

investment of capital in aqueducts made useless by hydraulics;

fortifications, by gunpowder; roads and canals, by railways; sails,

by steam; steam by electricity.

You admire this tower of granite, weathering the hurts of so

many ages. Yet a little waving hand built this huge wall, and that

which builds is better than that which is built. The hand that built

can topple it down much faster. Better than the hand, and nimbler,

was the invisible thought which wrought through it; and thus ever,

behind the coarse effect, is a fine cause, which, being narrowly

seen, is itself the effect of a finer cause. Every thing looks

permanent until its secret is known. A rich estate appears to women

a firm and lasting fact; to a merchant, one easily created out of any

materials, and easily lost. An orchard, good tillage, good grounds,

seem a fixture, like a gold mine, or a river, to a citizen; but to a

large farmer, not much more fixed than the state of the crop. Nature

looks provokingly stable and secular, but it has a cause like all the

rest; and when once I comprehend that, will these fields stretch so

immovably wide, these leaves hang so individually considerable?

Permanence is a word of degrees. Every thing is medial. Moons are

no more bounds to spiritual power than bat-balls.

The key to every man is his thought. Sturdy and defying though

he look, he has a helm which he obeys, which is the idea after which

all his facts are classified. He can only be reformed by showing him

a new idea which commands his own. The life of man is a

self-evolving circle, which, from a ring imperceptibly small, rushes

on all sides outwards to new and larger circles, and that without

end. The extent to which this generation of circles, wheel without

wheel, will go, depends on the force or truth of the individual soul.

For it is the inert effort of each thought, having formed itself into

a circular wave of circumstance, -- as, for instance, an empire,

rules of an art, a local usage, a religious rite, -- to heap itself

on that ridge, and to solidify and hem in the life. But if the soul

is quick and strong, it bursts over that boundary on all sides, and

expands another orbit on the great deep, which also runs up into a

high wave, with attempt again to stop and to bind. But the heart

refuses to be imprisoned; in its first and narrowest pulses, it

already tends outward with a vast force, and to immense and

innumerable expansions.

Every ultimate fact is only the first of a new series. Every

general law only a particular fact of some more general law presently

to disclose itself. There is no outside, no inclosing wall, no

circumference to us. The man finishes his story, -- how good! how

final! how it puts a new face on all things! He fills the sky. Lo!

on the other side rises also a man, and draws a circle around the

circle we had just pronounced the outline of the sphere. Then

already is our first speaker not man, but only a first speaker. His

only redress is forthwith to draw a circle outside of his antagonist.

And so men do by themselves. The result of to-day, which haunts the

mind and cannot be escaped, will presently be abridged into a word,

and the principle that seemed to explain nature will itself be

included as one example of a bolder generalization. In the thought

of to-morrow there is a power to upheave all thy creed, all the

creeds, all the literatures, of the nations, and marshal thee to a

heaven which no epic dream has yet depicted. Every man is not so

much a workman in the world, as he is a suggestion of that he should

be. Men walk as prophecies of the next age.

Step by step we scale this mysterious ladder: the steps are

actions; the new prospect is power. Every several result is

threatened and judged by that which follows. Every one seems to be

contradicted by the new; it is only limited by the new. The new

statement is always hated by the old, and, to those dwelling in the

old, comes like an abyss of skepticism. But the eye soon gets wonted

to it, for the eye and it are effects of one cause; then its

innocency and benefit appear, and presently, all its energy spent, it

pales and dwindles before the revelation of the new hour.

Fear not the new generalization. Does the fact look crass and

material, threatening to degrade thy theory of spirit? Resist it

not; it goes to refine and raise thy theory of matter just as much.

There are no fixtures to men, if we appeal to consciousness.

Every man supposes himself not to be fully understood; and if there

is any truth in him, if he rests at last on the divine soul, I see

not how it can be otherwise. The last chamber, the last closet, he

must feel, was never opened; there is always a residuum unknown,

unanalyzable. That is, every man believes that he has a greater


Our moods do not believe in each other. To-day I am full of

thoughts, and can write what I please. I see no reason why I should

not have the same thought, the same power of expression, to-morrow.

What I write, whilst I write it, seems the most natural thing in the

world; but yesterday I saw a dreary vacuity in this direction in

which now I see so much; and a month hence, I doubt not, I shall

wonder who he was that wrote so many continuous pages. Alas for this

infirm faith, this will not strenuous, this vast ebb of a vast flow!

I am God in nature; I am a weed by the wall.

The continual effort to raise himself above himself, to work a

pitch above his last height, betrays itself in a man's relations. We

thirst for approbation, yet cannot forgive the approver. The sweet

of nature is love; yet, if I have a friend, I am tormented by my

imperfections. The love of me accuses the other party. If he were

high enough to slight me, then could I love him, and rise by my

affection to new heights. A man's growth is seen in the successive

choirs of his friends. For every friend whom he loses for truth, he

gains a better. I thought, as I walked in the woods and mused on my

friends, why should I play with them this game of idolatry? I know

and see too well, when not voluntarily blind, the speedy limits of

persons called high and worthy. Rich, noble, and great they are by

the liberality of our speech, but truth is sad. O blessed Spirit,

whom I forsake for these, they are not thou! Every personal

consideration that we allow costs us heavenly state. We sell the

thrones of angels for a short and turbulent pleasure.

How often must we learn this lesson? Men cease to interest us

when we find their limitations. The only sin is limitation. As soon

as you once come up with a man's limitations, it is all over with

him. Has he talents? has he enterprise? has he knowledge? it boots

not. Infinitely alluring and attractive was he to you yesterday, a

great hope, a sea to swim in; now, you have found his shores, found

it a pond, and you care not if you never see it again.

Each new step we take in thought reconciles twenty seemingly

discordant facts, as expressions of one law. Aristotle and Plato are

reckoned the respective heads of two schools. A wise man will see

that Aristotle Platonizes. By going one step farther back in

thought, discordant opinions are reconciled, by being seen to be two

extremes of one principle, and we can never go so far back as to

preclude a still higher vision.

Beware when the great God lets loose a thinker on this planet.

Then all things are at risk. It is as when a conflagration has

broken out in a great city, and no man knows what is safe, or where

it will end. There is not a piece of science, but its flank may be

turned to-morrow; there is not any literary reputation, not the

so-called eternal names of fame, that may not be revised and

condemned. The very hopes of man, the thoughts of his heart, the

religion of nations, the manners and morals of mankind, are all at

the mercy of a new generalization. Generalization is always a new

influx of the divinity into the mind. Hence the thrill that attends


Valor consists in the power of self-recovery, so that a man

cannot have his flank turned, cannot be out-generalled, but put him

where you will, he stands. This can only be by his preferring truth

to his past apprehension of truth; and his alert acceptance of it,

from whatever quarter; the intrepid conviction that his laws, his

relations to society, his Christianity, his world, may at any time be

superseded and decease.

There are degrees in idealism. We learn first to play with it

academically, as the magnet was once a toy. Then we see in the

heyday of youth and poetry that it may be true, that it is true in

gleams and fragments. Then, its countenance waxes stern and grand,

and we see that it must be true. It now shows itself ethical and

practical. We learn that God IS that he is in me; and that all

things are shadows of him. The idealism of Berkeley is only a crude

statement of the idealism of Jesus, and that again is a crude

statement of the fact, that all nature is the rapid efflux of

goodness executing and organizing itself. Much more obviously is

history and the state of the world at any one time directly dependent

on the intellectual classification then existing in the minds of men.

The things which are dear to men at this hour are so on account of

the ideas which have emerged on their mental horizon, and which cause

the present order of things as a tree bears its apples. A new degree

of culture would instantly revolutionize the entire system of human


Conversation is a game of circles. In conversation we pluck up

the _termini_ which bound the common of silence on every side. The

parties are not to be judged by the spirit they partake and even

express under this Pentecost. To-morrow they will have receded from

this high-water mark. To-morrow you shall find them stooping under

the old pack-saddles. Yet let us enjoy the cloven flame whilst it

glows on our walls. When each new speaker strikes a new light,

emancipates us from the oppression of the last speaker, to oppress us

with the greatness and exclusiveness of his own thought, then yields

us to another redeemer, we seem to recover our rights, to become men.

O, what truths profound and executable only in ages and orbs are

supposed in the announcement of every truth! In common hours,

society sits cold and statuesque. We all stand waiting, empty, --

knowing, possibly, that we can be full, surrounded by mighty symbols

which are not symbols to us, but prose and trivial toys. Then cometh

the god, and converts the statues into fiery men, and by a flash of

his eye burns up the veil which shrouded all things, and the meaning

of the very furniture, of cup and saucer, of chair and clock and

tester, is manifest. The facts which loomed so large in the fogs of

yesterday, -- property, climate, breeding, personal beauty, and the

like, have strangely changed their proportions. All that we reckoned

settled shakes and rattles; and literatures, cities, climates,

religions, leave their foundations, and dance before our eyes. And

yet here again see the swift circumspection! Good as is discourse,

silence is better, and shames it. The length of the discourse

indicates the distance of thought betwixt the speaker and the hearer.

If they were at a perfect understanding in any part, no words would

be necessary thereon. If at one in all parts, no words would be


Literature is a point outside of our hodiernal circle, through

which a new one may be described. The use of literature is to afford

us a platform whence we may command a view of our present life, a

purchase by which we may move it. We fill ourselves with ancient

learning, install ourselves the best we can in Greek, in Punic, in

Roman houses, only that we may wiselier see French, English, and

American houses and modes of living. In like manner, we see

literature best from the midst of wild nature, or from the din of

affairs, or from a high religion. The field cannot be well seen from

within the field. The astronomer must have his diameter of the

earth's orbit as a base to find the parallax of any star.

Therefore we value the poet. All the argument and all the

wisdom is not in the encyclopaedia, or the treatise on metaphysics,

or the Body of Divinity, but in the sonnet or the play. In my daily

work I incline to repeat my old steps, and do not believe in remedial

force, in the power of change and reform. But some Petrarch or

Ariosto, filled with the new wine of his imagination, writes me an

ode or a brisk romance, full of daring thought and action. He smites

and arouses me with his shrill tones, breaks up my whole chain of

habits, and I open my eye on my own possibilities. He claps wings to

the sides of all the solid old lumber of the world, and I am capable

once more of choosing a straight path in theory and practice.

We have the same need to command a view of the religion of the

world. We can never see Christianity from the catechism: -- from the

pastures, from a boat in the pond, from amidst the songs of

wood-birds, we possibly may. Cleansed by the elemental light and

wind, steeped in the sea of beautiful forms which the field offers

us, we may chance to cast a right glance back upon biography.

Christianity is rightly dear to the best of mankind; yet was there

never a young philosopher whose breeding had fallen into the

Christian church, by whom that brave text of Paul's was not specially

prized: -- "Then shall also the Son be subject unto Him who put all

things under him, that God may be all in all." Let the claims and

virtues of persons be never so great and welcome, the instinct of man

presses eagerly onward to the impersonal and illimitable, and gladly

arms itself against the dogmatism of bigots with this generous word

out of the book itself.

The natural world may be conceived of as a system of concentric

circles, and we now and then detect in nature slight dislocations,

which apprize us that this surface on which we now stand is not

fixed, but sliding. These manifold tenacious qualities, this

chemistry and vegetation, these metals and animals, which seem to

stand there for their own sake, are means and methods only, -- are

words of God, and as fugitive as other words. Has the naturalist or

chemist learned his craft, who has explored the gravity of atoms and

the elective affinities, who has not yet discerned the deeper law

whereof this is only a partial or approximate statement, namely, that

like draws to like; and that the goods which belong to you gravitate

to you, and need not be pursued with pains and cost? Yet is that

statement approximate also, and not final. Omnipresence is a higher

fact. Not through subtle, subterranean channels need friend and fact

be drawn to their counterpart, but, rightly considered, these things

proceed from the eternal generation of the soul. Cause and effect

are two sides of one fact.

The same law of eternal procession ranges all that we call the

virtues, and extinguishes each in the light of a better. The great

man will not be prudent in the popular sense; all his prudence will

be so much deduction from his grandeur. But it behooves each to see,

when he sacrifices prudence, to what god he devotes it; if to ease

and pleasure, he had better be prudent still; if to a great trust, he

can well spare his mule and panniers who has a winged chariot

instead. Geoffrey draws on his boots to go through the woods, that

his feet may be safer from the bite of snakes; Aaron never thinks of

such a peril. In many years neither is harmed by such an accident.

Yet it seems to me, that, with every precaution you take against such

an evil, you put yourself into the power of the evil. I suppose that

the highest prudence is the lowest prudence. Is this too sudden a

rushing from the centre to the verge of our orbit? Think how many

times we shall fall back into pitiful calculations before we take up

our rest in the great sentiment, or make the verge of to-day the new

centre. Besides, your bravest sentiment is familiar to the humblest

men. The poor and the low have their way of expressing the last

facts of philosophy as well as you. "Blessed be nothing," and "the

worse things are, the better they are," are proverbs which express

the transcendentalism of common life.

One man's justice is another's injustice; one man's beauty,

another's ugliness; one man's wisdom, another's folly; as one beholds

the same objects from a higher point. One man thinks justice

consists in paying debts, and has no measure in his abhorrence of

another who is very remiss in this duty, and makes the creditor wait

tediously. But that second man has his own way of looking at things;

asks himself which debt must I pay first, the debt to the rich, or

the debt to the poor? the debt of money, or the debt of thought to

mankind, of genius to nature? For you, O broker! there is no other

principle but arithmetic. For me, commerce is of trivial import;

love, faith, truth of character, the aspiration of man, these are

sacred; nor can I detach one duty, like you, from all other duties,

and concentrate my forces mechanically on the payment of moneys. Let

me live onward; you shall find that, though slower, the progress of

my character will liquidate all these debts without injustice to

higher claims. If a man should dedicate himself to the payment of

notes, would not this be injustice? Does he owe no debt but money?

And are all claims on him to be postponed to a landlord's or a


There is no virtue which is final; all are initial. The

virtues of society are vices of the saint. The terror of reform is

the discovery that we must cast away our virtues, or what we have

always esteemed such, into the same pit that has consumed our grosser


"Forgive his crimes, forgive his virtues too,

Those smaller faults, half converts to the right."

It is the highest power of divine moments that they abolish our

contritions also. I accuse myself of sloth and unprofitableness day

by day; but when these waves of God flow into me, I no longer reckon

lost time. I no longer poorly compute my possible achievement by

what remains to me of the month or the year; for these moments confer

a sort of omnipresence and omnipotence which asks nothing of

duration, but sees that the energy of the mind is commensurate with

the work to be done, without time.

And thus, O circular philosopher, I hear some reader exclaim,

you have arrived at a fine Pyrrhonism, at an equivalence and

indifferency of all actions, and would fain teach us that, _if we are

true_, forsooth, our crimes may be lively stones out of which we

shall construct the temple of the true God!

I am not careful to justify myself. I own I am gladdened by

seeing the predominance of the saccharine principle throughout

vegetable nature, and not less by beholding in morals that

unrestrained inundation of the principle of good into every chink and

hole that selfishness has left open, yea, into selfishness and sin

itself; so that no evil is pure, nor hell itself without its extreme

satisfactions. But lest I should mislead any when I have my own head

and obey my whims, let me remind the reader that I am only an

experimenter. Do not set the least value on what I do, or the least

discredit on what I do not, as if I pretended to settle any thing as

true or false. I unsettle all things. No facts are to me sacred;

none are profane; I simply experiment, an endless seeker, with no

Past at my back.

Yet this incessant movement and progression which all things

partake could never become sensible to us but by contrast to some

principle of fixture or stability in the soul. Whilst the eternal

generation of circles proceeds, the eternal generator abides. That

central life is somewhat superior to creation, superior to knowledge

and thought, and contains all its circles. For ever it labors to

create a life and thought as large and excellent as itself; but in

vain; for that which is made instructs how to make a better.

Thus there is no sleep, no pause, no preservation, but all

things renew, germinate, and spring. Why should we import rags and

relics into the new hour? Nature abhors the old, and old age seems

the only disease; all others run into this one. We call it by many

names, -- fever, intemperance, insanity, stupidity, and crime; they

are all forms of old age; they are rest, conservatism, appropriation,

inertia, not newness, not the way onward. We grizzle every day. I

see no need of it. Whilst we converse with what is above us, we do

not grow old, but grow young. Infancy, youth, receptive, aspiring,

with religious eye looking upward, counts itself nothing, and

abandons itself to the instruction flowing from all sides. But the

man and woman of seventy assume to know all, they have outlived their

hope, they renounce aspiration, accept the actual for the necessary,

and talk down to the young. Let them, then, become organs of the

Holy Ghost; let them be lovers; let them behold truth; and their eyes

are uplifted, their wrinkles smoothed, they are perfumed again with

hope and power. This old age ought not to creep on a human mind. In

nature every moment is new; the past is always swallowed and

forgotten; the coming only is sacred. Nothing is secure but life,

transition, the energizing spirit. No love can be bound by oath or

covenant to secure it against a higher love. No truth so sublime but

it may be trivial to-morrow in the light of new thoughts. People

wish to be settled; only as far as they are unsettled is there any

hope for them.

Life is a series of surprises. We do not guess to-day the

mood, the pleasure, the power of to-morrow, when we are building up

our being. Of lower states, -- of acts of routine and sense, -- we

can tell somewhat; but the masterpieces of God, the total growths and

universal movements of the soul, he hideth; they are incalculable. I

can know that truth is divine and helpful; but how it shall help me I

can have no guess, for _so to be_ is the sole inlet of _so to know._

The new position of the advancing man has all the powers of the old,

yet has them all new. It carries in its bosom all the energies of

the past, yet is itself an exhalation of the morning. I cast away in

this new moment all my once hoarded knowledge, as vacant and vain.

Now, for the first time, seem I to know any thing rightly. The

simplest words, -- we do not know what they mean, except when we love

and aspire.

The difference between talents and character is adroitness to

keep the old and trodden round, and power and courage to make a new

road to new and better goals. Character makes an overpowering

present; a cheerful, determined hour, which fortifies all the

company, by making them see that much is possible and excellent that

was not thought of. Character dulls the impression of particular

events. When we see the conqueror, we do not think much of any one

battle or success. We see that we had exaggerated the difficulty.

It was easy to him. The great man is not convulsible or tormentable;

events pass over him without much impression. People say sometimes,

`See what I have overcome; see how cheerful I am; see how completely

I have triumphed over these black events.' Not if they still remind

me of the black event. True conquest is the causing the calamity to

fade and disappear, as an early cloud of insignificant result in a

history so large and advancing.

The one thing which we seek with insatiable desire is to forget

ourselves, to be surprised out of our propriety, to lose our

sempiternal memory, and to do something without knowing how or why;

in short, to draw a new circle. Nothing great was ever achieved

without enthusiasm. The way of life is wonderful: it is by

abandonment. The great moments of history are the facilities of

performance through the strength of ideas, as the works of genius and

religion. "A man," said Oliver Cromwell, "never rises so high as

when he knows not whither he is going." Dreams and drunkenness, the

use of opium and alcohol are the semblance and counterfeit of this

oracular genius, and hence their dangerous attraction for men. For

the like reason, they ask the aid of wild passions, as in gaming and

war, to ape in some manner these flames and generosities of the heart


Go, speed the stars of Thought

On to their shining goals; --

The sower scatters broad his seed,

The wheat thou strew'st be souls.

ESSAY XI _Intellect_

Every substance is negatively electric to that which stands

above it in th chemical tables, positively to that which stands below

it. Water dissolves wood, and iron, and salt; air dissolves water;

electric fire dissolves air, but the intellect dissolves fire,

gravity, laws, method, and the subtlest unnamed relations of nature,

in its resistless menstruum. Intellect lies behind genius, which is

intellect constructive. Intellect is the simple power anterior to

all action or construction. Gladly would I unfold in calm degrees a

natural history of the intellect, but what man has yet been able to

mark the steps and boundaries of that transparent essence? The first

questions are always to be asked, and the wisest doctor is gravelled

by the inquisitiveness of a child. How can we speak of the action of

the mind under any divisions, as of its knowledge, of its ethics, of

its works, and so forth, since it melts will into perception,

knowledge into act? Each becomes the other. Itself alone is. Its

vision is not like the vision of the eye, but is union with the

things known.

Intellect and intellection signify to the common ear

consideration of abstract truth. The considerations of time and

place, of you and me, of profit and hurt, tyrannize over most men's

minds. Intellect separates the fact considered from _you_, from all

local and personal reference, and discerns it as if it existed for

its own sake. Heraclitus looked upon the affections as dense and

colored mists. In the fog of good and evil affections, it is hard

for man to walk forward in a straight line. Intellect is void of

affection, and sees an object as it stands in the light of science,

cool and disengaged. The intellect goes out of the individual,

floats over its own personality, and regards it as a fact, and not as

_I_ and _mine_. He who is immersed in what concerns person or place

cannot see the problem of existence. This the intellect always

ponders. Nature shows all things formed and bound. The intellect

pierces the form, overleaps the wall, detects intrinsic likeness

between remote things, and reduces all things into a few principles.

The making a fact the subject of thought raises it. All that

mass of mental and moral phenomena, which we do not make objects of

voluntary thought, come within the power of fortune; they constitute

the circumstance of daily life; they are subject to change, to fear,

and hope. Every man beholds his human condition with a degree of

melancholy. As a ship aground is battered by the waves, so man,

imprisoned in mortal life, lies open to the mercy of coming events.

But a truth, separated by the intellect, is no longer a subject of

destiny. We behold it as a god upraised above care and fear. And so

any fact in our life, or any record of our fancies or reflections,

disentangled from the web of our unconsciousness, becomes an object

impersonal and immortal. It is the past restored, but embalmed. A

better art than that of Egypt has taken fear and corruption out of

it. It is eviscerated of care. It is offered for science. What is

addressed to us for contemplation does not threaten us, but makes us

intellectual beings.

The growth of the intellect is spontaneous in every expansion.

The mind that grows could not predict the times, the means, the mode

of that spontaneity. God enters by a private door into every

individual. Long prior to the age of reflection is the thinking of

the mind. Out of darkness, it came insensibly into the marvellous

light of to-day. In the period of infancy it accepted and disposed

of all impressions from the surrounding creation after its own way.

Whatever any mind doth or saith is after a law; and this native law

remains over it after it has come to reflection or conscious thought.

In the most worn, pedantic, introverted self-tormenter's life, the

greatest part is incalculable by him, unforeseen, unimaginable, and

must be, until he can take himself up by his own ears. What am I?

What has my will done to make me that I am? Nothing. I have been

floated into this thought, this hour, this connection of events, by

secret currents of might and mind, and my ingenuity and wilfulness

have not thwarted, have not aided to an appreciable degree.

Our spontaneous action is always the best. You cannot, with

your best deliberation and heed, come so close to any question as

your spontaneous glance shall bring you, whilst you rise from your

bed, or walk abroad in the morning after meditating the matter before

sleep on the previous night. Our thinking is a pious reception. Our

truth of thought is therefore vitiated as much by too violent

direction given by our will, as by too great negligence. We do not

determine what we will think. We only open our senses, clear away,

as we can, all obstruction from the fact, and suffer the intellect to

see. We have little control over our thoughts. We are the prisoners

of ideas. They catch us up for moments into their heaven, and so

fully engage us, that we take no thought for the morrow, gaze like

children, without an effort to make them our own. By and by we fall

out of that rapture, bethink us where we have been, what we have

seen, and repeat, as truly as we can, what we have beheld. As far as

we can recall these ecstasies, we carry away in the ineffaceable

memory the result, and all men and all the ages confirm it. It is

called Truth. But the moment we cease to report, and attempt to

correct and contrive, it is not truth.

If we consider what persons have stimulated and profited us, we

shall perceive the superiority of the spontaneous or intuitive

principle over the arithmetical or logical. The first contains the

second, but virtual and latent. We want, in every man, a long logic;

we cannot pardon the absence of it, but it must not be spoken. Logic

is the procession or proportionate unfolding of the intuition; but

its virtue is as silent method; the moment it would appear as

propositions, and have a separate value, it is worthless.

In every man's mind, some images, words, and facts remain,

without effort on his part to imprint them, which others forget, and

afterwards these illustrate to him important laws. All our progress

is an unfolding, like the vegetable bud. You have first an instinct,

then an opinion, then a knowledge, as the plant has root, bud, and

fruit. Trust the instinct to the end, though you can render no

reason. It is vain to hurry it. By trusting it to the end, it shall

ripen into truth, and you shall know why you believe.

Each mind has its own method. A true man never acquires after

college rules. What you have aggregated in a natural manner

surprises and delights when it is produced. For we cannot oversee

each other's secret. And hence the differences between men in

natural endowment are insignificant in comparison with their common

wealth. Do you think the porter and the cook have no anecdotes, no

experiences, no wonders for you? Every body knows as much as the

savant. The walls of rude minds are scrawled all over with facts,

with thoughts. They shall one day bring a lantern and read the

inscriptions. Every man, in the degree in which he has wit and

culture, finds his curiosity inflamed concerning the modes of living

and thinking of other men, and especially of those classes whose

minds have not been subdued by the drill of school education.

This instinctive action never ceases in a healthy mind, but

becomes richer and more frequent in its informations through all

states of culture. At last comes the era of reflection, when we not

only observe, but take pains to observe; when we of set purpose sit

down to consider an abstract truth; when we keep the mind's eye open,

whilst we converse, whilst we read, whilst we act, intent to learn

the secret law of some class of facts.

What is the hardest task in the world? To think. I would put

myself in the attitude to look in the eye an abstract truth, and I

cannot. I blench and withdraw on this side and on that. I seem to

know what he meant who said, No man can see God face to face and

live. For example, a man explores the basis of civil government.

Let him intend his mind without respite, without rest, in one

direction. His best heed long time avails him nothing. Yet thoughts

are flitting before him. We all but apprehend, we dimly forebode the

truth. We say, I will walk abroad, and the truth will take form and

clearness to me. We go forth, but cannot find it. It seems as if we

needed only the stillness and composed attitude of the library to

seize the thought. But we come in, and are as far from it as at

first. Then, in a moment, and unannounced, the truth appears. A

certain, wandering light appears, and is the distinction, the

principle, we wanted. But the oracle comes, because we had

previously laid siege to the shrine. It seems as if the law of the

intellect resembled that law of nature by which we now inspire, now

expire the breath; by which the heart now draws in, then hurls out

the blood, -- the law of undulation. So now you must labor with your

brains, and now you must forbear your activity, and see what the

great Soul showeth.

The immortality of man is as legitimately preached from the

intellections as from the moral volitions. Every intellection is

mainly prospective. Its present value is its least. Inspect what

delights you in Plutarch, in Shakspeare, in Cervantes. Each truth

that a writer acquires is a lantern, which he turns full on what

facts and thoughts lay already in his mind, and behold, all the mats

and rubbish which had littered his garret become precious. Every

trivial fact in his private biography becomes an illustration of this

new principle, revisits the day, and delights all men by its piquancy

and new charm. Men say, Where did he get this? and think there was

something divine in his life. But no; they have myriads of facts

just as good, would they only get a lamp to ransack their attics


We are all wise. The difference between persons is not in

wisdom but in art. I knew, in an academical club, a person who

always deferred to me, who, seeing my whim for writing, fancied that

my experiences had somewhat superior; whilst I saw that his

experiences were as good as mine. Give them to me, and I would make

the same use of them. He held the old; he holds the new; I had the

habit of tacking together the old and the new, which he did not use

to exercise. This may hold in the great examples. Perhaps if we

should meet Shakspeare, we should not be conscious of any steep

inferiority; no: but of a great equality, -- only that he possessed a

strange skill of using, of classifying, his facts, which we lacked.

For, notwithstanding our utter incapacity to produce any thing like

Hamlet and Othello, see the perfect reception this wit, and immense

knowledge of life, and liquid eloquence find in us all.

If you gather apples in the sunshine, or make hay, or hoe corn,

and then retire within doors, and shut your eyes, and press them with

your hand, you shall still see apples hanging in the bright light,

with boughs and leaves thereto, or the tasselled grass, or the

corn-flags, and this for five or six hours afterwards. There lie the

impressions on the retentive organ, though you knew it not. So lies

the whole series of natural images with which your life has made you

acquainted in your memory, though you know it not, and a thrill of

passion flashes light on their dark chamber, and the active power

seizes instantly the fit image, as the word of its momentary thought.

It is long ere we discover how rich we are. Our history, we

are sure, is quite tame: we have nothing to write, nothing to infer.

But our wiser years still run back to the despised recollections of

childhood, and always we are fishing up some wonderful article out of

that pond; until, by and by, we begin to suspect that the biography

of the one foolish person we know is, in reality, nothing less than

the miniature paraphrase of the hundred volumes of the Universal


In the intellect constructive, which we popularly designate by

the word Genius, we observe the same balance of two elements as in

intellect receptive. The constructive intellect produces thoughts,

sentences, poems, plans, designs, systems. It is the generation of

the mind, the marriage of thought with nature. To genius must always

go two gifts, the thought and the publication. The first is

revelation, always a miracle, which no frequency of occurrence or

incessant study can ever familiarize, but which must always leave the

inquirer stupid with wonder. It is the advent of truth into the

world, a form of thought now, for the first time, bursting into the

universe, a child of the old eternal soul, a piece of genuine and

immeasurable greatness. It seems, for the time, to inherit all that

has yet existed, and to dictate to the unborn. It affects every

thought of man, and goes to fashion every institution. But to make

it available, it needs a vehicle or art by which it is conveyed to

men. To be communicable, it must become picture or sensible object.

We must learn the language of facts. The most wonderful inspirations

die with their subject, if he has no hand to paint them to the

senses. The ray of light passes invisible through space, and only

when it falls on an object is it seen. When the spiritual energy is

directed on something outward, then it is a thought. The relation

between it and you first makes you, the value of you, apparent to me.

The rich, inventive genius of the painter must be smothered and lost

for want of the power of drawing, and in our happy hours we should be

inexhaustible poets, if once we could break through the silence into

adequate rhyme. As all men have some access to primary truth, so all

have some art or power of communication in their head, but only in

the artist does it descend into the hand. There is an inequality,

whose laws we do not yet know, between two men and between two

moments of the same man, in respect to this faculty. In common

hours, we have the same facts as in the uncommon or inspired, but

they do not sit for their portraits; they are not detached, but lie

in a web. The thought of genius is spontaneous; but the power of

picture or expression, in the most enriched and flowing nature,

implies a mixture of will, a certain control over the spontaneous

states, without which no production is possible. It is a conversion

of all nature into the rhetoric of thought, under the eye of

judgment, with a strenuous exercise of choice. And yet the

imaginative vocabulary seems to be spontaneous also. It does not

flow from experience only or mainly, but from a richer source. Not

by any conscious imitation of particular forms are the grand strokes

of the painter executed, but by repairing to the fountain-head of all

forms in his mind. Who is the first drawing-master? Without

instruction we know very well the ideal of the human form. A child

knows if an arm or a leg be distorted in a picture, if the attitude

be natural or grand, or mean, though he has never received any

instruction in drawing, or heard any conversation on the subject, nor

can himself draw with correctness a single feature. A good form

strikes all eyes pleasantly, long before they have any science on the

subject, and a beautiful face sets twenty hearts in palpitation,

prior to all consideration of the mechanical proportions of the

features and head. We may owe to dreams some light on the fountain

of this skill; for, as soon as we let our will go, and let the

unconscious states ensue, see what cunning draughtsmen we are! We

entertain ourselves with wonderful forms of men, of women, of

animals, of gardens, of woods, and of monsters, and the mystic pencil

wherewith we then draw has no awkwardness or inexperience, no

meagreness or poverty; it can design well, and group well; its

composition is full of art, its colors are well laid on, and the

whole canvas which it paints is life-like, and apt to touch us with

terror, with tenderness, with desire, and with grief. Neither are

the artist's copies from experience ever mere copies, but always

touched and softened by tints from this ideal domain.

The conditions essential to a constructive mind do not appear

to be so often combined but that a good sentence or verse remains

fresh and memorable for a long time. Yet when we write with ease,

and come out into the free air of thought, we seem to be assured that

nothing is easier than to continue this communication at pleasure.

Up, down, around, the kingdom of thought has no inclosures, but the

Muse makes us free of her city. Well, the world has a million

writers. One would think, then, that good thought would be as

familiar as air and water, and the gifts of each new hour would

exclude the last. Yet we can count all our good books; nay, I

remember any beautiful verse for twenty years. It is true that the

discerning intellect of the world is always much in advance of the

creative, so that there are many competent judges of the best book,

and few writers of the best books. But some of the conditions of

intellectual construction are of rare occurrence. The intellect is a

whole, and demands integrity in every work. This is resisted equally

by a man's devotion to a single thought, and by his ambition to

combine too many.

Truth is our element of life, yet if a man fasten his attention

on a single aspect of truth, and apply himself to that alone for a

long time, the truth becomes distorted and not itself, but falsehood;

herein resembling the air, which is our natural element, and the

breath of our nostrils, but if a stream of the same be directed on

the body for a time, it causes cold, fever, and even death. How

wearisome the grammarian, the phrenologist, the political or

religious fanatic, or indeed any possessed mortal whose balance is

lost by the exaggeration of a single topic. It is incipient

insanity. Every thought is a prison also. I cannot see what you

see, because I am caught up by a strong wind, and blown so far in one

direction that I am out of the hoop of your horizon.

Is it any better, if the student, to avoid this offence, and to

liberalize himself, aims to make a mechanical whole of history, or

science, or philosophy, by a numerical addition of all the facts that

fall within his vision? The world refuses to be analyzed by addition

and subtraction. When we are young, we spend much time and pains in

filling our note-books with all definitions of Religion, Love,

Poetry, Politics, Art, in the hope that, in the course of a few

years, we shall have condensed into our encyclopaedia the net value

of all the theories at which the world has yet arrived. But year

after year our tables get no completeness, and at last we discover

that our curve is a parabola, whose arcs will never meet.

Neither by detachment, neither by aggregation, is the integrity

of the intellect transmitted to its works, but by a vigilance which

brings the intellect in its greatness and best state to operate every

moment. It must have the same wholeness which nature has. Although

no diligence can rebuild the universe in a model, by the best

accumulation or disposition of details, yet does the world reappear

in miniature in every event, so that all the laws of nature may be

read in the smallest fact. The intellect must have the like

perfection in its apprehension and in its works. For this reason, an

index or mercury of intellectual proficiency is the perception of

identity. We talk with accomplished persons who appear to be

strangers in nature. The cloud, the tree, the turf, the bird are not

theirs, have nothing of them: the world is only their lodging and

table. But the poet, whose verses are to be spheral and complete, is

one whom Nature cannot deceive, whatsoever face of strangeness she

may put on. He feels a strict consanguinity, and detects more

likeness than variety in all her changes. We are stung by the desire

for new thought; but when we receive a new thought, it is only the

old thought with a new face, and though we make it our own, we

instantly crave another; we are not really enriched. For the truth

was in us before it was reflected to us from natural objects; and the

profound genius will cast the likeness of all creatures into every

product of his wit.

But if the constructive powers are rare, and it is given to few

men to be poets, yet every man is a receiver of this descending holy

ghost, and may well study the laws of its influx. Exactly parallel

is the whole rule of intellectual duty to the rule of moral duty. A

self-denial, no less austere than the saint's, is demanded of the

scholar. He must worship truth, and forego all things for that, and

choose defeat and pain, so that his treasure in thought is thereby


God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose.

Take which you please, -- you can never have both. Between these, as

a pendulum, man oscillates. He in whom the love of repose

predominates will accept the first creed, the first philosophy, the

first political party he meets, -- most likely his father's. He gets

rest, commodity, and reputation; but he shuts the door of truth. He

in whom the love of truth predominates will keep himself aloof from

all moorings, and afloat. He will abstain from dogmatism, and

recognize all the opposite negations, between which, as walls, his

being is swung. He submits to the inconvenience of suspense and

imperfect opinion, but he is a candidate for truth, as the other is

not, and respects the highest law of his being.

The circle of the green earth he must measure with his shoes,

to find the man who can yield him truth. He shall then know that

there is somewhat more blessed and great in hearing than in speaking.

Happy is the hearing man; unhappy the speaking man. As long as I

hear truth, I am bathed by a beautiful element, and am not conscious

of any limits to my nature. The suggestions are thousandfold that I

hear and see. The waters of the great deep have ingress and egress

to the soul. But if I speak, I define, I confine, and am less. When

Socrates speaks, Lysis and Menexenus are afflicted by no shame that

they do not speak. They also are good. He likewise defers to them,

loves them, whilst he speaks. Because a true and natural man

contains and is the same truth which an eloquent man articulates: but

in the eloquent man, because he can articulate it, it seems something

the less to reside, and he turns to these silent beautiful with the

more inclination and respect. The ancient sentence said, Let us be

silent, for so are the gods. Silence is a solvent that destroys

personality, and gives us leave to be great and universal. Every

man's progress is through a succession of teachers, each of whom

seems at the time to have a superlative influence, but it at last

gives place to a new. Frankly let him accept it all. Jesus says,

Leave father, mother, house and lands, and follow me. Who leaves

all, receives more. This is as true intellectually as morally. Each

new mind we approach seems to require an abdication of all our past

and present possessions. A new doctrine seems, at first, a

subversion of all our opinions, tastes, and manner of living. Such

has Swedenborg, such has Kant, such has Coleridge, such has Hegel or

his interpreter Cousin, seemed to many young men in this country.

Take thankfully and heartily all they can give. Exhaust them,

wrestle with them, let them not go until their blessing be won, and,

after a short season, the dismay will be overpast, the excess of

influence withdrawn, and they will be no longer an alarming meteor,

but one more bright star shining serenely in your heaven, and

blending its light with all your day.

But whilst he gives himself up unreservedly to that which draws

him, because that is his own, he is to refuse himself to that which

draws him not, whatsoever fame and authority may attend it, because

it is not his own. Entire self-reliance belongs to the intellect.

One soul is a counterpoise of all souls, as a capillary column of

water is a balance for the sea. It must treat things, and books, and

sovereign genius, as itself also a sovereign. If Aeschylus be that

man he is taken for, he has not yet done his office, when he has

educated the learned of Europe for a thousand years. He is now to

approve himself a master of delight to me also. If he cannot do

that, all his fame shall avail him nothing with me. I were a fool

not to sacrifice a thousand Aeschyluses to my intellectual integrity.

Especially take the same ground in regard to abstract truth, the

science of the mind. The Bacon, the Spinoza, the Hume, Schelling,

Kant, or whosoever propounds to you a philosophy of the mind, is only

a more or less awkward translator of things in your consciousness,

which you have also your way of seeing, perhaps of denominating.

Say, then, instead of too timidly poring into his obscure sense, that

he has not succeeded in rendering back to you your consciousness. He

has not succeeded; now let another try. If Plato cannot, perhaps

Spinoza will. If Spinoza cannot, then perhaps Kant. Anyhow, when at

last it is done, you will find it is no recondite, but a simple,

natural, common state, which the writer restores to you.

But let us end these didactics. I will not, though the subject

might provoke it, speak to the open question between Truth and Love.

I shall not presume to interfere in the old politics of the

skies;---- "The cherubim know most; the seraphim love most." The gods

shall settle their own quarrels. But I cannot recite, even thus

rudely, laws of the intellect, without remembering that lofty and

sequestered class of men who have been its prophets and oracles, the

high-priesthood of the pure reason, the _Trismegisti_, the expounders

of the principles of thought from age to age. When, at long

intervals, we turn over their abstruse pages, wonderful seems the

calm and grand air of these few, these great spiritual lords, who

have walked in the world, -- these of the old religion, -- dwelling

in a worship which makes the sanctities of Christianity look

_parvenues_ and popular; for "persuasion is in soul, but necessity is

in intellect." This band of grandees, Hermes, Heraclitus, Empedocles,

Plato, Plotinus, Olympiodorus, Proclus, Synesius, and the rest, have

somewhat so vast in their logic, so primary in their thinking, that

it seems antecedent to all the ordinary distinctions of rhetoric and

literature, and to be at once poetry, and music, and dancing, and

astronomy, and mathematics. I am present at the sowing of the seed

of the world. With a geometry of sunbeams, the soul lays the

foundations of nature. The truth and grandeur of their thought is

proved by its scope and applicability, for it commands the entire

schedule and inventory of things for its illustration. But what

marks its elevation, and has even a comic look to us, is the innocent

serenity with which these babe-like Jupiters sit in their clouds, and

from age to age prattle to each other, and to no contemporary. Well

assured that their speech is intelligible, and the most natural thing

in the world, they add thesis to thesis, without a moment's heed of

the universal astonishment of the human race below, who do not

comprehend their plainest argument; nor do they ever relent so much

as to insert a popular or explaining sentence; nor testify the least

displeasure or petulance at the dulness of their amazed auditory.

The angels are so enamoured of the language that is spoken in heaven,

that they will not distort their lips with the hissing and unmusical

dialects of men, but speak their own, whether there be any who

understand it or not.


Give to barrows, trays, and pans

Grace and glimmer of romance;

Bring the moonlight into noon

Hid in gleaming piles of stone;

On the city's paved street

Plant gardens lined with lilac sweet;

Let spouting fountains cool the air,

Singing in the sun-baked square;

Let statue, picture, park, and hall,

Ballad, flag, and festival,

The past restore, the day adorn,

And make each morrow a new morn.

So shall the drudge in dusty frock

Spy behind the city clock

Retinues of airy kings,

Skirts of angels, starry wings,

His fathers shining in bright fables,

His children fed at heavenly tables.

'T is the privilege of Art

Thus to play its cheerful part,

Man in Earth to acclimate,

And bend the exile to his fate,

And, moulded of one element

With the days and firmament,

Teach him on these as stairs to climb,

And live on even terms with Time;

Whilst upper life the slender rill

Of human sense doth overfill.


Because the soul is progressive, it never quite repeats itself,

but in every act attempts the production of a new and fairer whole.

This appears in works both of the useful and the fine arts, if we

employ the popular distinction of works according to their aim,

either at use or beauty. Thus in our fine arts, not imitation, but

creation is the aim. In landscapes, the painter should give the

suggestion of a fairer creation than we know. The details, the prose

of nature he should omit, and give us only the spirit and splendor.

He should know that the landscape has beauty for his eye, because it

expresses a thought which is to him good: and this, because the same

power which sees through his eyes, is seen in that spectacle; and he

will come to value the expression of nature, and not nature itself,

and so exalt in his copy, the features that please him. He will give

the gloom of gloom, and the sunshine of sunshine. In a portrait, he

must inscribe the character, and not the features, and must esteem

the man who sits to him as himself only an imperfect picture or

likeness of the aspiring original within.

What is that abridgment and selection we observe in all

spiritual activity, but itself the creative impulse? for it is the

inlet of that higher illumination which teaches to convey a larger

sense by simpler symbols. What is a man but nature's finer success

in self-explication? What is a man but a finer and compacter

landscape than the horizon figures, -- nature's eclecticism? and what

is his speech, his love of painting, love of nature, but a still

finer success? all the weary miles and tons of space and bulk left

out, and the spirit or moral of it contracted into a musical word, or

the most cunning stroke of the pencil?

But the artist must employ the symbols in use in his day and

nation, to convey his enlarged sense to his fellow-men. Thus the new

in art is always formed out of the old. The Genius of the Hour sets

his ineffaceable seal on the work, and gives it an inexpressible

charm for the imagination. As far as the spiritual character of the

period overpowers the artist, and finds expression in his work, so

far it will retain a certain grandeur, and will represent to future

beholders the Unknown, the Inevitable, the Divine. No man can quite

exclude this element of Necessity from his labor. No man can quite

emancipate himself from his age and country, or produce a model in

which the education, the religion, the politics, usages, and arts, of

his times shall have no share. Though he were never so original,

never so wilful and fantastic, he cannot wipe out of his work every

trace of the thoughts amidst which it grew. The very avoidance

betrays the usage he avoids. Above his will, and out of his sight,

he is necessitated, by the air he breathes, and the idea on which he

and his contemporaries live and toil, to share the manner of his

times, without knowing what that manner is. Now that which is

inevitable in the work has a higher charm than individual talent can

ever give, inasmuch as the artist's pen or chisel seems to have been

held and guided by a gigantic hand to inscribe a line in the history

of the human race. This circumstance gives a value to the Egyptian

hieroglyphics, to the Indian, Chinese, and Mexican idols, however

gross and shapeless. They denote the height of the human soul in

that hour, and were not fantastic, but sprung from a necessity as

deep as the world. Shall I now add, that the whole extant product of

the plastic arts has herein its highest value, _as history_; as a

stroke drawn in the portrait of that fate, perfect and beautiful,

according to whose ordinations all beings advance to their beatitude?

Thus, historically viewed, it has been the office of art to

educate the perception of beauty. We are immersed in beauty, but our

eyes have no clear vision. It needs, by the exhibition of single

traits, to assist and lead the dormant taste. We carve and paint, or

we behold what is carved and painted, as students of the mystery of

Form. The virtue of art lies in detachment, in sequestering one

object from the embarrassing variety. Until one thing comes out from

the connection of things, there can be enjoyment, contemplation, but

no thought. Our happiness and unhappiness are unproductive. The

infant lies in a pleasing trance, but his individual character and

his practical power depend on his daily progress in the separation of

things, and dealing with one at a time. Love and all the passions

concentrate all existence around a single form. It is the habit of

certain minds to give an all-excluding fulness to the object, the

thought, the word, they alight upon, and to make that for the time

the deputy of the world. These are the artists, the orators, the

leaders of society. The power to detach, and to magnify by

detaching, is the essence of rhetoric in the hands of the orator and

the poet. This rhetoric, or power to fix the momentary eminency of

an object, -- so remarkable in Burke, in Byron, in Carlyle, -- the

painter and sculptor exhibit in color and in stone. The power

depends on the depth of the artist's insight of that object he

contemplates. For every object has its roots in central nature, and

may of course be so exhibited to us as to represent the world.

Therefore, each work of genius is the tyrant of the hour, and

concentrates attention on itself. For the time, it is the only thing

worth naming to do that, -- be it a sonnet, an opera, a landscape, a

statue, an oration, the plan of a temple, of a campaign, or of a

voyage of discovery. Presently we pass to some other object, which

rounds itself into a whole, as did the first; for example, a

well-laid garden: and nothing seems worth doing but the laying out of

gardens. I should think fire the best thing in the world, if I were

not acquainted with air, and water, and earth. For it is the right

and property of all natural objects, of all genuine talents, of all

native properties whatsoever, to be for their moment the top of the

world. A squirrel leaping from bough to bough, and making the wood

but one wide tree for his pleasure, fills the eye not less than a

lion, -- is beautiful, self-sufficing, and stands then and there for

nature. A good ballad draws my ear and heart whilst I listen, as

much as an epic has done before. A dog, drawn by a master, or a

litter of pigs, satisfies, and is a reality not less than the

frescoes of Angelo. From this succession of excellent objects, we

learn at last the immensity of the world, the opulence of human

nature, which can run out to infinitude in any direction. But I also

learn that what astonished and fascinated me in the first work

astonished me in the second work also; that excellence of all things

is one.

The office of painting and sculpture seems to be merely

initial. The best pictures can easily tell us their last secret.

The best pictures are rude draughts of a few of the miraculous dots

and lines and dyes which make up the ever-changing "landscape with

figures" amidst which we dwell. Painting seems to be to the eye what

dancing is to the limbs. When that has educated the frame to

self-possession, to nimbleness, to grace, the steps of the

dancing-master are better forgotten; so painting teaches me the

splendor of color and the expression of form, and, as I see many

pictures and higher genius in the art, I see the boundless opulence

of the pencil, the indifferency in which the artist stands free to

choose out of the possible forms. If he can draw every thing, why

draw any thing? and then is my eye opened to the eternal picture

which nature paints in the street with moving men and children,

beggars, and fine ladies, draped in red, and green, and blue, and

gray; long-haired, grizzled, white-faced, black-faced, wrinkled,

giant, dwarf, expanded, elfish, -- capped and based by heaven, earth,

and sea.

A gallery of sculpture teaches more austerely the same lesson.

As picture teaches the coloring, so sculpture the anatomy of form.

When I have seen fine statues, and afterwards enter a public

assembly, I understand well what he meant who said, "When I have been

reading Homer, all men look like giants." I too see that painting and

sculpture are gymnastics of the eye, its training to the niceties and

curiosities of its function. There is no statue like this living

man, with his infinite advantage over all ideal sculpture, of

perpetual variety. What a gallery of art have I here! No mannerist

made these varied groups and diverse original single figures. Here

is the artist himself improvising, grim and glad, at his block. Now

one thought strikes him, now another, and with each moment he alters

the whole air, attitude, and expression of his clay. Away with your

nonsense of oil and easels, of marble and chisels: except to open

your eyes to the masteries of eternal art, they are hypocritical


The reference of all production at last to an aboriginal Power

explains the traits common to all works of the highest art, -- that

they are universally intelligible; that they restore to us the

simplest states of mind; and are religious. Since what skill is

therein shown is the reappearance of the original soul, a jet of pure

light, it should produce a similar impression to that made by natural

objects. In happy hours, nature appears to us one with art; art

perfected, -- the work of genius. And the individual, in whom simple

tastes and susceptibility to all the great human influences overpower

the accidents of a local and special culture, is the best critic of

art. Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must

carry it with us, or we find it not. The best of beauty is a finer

charm than skill in surfaces, in outlines, or rules of art can ever

teach, namely, a radiation from the work of art of human character,

-- a wonderful expression through stone, or canvas, or musical sound,

of the deepest and simplest attributes of our nature, and therefore

most intelligible at last to those souls which have these attributes.

In the sculptures of the Greeks, in the masonry of the Romans, and in

the pictures of the Tuscan and Venetian masters, the highest charm is

the universal language they speak. A confession of moral nature, of

purity, love, and hope, breathes from them all. That which we carry

to them, the same we bring back more fairly illustrated in the

memory. The traveller who visits the Vatican, and passes from

chamber to chamber through galleries of statues, vases, sarcophagi,

and candelabra, through all forms of beauty, cut in the richest

materials, is in danger of forgetting the simplicity of the

principles out of which they all sprung, and that they had their

origin from thoughts and laws in his own breast. He studies the

technical rules on these wonderful remains, but forgets that these

works were not always thus constellated; that they are the

contributions of many ages and many countries; that each came out of

the solitary workshop of one artist, who toiled perhaps in ignorance

of the existence of other sculpture, created his work without other

model, save life, household life, and the sweet and smart of personal

relations, of beating hearts, and meeting eyes, of poverty, and

necessity, and hope, and fear. These were his inspirations, and

these are the effects he carries home to your heart and mind. In

proportion to his force, the artist will find in his work an outlet

for his proper character. He must not be in any manner pinched or

hindered by his material, but through his necessity of imparting

himself the adamant will be wax in his hands, and will allow an

adequate communication of himself, in his full stature and

proportion. He need not cumber himself with a conventional nature

and culture, nor ask what is the mode in Rome or in Paris, but that

house, and weather, and manner of living which poverty and the fate

of birth have made at once so odious and so dear, in the gray,

unpainted wood cabin, on the corner of a New Hampshire farm, or in

the log-hut of the backwoods, or in the narrow lodging where he has

endured the constraints and seeming of a city poverty, will serve as

well as any other condition as the symbol of a thought which pours

itself indifferently through all.

I remember, when in my younger days I had heard of the wonders

of Italian painting, I fancied the great pictures would be great

strangers; some surprising combination of color and form; a foreign

wonder, barbaric pearl and gold, like the spontoons and standards of

the militia, which play such pranks in the eyes and imaginations of

school-boys. I was to see and acquire I knew not what. When I came

at last to Rome, and saw with eyes the pictures, I found that genius

left to novices the gay and fantastic and ostentatious, and itself

pierced directly to the simple and true; that it was familiar and

sincere; that it was the old, eternal fact I had met already in so

many forms, -- unto which I lived; that it was the plain _you and me_

I knew so well, -- had left at home in so many conversations. I had

the same experience already in a church at Naples. There I saw that

nothing was changed with me but the place, and said to myself, --

`Thou foolish child, hast thou come out hither, over four thousand

miles of salt water, to find that which was perfect to thee there at

home?' -- that fact I saw again in the Academmia at Naples, in the

chambers of sculpture, and yet again when I came to Rome, and to the

paintings of Raphael, Angelo, Sacchi, Titian, and Leonardo da Vinci.

"What, old mole! workest thou in the earth so fast?" It had travelled

by my side: that which I fancied I had left in Boston was here in the

Vatican, and again at Milan, and at Paris, and made all travelling

ridiculous as a treadmill. I now require this of all pictures, that

they domesticate me, not that they dazzle me. Pictures must not be

too picturesque. Nothing astonishes men so much as common-sense and

plain dealing. All great actions have been simple, and all great

pictures are.

The Transfiguration, by Raphael, is an eminent example of this

peculiar merit. A calm, benignant beauty shines over all this

picture, and goes directly to the heart. It seems almost to call you

by name. The sweet and sublime face of Jesus is beyond praise, yet

how it disappoints all florid expectations! This familiar, simple,

home-speaking countenance is as if one should meet a friend. The

knowledge of picture-dealers has its value, but listen not to their

criticism when your heart is touched by genius. It was not painted

for them, it was painted for you; for such as had eyes capable of

being touched by simplicity and lofty emotions.

Yet when we have said all our fine things about the arts, we

must end with a frank confession, that the arts, as we know them, are

but initial. Our best praise is given to what they aimed and

promised, not to the actual result. He has conceived meanly of the

resources of man, who believes that the best age of production is

past. The real value of the Iliad, or the Transfiguration, is as

signs of power; billows or ripples they are of the stream of

tendency; tokens of the everlasting effort to produce, which even in

its worst estate the soul betrays. Art has not yet come to its

maturity, if it do not put itself abreast with the most potent

influences of the world, if it is not practical and moral, if it do

not stand in connection with the conscience, if it do not make the

poor and uncultivated feel that it addresses them with a voice of

lofty cheer. There is higher work for Art than the arts. They are

abortive births of an imperfect or vitiated instinct. Art is the

need to create; but in its essence, immense and universal, it is

impatient of working with lame or tied hands, and of making cripples

and monsters, such as all pictures and statues are. Nothing less

than the creation of man and nature is its end. A man should find in

it an outlet for his whole energy. He may paint and carve only as

long as he can do that. Art should exhilarate, and throw down the

walls of circumstance on every side, awakening in the beholder the

same sense of universal relation and power which the work evinced in

the artist, and its highest effect is to make new artists.

Already History is old enough to witness the old age and

disappearance of particular arts. The art of sculpture is long ago

perished to any real effect. It was originally a useful art, a mode

of writing, a savage's record of gratitude or devotion, and among a

people possessed of a wonderful perception of form this childish

carving was refined to the utmost splendor of effect. But it is the

game of a rude and youthful people, and not the manly labor of a wise

and spiritual nation. Under an oak-tree loaded with leaves and nuts,

under a sky full of eternal eyes, I stand in a thoroughfare; but in

the works of our plastic arts, and especially of sculpture, creation

is driven into a corner. I cannot hide from myself that there is a

certain appearance of paltriness, as of toys, and the trumpery of a

theatre, in sculpture. Nature transcends all our moods of thought,

and its secret we do not yet find. But the gallery stands at the

mercy of our moods, and there is a moment when it becomes frivolous.

I do not wonder that Newton, with an attention habitually engaged on

the paths of planets and suns, should have wondered what the Earl of

Pembroke found to admire in "stone dolls." Sculpture may serve to

teach the pupil how deep is the secret of form, how purely the spirit

can translate its meanings into that eloquent dialect. But the

statue will look cold and false before that new activity which needs

to roll through all things, and is impatient of counterfeits, and

things not alive. Picture and sculpture are the celebrations and

festivities of form. But true art is never fixed, but always

flowing. The sweetest music is not in the oratorio, but in the human

voice when it speaks from its instant life tones of tenderness,

truth, or courage. The oratorio has already lost its relation to the

morning, to the sun, and the earth, but that persuading voice is in

tune with these. All works of art should not be detached, but

extempore performances. A great man is a new statue in every

attitude and action. A beautiful woman is a picture which drives all

beholders nobly mad. Life may be lyric or epic, as well as a poem or

a romance.

A true announcement of the law of creation, if a man were found

worthy to declare it, would carry art up into the kingdom of nature,

and destroy its separate and contrasted existence. The fountains of

invention and beauty in modern society are all but dried up. A

popular novel, a theatre, or a ball-room makes us feel that we are

all paupers in the alms-house of this world, without dignity, without

skill, or industry. Art is as poor and low. The old tragic

Necessity, which lowers on the brows even of the Venuses and the

Cupids of the antique, and furnishes the sole apology for the

intrusion of such anomalous figures into nature, -- namely, that they

were inevitable; that the artist was drunk with a passion for form

which he could not resist, and which vented itself in these fine

extravagances, -- no longer dignifies the chisel or the pencil. But

the artist and the connoisseur now seek in art the exhibition of

their talent, or an asylum from the evils of life. Men are not well

pleased with the figure they make in their own imaginations, and they

flee to art, and convey their better sense in an oratorio, a statue,

or a picture. Art makes the same effort which a sensual prosperity

makes; namely, to detach the beautiful from the useful, to do up the

work as unavoidable, and, hating it, pass on to enjoyment. These

solaces and compensations, this division of beauty from use, the laws

of nature do not permit. As soon as beauty is sought, not from

religion and love, but for pleasure, it degrades the seeker. High

beauty is no longer attainable by him in canvas or in stone, in

sound, or in lyrical construction; an effeminate, prudent, sickly

beauty, which is not beauty, is all that can be formed; for the hand

can never execute any thing higher than the character can inspire.

The art that thus separates is itself first separated. Art

must not be a superficial talent, but must begin farther back in man.

Now men do not see nature to be beautiful, and they go to make a

statue which shall be. They abhor men as tasteless, dull, and

inconvertible, and console themselves with color-bags, and blocks of

marble. They reject life as prosaic, and create a death which they

call poetic. They despatch the day's weary chores, and fly to

voluptuous reveries. They eat and drink, that they may afterwards

execute the ideal. Thus is art vilified; the name conveys to the

mind its secondary and bad senses; it stands in the imagination as

somewhat contrary to nature, and struck with death from the first.

Would it not be better to begin higher up, -- to serve the ideal

before they eat and drink; to serve the ideal in eating and drinking,

in drawing the breath, and in the functions of life? Beauty must

come back to the useful arts, and the distinction between the fine

and the useful arts be forgotten. If history were truly told, if

life were nobly spent, it would be no longer easy or possible to

distinguish the one from the other. In nature, all is useful, all is

beautiful. It is therefore beautiful, because it is alive, moving,

reproductive; it is therefore useful, because it is symmetrical and

fair. Beauty will not come at the call of a legislature, nor will it

repeat in England or America its history in Greece. It will come, as

always, unannounced, and spring up between the feet of brave and

earnest men. It is in vain that we look for genius to reiterate its

miracles in the old arts; it is its instinct to find beauty and

holiness in new and necessary facts, in the field and road-side, in

the shop and mill. Proceeding from a religious heart it will raise

to a divine use the railroad, the insurance office, the joint-stock

company, our law, our primary assemblies, our commerce, the galvanic

battery, the electric jar, the prism, and the chemist's retort, in

which we seek now only an economical use. Is not the selfish and

even cruel aspect which belongs to our great mechanical works, -- to

mills, railways, and machinery, -- the effect of the mercenary

impulses which these works obey? When its errands are noble and

adequate, a steamboat bridging the Atlantic between Old and New

England, and arriving at its ports with the punctuality of a planet,

is a step of man into harmony with nature. The boat at St.

Petersburgh, which plies along the Lena by magnetism, needs little to

make it sublime. When science is learned in love, and its powers are

wielded by love, they will appear the supplements and continuations

of the material creation.