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T ^2^ 4-. 3b 1. rH-"2- 



Department of Education 

Contributed by the Publishers 



3 2044 097 042 196 



Addison's Sir Roger de Coverley Papers. Professor C. T. 
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Harv&d Onivei^i 



1 U~A ♦. 1 1 , I '' i =( 

Copyright, 1907, by 


w. p. I 


The qualities aimed at in the Gateway Series of 
English Texts are thoroughness and simplicity. But 
in editing these Essays of Emerson, I confess that in 
following the first aim it has been difficult, at times, to 
keep within sight of the second. 

Emerson handles deep subjects. Even when he is 
talking on some apparently familiar theme, he runs off 
easily into a discussion of the Over-Soul or the Law of 
Polarity. This makes it hard to present the Essays to 
young readers without going into philosophical ques- 
tions. I have tried to do this no oftener than neces- 
sary, and in a way that would make the subject a little 
clearer, instead of more obscure. 

Moreover, for a preacher of self-reliance and detach- 
ment from the past, Emerson is amazingly fond of 
peppering his pages with quotations, allusions, and 
references to ancient authorities. This opens the door 
to a terrible number of explanatory notes, — more, I 
think, than could properly be made on any other author 
included in the list of college entrance requirements 
in English. I have purposely failed to use all these 
opportunities for making notes. But if any teacher 
finds that I have still made too many, it will be easy to 
skip the superfluous ones, and direct the scholar's 
attention to the substance and main plan of the Essays. 


6 Preface 

The introduction aims to give, in brief, the facts 
of Emerson's inheritance and life which made him 
always a preacher, a moralist, a modern Puritan on the 
lecture platform, as well as those qualities of his personal 
genius which made the spirit of his work so poetic, so 
vivid, so full of sudden flashing lights. The first of the 
seven pieces of his prose work here presented is called 
" An Oration,** but it is just as much an Essay as any 
of the others, which also were written for public speech, 
and spoken before they were printed. " Friendship," 
** Gifts," and "Prudence " require fewer notes than the 
other Essays, because they are shorter, simpler, and less 
loaded with remote allusions. I find them none the 
worse on this account, for Emerson is at his best when 
he speaks for himself and draws his wisdom from com- 
mon experience. 

The Essays are used by permission of, and by special 
arrangement with, Messrs. Houghton, Mifflin & Com- 
pany, the authorized publishers of Emerson's works. 
The text is that of the Riverside Edition. 

The outline, or analysis, which has been made of 
each of the Essays, is intended to present clearly to the 
scholar the central theme of the Essay and the way in 
which it is built up. This may help to give a more 
definite idea of the meaning and value of Emerson's 
teaching in regard to life and conduct, which was his 
chief concern. 


AvALON, August 3, 1906. 



Introduction 9 

I. Ancestry and Boyhood 11 

II. College Life, Teaching, and the Pastorate . . 13 

III. Travel, Study, and Self-discovery . . . • 15 

IV. Emerson the Lecturer 20 

V. Emerson the Author 23 

1. His subjects 26 

2. The structure of his essays . . • . 27 

3. His style 28 

4. His message 28 

VI. The Closing Years 29 

Essays : 

The American Scholar 31 

Self-reliance 63 

Compensation 105 

Friendship 137 

Prudence 161 

Shakespeare; or, the Poet 181 

Gifts 209 

Notes 217 

Bibliography 245 



Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), preacher, lec- 
turer, poet, and essayist, was one of the men who made 
their mark upon the nineteenth century. He did nothing 
in the way of scientific discovery or invention ; he made 
no original contribution to scholarship or literary criti- 
cism ; he took no leading part in the building up of 
great institutions, schools, churches, libraries, or museums ; 
even in politics, he had nothing to do with party councils 
and conventions, and never held an office in his life, 
(except that while he was a minister in Boston he served 
as a member of the School Board and chaplain of the 
State Senate, and when he first lived in Concord he was 
appointed one of the " hog-reeves '* of the town) . But 
for forty years he spoke directly and personally, through 
his voice and through his pen, to the men and women 
of his time, giving them a message for their inner life, 
and teaching them to break away fi-om dull, formal, 
thoughtless, artificial ways of doing things, and live freely 
according to the laws of their own spirit. This was his 
mission in the world ; to wake people up with clear and 
forceful words, and to tell them something about them- 
selves and the world around them which would be to 
them like a new light in their minds, changing their way 
of thinking and feeling and acting. 


lo Essays of Emerson 

A man who does this kind of work is called a prophet. 
Prophecy does not mean only, or chiefly, foretelling the 
future. It means bringing a message to the world in 
regard to truth and duty, speaking for a higher Power, 
and delivering to others the word which the prophet has 
heard in his own soul. There were several other men, 
besides Emerson, who wrote in English during the nine- 
teenth century, to whom the name of "prose-prophet" 
may fairly be given. You will find their words still 
active and powerful in the world, and their ideas still 
influencing the thoughts and purposes of men. 

Thomas Carlyle's great word was Work, — do the 
duty that lies nearest to you ! John Ruskin's great word 
was Life, — there is no real wealth but in a richer, fuller, 
warmer heart ! Matthew Arnold's great word was Cul- 
ture, — know the best that has been thought and said 
in the world ! Emerson's great word was Self-reliance, 
^- trust yourself, be yourself, and fear not ! 

Emerson had many other things to say, of course ; and 
as you read his essays and poems you will find them full 
of sharp and wise sayings about all kinds of persons and 
affairs, keen and delicate perceptions of natural beauty, 
shrewd comments on society and politics, and high 
counsels of self-control, respect for others, industry, 
patience, justice, and loyalty. But at the root of all his 
preaching and teaching lies this idea that each of us 
must have confidence in himself and be true to himself, 
because it is through the self, through the inward, per- 
sonal life of thought and feeling, that the vision of truth 

Introduction 1 1 

and beauty and goodness comes to each man directly, 
in flashes of spiritual light. 

This is Emerson's special message, and it will help you 
to understand it and to measure its value, if you know 
something about his life and character, and the way in 
which he practised his own preaching. 

I. Ancestry and Boyhood 

Seven of Emerson's ancestors were ministers of New 
England churches, all Puritans of the strictest type. 
Among them were Peter Bulkeley who left his comfort- 
able parish in Bedfordshire, England, to become pastor 
of the church in the wilderness at Concord, Massachu- 
setts; Father Samuel Moody of Agamenticus, Maine, 
who was such a fearless and zealous evangelist that he 
would pursue wayward sinners even into the alehouse to 
reprove them ; Joseph Emerson of Maiden, " a heroic 
scholar," who prayed every night that no descendant of 
his might ever be rich ; and William Emerson, the patriot 
preacher, who died while serving in the army of the Revo- 
lution. From such forefathers Emerson inherited Puri- 
tan qualities, independence, sincerity, sobriety, fearless 
loyalty to conscience, strenuous and militant virtue. His 
vision of the world was larger and more beautiful than 
theirs because he had the imagination of a poet ; and 
his way of reasoning about Hfe and trying to explain it 
was changed by the following of a philosophy which was 
different from theirs. But in the substance of his man- 

12 Essays of Emerson 

hood, in manners and morals, Emerson was bom a Puri- 
tan, and so he Hved and died. To him the spirit was 
always more than the senses, conduct more than enjoy- 
ment, duty more than pleasure, and life a serious affair of 
which a strict account must be given. 

His father was the Rev. William Emerson, minister of 
the First Church (Congregational) in Boston. Ralph 
was bom in 1803, the fourth child in a family of eight, 
of whom at least three gave proof of more than ordinary 
powers of mind. He was brought up in a family circle 
where study was regarded as the next thing in impor- 
tance to moral training ; and after his father's death in 
181 1, he had to share with the rest of the household the 
wholesome privations and self-denials which make a 
bracing Hfe for those who are poor in money and rich in 
spirit. At the pubHc grammar school and the Latin 
school he did nothing specially worthy of note. He had 
an unmarried aunt, Mary Moody Emerson, who probably 
played a larger part in his education than all his school- 
masters. She was a woman of keen mind and intense 
feeHngs, a brilliant old maid, an original saint, clinging 
with both hands to the old forms of theology from which 
her nephew floated away, but loving the boy with a 
jealous passion, believing in his powers, urging him for- 
ward in his studies, and doing more than any one else to 
form, by action and reaction, his youthful genius and 

Introduction 13 

II. College Life, Teaching, and the Pastorate 

Emerson was fourteen years old when he entered Har- 
vard College. He partly worked his passage by running 
errands as " President's freshman," and by teaching in 
his brother's Cambridge school. He graduated in 182 1, 
ranking about the middle of the class. His best success 
was in English literature and oratory. He won a prize 
for declamation, and two prizes for essays, — one on The 
Character of Socrates, and the other on The Present 
State of Ethical Philosophy, — both rather dull and 
formal productions. He was fond of reading and writing 
verse, and was chosen as the class-day poet. His cheer- 
ful, quiet manner, even-tempered and not without a 
tranquil kind of mirth, made him a favourite with his 
classmates, in spite of a certain reserve. Among the col- 
lege faculty his admiration was particularly given to the 
stately preacher and orator, Edward Everett, professor 
of Greek Literature. At this time the boy's ambition 
was to become a teacher of rhetoric and elocution. 

But destiny had other things in store for him. His older 
brother William had opened a school for girls in Boston ; 
and there Ralph, after his graduation, became an assist- 
ant. He did not like the work at all. The routine of 
the class room was distasteful to him, and he chafed 
under the necessity of attending to superficial duties. 
The life of the city seemed conventional and insincere, 
and its social distinctions and rivalries stupid and tire- 

14 Essays of Emerson 

some. His imagination was beginning to glow, and the 
bonds of custom and fashion, even the sober custom and 
fashion of Boston in the first quarter of the nineteenth 
century, weighed heavily upon his poetic nature. He 
wished to think for himself, to live his own life, to be a 
leader rather than a follower of others. In this his aunt 
encouraged him. She urged him to seek retirement, in- 
dependence, friendship with nature ; to be no longer the 
" nursling of surrounding circumstances " ; to strike out 
on his own course and follow the guidings of the spirit. 

At that time the ministry seemed to offer the best 
field to a young man who was ambitious for spiritual 
leadership. Emerson entered the Divinity School at 
Cambridge in 1825 to prepare himself for the pulpit. 
His course was much interrupted by ill health. In 1826 
he was threatened with consumption and compelled to 
take a long journey in the South. Returning the follow- 
ing year he continued his studies and preached as a can- 
didate in various churches. In 1829 he married Miss 
Ellen Tucker of Concord and was installed as associate 
minister of the Second Church (Unitarian) , in Boston. 
The senior minister retired soon after, and Emerson was 
left as the sole pastor. His thoughtful sermons, sim- 
ple, direct, and elevated, pleased his congregation ; the 
tranquil enthusiasm of his nature and the charm of his 
manner made him welcome in the homes of his people. 
At twenty-seven years of age he seemed to be well settled 
for life as a parish minister of the Unitarian Church. 

But in 1832 his wife died, an event which greatly de- 

Introduction 15 

pressed him in health and spirits. Later in the same 
year he came to the conviction that the Lord's Supper 
was not intended by Christ to be a permanent institu- 
tion. Following his passion for independence and sin- 
cerity, he preached a sermon to his congregation declaring 
that he was not willing to celebrate the Sacrament any 
longer, unless they would cease to observe the outward 
form, dispense with the use of the elements of bread and 
wine, and make the rite simply an act of spiritual remem- 
brance. Precisely what he meant by this his congrega- 
tion may not have understood, but at all events they 
declined the proposition, and Emerson retired, not with- 
out some disappointment, from the pastoral office. He 
never took charge of a parish again; though he con- 
tinued to preach in various pulpits, as opportunity offered, 
until 1847. In fact he was always a preacher, though of 
a singular and independent order. His chosen task in 
the world was to befriend and guide the inner life of 

HL Travel, Study, and Self-discovery 

The three years that followed Emerson's resignation 
from his church were among the most important of his 
life, for in them he found himself and his proper work in 
the world. He was not, in fact, fitted for any of the 
regular professions, — the ministry, law, medicine, teach- 
ing, or even journalism, — in all of which a certain con- 
formity to rule and system is demanded and needed. He 

1 6 Essays of Emerson 

was an exceptional man, too independent in his thoughts 
and feelings, too strongly convinced that the only way to 
be free is to make your own rules, too much enchanted 
with the beauty of his own intellectual visions and the 
joy of expressing them in his own striking, brilliant, un- 
systematic way, ever to find a place with other men in 
one of those institutions, like churches or universities, 
which move slowly, along fixed lines. He must mark out 
his own course, and mark it from day to day. He must 
deliver his own message to the world, not as a member 
of an organized body, but as an individual, a representa- 
tive " single man." He was more than a Unitarian. He 
was a Unit. 

On Christmas Day, 1832, he took passage in a sail- 
ing vessel for the Mediterranean. He travelled through 
Italy, visited Paris, spent two months in Scotland and 
England, and saw the four men that he most desired 
to see — Landor, Coleridge, Carlyle, and Wordsworth. 
"The comfort of meeting such men of genius as these," 
he wrote, " is that they talk sincerely." His visit to Car- 
lyle, in the lonely farmhouse at Craigenputtock, was the 
beginning of a lifelong friendship. Emerson secured the 
publication of Carlyle's first books in America. Carlyle 
introduced Emerson's Essays into England. The two 
men were bound together by a mutual respect deeper 
than a sympathy of tastes, and a community of spirit 
stronger than a similarity of opinions. Emerson was a 
sweet-tempered Carlyle, living in the sunshine. Carlyle 
was a militant Emerson, moving amid thunder-clouds. 

Introduction 17 

The things that each most admired in the other were 
self-reliance, directness, moral courage. 

A passage in Emerson's diary, written on his home- 
ward voyage, strikes the keynote of his remaining life. 
"A man contains all that is needful to his government 
within himself. ... All real good or evil that can befall 
him must be from himself. . . . There is a correspond- 
ence between the human soul and everything that exists 
in the world ; more properly, everything that is known 
to man. Instead of studying things without, the princi- 
ples of them all may be penetrated into within him. . . . 
The purpose of life seems to be to acquaint man with 
himself. . . . The highest revelation is that God is in 
every man." 

This is the central doctrine of a certain philosophy 
which has gone under different names at different times, 
and has expressed itself in various forms, more or less 
mystical, but which always comes back to two main 
notions : first, that the whole world of visible things is 
only a sort of garment which covers the real world of 
invisible ideas and laws and principles ; and second, that 
each man, having a share in the universal reason which 
is the source of all things, may have a direct knowledge 
of truth through his own innate ideas and intuitive per- 
ceptions. In Emerson's day this philosophy, under the 
name of Transcendentalism (that is to say, a theory of 
life which transcends, or goes beyond, mere logic and 
scientific reasoning),, was much talked about in' New 
England, and many well-known men and women were 


1 8 Essays of Emerson 

following it. A Transcendental Club was formed in 
1836, of which Emerson was, for a time, a member. 

It is easy to see how such a philosophy, with its 
assertion of the right and duty of each man to discover 
and measure the truth for himself, without waiting to 
reason it out or prove it, might lead to all kinds of wild 
and queer and extravagant views and practices. With 
these vagaries Emerson had no sympathy. His orderly 
nature, his strong common sense, recoiled from all prac- 
tical eccentricity and irregular ways. He wished to 
have a free life in his thoughts and a steady, respectable 
life in his conduct, in accordance with the traditions and 
customs of New England. He did not like to be bound 
to any scheme or system of doctrine, however vague and 
misty. He said, " I wish to say what I feel and think 
to-day, with the proviso that perhaps to-morrow I shall 
contradict it all." Therefore he frequently declared that 
he was not to be called a Transcendentalist ; at times he 
even made fun, mildly and in a friendly way, of the 
extreme followers of that philosophy. As a matter of 
fact he held as strongly as any of them to the idea that 
the native light of reason in every man is the guide to 
truth ; but he held it with the important reservation that 
when this inner light shines truly and brightly it will 
never lead a man away from good judgment and the moral 
law. All through his life he navigated the transcendental 
sea, piloted by a clear conscience, warned off the rocks 
by the saving sense of humour, and kept from capsizing 
by a solid ballast of New England prudence. 

Introduction 19 

After his return from England in 1833 he went to live 
with his relative, Dr. Ripley, at the Old Manse, in Concord, 
Massachusetts, and began his career as a lecturer in 
Boston. His first lectures were delivered before the 
Society of Natural History, and the Mechanics' Institute. 
In the autumn of ^835 he married Miss Lydia Jackson 
of Plymouth, having prexiously bought a spacious old 
house and garden at Concord. There he spent the re- 
mainder of his life ; a devoted husband, a wise and tender 
father, a careful householder, a virtuous villager, a fHendly 
neighbour, and, spite of all his disclaimers, the central 
and luminous figure among the Transcendentalists. The 
doctrine which in others seemed to produce all sorts of 
extravagances — communistic experiments at Brook Farm 
and Fruitlands, weird schemes of political reform, long 
hair on men and short hair on women — in his sane, 
well-balanced nature served only to lend an ideal charm 
to the familiar outline of a plain, orderly New England 
life. Some mild departures from common ways he tran- 
quilly tested, and as tranquilly abandoned. He tried 
vegetarianism for a while, but gave it up when he found 
that it did him no particular good. An attempt to prac- 
tise household equality by having the servants sit at 
table with the rest of the family was broken up by the 
dislike of his two sensible hired girls for such an incon- 
venient arrangement. His theory that manual labour 
should form part of the scholar's life was checked by the 
personal discovery that hard work in the fields meant 
poor work in the study. "The writer shall not dig,'' was 

20 Essays of Emerson 

his practical conclusion. Intellectual independence was 
what he chiefly desired; and this, he found, could be 
attained in a manner of living not outwardly different 
from that of the average college professor or country 
minister. And yet it was to this property-holding, debt- 
paying, law-abiding, well-dressed, courteous-mannered 
citizen of Concord, that the ardent and enthusiastic turned 
as the prophet of the new idealism. The influence of 
other transcendental teachers was narrow and parochial 
compared with that of Emerson. Something in his im- 
perturbable, kindly presence, his angelic look, his musical 
voice, his commanding style of thought and speech, an- 
nounced him as the possessor of the great secret which 
many were seeking — the secret of a freer, deeper, more 
harmonious life. More and more, as his fame spread, 
those who wished to live in the spirit came to listen to 
the voice, and to sit at the feet, of the sage of Concord. 

IV. Emerson the Lecturer 

It was as a public lecturer that Emerson found his 
power, earned his living, and won his first fame. The 
courses of lectures that he delivered at the Masonic 
Temple in Boston, during the winters of 1835 and 1836, 
on Great Men^ English Literature, and The Philosophy 
of History i were well attended and admired. They were 
followed by two discourses which called general attention 
to him as a new and strong personality. His Phi Beta 

Introduction li 

Kappa oration at Harvard College in August, 1837, on 
The American Scholar, was an eloquent appeal for in- 
dependence, sincerity, realism, in the intellectual life of 
America. His address before the graduating class of the 
Divinity School at Cambridge, in 1838, was a protest 
against what he called " the defects of historical Chris- 
tianity" and a plea for absolute self-reliance, and a new 
inspiration of religion. " In the soul," he said, " let re- 
demption be sought. Wherever a man comes, there comes 
revolution. The old is for slaves. Go alone. Refuse 
the good models, even those which are sacred in the 
imagination of men. Cast conformity behind you, and 
acquaint men at first hand with Deity." A blaze of con- 
troversy sprang up at once about this address. Conser- 
vatives attacked him ; radicals defended him. Emerson 
made no reply. But amid this somewhat fierce illumi- 
nation he went forward steadily as a public lecturer. It 
was not his denials that made him popular ; it was the 
eloquence with which he presented the positive side of 
his doctrine. Whatever the tides of his lectures. Liter- 
ary EthicSy Man the Reformer, The Present Age, The 
Method of Nature, Representative Men, The Conduct of 
Life, their theme was always the same, "namely the 
infinitude of the private man." Those who thought him 
astray on the subject of religion, listened to him with 
delight when he poetized on the subject of art, politics, 
literature, or the household. His utterance was inspi- 
rational, like that of the ancient oracle at Delphi. 
There was magic in his elocution. The simplicity and 

22 Essays of Emerson 

symmetry of his sentences, the modulations of his thrilling 
voice, the radiance of his fine face, even his slight hesi- 
tations and pauses over his manuscript, lent a strange 
charm to his speech. For more than a generation he 
went about the country lecturing in cities, towns, and 
villages, before learned societies, rustic lyceums, and 
colleges; and there was no man on the platform in 
America who excelled him in distinction, in authority, 
or in stimulating eloquence. 

In 1847 Emerson visited Great Britain for the second 
time ; was welcomed by Carlyle ; lectured to appreciative 
audiences in Manchester, Liverpool, Edinburgh, and 
London ; made many new friends among the best English 
people ; paid a brief visit to Paris ; and returned home in 
July, 1848. " I leave England," he wrote, " with increased 
respect for the Englishman. His stuff or substance seems 
to be the best in the world. I forgive him all his pride. 
My respect is the more generous that I have no sympathy 
with him, only an admiration." The impressions of this 
journey were embodied in a book called English Traits^ 
published in 1856. It might be called "English Traits 
and American Confessions," for nowhere does Emerson's 
Americanism come out more strongly. 

But the America that he loved and admired was the 
ideal America. For the actual conditions of social and 
political life in his own time he had a fine scorn. His 
intellectual refinement demanded a purer atmosphere, a 
loftier way of living. His principles were democratic, his 
tastes aristocratic. He did not like crowds, streets. 

Introduction 23 

hotels — " the people who fill them oppress me with their 
excessive civility." Humanity was his hero. He loved 
man, but he was not fond of many men. He had grave 
doubts about universal suffrage. He took a sincere inter- 
est in social and political reform, but toward specific 
"reforms " his attitude was somewhat remote and critical. 
On the subject of temperance he held aloof from the 
intemperate denunciation of the violent prohibitionists. 
He was a believer in woman's rights, but he was lukewarm 
toward conventions in favour of woman suffrage. Even 
in regard to slavery he had serious hesitations about the 
methods of the abolitionists, and for a long time refused 
to be identified with them. His view was that the 
slaves should be bought up and liberated. But as " the 
irrepressible conflict " drew to a head Emerson's hesita- 
tion vanished. He said in 1856, "I think we must get 
rid of slavery or we must get rid of freedom." With the 
outbreak of the Civil War he became an ardent and 
powerful advocate of the cause of the Union. James 
Russell Lowell said, "To him more than to all other 
causes did the young martyrs of our Civil War owe the 
sustaining strength of thoughtful heroism that is so touch- 
ing in every record of their lives." 

V. Emerson the Author 

It will not be necessary to say much of Emerson's 
poetry in this Introduction. That he had the spirit and 

24 Essays of Emerson 

imagination of a poet is not to be doubted. Whether 
he fully mastered the art of writing in verse is another 
question. His two volumes of poems, published in 1847 
and 1867, contain many passages of wonderful insight 
and deep feeling, some lines of great splendour, and a few 
poems (like The Rhodora, The Snow-Stomiy Terminus, 
the Concord Hymn J the Concord Ode, and the marvellous 
Threnody on the death of his first-bom boy), of high 
beauty and profound truth. But his prose sometimes 
creeps into his poems, even as his poetry, in spirit, often 
overflows into his prose. 

His first book was a slender volume entitled Nature, 
published in 1838. It is not at all like those out-of-door 
books so plentiful nowadays, which give us careful obser- 
vations of the ways of plants and animals. It is full of 
philosophical and poetical reflections about the relation 
of nature in general to the mind of man : " If the stars 
should appear but one night in a thousand years, how 
would men believe and adore, and preserve for many 
generations the remembrance of the city of God which 
had been shown!" "The world proceeds from the same 
spirit as the body of man." 

With the exception of this little book, the works of 
Emerson, the prose-writer, are almost entirely a report 
of Emerson, the lecturer. His books were collected and 
arranged, one after another, firom the manuscripts of 
his lectures and addresses. 

His way of making a lecture was singular and altogether 
his own. He had the habit of keeping note-books, in 

Introduction 25 

which he jotted down bits of observation about nature, 
stray thoughts and comparisons, reflections on his reading, 
and striking phrases which came to him in meditation 
or talk. When he had chosen a subject, he planted it 
in his mind and waited for ideas and illustrations to 
gather around it, as birds or insects might come to a 
plant or a flower. When a thought appeared he followed 
it, " as a boy might hunt a butterfly," and when it was 
captured, he pinned it in his "Thought-book." No 
doubt there were mental laws at work all the time, giv- 
ing guidance and direction to the process of composition 
which seemed so irregular and haphazard. There is no 
lack of vital unity in one of Emerson's lectures or essays. 
You will find that it deals with a single subject, and never 
gets really out of sight of the proposition with which it 
begins. Yet it seldom gives you a complete, all-round 
view of the subject. It is more like a series of swift and 
vivid glimpses of the same object seen from different 
standpoints, a collection of snap-shot pictures taken in 
the course of a walk around some great mountain. His 
paragraphs are related to the central theme, but their 
connexion with one another is not always perfectly clear. 
From the pages of his note-books he gathered the 
material for one of his discourses, selecting and arranging 
it under some such title as Fate, Genius, Beauty, 
Manners, Duty, The Anglo-Saxon, The Young Ameri- 
can, and giving it such form and order as he thought 
would be most effective in the delivery. If the lecture 
was often repeated, as it usually was, the material was 

26 Essays of Emerson 

frequently rearranged, the pages shifted, the illustrations 
changed. Then, after a lecture or a series of lectures 
had served its purpose, the material was again rear- 
ranged, and published in a volume of Essays, 

The dates of publication of these books were as fol- 
lows : Essays (First Series), 1841 ; Essays (Second 
Series), 1844; Representative Men, 1850; English 
Traits, 1856; The Conduct of Life, i860 j Society and 
Solitude, 1870; Letters and Social Aims, 1876. 

You can easily trace in Emerson's essays the effects 
of his way of making lectures. 

I. The material which he uses is drawn from a wide 
range of reading and observation. He was especially 
fond of poetry, philosophy, and books of anecdote and 
biography. He quotes from Shakespeare, Dante, 
Goethe, George Herbert, Wordsworth, Plutarch, Grimm, 
St. Simon, Swedenborg, Behmen the Mystic, Plato, and 
the religious books of the East. His illustrations come 
from far and near. Now they are strange and remote, 
now homely and familiar. The Zodiac of Denderah; 
the Savoyards, who carved their pine forests into toys ; 
the lustrum of silence which Pythagoras made his disci- 
ples keep ; Napoleon on the Bellerophon, watching the 
drill of the English soldiers ; the Egyptian legend that 
every man has two pairs of eyes ; Empedocles and his 
shoe ; the flat strata of the earth ; a soft mushroom 
pushing up through the hard ground — all these allusions, 
and a hundred more, are found in the same volume. 
On his pages, close beside the Parthenon, St. Paul's, the 

Introduction 27 

Sphynx, -^tna, and Vesuvius, you will read of the White 
Mountains, Monadnock, Katahdin, the pickerel-weed in 
bloom, the wild geese honking across the sky, the chicka- 
dee singing in the face of winter, the Boston State-house, 
Wall Street, cotton mills, railroads, Quincy granit^, and 
so forth. Nothing is too far away to seem real to him ; 
nothing too near to seem interesting and valuable. There 
is an abundance, sometimes a superabundance, of ma- 
terial in his essays ; not always well -assorted, but all 
vivid and suggestive. His cabinet is not arranged in sci- 
entific or classical order, but it is full of specimens, and 
each one means something.' 

2. The structure of his essays, the way of putting the 
material together, does not follow any regular form or 
system. He aims first at holding the attention of the 
listener or reader ; and sometimes he does this by the 
very abruptness of the passage from one point to an- 
other, or by the apparent strangeness of the ideas or 
illustrations which he suddenly brings in. It is not easy 
to make an outline or analysis of one of Emerson's 
essays. They do not seem to be constructed on a plan, 
but to grow out of a thought. They turn aside from 
uninteresting points, and omit the connecting links, and 
follow an attractive idea wherever it may lead. They 
are like a conversation with the stupid things left out. 
They seldom exhaust a subject, but they generally illu- 
minate it. As a whole you may find it hard to under- 
stand them; but even in the most difficult and obscure 
there are bits that are bright, clear, and memorable. 

28 Essays of Emerson 

3. The style of Emerson's essays is well suited to the 
material and the structure. It is brilliant, gem-like, spar- 
kling. He has great freedom in the choice of words, using 
them sometimes in odd ways, and not always correctly. 
As a rule his diction is made up of terse Anglo-Saxon 
phrases, but now and then he likes to bring in a long 
stately word from the Greek or Latin, with a telling effect 
of contrast. Most of his sentences are short and clear. 
It is the paragraph that is sometimes cloudy. Every essay 
is full of epigrams. The effect of his style, if one reads 
too much of it, becomes jerky and fatiguing. What you 
miss is the rich, long, steady flow of sentences with varied 
cadence and changing music. Emerson's river is almost 
all rapids. The flash and sparkle of phrase after phrase 
wearies one, after a time. But for a short voyage nothing 
could be more animated and stimulating. Emerson has 
plenty of things to say, and he says them in as few words 
as possible, and every one to the point. 

4. Of the teachings which you will find in Emerson's 
essays, I have already spoken in a general way at the 
beginning of this Introduction. You will be able to judge 
of them better for yourself when you have read the five 
essays which are included in this book. He offers no 
complete philosophy of life, and often seems to contra- 
dict himself. His great message of " self-reliance " runs 
through all his work and underlies all that he says. At 
times it is put in an extreme form, and might lead, if 
rashly followed, to intellectual conceit and folly. But it 
is balanced by other lessons of self-criticism, and modesty, 

Introduction 29 

and consideration, and prudence, and reverence. He is a 
stimulating, inspiring, hopeful teacher of youth, correcting 
follies with a sharp wit ; encouraging noble ambitions with 
eloquent words; making the face of nature luminous 
with the glow of his poetic imagination ; and elevating 
life with an ideal patriotism and a broad humanity. In all 
his utterances one hears the serene and lofty note of a 
sane, thoughtful optimism, the faith that holds, amid many 
things that are dark, mysterious, and terrifying, the firm 
confidence that Good is stronger than Evil and will tri- 
umph at last everywhere. It is this note, more than any- 
thing else, that has made hundreds of thousands of the 
youth of America listen gladly to the teachings of Emer- 
son, and look up to him, not only as a brilliant writer, but 
also as a master of the wisdom of life. 

VI. The Closing Years 

The latter years of Emerson's life were passed in 
peaceful honour at Concord. In 1866 Harvard University 
conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws, and 
in the following year he was elected to the Board of 
Overseers. In 1870 and 187 1 he delivered a course of 
lectures, in connexion with the University, on The Natural 
History of the Intellect, He had an audience of about 
thirty students, and was somewhat disappointed with the 
results of the course. In 1872 his house was burned 
down, It was rebuilt by a popular subscription from his 

30 ^ Essays of Emerson 

friends and admirers while he was absent on a journey to 
Egypt. About this time began a failure in his mental 
powers, particularly his memory. But his character re- 
mained serene and unshaken in dignity. Steadily and 
tranquilly he finished the voyage of life, as it is described 
in his own poem, Terminus : — 

'* As the bird trims her to the gale, 
I trim myself to the storm of time, 
I man the rudder, reef the sail, 
Obey the voice at eve obpyed at prime : 
* Ix)wly faithful, banish fear, 
Right onward drive unharmed ; 
The port, weU worth the cruise, is near, 
And every wave is charmed.' " 

He died on April 27, 1882, and was buried in the 
quiet cemetery of Sleepy Hollow, among the trees on the 
edge of the village of Concord. 




Theme : a. The whole of human nature exists in all men, but 
they are divided by their different tasks, b. Each should bring his 
whole manhood to his task, and the Scholar should be not merely 
an intellect studying books, but Man Thinking, c. The American 
Scholar should be the American man thinking. 

Structure : A. Introduction, An allusion to the occasion as an 
anniversary of hope for the intellectual future of America ; and a 
general statement of the first two parts of the theme. 

B. Discussion. I. The main influences which affect the spirit of 
man thinking, (i) Nature, which is the counterpart of his own 
soul. (2) The mind of the Past, chiefly as recorded in books. 
(3) Action : his own work and experience in the world. IL .JTie 
duties of man thinking. All may be comprised in Self-Trust, which 
will (i) deliver him from cowardice, (2) keep him from being lost 
in the crowd, (3) put him in possession of his intellectual kingdom. 

C. Application. The present age is marked by a new sense of 
the value of the common life, the dignity of the single person. 
America ought to realize this most clearly and live it out. The 
American scholar must "listen no longer to the courtly muses of 
Europe," but ** plant himself on his own instincts," and be himself, 
not a copy. " We will walk on our own feet ; we will work with 
our own hands ; we will speak our own minds." 




Mr. President and Gentlemen, 

I GREET you on the recommencement of our literary 
year. Our anniversary is one of hope, and, perhaps, not 
enough of labour. We do not meet for games of strength 
or skill, for ^reprecitation of histories, tragedies, and odes, 
like the ancient Greeks^ for parliaments of love and poesy, 5 
like the Troubadours ; nor for the advancement of sci- 
ence, like our contemporaries in the British and European 
capitals. Thus far, our holiday has been simply a friendly 
sign of the survival of the love of letters amongst a people 
too busy to give to letters any more. As such it is pre- 10 
cious as the sign of an indestructible instinct. Perhaps 
the time is already come when it ought to be, and will 
be, something else ; when the sluggard intellect of this 
continent will look from tmder its iron lids ^ and fill the 
postponed expectation of the world with something bet- 15 
ter than the exertions of mechanical skill. Our day of 
dependence, our long apprenticeship^ to the learning of 

1 Heavy eyelids. 

2 Years during which a youth is bound out to learn a trade. 


34 Essays of Emerson 

other lands, draws to a dose. The millions that around 
us are rushing into life, cannot always be fed on the sere * 
remains of foreign harvests. Events, actions arise, that 
roust be sung, that will sing themselves. Who can doubt 
5 that poetry will revive and lead in a new age, as the star 
in the constellation Harp, which now flames in our 
zenith,^ astronomers announce, shall one day be the pole- 
star for a thousand years ? 

In this hope I accept the topic which not only usage 

10 but the nature of our association seem to prescribe to this 
day, — the American Scholar. Year by year we come 

. up hither to read one more chapter of his biography. 
Let us inquire what light new days and events have thrown 
on his character and his hopes. 

15 It is one of those fables which out of an unknown 
antiquity convey an unlooked-for wisdom, that the gods, 
in the beginning, divided Man into men, that he might 
be more helpful to himself; just as the hand was divided 
into fingers, the better to answer its end. 

20 The old fable covers a doctrine ever new and sublime ; 
that there is One Man, — present to all particular men 
only partially, or through one faculty ; and that you must 
take the whole society to find the whole man. Man is 
not a farmer, or a professor, or an engineer, but he is all.' 

25 Man is priest, and scholar, and statesman, and producer, 

and soldier. In the divided or social state these functions 

are parcelled out to individuals, each of whom aims to do 

his stint ^ of the joint work, whilst each other performs his. 

^ Dry, withered. ^ Directly overhead. * Task appointed. 

The American Scholar 35 

The fable implies that the individual, to possess himself, 
must sometimes return from his own labour to embrace 
all the other labourers. But, unfortunately, this original 
unit, this fountain of power, has been so distributed to 
multitudes, has been so minutely subdivided and peddled 5 
out, that it is spilled into drops, and cannot be gathered. 
The state of society is one in which the members have 
suffered amputation from the trunk,^ and strut about so 
many walking monsters, — a good finger, a neck, a stom- 
ach, an elbow, but never a man. 10 

Man is thus metamorphosed ^ into a thing, into many 
things. The planter, who is Man sent out into the field 
to gather food, is seldom cheered by any idea of the true 
dignity of his ministry. He sees his bushel and his cart, 
and nothing beyond, and sinks into the farmer, instead 15 
of Man on the farm. The tradesman scarcely ever gives 
an ideal worth to his work, but is ridden ^ by the routine 
of his craft, and the soul is subject to dollars. The 
priest becomes a form ; the attorney a statute-book ; the 
mechanic a machine ; the sailor a rope of the ship. 20 

In this distribution of functions the scholar is the dele- 
gated intellect. In the right state he is Man Thinking, 
In the degenerate state, when the victim of society, he 
tends to become a mere thinker, or still worse, the 
parrot* of other men's thinking. 25 

In this view of him, as Man Thinking, the theory of 

1 Body. ^ Changed in form. 

* Kept under and controlled. 

* One who repeats without understanding. 

36 Essays of Emerson 

his office is contained. Him Nature solicits with all her 
placid, all her monitory ^ pictures ; him the past instructs ; 
him the future invites. Is not indeed every man a student, 
and do not all things exist for the student's behoof ?^ And, 

5 finally, is not the true scholar the only true master? But 
the old oracle said, " All things have two handles : beware 
of the wrong one." In life, too often, the scholar errs 
with mankind and forfeits his privilege. Let us see him 
in his school, and consider him in reference to the main 

10 influences he receives. 

I. The first in time and the first in importance of the 
influences upon the mind is that of nature. Every day, 
the sun ; and, after sunset. Night and her stars. Ever 
the winds blow ; ever the grass grows. Every day, men 

15 and women, conversing, beholding and beholden.^ The 
scholar is he of all men whom this spectacle most engages. 
He must settle its value in his mind. What is nature to 
him ? There is never a beginning, there is never an end, 
to the inexplicable continuity of this web of God, but 

20 always circular power returning into itself. Therein it 
resembles his own spirit, whose beginning, whose ending, 
he never can find, — so entire, so boundless. Far too as 
her splendours shine, system on system shooting like 
rays, upward, downward, without centre, without circum- 

25 ference, — in the mass and in the particle, Nature hastens 

to render account of herself to the mind. Classification 

begins. To the young mind every thing is individual, 

^ Warning. 2 Benefit. ^ Bound by obligations. Cf. note. 

The American Scholar 37 

stands by itself. By and by, it finds how to join two 
things and see in them one nature ; then three, then three 
thousand ; ^ and so, tyrannized over by its own unifying 
instinct, it goes on tying things together, diminishing anom- 
alies,^ discovering roots running under ground whereby 5 
contrary and remote things cohere ^ and flower out from 
one stem. It presently learns that since the dawn of 
history there has been a constant accumulation and classi- 
fying of facts. But what is classification but the perceiv- 
ing that these objects are not chaotic, and are not 10 
foreign, but have a law which is also a law of the human 
mind ? The astronomer discovers that geometry, a pure 
abstraction of the human mind, is the measure of plane- 
tary motion. The chemist finds proportions and intelli- 
gible method throughout matter; and science is nothing 15 
but the finding of analogy, identity, in the most remote 
parts. The ambitious soul sits down before each refrac- 
tory fact ; one after another reduces all strange constitu- 
tions, all new powers, to their class and their law, and 
goes on forever to animate * the last fibre of organization, 20 
the outskirts of nature, by insight. 

Thus to him, to this school-boy under the bending 
dome* of day, is suggested that he and it proceed 
from one root ; one is leaf and one is flower ; relation, 
sympathy, stirring in every vein. And what is that root? 25 
Is not that the soul of his soul ? A thought too bold ; a 

^ Le, to join three thousand things. 

2 Things contrary to the common rule. • Cling together. 

* Give a soul to. ^ The sky. 

38 Essays of Emerson 

dream too wild. Yet when this spiritual light shall have 
revealed the law of more earthly natures, — when he has 
learned to worship the soul, and to see that the natural 
philosophy that now is, is only the first gropings of its 
5 gigantic hand, he shall look forward to an ever expanding 
knowledge as to a becoming creator. He shall see that 
nature is the opposite of the soul, answering to it part for 
part. One is seal and one is print. ^ Its beauty is the 
beauty of his own mind. Its laws are the laws of his 

10 own mind. Nature then becomes to him the measure 
of his attainments. So much of nature as he is ignorant 
of, so much of his own mind does he not yet possess. 
And, in fine, the ancient precept, " Know thyself," and 
the modem precept, " Study nature," become at last one 

15 maxim. 

II. The next great influence into the spirit of the 
scholar is the mind of the Past, — in whatever form, 
whether of literature, of art, of institutions, that mind 
is inscribed. Books are the best type of the influence 

20 of the past, and perhaps we shall get at the truth, — 
learn the amount of this influence more conveniently, — 
by considering their value alone. 

The theory of books is noble. The scholar of the 
first age received into him the world around; brooded 

25 thereon ; gave it the new arrangement of his own mind, 
and uttered it again. It came into him life ; it went out 
from him truth. It came to him short-lived actions ; it 
went out from him immortal thoughts. It came to him 

The American Scholar 39 

business ; it went from him poetry. It was dead fact ; 
now, it is quick thought. It can stand, and it can go. 
It now endures, it now flies, it now inspires. Precisely 
in proportion to the depth of mind from which it issued, 
so high does it soar, so long does it sing. 5 

Or, I might say, it depends on how far the process had 
gone, of transmuting life into truth. In proportion to 
the completeness of the distillation^^ so will the purity and 
iraperishableness of the product be. But none is quite 
perfect. As no air-pump can by any means make a per- 10 
feet vacuum, so neither can any artist entirely exclude 
the conventional, the local, the perishable from his book, 
or write a book of pure thought, that shall be as efficient, 
in all respects, to a remote posterity, as to contempora- 
ries, or rather to the second age. Each age, it is found, 15 
must write its own books ; or rather, each generation for 
the next succeeding. The books of an older period will 
not fit this. 

Yet hence arises a grave mischief. The sacredness 
which attaches to the act of creation, the act of thought, 20 
is transferred to the record. The poet chanting was felt 
to be a divine man : henceforth the chant is divine also. 
The writer was a just and wise spirit : henceforward it is 
settled the book is perfect ; as love of the hero corrupts 
into worship of his statue. Instantly the book becomes 25 
noxious : the guide is a tyrant. The sluggish and per- 
verted mind of the multitude, slow to open to the incur- 
sions of Reason, having once so opened, having once 

1 The driving off of impurities by alternate heating and cooling. 

40 Essays of Emerson 

received this book, stands upon it, and makes an outcry 
if it is disparaged. Colleges are built on it. Books are 
written on it by thinkers, not by Man Thinking ; by men 
of talent, that is, who start wrong, who set out from ac- 

5 cepted dogmas, not from their own sight of principles. 
Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their 
duty to accept the views which Cicero, which Locke, 
which Bacon, have given ; forgetful that Cicero, Locke, 
and Bacon were only young men in libraries when they 

10 wrote these books. 

Hence, instead of Man Thinking, we have the book- 
worm. Hence the book-learned class, who value books, 
as such ; not as related to nature and the human con- 
stitution, but as making a sort of Third Estate with the 

15 world and the soul. Hence the restorers of readings, 
the emendators,^ the bibliomaniacs^ of all degrees. 

Books are the best of things, well used ; abused, among 
the worst. What is the right use ? What is the one end 
which all means go to effect? They are for nothing but 

20 to inspire. I had better never see a book than to be 
warped by its attraction clean out of ray own orbit,^ and 
made a satellite* instead of a system. The one thing in 
the world, of value, is the active soul. This every man 
is entitled to; this every man contains within him, 

25 although in almost all men obstructed, and as yet un- 

^ One who edits a book critically. 
2 One who loves books extravagantly. 

* The path in which a heavenly body revolves. 

* A secondary planet, like the moon. 

The American Scholar 41 

born. The soul active sees absolute truth and utters 
truth, or creates. In this action it is genius; not the 
privilege of here and there a favourite, but the sound 
estate of every man. In its essence it is progressive. 
The book, the college, the school of art, the institution 5 
of any kind, stop with some past utterance of genius. 
This is good, say they, — let us hold by this. They pin 
me down. They look backward and not forward. But 
genius looks forward : the eyes of man are set in his 
forehead, not in his hindhead : man hopes : genius 10 
creates. Whatever talents may be, if the man create 
not, the pure efflux ^ of the Deity is not his ; — cinders 
and smoke there may be, but not yet flame. There are 
creative manners, there are creative actions, and creative 
words ; manners, actions, words, that is, indicative of no 15 
custom or authority, but springing spontaneous from the 
mind's own sense of good and fair. 

On the other part, instead of being its own seer, let it 
receive from another mind its truth, though it were in 
torrents of light, without periods of solitude, inquest * and 20 
self-recovery, and a fatal disservice ® is done. Genius is 
always sufficiently the enemy of genius by over-influence. 
The literature of every nation bears me witness. The" 
English dramatic poets have Shakespearized * now for two 
hundred years. 25 

Undoubtedly there is a right way of reading, so it be 
sternly subordinated. Man Thinking must not be sub- 

1 That which flows out. ^ Self-searching. 

* Injury. * Imitated Shakespeare. 

42 Essays of Emerson 

dued by his instrumenli|. Books are for the scholar's 
idle times^ When he can read God directly, the hour is 
too precious to be wasted in other men's transcripts of 
their readings. But when the intervals of darkness come, 
5 as come they must, — when the sun is hid and the stars 
withdraw their shining, — we repair to the lamps which 
were kindled by their ray, to guide our steps to the East 
again, where the dawn is. We hear, that we may speak. 
The Arabian proverb says, " A fig tree, looking on a fig 

10 tree, becometh fruitful." 

It is remarkable, the character of the pleasure we 
derive from the best books. They impress us with the 
conviction that one nature wrote and the same reads. 
We read the verses of one of the great English poets, of 

15 Chaucer, of Marvell, of Dryden, with the most modem 
joy, — with a pleasure, I mean, which is in great part 
caused by the abstraction of all time from their verses. 
There is some awe mixed with the joy of our surprise, 
when this poet, who lived in some past world, two or 

20 three hundred years ago, says that which lies close to my 
soul, that which I also had well-nigh thought and said. 
But for the evidence thence afforded to the philosophical 
doctrine of the identity- of all minds, we should suppose 
some pre-established harmony, some foresight of souls 

25 that were to be, and some preparation of stores for their 
future wants, like the fact observed in insects, who lay up 
food before death for the young grub they shall never 

I would not be hurried by any love of system, by any 

The American Scholar 43 

exaggeration of instincts, to underrate the Book. We all 
know, that as the human body can be nourished on any 
food, though it were boiled grass and the broth of shoes, 
so the human mind can be fed by any knowledge. And 
great and heroic men have existed who had almost no 5 
other information than by the printed page. I only 
would say that it needs a strong head to bear that diet. 
One must be an inventor ^ to read welt As the proverb 
says, "He that would bring home tte wealth of the 
Indies, must carry out the wealth of the Indies." There 10 
is then creative reading as well as creative writing. 
When the mind is braced by labour and invention, the 
page of whatever book we read becomes luminous with 
manifold allusion. Every sentence is doubly significant, 
and the sense of our author is' as broad as the world, i^ 
We then see, what is always true, that as the seer's hour 
of vision is short and rare among heavy days and months, 
so is its record, perchance, the least part of his volume. 
The discerning will read, in his Plato or Shakspeare, only 
that least part, — only the authentic utterances of the 20 
oracle;^ — all the rest he rejects, were it never so many 
times Plato's and Shakspeare's. 

Of course there is a portion of reading quite indispen- 
sable to a wise man. History and exact science he must 
learn by laborious reading. Colleges, in like manner, 25 
have their indispensable office, — to teach elements. 
But they can only highly serve us when they aim not to 

^ One who finds out new things, an original thinker. 
^ A person speaking by inspiration. 

44 Essays of Emerson 

drill," but to create ; when they gather from far every ray 
of various genius to their hospitable halls, and by the con- 
centrated fires, set the hearts of their youth on flame. 
Thought and knowledge are natures ^ in which apparatus 
5 and pretension avail nothing. Gowns ^ and pecuniary 
foundations,^ though of towns of gold, can never 
countervail * the least sentence or syllable of wit.* For- 
get this, and our American colleges will recede in their 
public importance, whilst they grow richer every year. 

10 III. There goes in the world a notion that the 
scholar should be a recluse, a valetudinarian,^ — as 
unfit for any handiwork or public labour as a penknife 
for an axe. The so-called ** practical men " sneer at 
speculative men, as if, because they speculate or see^ 

15 they could do nothing. I have heard it said that the 
clergy, — who are always, more universally than any 
other class, the scholars of their day, — are addressed 
as women ; that the rough, spontaneous conversation of 
men they do not hear, but only a mincing and diluted 

20 speech. They are often virtually disfranchised;^ and 
indeed there are advocates for their celibacy.^ As far as 
this is true of the studious classes, it is not just and wise. 
Action is with the scholar subordinate, but it is essential. 
Without it he is not yet man. Without it thought can 

^ Kinds, or qualities, of being. * Academic costume. 

8 Endowment of colleges. * Prevail against. 

^ Intelligence, good sense. ^ One who is always ill. 

^ Deprived of the privilege of voting. * Unmarried life. 

The American Scholar 45 

never ripen into truth. Whilst the world hangs before 
the eye as a cloud of beauty, we cannot even see its 
beauty. Inaction is cowardice, but there can be no 
scholar without the heroic mind. The preamble^ of 
thought, the transition through which it passes from the 5 
unconscious to the conscious, is action. Only so much 
do I know, as I have lived. Instantly we know whose 
words are loaded with Ufe, and whose not. 

The world, — this shadow of the soul, or other me, 
lies wide around. Its attractions are the keys which 10 
unlock ray thoughts and make me acquainted with 
myself. I run eagerly into this resounding tumult. I 
grasp the hands of those next me, and take my place 
in the ring to suffer and to work, taught by an instinct 
that so shall the dumb abyss be vocal with speech. ,5 
I pierce its order; I dissipate its fear;^ I dispose of it 
within the circuit of my expanding life. So much only 
of life as I know by experience, so much of the wilder- 
ness have I vanquished and planted, or so far have I 
extended my being, my dominion, I do not see how 20 
any man can afford, for the sake of his nerves and his 
nap, to spare any action in which he can partake. It is 
pearls and rubies to his discourse. Drudgery, calamity, 
exasperation, want, are instructors in eloquence and 
wisdom. The true scholar grudges every opportunity of 25 
action past by, as a loss of power. 

It is the raw material out of which the intellect 

^ That which precedes and introduces. 
2 J,e, the fear which it inspires. 

46 Essays of Emerson 

moulds her splendid products. A strange process too, 
this by which experience is converted into thought, as a 
mulberry leaf is converted into satin. The manufacture 
goes forward at all hours. 
5 The actions and events of our childhood and youth 
are now matters of calmest observation. They lie like 
fair pictures in the air. Not so with our recent actions, 
— with the business which we now have in hand. On 
this we are quite unable to speculate. Our affections as 

10 yet circulate through it. We no more feel or know it 
than we feel the feet, or the hand, or the brain of our 
body. The new deed is yet a part of life, — remains for 
a time immersed in our unconscious life. In some con- 
templative hour it detaches itself from the life like a ripe 

15 fruit, to become a thought of the mind. Instantly it is 
raised, transfigured; the corruptible has put on incor- 
ruption. Henceforth it is an object of beauty, however 
base its origin and neighbourhood. Observe too the 
impossibility of antedating this act. In its grub ^ state, 

20 it cannot fly, it cannot shine, it is a dull- grub. But 
suddenly, without observation, the selfsame thing unfurls 
beautiful wings, and is an angel of wisdom. So is there 
no fact, no event, in our private history, which shall not, 
sooner or later, lose its adhesive, inert form, and astonish 

25 us by soaring from our body into the empyrean.^ Cradle 
and infancy, school and playground, the fear of boys, and 
dogs, and ferules,^ the love of little maids 2uid berries, and 

1 The larva, or wingless form of an insect. * Highest heaven. 

* A rod used by schoolmasters for discipline. 

The American Scholar 47 

many another fact that once filled the whole sky, are gone 
already ; friend and relative, profession and party, town 
and country, nation and world, must also soar and sing.^ 

Of course, he who has put forth his total strength in 
fit actions has the richest return of wisdom. I will not 5 
shut myself out of this globe of action, and transplant an 
oak into a flower-pot, there to hunger and pine ; nor 
trust the revenue of some single faculty, and exhaust one 
vein of thought, much like those Savoyards, who, getting 
their livelihood by carving shepherds, shepherdesses, and 10 
smoking Dutchmen, for all Europe, went out one day to 
the mountain to find stock, and discovered that they had 
whittled up the last of their pine-trees. Authors we 
have, in numbers, who have written out their vein, and 
who, moved by a commendable prudence, sail for Greece 15 
or Palestine, follow the trapper into the prairie, or ramble 
round Algiers, to replenish their merchantable stock. 

If it were only for a vocabulary,* the scholar would be 
covetous of action. Life is our dictionary. Years are 
well spent in country labours; in town; in the insight 20 
into trades and manufactures ; in frank intercourse with 
many men and women ; in science ; in art ; to the one 
end of mastering in all their facts a language by which 
to illustrate and embody our perceptions. I learn imme- 
diately from any speaker how much he has already lived, 25 
through the poverty or the splendour of his speech. 'T^fcT 
lies behind us as the quarry from whence we get tiles* 

^ Le, be changed into thoughts. ^ Stock of words. 

8 Flat pieces of stone, or baked clay. 

48 Essays of Emerson 

and copestones ^ for the masonry of to-day. This is the 
way to learn grammar. Colleges and books only copy 
the language which the field and the work-yard made. 
But the final value of action, like that of books, and 

5 better than books, is that it is a resource. That great 
principle of Undulation^ in nature, that shows itself in 
the inspiring and expiring of the breath ; in desire and 
satiety ; in the ebb and flow of the sea ; in day and 
night ; in heat and cold ; and, as yet more deeply in- 

10 grained in every atom and every fluid, is known to us 
under the name of Polarity,^ — these "fits of easy trans- 
mission and reflection," as Newton called them, — are 
the law of nature because they are the law of spirit. 
The mind now thinks, now acts, and each fit repro- 

15 duces the other. When the artist has exhausted his 
materials, when the fancy no longer paints, when 
thoughts are no longer apprehended and books are a 
weariness, — he has always the resource /i? /we. Charac- 
ter is higher than intellect. Thinking is the fiinction. 

20 Living is the fiinctionary. The stream retreats to its 
source. A great soul will be strong to live, as well as 
strong to think. Does he lack organ or medium to im- 
part his truth ? He can still fall back on this elemental 
force of living them. This is a total act.* Thinking is a 

1 Stones covering a wall. ^ Wave motion. 

3 The quality of a body by which it shows contrasted properties 
in opposite directions : e.g. a magnet attracts at one end, repels at 
the other. 

4 /,e. an act which involves the whole man. 

The American Scholar 49 

partial act. Let the grandeur of justice shine in his 
affairs. Let the beauty of affection cheer his lowly roof. 
Those " far from fame," who dwell and act with him, will 
feel the force of his constitution in the doings and pas- 
sages ^ of the day better than it can be measured by any 5 
public and designed display. Time shall teach him that 
the scholar loses no hour which the man lives. Herein 
he unfolds the sacred germ of his instinct, screened from 
influence. What is lost in seemliness is gained in strength. 
Not out of those on whom systems of education have ex- 10 
hausted their culture, comes the helpful giant to destroy 
the old or to build the new, but out of unhandselled ^ sav- 
age nature ; out of terrible Druids and Berserkers come 
at last Alfred and Shakespeare. 

I hear therefore with joy whatever is beginning to be 15 
said of the dignity and necessity of labour to every citizen. 
There is virtue yet in the hoe and the spade, for learned 
as well as for unlearned hands. And labour is everywhere 
welcome ; always we are invited to work ; only be this 
limitation observed, that a man shall not for the sake of 20 
wider activity sacrifice any opinion to the popular judge- 
ments and modes of action. 

I have now spoken of the education of the scholar by •^ 
nature, by books, and by action. It remains to say some- 
what of his duties. ^5 

They are such as become Man Thinking. They may 
all be comprised in self-trust. The office of the scholar 
1 Events. ^ Ungifted, uncultured. 


50 Essays of Emerson 

is to cheer, to raise, and to guide men by showing thenn 
facts amidst appearances. He plies the slow, unhonoured, 
and unpaid task of observation. Flamsteed and Herschel, 
in their glazed observatories, may catalogue the stars with 
5 the praise of all men, and the results being splendid and 
useful, honour is sure. But he, in his private observatory, 
cataloguing obscure and nebulous^ stars of the human 
mind, which as yet no man has thought of as such, — 
watching days and months sometimes for a few facts ; 

10 correcting still his old records; — must relinquish dis- 
play and immediate fame. In the long period of his 
preparation he must betray often an ignorance and shift- 
lessness in popular arts, incurring the disdain of the able 
who shoulder him aside. Long he must stammer in his 

15 speech ; often forego the living for the dead. Worse 
yet, he must accept, — how often ! poverty and solitude. 
For ^ the ease and pleasure of treading the old road, ac- 
cepting the fashions, the education, the religion of society, 
he takes the cross* of making his own, and, of course, the 

20 self-accusation, the faint heart, the frequent uncertainty 

and loss of time, which are the nettles and tangling vines 

in the way of the self-relying and self-directed ; and the 

state of virtual hostility in which he seems to stand to 

• society, and especially to educated society. For all this 

25 loss and scorn, what offset? He is to find consolation in 

exercising the highest functions of human nature. He is 

one who raises himself from private considerations and 

breathes and lives on public and illustrious thoughts. He 

1 Not yet consolidated. 2 instead of. 

The American Scholar 51 

is the world's eye. He is the world's heart. He is to 
resist the vulgar prosperity that retrogrades ever to 
barbarism, by preserving and communicating heroic 
sentiments, noble biographies, melodious verse, and the 
conclusions of history. Whatsoever oracles ^ the human 5 
heart, in all emergencies, in all solemn hours, has uttered 
as its commentary on the world of actions, — these he 
shall receive and impart. And whatsoever new verdict 
Reason from her inviolable seat pronounces on the pass- 
ing men and events of to-day, — this he shall hear and 10 

These being his functions, it becomes him to feel all 
confidence in himself, and to defer never to the popular 
cry. He and he only knows the world. The world of 
any moment is the merest appearance. Some great 15 
decorum,^ some fetish * of a government, some ephem- 
eral * trade, or war, or man, is cried up by half mankind 
and cried down by the other half, as if all depended on 
this particular up or down. The odds are that the whole 
question is not worth the poorest thought which the 20 
scholar has lost in listening to the controversy. Let 
him not quit his belief that a popgun is a popgun, 
though the ancient and honourable of the earth affirm 
it to be the crack of doom. In silence, in steadiness, in 
severe abstraction, let him hold by himself; add ob-25 
servation to observation, patient of neglect, patient of 

1 The sa3rings of one inspired. ^ Ruig of propriety. 

* Object of superstitious reverence, an African charm. 
^ Lasting for a day, 

52 Essays of Emerson 

reproach, and bide his own time, — happy enough if he 
can satisfy himself alone that this day he has seen some- 
thing truly. Success treads on every right step. For 
the instinct is sure, that prompts him to tell his brother 
5 what he thinks. He then learns that in going down into 
the secrets of his own mind he has descended into the 
secrets of all minds. He learns that he who has 
mastered any law in his private thoughts, is master to 
that extent of all men whose language he speaks, and 

10 of all into whose language his own can be translated. 
The poet, in utter solitude remembering his spontaneous 
thoughts and recording them, is found to have recorded 
that which men in crowded cities find true for them also. 
The orator distrusts at first the fitness of his frank confes- 

15 sions, his want of knowledge of the persons he addresses, 
until he finds that he is the complement of his hearers ; 
— that they drink his words because he fulfils for them 
their own nature ; the deeper he dives into his privatest, 
secretest presentiment, to his wonder he finds this is 

20 the most acceptable, most public, and universally true. 
The people delight in it ; the better part of every man 
feels, This is my music ; this is myself. 

In self-trust all the virtues are comprehended.^ 
Free should the scholar be, — fi-ee and brave. Free 

25 even to the definition of freedom, "without any hin- 
drance that does not arise out of his own constitution." 
Brave ; for fear is a thing which a scholar by his very 
function puts behind him. T Fear always springs from 
1 Included. 

The American Scholar 53 

ignorance. It is a shame to him if his tranquillity, amid 
dangerous times, arise from the presumption that like 
children and women his is a protected class ; or if he 
seek a temporary peace by the diversion of his thoughts 
from politics or vexed questions, hiding his head like an 5 
ostrich in the flowering bushes, peeping into microscopes, 
and turning rhymes, as a boy whistles to keep his courage 
up. So is the danger a danger still ; so is the fear worse. 
Manlike let him turn and face it. Let him look into its 
eye and search its nature, inspect its origin, — see the 10 
whelping ^ of this lion, — which lies no great way back ; 
he will then find in himself a perfect comprehension of 
its nature and extent ; he will have made his hands meet 
on the other side, and can henceforth defy it and pass on 
superior. The world is his who can see through its pre- 15 
tension. What deafness, what stone-blind custom, what 
overgrown error you behold is there only by sufferance, 
— by your sufferance. See it to be a lie, and you have 
already dealt it its mortal blow. 

Yes, we are the cowed, — we the trustless. It is a 20 
mischievous notion that we are come late into nature ; that 
the world was finished a long time ago. As the world 
was plastic and fluid in the hands of God, so it is ever 
to so much of his attributes as we bring to it. To 
ignorance and sin, it is flint. They adapt themselves to 25 
it as they may ; but in proportion as a man has any thing 
in him divine, the firmament flows before him and takes 
his signet and form. Not he is great who can alter 
^ Birth, as of a lion's whelp. 

54 Essays of Emerson 

matter, but he who can alter my state of mind. They 
are the kings of the world who give the colour of their 
present thought to all nature and all art, and persuade 
men by the cheerful serenity of their carrying the matter, 

5 that this thing which they do is the apple which the ages 
have desired to pluck, now at last ripe, and inviting nations 
to the harvest. The great man makes the great thing. 
Wherever Macdonald sits, there is the head of the table. 
Linnaeus makes botany the most alluring of studies, and 

10 wins it from the farmer and the herb-woman ; Davy, 
chemistry; and Cuvier, fossils. The day is always his 
who works in it with serenity and great aims. The un- 
stable estimates of men crowd to him whose mind is filled 
with a truth, as the heaped waves of the Atlantic follow 

15 the moon. 

For this self-trust, the reason is deeper than can be 
fathomed, — darker than can be enlightened. I might not 
carry with me the feeling of my audience in stating my 
own belief. But I have already shown the ground of my 

20 hope, in adverting to the doctrine that man is one. \ 
believe man has been wronged ; he has wronged himself^ 
He has almost lost the light that can lead him back to hif 
prerogatives. Men are become of no account. Men ii 
history, men in the world of to-day, are bugs, are spawn 

25 and are called " the mass " and " the herd." In a cen 
tury, in a millennium, one or two men ; that is to say, one 
or two approximations to the right state of every man 
All the rest behold in the hero or the poet their own 
green and crude being, — ripened ; yes, and are conten ; 

The American Scholar 55 

to be less, so that may attain to its full stature. What a 
testimony, full of grandeur, full of pity, is borne to the 
demands of his own nature, by the poor clansman, the poor 
partisan, who rejoices in the glory of his chief. The poor 
and the low find some amends to' their immense moral 5 
capacity, for their acquiescence in a political and social 
inferiority. They are content to be brushed like flies 
from the path of a great person, so that justice shall be 
done by him to that common nature which it is the 
dearest desire of all to see enlarged and glorified. They 10 
sun themselves in the great man's light, and feel it to be 
their own element. They cast the dignity of man from 
their downtrod selves upon the shoulders of a hero, 
and will perish to add one drop of blood to make that 
great heart beat, those giant sinews combat and conquer. 15 
He lives for us, and we live in him. 

Men such as they are, very naturally seek money or 
power; and power because it is as good as money, — 
the " spoils," so called, " of office." And why not ? for 
they aspire to the highest, and this, in their sleep-walk- 20 
ing, they dream is highest. Wake them and they shall 
quit the false good and leap to the true, and leave gov- 
ernments to clerks and desks. This revolution is to be 
wrought by the gradual domestication of the idea of 
Culture. The main enterprise of the world for splendour, 25 
for extent, is the upbuilding of a man. Here are the 
materials strewn along the ground. The private life of 
one man shall be a more illustrious monarchy, more 
formidable to its enemy, more sweet and serene in its 

^6 Essays of Emerson 

influence to its friend, than any kingdom in history. For 
a man, rightly viewed, comprehendeth the particular 
natures of all men. Each philosopher, each bard, each 
actor has only done for me, as by a delegate, what one 
5 day I can do for myself. The books which once we 
valued more than the apple of the eye, we have quite 
exhausted. What is that but saying that we have come 
up with the point of view which the universal mind took 
through the eyes of one scribe ; we have been that man, 

10 and have passed on. First, one, then another, we drain 
all cisterns, and waxing greater by all these supplies, we 
crave a better and more abundant food. The man has 
never lived that can feed us ever. The human mind 
cannot be enshrined in a person who shall set a barrier 

15 on any one side to this unbounded, unboundable em- 
pire. It is one central fire, which, flaming now out of 
the lips of Etna, lightens the capes of Sicily, and now 
out of the throat of Vesuvius, illuminates the towers and 
vineyards of Naples. It is one light which beams out of 

20 a thousand stars. It is one soul which animates all 

But I have dwelt perhaps tediously upon this abstrac- 
tion of the Scholar. I ought not to delay longer to add 
what I have to say of nearer reference to the time and 
25 to this country. 

Historically, there is thought to be a difference in the 
ideas which predominate over successive epochs, and 
there are data for marking the genius of the Classic, of 

The American Scholar 57 

the Romantic, and now of the Reflective or Philosophi- 
cal age. With the views I have intimated of the oneness 
or the identity of the mind through all individuals, I do 
not much dwell on these differences. In fact, I believe 
each individual passes through all three. The boy is a 5 
Greek; the youth, romantic; the adult, reflective. I 
deny not however that a revolution in the leading idea 
may be distinctly enough traced. 

Our age is bewailed as the age of Introversion.^ Must 
that needs be evil ? We, it seems, are critical ; we are 10 
embarrassed with second thoughts; we cannot enjoy 
any thing for hankering to know whereof the pleasure 
consists ; we are lined with eyes ; we see with our feet ; 
the time is infected with Hamlet's unhappiness, — 

" Sicklied o*er with the pale cast of thought." 15 

It is so bad then? Sight is the last thing to be pitied. 
Would we be blind? Do we fear lest we should outsee 
nature and God, and drink truth dry ? I look upon the 
discontent of the literary class as a mere announcement 
of the fact that they find themselves not in the state of 20 
mind of their fathers, and regret the coming state as un- 
tried ; as a boy dreads the water before he has learned 
that he can swim. If there is any period one would de- 
sire to be bom in, is it not the age of Revolution ; when 
the old and the new stand side by side and admit of 25 
being compared; when the energies of all men are 

^ Thought turned inward. 

58 Essays of Emerson 

searched by fear and by hope ; when the historic glories 
of the old can be compensated by the rich possibilities 
of the new era ? This time, like all times, is a very good 
one, if we but know what to do with it. 
5 I read with some joy of the auspicious signs of the 
coming days, as they glimmer already through poetry 
and art, through philosophy and science, through church 
and state. 

One of these signs is the fact that the same movement 

10 which effected the elevation of what was called the low- 
est class in the state, assumed in literature a very marked 
and as benign an aspect. Instead of the subhme and 
beautiful, the near, the low, the common, was explored 
and poetized. That which had been negligently trodden 

15 under foot by those who were harnessing and provision- 
ing themselves for long journeys into far countries, is 
suddenly found to be richer than all foreign parts. The 
literature of the poor, the feelings of the child, the phi- 
losophy of the street, the meaning of household life, are 

20 the topics of the time. It is a great stride. It is a sign, 
— is it not? of new vigour when the extremities are made 
active, when currents of warm life run into the hands 
and the feet. I ask not for the great, the remote, the 
romantic; what is doing in Italy or Arabia; what is 

25 Greek art, or Provencal minstrelsy ; I embrace the com- 
mon, I explore and sit at the feet of the familiar, the 
low. Give me insight into to-day and you may have 
the antique and future worlds. What would we really 
know the meaning of? The meal in the firkin; the 

The American Scholar 59 

milk in the pan ; the ballad in the street ; the news of 
the boat ; the glance of the eye ; the form and the gait 
of the body ; — show me the ultimate reason of these 
matters ; show me the sublime presence of the highest 
spiritual cause lurking, as always it does lurk, in these 5 
suburbs and extremities of nature ; let me see every 
trifle bristling with the polarity that ranges it instantly 
on an eternal law ; and the shop, the plough, and the 
ledger referred to the Hke cause by which light undulates 
and poets sing ; — and the world lies no longer a dull 10 
miscellany and lumber-room, but has form and order; 
there is no trifle, there is no puzzle, but one design unites 
and animates the farthest pinnacle and the lowest trench. 

This idea has inspired the genius of Goldsmith, Bums, 
Cowper, and, in a newer time, of Goethe, Wordsworth, 15 
and Carlyle. This idea they have differently followed 
and with various success. In contrast with their writing, 
the style of Pope, of Johnson, of Gibbon, looks cold and 
pedantic. This writing is blood-warm. Man is sur- 
prised to find that things near are not less beautiful and 20 
wondrous than things remote. The near explains the 
far. The drop is a small ocean. A man is related to 
all nature. This perception of the worth of the vulgar 
is fruitful in discoveries. Goethe, in this very thing the 
most modem of the moderns, has shown us, as none ever 25 
did, the genius of the ancients. 

There is one man of genius who has done much for 
this philosophy of life, whose literary value has never yet 
been rightly estimated ; — I mean Emanuel Swedenborg. 

6o Essays of Emerson 

The most imaginative of men, yet writing with the pre- 
cision of a mathematician, he endeavoured to engraft a 
purely philosophical Ethics on the popular Christianity 
of his time. Such an attempt of course must have diffi- 
5 culty which no genius could surmount. But he saw and 
showed the connexion between nature and the affections 
of the soul. He pierced the emblematic or spiritual 
character of the visible, audible, tangible world. Espe- 
cially did his shade-loving muse ^ hover over and inter- 

10 pret the lower parts of nature ; he showed the mysterious 

bond that allies moral evil to the foul material forms, 

and has given in epical parables a theory of insanity, of 

beasts, of unclean and fearful things. 

Another sign of our times, also marked by an analo- 

i5gous political movement, is the new importance given 
to the single person. Every thing that tends to insulate 
the individual, — to surround him with barriers of 
natural respect, so that each man shall feel the world is 
his, and man shall treat with man as a sovereign state 

20 with a sovereign state, — tends to true union as well as 
greatness. " I learned," said the melancholy Pestalozzi, 
"that no man in God's wide earth is either willing or 
able to help any other man." Help must come from 
the bosom alone. The scholar is that man who must 

25 take up into himself all the ability of the time, all the 

contribution of the past, all the hopes of the future. 

He must be an university of knowledges. If there 

be one lesson more than another which should pierce 

^ Genius, guiding spirit. 

The American Scholar 6i 

his ear, it is, The world is nothing, the man is all; 
in yourself is the law of all nature, and you know not 
yet how a globule of sap ascends ; in yourself slumbers 
the whole of Reason; it is for you to know all; it is 
for you to dare all. Mr. President and Gentlemen, 5 
this confidence in the unsearched might of man belongs, 
by all motives, by all prophecy, by all preparation, to 
the American Scholar. We have listened too long to 
the courtly muses of Europe. The spirit of the Ameri- 
can freeman is already suspected to be timid, imitative, 10 
tame. Public and private avarice make the air we 
breathe thick and fat. The scholar is decent, indolent, 
complaisant. See already the tragic consequence. The 
mind of this country, taught to aim at low objects, eats 
upon itself. There is no work for any but the decorous 15 
and the complaisant. Young men of the fairest promise, 
who begin life upon our shores, inflated ^ by the moun- 
tain winds, shined upon by all the stars of God, find the 
earth below not in unison with these, but are hindered 
fi-om action by the disgust which the principles on which 20 
business is managed inspire, and turn drudges, or die of 
disgust, some of them suicides. What is the remedy? 
They did not yet see, and thousands of young men as 
hopefiil now crowding to the barriers ^ for the career do 
not yet see, that if the single man plant himself indomi- 25 
tably on his instincts, and there abide, the huge world 
will come round to him. Patience, — patience; with 

* Breathed upon and filled. 

^ The bars enclosing the space for a tournament or contest. 

62 Essays of Emerson 

the shades * of all the good and great for company ; and 
for solace the perspective of your own infinite life ; and 
for work the study and the communication of principles, 
the making those instincts prevalent, the conversion of 
5 the world. Is it not the chief disgrace in the world, not 
to be an unit ; : — not to be reckoned one character ; — 
not to yield that peculiar fruit which each man was 
created to bear, but to be reckoned in the gross, in the 
hundred, or the thousand, of the party, the section, to 

10 which we belong ; and our opinion predicted geographi- 
cally, as the north, or the south ? Not so, brothers and 
fiiends, — please God, ours shall not be so. We will 
walk on our own feet ; we will work with our own hands ; 
we will speak our own minds. The study of letters shall 
5 be no longer a name for pity, for doubt, and for sensual 
indulgence. The dread of man and the love of man 
shall be a wall of defence and a wreath of joy around 
all. A nation of men will for the first time exist, because 
each believes himself inspired by the Divine Soul which 

20 also inspires all men. 

^ j^iritB* 


" 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 2 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." 

1 " Seek nothing outside of thyself.'* 
^ Determining our fates. 



Theme : Each man should trust himself, and be sure that what is 
true for him is true for all men. To do this he must resist outward 
influences. (Independence is really the principal subject of the 
essay, for it deals much more fully with resistance to the convention- 
alities of the world than with reliance upon self.) 

Structure : A. Introduction. An eminent painter writes origi- 
nal verses, showing that self-confidence which is the mark of genius. 
Every man must have it if he is to count as a person in the world. 

B. Discussion, I. Nature teaches relf-reliance, an instinct of 
childhood and youth. Society tries to crush it. We must resist if 
we are really to live. Virtue must be natural, not conventional. 
We must refuse to bow to dead usages, or to follow the crowd. Be 
not afraid of (i) unpopularity, (2) inconsistency. Contradict your- 
self, but say what you think from day to day. Be loyal to yourself 
and conquer the world. II. What is this Self on which we must 
rely? A personal manifestation of the universal life, the Divine 
mind. God shows each man truth every day through intuitions. 
In order to receive and follow this light we must trust the self 
through which it comes, and war against artificial and superfi- 
cial opinions and customs of society. III. Hindrances to self- 
reliance, which must be put aside: (i) False prayers and creeds. 

(2) Travel, in the spirit which idolizes the foreign and the remote. 

(3) Imitation of old models in art and literature. (4) Reliance on 
the progress of society, on property, or on government. 

C. Application, The application is scattered through the essay. 
Almost every page is full of practical maxims. The final lesson is 
that " nothing can bring you peace but yourself and the triumph of 


I READ the other day some verses written by an emi- 
nent 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 5 
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 10 
by the trumpets of the Last Judgement. Familiar as tlie 
voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we ascribe 
to Moses, Plat6, 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 15 
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 re- 
jected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain 20 
alienated* majesty. Great works of art have no more 

* G>mmon opinion. 

^ Intellectual heavens, in which great men shine as stars. 

^ ^ade foreign and strange. 


66 Essays of Emerson 

affecting lesson for us* than this. They teach us to abide 
by our spontaneous impression with good-humoured inflexi- 
bility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the 
other side. Else to-morrow a stranger will say with 
5 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 

10 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 com 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 

15 in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what 
that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has 
tried. Not for nothing one face, one character, one fact, 
makes much impression on him, and another none. 
This sculpture in the memory is not without pre-established 

20 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 im- 

25 parted, 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 

^ Fitness designed beforehand. ^ Having its place in the whole. 

Self-Reliance 67 

is a deliverance which does not deliver. In the attempt 
his genius deserts him ; no muse befriends ; no inven- 
tion, no hope. 

Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. 
Accept the place the divine providence has found for 5 
you, the society of your contemporaries, the connexion 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 10 
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 15 
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 20 
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 25 
and play to it. So God has armed youth and puberty * 

1 The confusion of the world before order came. 
« Children, etc. * Babes. 

* The change from childhood to manhood. 

68 Essays of Emerson 

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. 
5 Hark ! in the next room his voice is sufficiently clear and 
emphatic. It seems he knows how to speak to his con- 
temporaries. 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 

10 would disdain as much as a lord to do or say aught to 
conciliate one, is the healthy attitude of human natiire. 
A boy is in the parlour what the pit is in the playhouse ; 
independent, irresponsible, looking out from his comer on 
such people and facts as pass by, he tries and sentences 

15 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 

20 as it were clapped into jail by his consciousness. As soon 
as he has once acted or spoken with eclat^ he is a com- 
mitted person, watched by the sympathy or the hatred 
of hundreds, whose affections must now enter into his ac- 
count. There is no Lethe ^ for this. Ah, that he could 

25 pass again into his neutrality ! Who can thus avoid all 
pledges and, having observed, observe again from the 
same unaffected, unbiassed, unbribable, unaffrighted inno- 

* Freedom from care, coolness. 

2 French {a-kla) : brilliant success. * Forgetfulness. 

Self- Reliance 69 

cence, — 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 5 
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 sur- 10 
render 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 15 
hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if 
it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integ- 
rity 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 20 
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 25 
above." I replied, "They do not seem to me to be 

1 One who does not submit to the established creed or rule. 

2 Undying fame. ^ Justify. 
* Vote of approval. 

yo Essays of Emerson 

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 trans- 
ferable to that or this ; the only right is what is after my 
5 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 

10 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,* 

15 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 ambi- 
tion with this incredible tenderness for black folk a 

20 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 good- 
ness must have some edge to it, — else it is none. The 
doctrine of hatred must be preached, as the counterac- 

25 tion 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 

1 Mere names. 

2 The abolition of slavery in America. 

Self-Reliance 71 

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 ex- 
clude company. Then again, do not tell me, as a good 
man did to-day, of my obligation to put all poor men in 5 
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 ; 10 
for them I will go to prison if need be ; but your miscel- 
laneous 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 thousand- 
fold Rehef Societies ; — though I confess with shame 1 15 
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 excep- 
tion than the rule. There is the man and his virtues. 20 
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 25 
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 
1 A sudden turn of the mind, caprice. ^ show. 

72 Essays of Emerson 

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 evi- 
dence that you are a man, and refuse this appeal from 
5 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 

10 for my own assurance or the assurance of my fellows any 
secondary testimony. 

What I must do is all that concerhs me, not what the 
people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and 
in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction 

15 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 

20 in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness 
the independence of solitude. 

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 

25 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, — 

1 Even, uniform. 

2 I,e, as if it were sick. 

Self-Reliance 73 

under all these screens I have difficulty to detect the pre- 
cise man* you are : and of course so much force is with- 
drawn 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 5 
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 10 
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 ^ 15 
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 20 
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 25 
come to wear one cut of face and figure, and acquire by 

1 Precisely what kind of a man. ^ Lawyer paid by one side. 

* The court which decides between the sides. 

* As in blindman's-buff. 

74 Essays of Emerson 

degrees the gentlest asinine expression. There is a mor- 
tifying experience in particular, which does not fail to 
wreak itself also in the general history ; I mean " the fool- 
ish face of praise," the forced smile which we put on in 
5 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 fece, with 
the most disagreeable sensation. 

lo For nonconformity the world whips you with its dis- 
pleasure. And therefore a man must know how to esti- 
mate 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 

15 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 ne\vspaper directs. Yet is the discontent of 
the multitude more formidable than that of the senate 

20 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 

25 the ignorant and the poor are aroused, when the unintelli- 
gent brute force that lies at the bottom of society is made 
to growl and mow,* it needs the habit of magnanimity 

1 Sideways. ^Turning 2iW2Ly. 

** Endure. * Make ugly faces. 

Self-Reliance 75 

and religion to treat it godlike as a trifle of no concern- 

The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our con- 
sistency ; a reverence for our past act or word because the 
eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit 5 
than our past acts, and we are loath to disappoint them. 

But why should you keep your head over your shoul- 
der ? ^ 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 10 
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 judgement into the thousand- 
eyed present, and live ever in a new day. In your meta- 
physics you have denied personality to the Deity, yet 15 
when the devout motions of the soul come, yield to them 
heart and hfe, though they should clothe God with shape 
and colour. Leave your theory, as Joseph his coat in the 
hand of the harlot, and flee. 

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin * of little minds, 20 
adored by Httle 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, 25 
though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — * Ah, 

1 Look backward. 

^ A malicious imp, used by nurses to frighten children. 

* Solid, firm. 

76 Essays of Emerson 

so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.' — Is it so bad 
then to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunder- 
stood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Coper- 
nicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise 

5 spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be mis- 

I suppose no man can violate his nature. AH the 
sallies of his will are rounded in by the law of his being, 
as the inequalities of Andes and Himmaleh are insignifi- 

10 cant 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 con- 
trite wood-life which God allows me, let me record day 

15 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 

20 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 ^ 
actipns, and do not see that virtue or vice emit * a breath 
every moment. 

25 There will be an agreement in whatever variety of 

1 The earth. 

2 A verse in which certain letters, taken in different lines, form 
a word. See note. 

8 Open. * Emits (singular) 

Self-Reliance 77 

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 5 
line of a himdred 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 10 
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.^ 15 
All the foregone days of virtue work their health into this. 
A^^at makes the majesty of the heroes of the senate and 
the field, which so fills the imagination ? The conscious- 
ness of a train of great days and victories behind. They 
shed an united light on the advancing actor. He is 20 
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. 
Honour is venerable to us because it is no ephemera.^ 
It is always ancient virtue. We worship it to-day because 25 
it is not of to-day. We love it and pay it homage because 

^ Short runs of a boat, beating against the wind. 

^ Increasing by successive additions. 

• An insect which lives one day, a May-fly. 

7 8 Essays of Emerson 

it is not a trap for our love and homage, but is self-depend- 
ent, 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 con- 
5 formity 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 

lohe 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 medioc- 
rity and squalid contentment of the times, and hurl in the 
face of custom and trade and office, the fact which is the 

15 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, 

20 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 circum- 
stances indifferent. Every true man is a cause, a country, 

25 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 

^ Declared bankrupt. See note. 

Self-Reliance 79 

is bom, 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, 5 
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 

Let a man then know his worth, and keep things under 10 
his feet. Let him not peep or steal, or skulk up and 
down with the air of a charity-boy, a bastard, or an in- 
terloper 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 sculp- 15 
tured a marble god, feels poor when he looks on these. 
To him a palace, a statue, or a costly book have an 
aHen and forbidding air, much hke a gay equipage, 
and seem to say hke that, * Who are you. Sir ? ' Yet 
they all are his, suitors for his notice, petitioners to 20 
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 25 
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 

1 The highest possible attainment. ^ xhe ufg q{ monks. 

82 Essays of Emerson 

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 percep- 
5tions, 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 

lo 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 be- 
tween perception and notion. They fancy that I 

15 choose to see this or that thing. But perception is not 
whimsical,* but fetal.* 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 

20 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 communi- 
cate, not one thing, but all things ; should fill the world 

25 with his voice ; should scatter forth light, nature, time, 

souls, firom 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 

1 A matter of caprice. ^ A matter of necessity. 

Self-Reliance 83 

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 5 
and particular miracles disappear. If therefore a man 
claims to know and speak of God and carries you back- 
ward 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 fullness and 10 
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 colours which the eye makes, 15 
but the soul is light : where it is, is day ; where it was, 
is night ; and history is an impertinence and an injury if it 
be any thing more than a cheerful apologue ^ or parable 
of my being and becoming. 

Man is timid and apologetic ; he is no longer upright ; 20 
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 25 
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 
1 A story invented to convey a moral. 

84 Essays of Emerson 

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 
5 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 

10 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 re- 
peat by rote the sentences of grandames* and tutors, and, 

15 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 

20 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 treas- 

25ures 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 

1 Old women. 

Self-Reliance 85 

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 5 
shall not discern the footprints 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 10 
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, per- 15 
ceives the self- existence of Truth and Right, and calms 
itself with knomng that all things go well. Vast spaces 
of nature, the Atlantic Ocean, the South Sea ; long inter- 
vals of time, years, centuries, are of no account. This 
which I think and feel underlay every former state of life 20 
and circumstances, as it does underlie my present, and 
what is called life an<J what is called death. 

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 25 
the gulf, in the darting to an aim. This one fact the 
world hates; that the soul becomes;^ for that forever 

' As far as. ^ The way that leads to solitude, not to imitation. 
8 Grows, passes into a new state of being. 

86 Essays of Emerson 

degrades the past, turns all riches to poverty, all reputa- 
tion 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 
5 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 

10 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, 

15 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 

20 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 

25 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 
1 Relying on something else. ^ Acting from itself. 

^ Master and guide. * Not plastic, etc. ^ Dissolving. 

Self-Reliance * 87 

which cannot help itself. The genesis ^ and maturation * 
of a planet, its poise and orbit, the bended tree recover- 
ing itself from the strong wind, the vital resources of 
every animal and vegetable, are demonstrations of the 
self-sufficing and therefore self-relying soul. 5 

Thus all concentrates : * let us not rove ; let us sit at 
home with the cause. Let us stun and astonish the in- 
truding 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. 10 
Let our simplicity judge them, and our docility to our 
own law demonstrate the poverty of nature and fortune 
beside our native riches. 

But now we are a mob. Man does not stand in awe 
of man, nor is his genius admonished to stay at home, to 15 
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 20 
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 25 
their petulance or folly, even to the extent of being 
ashamed of it. But your isolation must not be mechani- 

^ Origin, birth. 2 Growth to perfection. 

^ Comes to one centre. ^ An enclosed space. ^ A sacred place. 

88 Essays of Emerson 

cal, 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 

^ 5 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 

10 love." 

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 

15 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 deceiv- 
ing people with whom we converse. Say to them, *0 
father, O mother, O wife, O brother, O friend, I have 

20 lived with you after appearances hitherto. Henceforward 
I am the truth's. Be it known unto you that hencefor- 
ward I obey no law less than the eternal law. I will have 
no covenants but proximities.^ I shall endeavour to nour- 
ish my parents, to support my family, to be the chaste 

25 husband of one wife, — but these relations I must fill after 
a new and unprecedented way. I appeal from your cus- 
toms. I must be myself. I cannot break myself any 
longer for you, or you.^ If you can love me for what I 
^ Nearness. See note. 2 ^^y individual. 

Self-Reliance 89 

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, 1 5 
will love you ; if you are not, I will not hurt you and ray- 
self 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 10 
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 fol- 
low the truth it will bring us out safe at last.' — But so 
may you give these friends pain.^ Yes, but I cannot sell 15 
my liberty and my power, to save their sensibility. Be- 
sides, 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 20 
standards is a rejection of all standard, and mere anti- 
nomianism ; ^ and the bold sensualist will use the name 
of philosophy to gild his crimes. But the law of con- 
sciousness abides. There are two confessionals, in one 
or the other of which we must be shriven.^ You may fill- 25 
fil your round of duties by clearing yourself in the direct^ 

^ This is said by a supposed objector. 

2 Opposition to all law. 

^ Our confession heard and penance prescribed. 

90 Essays of Emerson 

or in the reflex way. Consider whether you have satis- 
lied 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 ab- 
5 solve 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 

10 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 

15 earnest be doctrine, society, law, to himself, that a sim- 
ple purpose may be to him as strong as iron necessity is 
to others ! 

If any man consider the present aspects of what is 
called by distinction society ^ he will see the need of these 

20 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 

25 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 

1 Theory of morals. 2 Owing more than they can pay. 

Self- Reliance 91 

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 5 
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 10 
right in being disheartened and in complaining the rest 
of his life. A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Ver- 
mont, who in turn tries all the professions, who teams it^ 
farms it, 'peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a news- 
paper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, 15 
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 pro- 
fession,' for he does not postpone his life, but lives 
already. He has not one chance, but a hundred chances. 20 
Let a Stoic open the resources of man and tell men they 
are not leaning willows, but can and must detach them- 
selves; 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 25 
of our compassion, and that the moment he acts from 
himself, tossing the laws, the books, idolatries and cus- 
toms out of the window, we pity him no more but thank 
^ Drives a team, works a farm (colloquial). 

92 Essays of Emerson 

and revere him ; — and that teacher shall restore the life 
of man to splendour and make his name dear to all his- 

It is easy to see that a greater self-reliance must work 

5 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 views. 

I. In what prayers do men allow^ themselves ! That 
10 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 par- 
's ticular commodity, anything 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 pri- 
2ovate 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 
25 kneeling with the stroke of his oar, are true prayers heard 
throughout nature, though for cheap ends. Caratach, in 

^ Indulge. 

2 The doctrine that the world is ruled by two equal and opposing 

Self- Reliance 93 

Fletcher's Bonduca, when admonished to inquire the 
mind of the god Audate, replies, — 

" His hidden meaning lies in our endeavours; 
Our valours are our best gods. " 

Another sort of false prayers are our regrets. Discon- 5 
tent 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 fori© 
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 15 
flung wide ; him all tongues greet, all honours crown, all 
eyes follow with desire. Our love goes out to him and 
embraces him because he did not need it. We solici- 
tously and apologetically caress and celebrate him be- 
cause he held on his way and scorned our disapprobation. 20 
The gods love him because men hated him. "To the 
persevering mortal," said Zoroaster, "the blessed Im- 
mortals are swift." 

As men's prayers are a disease of the will, so are their 
creeds a disease of the intellect. They say with those 25 
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 

94 Essays of Emerson 

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 

5 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 

10 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 

15 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 classi- 

20 fication is idolized, passes for the end and not for a 
speedily exhaustible means, so that the walls of the sys- 
tem 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 

25 imagine how you aliens have any right to see, — how you 
can see ; * It must be somehow that you stole the light 

^ Grouping of things into classes and orders. 
2 System of names. 
• Seem to be one with. 

Self-Reliance 95 

from us.' They do not yet perceive that light, unsys- 
tematic, 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, 5 
will rot and vanish, and the immortal light, all young and 
joyful, million-orbed, million-coloured, 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 10 
its fascination for all educated Americans. They who 
made England, Italy, or Greece venerable in the im- 
agination, did so by sticking fast where they were, like 
an axis of the earth. In manly hours we feel that duty 
is oiu- place. The soul is no traveller; the wise mams 
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 mis- 
sionary of wisdom and virtue, and visits cities and men 20 
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 bene- 
volence, so that^ the man is first domesticated, or does i 
not go abroad with the hope of finding somewhat greater 25 

1 Sing with pleasure like a small bird at dawn. 

2 A place where animals are confined. ' Narrow. 

* One who intrudes. * A body servant. 

' Ignorant and rude. ' Provided. 

96 Essays of Emerson 

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 
5 old and dilapidated as they. He carries ruins to ruins. 
Travelling is a fooFs paradise. Our first journeys dis- 
cover 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 

10 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 

15 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 

20 forced to stay at home. We imitate; and what is imi- 
tation 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 

25 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 

1 The palace of the Pope in Rome. 

Self-Reliance 97 

copy the Doric or the Gothic model? Beauty, conven- 
ience, 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, 5 
the wants of the people, the habit and form of the gov- 
ernment, 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 10 
you can present every moment with the cumulative force 
of a whole life's cultivation ; but of the adopted tal- 
ent 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, 15 
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 Wash- 
ington, or Bacon, or Newton ? Every great man is a 
unique.^ The Scipionism of Scipio is precisely that part 20 
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 25 
trowel* of the Egyptians, or the pen of Moses or Dante, 

1 Belonging to the moment. 

2 One who stands alone. ^ Sculptor's tool. 
* Mason's tool, used to spread mortar. 


98 Essays of Emerson 

but different from all these. Not possibly will the soul, 
all rich, all eloquent, 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 

5 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 Fore- 
world ^ again. 

4. As our Religion, our Education, our Art look 

10 abroad, so does our spirit of society. All men plume 
themselves on the improvement of society, and no man 

Society never advances. It recedes as fast on one 
side as it gains on the other. It undergoes continual 

15 changes ; it is barbarous, it is civilized, it is christianized, 
it is rich, it is scientific ; but this change is not ameliora- 
tion. 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, think- 

2oing 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 undi- 
vided twentieth of a shed to sleep under ! But compare 
the health of the two men and you shall see that the 

25 white man has lost his aboriginal strength. If the trav- 
eller 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 

1 Divided into many tongues. ^ Early world. 

^ An order for the payment of money. 

Self-Reliance 99 

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 Genevas 
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 10 
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 15 
have not lost by refinement some energy, by a Chris- 
tianity entrenched in establishments® and forms some 
vigour 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 20 
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 25 
greater men than Plutarch's heroes, three or four and 

^ The moment when the sun is farthest from the equator. 
2 The moment when the sun crosses the plane of the equator. 
^ A church recognized and supported by the state. 

loo Essays of Emerson 

twenty centuries ago. Not in time is the race progres- 
sive. 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 
5 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 machin- 
ery may compensate its good. Hudson and Behring ac- 
complished so much in their fishing-boats as to astonish 

10 Parry and Franklin, whose equipment exhausted the 
resources of science and art. Galileo, with an opera- 
glass, discovered a more splendid series of celestial phe- 
nomena than any one since. Columbus found the New 
World in an undecked boat. It is curious to see the 

15 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 essen- 
tial man. We reckoned the improvements of the art of 
war among the triumphs of science, and yet Napoleon 

20 conquered Europe by the bivouac,^ which consisted of 
falling back on naked valour 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 

25 imitation of the Roman custom, the soldier should 
receive his supply of com, grind it in his hand-mill 
and bake his bread himself." 

Society is a wave. The wave moves onward, but the 
i Camp without tents. 

Self-Reliance loi 

water of which it is composed does not. The same par- 
ticle 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 dies 
with them. 5 

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 lo 
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 15 
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 20 
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 AH, " is 25 
seeking after thee ; therefore be at rest from seeking 

^ I.e, the unity of the wave. ^ His possession of it. 

2 In appearance. ♦ Le. he does always acquire what he is. 

* Gesture of command. 

I02 Essays of Emerson 

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, 

5 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, 

10 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 

15 town? Ask nothing of men, and, in the endless muta- 
tion, thou only firm column inust 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, 

20 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 

25 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 

1 In Great Britain, the highest judicial officer of the crown, 
keeper of the great seal. 

Self- Reliance 103 

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 favourable event raises your spirits, and you think 5 
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 principles. 


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. 

1 Spotted. 2 Planets. 

8. Something added to balance the scale. 

* One of the small planets between Mars and Jupiter. (Incor- 
rect use.) 



Theme : Everything in the world is ruled by the law of a just 
balance ; a loss in one point is a gain in another and vice versa ; 
nature cannot be cheated; all that a man gets he must pay for; 
and all that he really pays for he gets. 

Structure : A. Introduction, From boyhood Emerson has 
wished to write about this law. (i) Because of the interest of the 
facts which prove it, and (2) because it is often denied by preachers 
who postpone perfect justice and compensation to a future life. 
Therefore he proposes to trace, in part, the working of the law of 
compensation in the present life. (Note, he says this essay belongs 
with one on "Spiritual Laws,'' which follows it in the original 

B. Discussion, I. Polarity, or action and reaction, (i) in 
nature, (2) in human life, (3) in the commonwealth. II. The 
cause of this lies (i) in the unity and (2) the moral quality of the 
universe. Therefore we cannot separate life into two parts and 
get the sensual pleasure without the sensual hurt. Illustrations of 
this truth from mythology and proverbs. Retribution comes {a) in 
the soul at once, but {b) in outward consequences it may be 
delayed. III. The folly of trying to escape this law. Examples 
of its working {a) in the penalty of social wrong-doing, (^) in the 
rewards of labour, {c) in the security of virtue, and {d) in the 
blessings of disaster and persecution. IV. But in the soul itself 
there is something deeper than compensation : the soul's own life. 
Here we may gain without any corresponding loss, because 
virtue, being an increase of spiritual life, is its own reward. 

C. Conclusion. Optimism is the native faith of the soul, which 
finds inward peace to balance all inequalities of condition, (i) Dif- 
ferences of power and faculty are reduced by love, which makes 
all men one. (2) Calamities are turned into blessings {a) at once 
by the fact that they make room for the growth of soul, and (^) in 
the long run they lead us into larger and nobler relations with life. 



Ever since I was a boy I have wished to write a dis- 
course 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 5 
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 transac- 
tions 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, ,5 
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 20 
in many dark hours and crooked passages in our journey, 
that would not suffer us to lose our way. 

^ Weighing one thing against another, making good deficiencies. 
2 The doctrine. ^ A mark, footprint. 


io8 Essays of Emerson 

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 doc- 
trine of the Last Judgement. He assumed that judgement 

sis not executed in this world; that the wicked are suc- 
cessful; 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 ap- 
peared to be taken by the congregation at this doctrine. 

10 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, 

15 offices, wine, horses, dress, luxury, are had by unprinci- 
pled 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? 

20 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 * ; 

25 — 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.' 

1 Meaning. 2 Spanish coins of gold ; riches. 

8 Supply : " can be meant." 

Compensation 109 

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 5 
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 10 
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 their theology. 
Their daily life gives it the lie. Every ingenuous and 15 
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 afterthought, if said in conversation 20 
would probably be questioned in silence. If a man dog- 
matize* 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 statement. 25 

I shall attempt in this and the following chapter to 

1 Deceit, false argument. 

^ The place where commercial standards rule. 

^ Outward propriety. * Make assertions without proof. 

no Essays of Emerson 

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 circle. 

PoLARFTY, or action and reaction, we meet in every 
5 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 ; 

10 in the undulations of fluids and of sound ; in the centrif- 
ugal * 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. 

15 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. 

20 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 com, in each 

25 individual of every animal tribe. The reaction, so grand 
in the elements, is repeated within these small boundaries. 

^ Part of a curve. ^ Contraction. * Dilatation. 

* Flying from the centre. * Tending to tbQ Centre. • Develop. 

Compensation 1 1 1 

For example, in the animal kingdom the physiologist has 
observed that no creatures are favourites, 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 5 
neck are enlarged, the trunk and extremities are cut 

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 10 
another instance. The influences of climate and soil 
in political history is another. The cold climate invigo- 
rates. The barren soil does not breed fevers, crocodiles, 
tigers or scorpions. 

The same dualism underlies the nature and condition 15 
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 modera- 
tion with its life. For every grain of wit there is a grain of 20 
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 25 
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 

^ Excess. 2 Supply : " in wants. " ^ Exclusive privileges. 

112 Essays of Emerson 

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 

5 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 

10 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 Whit^ House.' 

15 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 con- 
tent to eat dust* before the real masters* who stand erect 
behind the throne. Or do men desire the more sub- 

20 stantial 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 

25 light, and always outrun that sympathy which gives him 

* Schoolmistress. 2 Soften. 

' Popular name of the Executive Mansion at Washington. 

* Humiliate himself. * The political bosses. 
^ Superintends. 

Compensation 113 

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 5 
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, 10 
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 govern- 15 
ment is a terrific democracy, the pressure is resisted by 
an over-charge of energy in the citizen, and life glows 
with a fiercer flame. The true life and satisfactions of 
man seem to elude the utmost rigours or felicities of con- 
dition and to establish themselves with great indifferency 20 
under all varieties of circumstances. Under all govern- 
ments 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 25 

These appearances indicate the fact that the universe 
is represented in every one of its particles. Every thing 
^ Never ceasing to advance. * Bloody, cruel. 


1 1 4 Essays of Emerson 

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 
5 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, hin- 
drances, energies and whole system of every other. Every 
occupation, trade, art, transaction, is a compend ^ of the 

10 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. 

15 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 

20 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 

25 repulsion ; if the force, so the limitation. 

^ Change of form. 2 Brief summary. 

8 Interdependent. * Have room for. 
^ Shows the law which makes it a globe. 

6 Tiny animal. ^ Be together. 

Compensation 115 

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. 5 
A perfect equity adjusts its balance in all parts of life. 
01 K-vfioi Atos dct cvTTWTTovo"*, — The dice of God are 
always loaded. The world looks Hke a multiplication- 
table, or a mathematical equation, which, turn it how 
you will, balances itself. Take what figure you will, its 10 
exact value, nor more nor less, still returns to you. 
Every secret is told, every crime is punished, every vir- 
tue rewarded, every wrong redressed, in silence and cer- 
tainty. What we call retribution is the universal necessity 
by which the whole appears wherever a part appears. 15 
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 20 
nature ; and secondly in the circumstance, or in appar- 
ent 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 25 
is often spread over a long time and so does not become 
distinct until after many years. The specific stripes * may 

^ Irresistible, determining. 2 Makes itself complete. 

8 Blows given in punishment. 

I T 6 Essays of Emerson 

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 
5 Cause and effect, means and ends, seed and fruit, cannot 
be severed ; for the effect already blooms in the cause, 
the end pre-exists 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 appro- 

10 priate ; 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, etc., from 

15 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 

20 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 

25 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, 

1 With all its strength. ^ Bargain in a petty way, 

Compensation 117 

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, — 5 
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 10 
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 out- 
side, or a light without a shadow. " Drive out Nature 15 
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. 20 
If he escapes them in one part they attack him in an- 
other 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 25 
this separation of the good* from the tax,* that the 

1 One who makes a plan. ^ Clothes. 

' Not moral good, but a thing desired. 
* A charge laid upon property. 

ii8 Essays of Emerson 

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 intel- 
lect is at once infected, so that the man ceases to see 
5 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 

10 who dwellest in the highest heavens in silence, O thou 
only great God, sprinkHng with an unwearied provi- 
dence certain penal bhndnesses upon such as have un- 
bridled desires ! " 
V The human soul is true to these facts in the painting 

15 of fable, of history, of law, of proverbs, of conversation. 
It finds a tongue in Uterature unawares. Thus the 
Greeks called Jupiter, Supreme Mind ; but having tra- 
ditionally ascribed to him many base actions, they invol- 
untarily made amends to reason by tying up the hands of 

20 so bad a god. He is made as helpless as a king of Eng- 
land. 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 
25 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 

Compensation 119 

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 5 
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 10 
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 noth- 15 
ing 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 20 
punish him. The poets related that stone, walls and iron 
swords and leather 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 25 
Hector gave Ajax was that on whose point Ajax fell. 
They recorded that when the Thasians erected a statue 

* Relating to punishment. 2 The ancients. 

* Hidden, mysterious. 

I20 Essays of Emerson 

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. 
5 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 ; 

lo 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 eariy Hellenic^ worid that I would know. 
The name and circumstance of Phidias, however conven- 

15 lent 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 

20 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 

25 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 

^ Pertaining to Greece, Hellas. 

Compensation 1 2 1 

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 om- 
nipresent as that of birds and flies. 

All things are double, one against another. — Tit for 5 
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 10 
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 15 
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 20 
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 25 
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 

122 Essays of Emerson 

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 

5 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 

10 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 phi- 

15 losophy. 

All infractions' of love and equity in our social rela- 
tions 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 

20 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 

25 have shrunk from him ; his eyes no longer seek mine ; 
there is war between us ; there is hate in him and fear in 

* The cord. ^ The lowest pieces in the game of chess. 

^ Breakings. 

Compensation 1 23 

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 instructor of 
great sagacity and the herald of all revolutions. One 
thing he teaches, that there is rottenness where he ap- 5 
pears. 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 10 
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, 15 
the awe of prosperity, the instinct which leads every gen- 
erous 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 man. 

Experienced men of the world know very well that it 20 
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 favours and rendered none ? Has 
he gained by borrowing, through indolence or cunning, 25 
his neighbour's wares, or horses, or money ? There arises 

^ Presaged evil. '^ Spoken inarticulately. 

* Ill-omened, threatening. * Rigid bodily self-denial. 

5 In place of another. 

124 Essays of Emerson 

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 

5 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 neigh- 
bour's coach, and that '' the highest price he can pay for 
a thing is to ask for it." 

10 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 p^y ; for first or last you 
must pay your entire debt. Persons and events may 

15 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. 

20 He is great who confers the most benefits. He is base, 
— and that is the one base thing in the universe, — to 
receive favours 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 

25 be rendered again, hne 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 sort. 

I Supply: "debt." * Beget 

Compensation 125 

Labour is watched over by the same pitiless laws. 
Cheapest, say the prudent, is the dearest labour. 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 5 
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. 10 
But because of the dual constitution of things, in labour 
as in life there can be no cheating. The thief steals 
from himself. The swindler swindles himself. For the 
real price ^ of labour is knowledge and virtue, whereof 
wealth and credit are signs. These signs, like paper 15 
money, may be counterfeited or stolen, but that which 
they represent, namely, knowledge and virtue, cannot be 
counterfeited or stolen. These ends of labour cannot be 
answered but by real exertions of the mind, and in 
obedience to pure motives. The cheat, the defaulter, 20 
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. 25 

Human labour, through all its forms, from the sharpen- 
ing of a stake to the construction of a city or an epic, is 
one immense illustration of the perfect compensation of 
1 Reward, price received. 

126 Essays of Emerson 

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 
5 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 

10 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 

15 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 

20 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 

25 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 

1 Old form of ledger, account-book. ^ Financial statement, 
* Condemning. 

Compensation 127 

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 5 
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 colours and from enemies became friends, so 10 
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." 15 

The good are befriended even by weakness and de- 
fect. 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 20 
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 con- 
tended against it, so no man has a thorough acquaint- 25 
ance 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 
1 Comes to life, leaks out. 

128 Essays of Emerson 

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 pearl. 
5 Our strength grows out of our weakness. The indig- 
nation which arms itself with secret forces does not 
awaken until we are pricked and stung and sorely as- 
sailed. A great man is always willing to be little. 
Whilst he sits on the cushion of advantages, he goes 

10 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 skiD. The wise man throws 

15 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 fi"om him like a dead skin 
and when they would triumph, lo ! he has passed on ii> 
vulnerable. Blame is safer than praise. I hate to be 

20 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 

25 benefactor. As the Sandwich Islander believes that the 
strength and valour of the enemy he kills passes into him- 
self, so we gain the strength of the temptation we resist. 
The same guards which protect us from disaster, 
1 Puts himself in their place. 2 Heals over with a scar. 

Compensation 129 

defect and enmity, defend us, if we will, from selfishness 
and fraud. Bolts and bars are not the best of our in- 
stitutions, 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 5 
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 10 
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.^ 15 

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 20 
traversing its work. The mob is man voluntarily descend- 
ing 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 25 
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 
^Treasury of a state. 


I JO Essays of Emerson 

inviolate spirit turns their spite against the wrongdoers. 
The martyr cannot be dishonoured. Every lash inflicted 
is a tongue of fame ; every prison a more illustrious 
abode ; every burned book or house enlightens the 
5 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 justified. 

lo Thus do all things preach the indifferency of circum- 
stances. 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 

15 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, 

20 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. 

25 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 

Compensation 131 

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. 5 

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 judgement anywhere in 
visible nature. There is no stunning confutation of his 
nonsense before men and angels. Has he therefore out- 10 
witted 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. 15 

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 prop- 
erly am ; in a virtuous act I add to the world ; I plant 20 
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 25 
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 appli- 
^ Obstinate baseness. *The souPs. 

132 Essays of Emerson 

cation 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 
5 the good of A^irtue, for that is the incoming of God him- 
self, 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 souFs, and 

10 may be had if paid for in nature's lawful coin, that is, by 
labour 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 

15 possessions, nor honours, 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 

20 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 

25 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 

Compensation 133 

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 5 
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. 10 
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 con- 15 
quer 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 20 
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 shellfish crawls out of its beautiful but 
stony case, because it no longer admits of its growth, and 25 
slowly forms a new house. In proportion to the vigour of 
the individual these revolutions are frequent, until in 
some happier mind they are incessant and all worldly 
1 Notices given. 

134 Essays of Emerson 

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 in- 
durated ^ heterogeneous ^ fabric of many dates and of no 
5 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 

10 day by day. But to us, in our lapsed estate, resting, not 
advancing, resisting, not co-operating with the divine ex- 
pansion, 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 

15 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 re-create that beautiful yes- 
terday. We linger in the ruins of the old tent where 

20 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 

25 amid the ruins. Neither will we rely on the new ; and 
so we walk ever with reverted eyes, Hke those monsters 
who look backwards. 

And yet the compensations of calamity are made ap- 
1 Hardened. 2 Qf different materials. 

Compensation 135 

parent 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 un- 
paid loss, and unpayable. But the sure years reveal the 
deep remedial force that underlies all facts. The death 5 
of a dear friend, wife, brother, lover, which seemed noth- 
ing 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 10 
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 for- 
mation of new acquaintances and the reception of new 
influences that prove of the first importance to the next 15 
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 20 
of men. 


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. 

The mill-round of our fate appears 

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. 



Theme : Friendship as the giving of the best that a man has in 
himself and the discovery of the best in another who responds to 

Structure: A. Introduction, The natural kindness of the 
human heart, and the stimulating and joyful effects of indulging it. 
Friends quicken thought and enlarge life. But this exhilaration 
ebbs and flows; at times the soul returns into itself, asserts its own 
self-reliance, and questions the reality of all else compared with 
this. Doubts disturb friendship. But most of our disappoint- 
ments come from the effort to make friends in haste and our 
failure to meet them on equal ground. 

B. Discussion. Absolute friendship is the most solid thing we 
know. I. Its elements: (i) mutual sincerity, and (2) mutual 
tenderness, which is best expressed by homely service both to 
inward and to outward needs. II. Its limitations: Conversati^>n 
is best between two; a company interferes- with it. Affinity 
determines which two; but they must also have unlikeness, else 
there will be no intercourse, for there will be only one. III. Its 
requirements : reverence, delicacy, reserve, patient waiting for its 
full development, and intervals of silence. IV. Ideal friendships 
are dreams which we hope will be fulfilled in better regions. 
Meantime we must not descend to cheap ones, but keep our 
spiritual independence, and meet our friends only when we can 
do so on high ground. Therefore Emerson often withdraws 
from his friends in order that he may cherish his own inward 
visions. He would give to his friends that which he truly is, and 
receive that which emanates from them. 

C. Conclusion. A question whether, after all, friendship may 
not be one-sided ; giving without receiving ; an unequal alliance, 
by which the superior is enlarged, while the inferior passes away. 
But this is treason to friendship, which requires perfect trust. 



We have a great deal more kindness than is ever 
spoken. Maugre * all the 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 5 
yet we honour, and who honour 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 10 
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 15 
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 20 
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 25 
^ In spite of. 

140 Essays of Emerson 

causes. A commended stranger is expected and an- 
nounced^ 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. 
5 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 

10 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 

15 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 

20 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 

25 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 

^ Clothed him with a form. 

Friendship 141 

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 beat- 
ing heart, the steps and forms of the gifted and the true ! 5 
The moment we indulge our affections, the earth is meta- 
morphosed ; there is no winter and no night ; all trage- 
dies, all ennuis ^ vanish, — all duties even ; nothing fills 
the proceeding eternity but the forms all radiant of be- 
loved persons. Let the soul be assured that somewhere 10 
in the universe it should rejoin its friend, and it would be 
content and cheerful alone for a thousand years. 

I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my 
friends, the old and the new. Shall I not call God the 
Beautifiil, who daily showeth himself so to me in his 15 
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 20 
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 them- 
selves, we shall by and by stand in a new world of our 
own creation, and no longer strangers and pilgrims in a 25 
traditionary globe. My friends have come to me un- 
sought. The great God gave them to me. By oldest 
right, by the divine affinity of virtue with itself, I find 
^ Tired feelings. 

142 Essays of Emerson 

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 con- 
nives,^ and now makes many one. High thanks I owe 
5 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 

10 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 

15 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 

20 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 bom 
of it; my action is very little modified. I must feel 
pride in my friend's accomplishments as if they were 

25 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 con- 
science of our friend. His goodness seems better than 
1 Shuts his eyes, overlooks them. * Guiding spirit. 

Friendship 143 

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 with- 5 
out their analogy in the ebb and flow of love. Friend- 
ship, like the immortality of the soul, is too good to be 
beHeved. 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 10 
suspicion and unbeHef. We doubt ^ that we bestow on our 
hero the virtues in which he shines, and afterwards wor- 
ship 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 15 
underlie the same condition of an infinite remoteness. 
Shall we fear to cool our love by mining for the meta- 
physical 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 20 
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, 25 
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 univer- 
^ Suspect. 2 Heavenly. 

144 Essays of Emerson 

sal 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 
5 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 

10 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 

15 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 

20 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 con- 
versation or society. This method betrays itself along 

25 the whole history of our personal relations. The instinct 
of affection revives the hope of union with our mates, and 

1 Marks of dignity and wealth. 

2 Lover of beauty and philosophy. 

8 That which appears to our senses. 

Friendship 145 

the returning sense of insulation recalls us from the chase. 
Thus every man passes his life in the search after friend- 
shipj'^and if he should record his true sentiment, he might 
write a letter like this to each new candidate for his 
love : — 5 

Dear Friend, 

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 1 10 
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 imeasy pleasures and fine^ pains are for 15 
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 20 
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 25 
friend not sacredly, but with an adulterate passion which 
1 Understanding. 2 Delicate, subtle. 


146 Essays of Emerson 

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 
5 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 

10 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. 

15 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 

20 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 honour razed quite 
25 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 organ- 
^ Indifference. '^ Frantic fits. * Frolic. * Refuge. 

Friendship 147 

ization 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 natur- 
langsamkeii ^ which hardens the ruby in a million years, 
and works in duration in which Alps and Andes come 5 
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 10 
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 15 
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 wish not to treat friendships daintily, but with 
roughest courage. When they are real, they are not glass 20 
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 towards the solution of the problem of his destiny. 
In one condemnation of folly stand the whole universe 25 
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 
1 Slowness of nature. 

148 Essays of Emerson 

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 honour its law ! 

5 He who offers himself a candidate for that covenant 
comes up, like an Olympian, to the great games where 
the first-bom 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 

10 enough in his constitution to preserve the delicacy of his 
beauty fi-om 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 con- 
tempt of trifles. There are two elements that go to the 

15 composition of friendship, each so sovereign that I can 
detect no superiority in either, no reason why either 
should be first named. One is trath. 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 

20 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 

25 the luxury allowed, like diadems and authority, only to 
the highest rank ; that being permitted to speak tmth, as 
having none above it to court or conform unto. Every 
man alone is sincere. At the entrance of a second per- 
son, hypocrisy begins. We parry and fend the approach 

Friendship 149 

of our fellow-man by compliments, by gossip, by amuse- 
ments, 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 con- 5 
science 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 10 
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 plain-dealing, and what love of nature, what poetry, 15 
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 20 
requires some civility, — requires to be humoured ; he has 
some fame, some talent, some whim of religion or philan- 
thropy 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. 25 
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 evi- 

150 Essays of Emerson 

dence 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. 
5 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 ad- 
miration, by every circumstance and badge and trifle, — 
but we can scarce believe that so much character can 

10 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 

15 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 elo- 

20 quence. 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 

25 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 

^ One who supplies food to an army. 

Friendship 151 

if he spins his thread too fine and does not substantiate 
his romance by the municipal^ virtues of justice, punc- 
tuality, fidelity and pity. I hate the prostitution of the 
name of friendship to signify modish and worldly alli- 
ances. I much prefer the company of ploughboys and 5 
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 10 
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, ship- 
wreck, poverty and persecution. It keeps company with 15 
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 set- 
tled, but should be alert and inventive and add rhyme 20 
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 25 
paired), that its satisfaction can very seldom be assured. 
It cannot subsist in its perfection, say some of those who 

1 Pertaining to the town, or common life. 

2 A two- wheeled carriage. ^ Intercourse. * Duties, tasks. 

152 Essays of Emerson 

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 

5 a circle of godlike men and women variously related to 
each other and between whom subsists a lofty intelli- 
gence. 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 

10 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 

15 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 

20 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. 

25 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 
^ Formal agreement, rule of the game. 

Friendship 1 53 

into simpler relations. Yet it is affinity that determines 
ivhich 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 conversa- 
tion, as if it were a permanent property in some individ- 5 
uals. Conversation is an evanescent relation/ — no 
more. A man is reputed to have thought and elo- 
quence ; 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 10 
dial in the shade. In the sun it will mark the hour. 
Among those who enjoy his thought he will regain his 

Friendship requires that rare mean^ betwixt Hkeness 
and unlikeness that piques ^ each with the presence of 15 
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 20 
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 25 
ability to do without it. That high office requires great 
and sublime parts. There must be very* two, before 

^ I,e, Dependent on both parties. ^ Medium. 

8 Pricks, stirs up. * Real, true. (Adjective.) 

154 Essays of Emerson 

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. 

5 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 

10 the births of the eternal. Friendship demands a reli- 
gious 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 honour if 

15 you must needs hold him close to your person. Stand 
aside ; give those merits room ; let them mount and ex- 
pand. 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 

20 holiest ground. Leave it to girls and boys to regard a 
friend as property, and to suck a short and all-confound- 
ing pleasure, instead of the noblest benefit. 

Let us buy our entrance to this guild ^ by a long pro- 
bation. Why should we desecrate noble and beautiful 

25 souls by intruding on them? Why insist on rash per- 
sonal relations with your friend? Why go to his house, 
or know his mother and brother and sisters? Why be 

^ Something to be looked at with admiration. 
2 Society of fellow-workmen. 

Friendship 155 

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 5 
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 10 
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 reduc- 
ing, but rather fortify and enhance. Worship his supe- 
riorities ; wish him not less by a thought, but hoard and 15 
tell them all. Guard him as thy counterpart. Let him 
be to thee forever 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 20 
too near. To my friend I write a letter and from him I 
receive a letter. That seems to you a little. It sufl&ces 
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, 25 
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 
^ Make it common. 

156 Essays of Emerson 

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 

5 your accomplice on even terms. Crimen quos inquinat, 
cequat. To those whom we admire and love, at first we 
cannot. Yet the least defect of self-possession vitiates, 
in my judgement, the entire relation. There can never 
be deep peace between two spirits, never mutual 

10 respect, until in their dialogue each stands for the whole 

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. 

15 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 

20 heart shall speak. Wait until the necessary and everlast- 
ing 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, 

25 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 in- 

1 Injure beforehand. ^'Yx^ to guess. 

Friendship 1 57 

troductions, 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 5 
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 ex- 
changed 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 estabhsh 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 '5 
universal power, souls are now acting, enduring and dar- 
ing, 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 20 
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 im- 
patience betrays us into rash and foolish alliances which 
no god attends. By persisting in your path, though you 25 
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-bom of the world, 
^ Common customs. ^ Legal infancy, immaturity. 

158 Essays of Emerson 

— 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, 

5 as if so we could lose any genuine love. Whatever cor- 
rection 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 

10 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 

15 ghosts. Let us drop this idolatry. Let us give over this 
mendicancy. Let us even bid our dearest friends fare- 
well, 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 

20 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. 

25 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 

1 Forerunner, messenger sent ahead. 

Friendship 159 

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 5 
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 10 
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 15 
with foreign objects ; then I shall regret the lost litera- 
ture 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 20 
you. So I will owe to my friends this evanescent inter- 
course. 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, 

^ Shining qualities. 

i6o Essays of Emerson 

to carry a friendship greatly, on one side, without due 
correspondence on the other. Why should I cumber my- 
self with regrets that the receiver is not capacious? It 
never troubles the sun that some of his rays fall wide and 
5 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 

lo 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 

15 is not sad, but feels rid of so much earth and feels its in- 
dependency 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. 

20 It treats its object as a god, that it may deify both.^ 

1 Highest heavens. ^ Itself and its object. 


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. 



Theme: Prudence, as the art of securing our present welfare 
by conformity to the laws and rules of nature, is false when it 
regards them as final, true when it sees in them symbols of higher 
laws and means to spiritual ends. 

Structure: A. Introduction, Emerson professes that he is 
short of prudence and praises it because he would like to have it, 
— the virtue of the senses, unfolding the beauty of laws within its 
own narrow scope, (i) Men of common sense esteem health and 
wealth as a final good. (2) Men of taste enjoy outward things as 
beautiful symbols. (3) Men of spiritual perception live in the 
beauty of the truth which things symbolize. A well-rounded man, 
taking in all three of these experiences, has true prudence. 

B. Discussion, I. False prudence, which is altogether material 
and sensual, can only be corrected by culture, which aims at the 
perfection of man as the highest end. II. Yet we must respect 
natural facts and conditions, heat and cold, hunger and thirst, 
sleep and death, etc., because subjection to them is good discipline, 
and neglect of them is always punished. The common impru- 
dences of men, and the special follies of genius, lead to all sorts of 
misery ; and nature, scorned and violated, takes revenge on the 
drunkard, the idler, the spendthrift. Prudence is a minor virtue, 
but it will serve to teach us that law reigns everywhere III. But 
no virtue can be cultivated alone ; therefore with prudence, 
courage, truth, etc., should be joined, and especially love, because 
it helps us to understand people and live with them on a friendly 

C. Conclusion. All the virtues are on the same side ; and the 
whole world of morals and conduct is made of one stuff and sub- 
ject to the ten commandments. 



What right have I to write on Prudence, whereof I 
have little, and that of the negative sort ? My prudence 
consists in avoiding and going without, not in the invent- 
ing of means and methods, not in adroit steering, not 
in gentle repairing. I have no skill to make money 5 
spend well, no genius in my economy, and whoever sees 
my garden discovers that I must have some other gar- 
den. 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. 10 
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 15 
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. 20 

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 

* Slipperiness. 


164 Essays of Emerson 

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 

5 true prudence or law of shows recognizes the co-presence 
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 

10 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, 

15 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 

20 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 

25 this sacred volcanic isle of nature, does not offer to 
build houses and barns thereon, — reverencing the 
splendour of the God which he sees bursting through 
each chink and cranny. 

^ That of an inferior officer. 

Prudence 165 

The world is filled with the proverbs and acts and 
winkings^ of abase prudence, which is a devotion to mat- 
ter, 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 5 
never gives, which seldom lends, and asks but one ques- 
tion 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 perfec- 10 
tion 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. Culti- 
vated men always feel and speak so, as if a great fortune, 15 
the achievement of a civil or social measure, great per- 
sonal 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 20 
good wheel or pin,* but he is not a cultivated man. 

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 25 
the knowledge of an internal and real world. This 
recognition once made, the order of the world and the 

1 Silent hints. ^ Lowers. ' Separate, distinct. 

* Busied with. ^ /,e, in a machine. 

i66 Essays of Emerson 

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 appar- 
ently attached in nature to the sun and the returning 

5 moon and the periods which they mark, — so susceptible 
to climate and to country, so alive to social good and 
evil, so fond of splendour and so tender to hunger and 
cold and debt, — reads all its primary lessons out of 
these books. 

10 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, 

15 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 

20 and fenced and distributed externally with civil parti- 
tions and properties which impose new restraints on the 
young inhabitant. 

We eat of the bread which grows in the field. We live 
by the air which blows around us and we are poisoned ^ 

25 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 

1 Injured. 

Prudence 167 

wood or oil, or meal or salt ; the house smokes, or I 
have a headache ; then the tax, and an affair to be trans- 
acted 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, sum- 5 
mer will have its flies ; if we walk in the woods we must 
feed mosquitoes ; if we go a-fishing we must expect a wet 
coat. Then climate is a great impediment to idle per- 
sons ; we often resolve to give up the care of the 
weather, but still we regard the clouds and the rain. 10 

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 en- 
joys the fixed smile of the tropics. The islander may 15 
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 house- 
holder. He must brew, bake, salt and preserve his 20 
food, and pile wood and coal. But as it happens that 
not one stroke can labour lay to without some new ac- 
quaintance 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 25 
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 

i68 Essays of Emerson 

hive ^ every fact of chemistry, natural history and eco- 
nomics ; the more he has, the less he is willing to spare 
any one. Time is always bringing the occasions that 
disclose their value. Some wisdom comes out of every 

5 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 applica- 
tion of means to ends insures victory and the songs 

10 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 

15 Department of State. In the rainy day he builds a 
work-bench, or gets his tool-box set in the comer 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 

20 and corn-chambers, and of the conveniences of long 
housekeeping. His garden or his poultry-yard tells 
him many pleasant anecdotes. One might find argu- 
ment for optimism in the abundant flow of this saccha- 
rine element of pleasure in every suburb and extremity 

25 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 amount. 

1 Store up, as bees do honey. ^ Farmer, householder. 

Prudence 169 

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 5 
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 10 
currency of the byword, " No mistake." But the dis- 
comfort of unpunctuality, of confusion of thought about 
facts, inattention to the wants of to-morrow, is of no 
nation. The beautiful laws of time and space, once dis- 
located by our inaptitude, are holes and dens. If the 15 
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 20 
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 theit 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 25 
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 some- 
times remarked in the presence of great works of art, 

lyo Essays of Emerson 

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 prop- 
erty is the hitting, in all the figures we draw, the right 
5 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 

10 lack the resting upon their centre of gravity, and have a 
certain swimming and oscillating appearance. The 
Raphael in the Dresden gallery (the only great affecting 
picture which I have seen) is the quietest and most 
passionless piece you can imagine ; a couple of saints 

15 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." 

20 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, 

25 and honour their own senses with trust 

But what man shall dare task another with impru- 
dence ? Who is prudent ? The men we call greatest 
are least in this kingdom. There is a certain fatal dis- 
location in our relation to nature, distorting our modes 

Prudence 171 

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 5 
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 10 
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 coinci-15 
dence between reason and the phenomena, we are sur- 
prised. 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 20 
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 25 
parts, as they are properly called, and not by divine 
men. These use their gift to refine luxury, not to 
abolish it. Genius is always ascetic, and piety, and 
1 /.^. to know the properties, etc. 

172 Essays of Emerson 

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 coyer our sensuality 
withal, but no gifts can raise intemperance. The man 
5 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 

10 every deduction from his holiness, and less for every 
defect of cqmmon 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 

15 historical portrait, and that is true tragedy. It does 
not seem to me so genuine grief when some t3a'annous 
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 

20 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 submit- 
ting to their law. That is a grief we all feel, a knot we 
cannot untie. Tasso*s is no unfrequent case in modem 

25 biography. A man of genius, of an ardent temperament, 
reckless of physical laws, self-indulgent, becomes pres- 
ently unfortunate, querulous, a " discomfortable cousin," 
a thorn to himself and to others. 

^ Supply : " are always ascetic*" 

Prudence 173 

The scholar shames us by his bifold life. Whilst 
something higher than prudence is active, he is admira- 
ble ; when common sense is wanted, he is an encum- 
brance. Yesterday, Caesar was not so great ; to-day, 
the felon at the gallows' foot is not more miserable. 5 
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 Con- 10 
stantinople, 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 15 
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 20 
slack in sending him, as hints that he must expect no 
other good than the just fruit of his own labour 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 25 
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 

174 Essays of Emerson 

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 
5 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 con- 
sists in husbanding little strokes of the tool, little 

10 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, 

15 warp and dry-rot ; money, if kept by us, yields no rent 
and is liable to loss ; if invested, is liable to deprecia- 
tion of the particular kind of stock. Strike, says the 
smith, the iron is white ; keep the rake, says the hay- 
maker, as nigh the scythe as you can, and the cart as 

20 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 

25 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 

Prudence 175 

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 5 
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 conver- 
sation ^1 Let his be words of fate. When he sees a 10 
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 like- 
wise feel the admonition to integrate his being across 
all these distracting forces, and keep a slender human 15 
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. 20 

We must not try to write the laws of any one virtue, 
looking at that only. Human nature loves no con- 
tradictions, 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 25 
by another, but they are reconcilable. Prudence con- 
cerns the present time, persons, property and existing 
1 Goes. 2 Mere talk, not fulfilled. 

* A letter sent by post. 

176 Essays of Emerson 

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 

5 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 

10 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 favour to 

15 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 

20 resolution. Let him front the object of his' worst 
apprehension, and his stoutness will commonly make his 
fear groundless. The Latin proverb says, " In battles 
the eye is first overcome." Entire self-possession may 
make a battle very little more dangerous to life than a 

25 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 

^ Fencing match. 

Prudence 177 

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 

In the occurrence of unpleasant things among neigh- 5 
hours, fear comes readily to heart and magnifies the 
consequence ^ of the other party ; but it is a bad counsel- 
lor. 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 10 
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 15 
the other dares not. Far off, men swell, bully and 
threaten; bring them hand to hand, and they are a 
feeble folk. 

It is a proverb that * courtesy costs nothing ' ; but cal- 
culation might come to value love for its profit. Love is 20 
fabled to be blind, but kindness is necessary to per- 
ception ; 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 25 
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 con- 

^ Importance. ^ Does not blind us, but makes us see. 


ijS Essays of Emerson 

tend, 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 con- 

5 fess here, only that they may brag and conquer there, 
and not a thought has enriched either party, and not an 
emotion of braver}^ modesty, or hope. So neither should 
you put yourself in a false position with your contempo- 
raries by indulging a vein of hostility and bitterness. 

lo 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 

15 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 bear- 

20 ings, 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 §ny man or men on 

25 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 

Prudence 179 

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 5 
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 10 
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 
flavour in garden-beds. 

Thus, truth, frankness, courage, love, humility and all 15 
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 ele- 
ment, as oxygen or hydrogen, at last, but the world of 
manners and actions is wrought of one stuff, and begin 20 
where we will we are pretty sure in a short space to be 
mumbling our ten commandments. 




Theme : Shakespeare as a representative of those who interpret 
nature and life through poetry. 

Structure : A. Introduction. The chief mark of genius is not 
originality but broad representative power, which makes a man 
speak for his age, his country, his race. 

B. Discussion. I. Shakespeare's age was one in which the 
genius of England found its best expression through the drama. Ihe 
popularity of the theatre : the mass of dramatic material already in 
existence : Shakespeare used old plays, etc., as sources and models, 
took his stuff from books and traditions, and moulded it into new 
and better forms, giving it universal human significance. II. Of 
his life but little has been unearthed by the Shakespeare Society. 
His greatness was unknown to his contemporaries. His prosperous 
and rather commonplace career as actor and theatre-owner and 
citizen, throws no light on his genius. His true biography is in 
his works. III. The extraordinary breadth, intensity and wisdom 
of his inner life as revealed in his plays and poems. His power of 
transferring the truth of things into verse : his wide range, precision 
in details, and vigour in execution. The meaning of his poetry 
moulds and controls the form. His large cheerfulness and joy in 
beauty. He is a master-mind, illuminating the world, and emanci- 
pating the thoughts of men. 

C. Conclusion. Yet he shared the imperfection of humanity. 
He used his visions of the world and life as entertainments, not to 
guide, inspire and profit mankind. Other men, priests and prophets, 
have interpreted their visions in ethical commandments, stern, 
sombre, without beauty. The world still wants its poet-priest who 
shall bring both joy and virtue, beauty and law. 

' 182 


Great men are more distinguished by range and ex- 
tent than by originality. If we require the originality 
which consists in weaving, like a spider, their web from 
their own bowels ; in finding clay and making bricks and 
building the house ; no great men are original. Nor 5 
does valuable originality consist in unlikeness to other 
men. The hero is in the press of knights and the thick 
of events ; and seeing what men want and sharing their 
desire, he adds the needful length of sight and of arm, 
to come at the desired point. The greatest genius is 10 
the most indebted man. A poet is no rattle-brain, say- 
ing what comes uppermost, and, because he says every 
thing, saying at last something good; but a heart in 
unison with his time and country. There is nothing 
whimsical ^ and fantastic in his production, but sweet and 15 
sad earnest, freighted with the weightiest convictions and 
pointed with the most determined aim which any man or 
class knows of in his times. 

• The Genius of our life is jealous of individuals, and will 
not have any individual great, except through the gen- 20 
eral.* There is no choice to genius. A great man does 

1 Cf. Self-Reliance, p. 67. 

2 That which belongs to the genus homo. 


184 Essays of Emerson 

not wake up on some fine morning and say, * I am full 
of life, I will go to sea and find an Antarctic continent : 
to-day I will square the circle : I will ransack botany 
and find a new food for man : I have a new architecture 

5 in my mind : I foresee a new mechanic power : ' no, but 
he finds himself in the river of the thoughts and events, 
forced onward by the ideas and necessities, of his con- 
temporaries. He stands where all the eyes of men look 
one way, and their hands all point in the direction in 

10 which he should go. The Church has reared him amidst 
rites and pomps, and he carries out the advice which 
her music gave him, and builds a cathedral needed by 
her chants and processions. He finds a war raging : it 
educates him, by trumpet, in barracks, and he betters 

15 the instruction. He finds two counties groping to bring 
coal, or flour, or fish, fi*om the place of production to 
the place of consumption, and he hits on a railroad. 
Every master has found his materials collected, and his 
power lay in his sympathy with his people and in his 

20 love of the materials he wrought in. What an economy 
of power ! and what a compensation for the shortness of 
life ! All is done to his hand. The world has brought 
him thus far on his way. The human race has gone out 
before him, sunk the hills, filled the hollows and bridged 

25 the rivers. Men, nations, poets, artisans, women, all 
have worked for him, and he enters into their labours. 
Choose any other thing, out of the line of tendency, out 
of the national feeling and history, and he would have 
all to do for himself : his powers would be expended in 

Shakespeare; or, the Poet 185 

the first preparations. Great genial ^ power, one would 
almost say, consists in not being original at all ; in being 
altogether receptive; in letting the world do all, and 
suffering the spirit of the hour to pass unobstructed 
through the mind. 5 

Shakespeare's youth fell in a time when the English 
people were importunate* for dramatic entertainments. 
The court took offence easily at political allusions and 
attempted to suppress them.^ The Puritans, a grow- 
ing and energetic party, and the religious among the 10 
Anglican church, would suppress them. But the people 
wanted them. Inn-yards, houses without roofs, and ex- 
temporaneous enclosures at country fairs were the ready 
theatres of strolling players. The people had tasted this 
new joy ; and, as we could not hope to suppress news- 15 
papers now, — no, not by the strongest party, — neither 
then could king, prelate, or puritan, alone or united, 
suppress an organ which was ballad, epic, newspaper, 
cauciTs, lecture. Punch and library, at the same time. 
Probably king, prelate, and puritan, all found their own 20 
account^ in it. It had become, by all causes, a national 
interest, — by no means conspicuous, so that some great 
scholar would have thought of treating it in an English 
history, — but not a whit less considerable because it was 
q|ieap and of no account, like a baker*s-shop. The best 25 
proof of its vitality is the crowd of writers which sud- 
denly broke into this field; Kyd, Marlowe, Greene, 

1 Belonging to genius. 2 /^, dramatic entertainment. 

* Advantage. 

1 86 Essays of Emerson 

Jonson, Chapman, Dekker, Webster, Heywood, Middle- 
ton, Peele, Ford, Massinger, Beaumont and Retcher. 

The secure possession, by the stage, of the public 
mind, is of the first importance to the poet who works 

5 for it. He loses no time in idle experiments. Here 
is audience and expectation prepared. In the case of 
Shakespeare there is much morfe. At the time wh^i 
he left Stratford and went up to London, a great body 
of stage-plays of all dates and writers existed in manu- 

10 script and were in turn produced on the boards. Here 
is the Tale of Troy, which the audience will bear hearing 
some part of, every week ; the Death of Julius Caesar, 
and other stories out of Plutarch, which they never tire 
of; a shelf full of English history, from the chronicles 

15 of Brut and Arthur, down to the royal Henries, which 
men hear eagerly; and a string of doleful tragedies, 
merry Italian tales and Spanish voyages, which all the 
London 'prentices know. All the mass has been treated, 
with more or less skill, by every playwright, and the 

20 prompter has the soiled and tattered manuscripts. It is 
now no longer possible to say who wrote them first. 
They have been the property of the Theatre so long, 
and so many rising geniuses have enlarged or altered 
them, inserting a speech or a whole scene, or adding 

25 a song, that no man can any longer claim copyright in 
this work of numbers. Happily, no man wishes to. 
They are not yet desired in that way. We have few 
readers, many spectators and hearers. They had best 
lie where they are. 

Shakespeare; or, the Poet 187 

Shakespeare, in common with his comrades, esteemed 
the mass of old plays waste stock, in which any experi- 
ment could be freely tried. Had the prestige^ which 
hedges about a modern tragedy existed, nothing could 
have been done. The rude warm blood of the livings 
England circulated in the play, as in street-ballads, and 
gave body which he wanted to his airy and majestic 
fancy. The poet needs a ground in popular tradition on 
which he may work, and which, again, may restrain his 
art within the due temperance.^ It holds him to the 10 
people, supplies a foundation for his edifice, and in fur- 
nishing so much work done to his hand, leaves him at 
leisure and in full strength for the audacities of his imagina- 
tion. In short, the poet owes to his legend what sculpture 
owed to the temple. Sculpture in Egypt and in Greece 15 
grew up in subordination to architecture. It was the 
ornament of the temple wall : at first a rude relief carved 
on pediments, then the relief became bolder and a head 
or arm was projected from the wall; the groups being 
still arranged with reference to the building, which serves 20 
also as a frame to hold the figures; and when at last the 
greatest freedom of style and treatment was reached, the 
prevailing genius of architecture still enforced a certain 
calmness and continence in the statue. As soon as the 
statue was begun for itself, and with no reference to the 25 
temple or palace, the art began to decline ; freak, extrava- 
gance and exhibition took the place of the old temper- 
ance. This balance-wheel, which the sculptor found in 

1 A French word (pres-tizh') : reputation. 2 Moderation. 

1 88 Essays of Emerson 

architecture, the perilous irritability of poetic talent found 
in the accumulated dramatic materials to which the peo- 
ple were already wonted/ and which had a certain excel- 
lence which no single genius, however extraordinary, 
5 could hope to create. 

In point of fact it appears that Shakespeare did owe 
debts in all directions, and was able to use whatever 
he found ; and the amount of indebtedness may be in- 
ferred from Malone's laborious computations in regard to 

10 the First, Second, and Third parts of Henry VI., in which, 
"out of 6,043 lines, 1,771 were written by some author 
preceding Shakespeare, 2,383 by him, on the foundation 
laid by his predecessors, and 1,899 were entirely his own." 
Anji the proceeding investigation hardly leaves a single 

15 drama of his absolute invention. Malone's sentence is 
an important piece of external history. In Henry VIII. 
I think I see plainly the cropping out of the original rock 
on which his own finer stratum was laid. The first play 
was written by a superior, thoughtful man, with a vicious 

20 ear.^ I can mark his lines, and know well their cadence. 
See Wolsey's soliloquy, and the following scene with 
Cromwell, where instead of the metre of Shakespeare, 
whose secret is that the thought constructs the tune, so that 
reading for the sense will best bring out the rhythm, — 

25 here the lines are constructed on a given tune, and the 

verse has even a trace of pulpit eloquence. But the play 

contains through all its length unmistakable traits of 

Shakespeare's hand, and some passages, as the account of 

1 Accustomed. 2 A poor ear for metre. 

Shakespeare; or, the Poet 189 

the coronation, are like autographs. What is odd, the 
compliment to Queen Elizabeth is in the bad rhythm. 

Shakespeare knew that tradition supplies a better fable 
than any invention can. If he lost any credit of design, 
he augmented his resources ; and, at that day, our petu- 5 
lant demand for originality was not so much pressed. 
There was no hterature for the million. The universal 
reading, the cheap press, were unknown. A great poet 
who appears in illiterate times, absorbs into his sphere 
all the light which is any where radiating. Every intel- 10 
lectual jewel, every flower of sentiment it is his fine office 
to bring to his people ; and he comes to value his mem- 
ory equally with his invention. He is therefore little 
solicitous whence his thoughts have been derived ; whether 
through translation, whether through tradition, whether by 15 
travel in distant countries, whether by inspiration ; firom 
whatever source they are equally welcome to his uncriti- 
cal audience. Nay, he borrows very near home. Other 
men say wise things as well as he ; only they say a good 
many foolish things, and do not know when they have 20 
spoken wisely. He knows the sparkle of the true stone, 
and puts it in high place, wherever he finds it. Such is the 
happy position of Homer perhaps ; of Chaucer, of Saadi. 
They felt that all wit was their wit. And they are librarians 
and historiographers, as well as poets. Each romancer was 25 
heir and dispenser of all the hundred tales of the world, — 

" Presenting Thebes* and Pelops* line 
And the tale of Troy divine." ^ 

^ From Milton's // Penseroso. 

190 Essays of Emerson 

The influence of Chaucer is conspicuous in all our early 
literature ; and more recently not only Pope and Dryden 
have been beholden to him, but, in the whole society of Eng- 
lish writers, a large unacknowledged debt is easily traced. 

5 One is charmed with the opulence which feeds so many 
pensioners. But Chaucer is a huge borrower. Chaucer, 
it seems, drew continually, through Lydgate and Caxton, 
from Guido di Colonna, whose Latin romance of the Tro- 
jan war was in turn a compilation from Dares Phrygius, 

10 Ovid, and Statius. Then Petrarch, Boccaccio, and the 
Provengal poets are his benefactors : the Romaunt of the 
Rose is only judicious translation from WiUiam of Lorris 
and John of Meung : Troilus and Creseide, from Lollius 
of Urbino : The Cock and the Fox, from the Lais of 

15 Marie : The House of Fame, from the French or Italian : 
and poor Gower he uses as if he were only a brick-kiln or 
stone-quarry out of which to build his house. He steals 
by this apology, — that what he takes has no worth where 
he finds it and the greatest where he leaves it. It has 

20 come to be practically a sort of rule in literature, that a 
man having once shown himself capable of original writ- 
ing, is entitled thenceforth to steal from the writings 
of others at discretion. Thought is the property of him 
who can entertain it and of him who can adequately place 

25 it. A certain awkwardness marks the use of borrowed 
thoughts ; but as soon as we have learned what to do 
with them they become our own. 

Thus all originality is relative. Every thinker is re- 
trospective. The learned member of the legislature, at 

Shakespeare ; or, the Poet 191 

Westminster or at Washington, speaks and votes for 
thousands. Show us the constituency, and the now 
invisible channels by which the senator is made aware 
of their wishes; the crowd of practical and knowing 
men, who, by correspondence or conversation, are feed- 5 
ing him with evidence, anecdotes and estimates, and it 
will bereave his fine attitude and resistance of something 
of their impressiveness. As Sir Robert Peel and Mr. 
Webster vote, so Locke and Rousseau think, for thou- 
sands ; and so there were fountains all round Homer, 10 
Menu, Saadi, or Milton, from which they drew ; friends, 
lovers, books, traditions, proverbs, — all perished — which, 
if seen, would go to reduce the wonder. Did the bard 
speak with authority ? Did he feel himself overmatched 
by any companion? The appeal is to the consciousness 15 
of the writer. Is there at last in his breast a Delphi 
whereof to ask concerning any thought or thing, whether 
it be verily so, yea or nay? and to have answer, and to 
rely on that? All the debts which such a man could 
contract to other wit would never disturb his con- 20 
sciousness of originality ; for the ministrations of books 
and of other minds are a whiff of smoke to that most 
private reality with which he has conversed. 

It is easy to see that what is best written or done by 
genius in the world, was no man's work, but came by 25 
wide social labour, when a thousand wrought like one, 
sharing the same impulse. Our English Bible is a won- 
derful specimen of the strength and music of the English 
language. But it was not made by one man, or at one 

192 Essays of Emerson 

time; but centuries and churches brought it to per- 
fection. There never was a time when there was not 
some translation existing. The Liturgy, admired for its 
energy and pathos, is an anthology of the piety of ages 

5 and nations, a translation of the prayers and forms of the 
Catholic ^ church, — these collected, too, in long periods, 
from the prayers and meditations of every saint and 
sacred writer all over the world. Grotius makes the 
like remark in respect to the Lord's Prayer, that the 

10 single clauses of which it is composed were already in 
use in the time of Christ, in the Rabbinical* forms. 
He picked out the grains of gold. The nervous lan- 
guage of the Common Law, the impressive forms of our 
courts and the precision and substantial truth of the 

15 legal distinctions, are the contribution of all the sharp- 
sighted, strong-minded men who have lived in the 
countries where these laws govern. The translation of 
Plutarch gets its excellence by being translation on 
translation. There never was a time when there was 

20 none. All the truly idiomatic and national phrases 
are kept, and all others successfully picked out and 
thrown away. Something like the same process had 
gone on, long before, with the originals of these books. 
The world takes liberties with world-books. Vedas, 

25iEsop's Fables, Pilpay, Arabian Nights, Cid, Iliad, 

Robin Hood, Scottish Minstrelsy, are not the works of 

single men. In the composition of such works the time 

thinks, the market thinks, the mason, the carpenter, 

1 Universal. * Belonging to the Rabbis or teachers of the Jews. 

Shakespeare ; or, the Poet 1 93 

the merchant, the farmer, the fop, all think for us. 
Every book supplies its time with one good word ; every 
municipal law, every trade, every folly of the day ; and 
the generic catholic genius who is not afraid or ashamed 
to owe his originality to the originality of all, stands with 5 
the next age as the recorder and embodiment of his 

We have to thank the researches of antiquaries, and 
the Shakespeare Society, for ascertaining the steps of 
the English drama, from the Mysteries celebrated in 10 
churches and by churchmen, and the final detach- 
ment from the church, and the completion of secular 
plays, from Ferrex and Porrex, and Gammer Gurton*s 
Needle, down to the possession of the stage by the very 
pieces which Shakespeare altered, remodelled, and finally 15 
made his own. Elated with success and piqued by the 
growing interest of the problem, they have left no book- 
stall unsearched, no chest in a garret unopened, no file 
of old yellow accounts to decompose in damp and 
worms, so keen was the hope to discover whether the 20 
boy Shakespeare poached ^ or not, whether he held horses 
at the theatre door, whether he kept school, and why 
he left in his will only his second-best bed to Ann 
Hathaway, his wife. 

There is somewhat touching in the madness with which 25 
the passing age mischooses the object on which all can- 
dles shine and all eyes are turned ; the care with which it 
registers every trifle touching Queen Elizabeth and King 
1 Hunted or fished illegally. 


194 Essays of Emerson 

James, and the Essexes, Leicesters, Burleighs, and Buck- 
inghams ; and lets pass without a single valuable note the 
founder of another dynasty, which alone will cause the 
Tudor dynasty lo be remembered, — the man who carries 
5 the Saxon race in him by the inspiration which feeds 
him, and on whose thoughts the foremost people of the 
world are now for some ages to be nourished, and minds 
to receive this and not another bias. A popular player; 
— nobody suspected he was the poet of the human race; 

10 and the secret was kept as faithfully from poets and in- 
tellectual men as from courtiers and frivolous people. 
Bacon, who took the inventory of the human understand- 
ing for his times, never mentioned his name. Ben Jon- 
son, though we have strained his few words of regard and 

15 panegyric, had no suspicion of the elastic fame whose 

first vibrations he was attempting. He no doubt thought 

the praise he has conceded to him generous, and esteemed 

himself, out of all question, the better poet of the two. 

If it need wit to know wit, according to the proverb, 

20 Shakespeare's time should be capable of recognizing it. 
Sir Henry Wotton was bom four years after Shakespeare, 
and died twenty-three years after him ; and I find, among 
his correspondents and acquaintances, the following per- 
sons : Theodore Beza, Isaac Casaubon, Sir Philip Sidney, 

25 the Earl of Essex, Lord Bacon, Sir Walter Raleigh, 
John Milton, Sir Henry Vane, Isaac Walton, Dr. Donne, 
Abraham Cowley, Bellarmine, Charles Cotton, John Pym, 
John Hales, Kepler, Vieta, Albericus Gentilis, Paul Sarpi, 
Arminius ; with all of whom exists some token of his 

Shakespeare; or, the Poet 195 

having communicated, without enumerating many others 
whom doubtless he saw, — Shakespeare, Spenser, Jonson, 
Beaumont, Massinger, the two Herberts, Marlowe, Chap- 
man, and the rest. Since the constellation of great men 
who appeared in Greece in the time of Pericles, there 5 
was never any such society ; — yet their genius failed them 
to find out the best head in the universe. Our poet's 
mask was impenetrable. You cannot see the mountain 
near. It took a century to make it suspected ; and not 
until two centuries had passed, after his death, did any 10 
criticism which we think adequate begin to appear. It 
was not possible to write the history of Shakespeare till 
now ; for he is the father of German literature : it was 
with the introduction of Shakespeare into German, by 
Lessing, and the translation of his works by Wieland and 15 
Schlegel, that the rapid burst of German literature was 
most intimately connected. It was not until the nine- 
teenth century, whose speculative genius is a sort of 
living Hamlet, that the tragedy of Hamlet could find 
such wondering readers. Now, literature, philosophy, 20 
and thought, are Shakespearized. His mind is the horizon 
beyond which, at present, we do not see. Our ears are 
educated to music by his rhythm. Coleridge and Goethe 
are the only critics who have expressed our convictions 
with any adequate fidelity : but there is in all cultivated 25 
minds a silent appreciation of his superlative power and 
beauty, which, like Christianity, qualifies the period. 

The Shakespeare Society have inquired in all directions, 
advertised the missing facts, offered money for any infor- 

196 Essays of Emerson 

mation that will lead to proof, — and with what result? 
Beside some important illustration of the English stage, 
to which I have adverted, they have gleaned a few facts 
touching the property, and dealings in regard to property, 
5 of the poet. It appears that from year to year he owned 
a larger share in the Blackfriars' Theatre : its wardrobe and 
other appurtenances were his : that he bought an estate 
in his native village with his earnings as writer and share- 
holder ; that he lived in the best house in Stratford ; was 

10 entrusted by his neighbours with their commissions in Lon- 
don, as of borrowing money, and the like ; that he was a 
veritable farmer. About the time when he was writing 
Macbeth,* he sues Philip Rogers, in the borough-court of 
Stratford, for thirty-five shillings, ten pence, for com de- 

islivered to him at different times; and in all respects 
appears as a good husband, with no reputation for eccen- 
tricity or excess. He was a good-natured sort of a man, 
an actor and shareholder in the theatre, not in any strik- 
ing manner distinguished from other actors and managers. 

20 1 admit the importance of this information. It was well 
worth the pains that have been taken to procure it. 

But whatever scraps of information concerning his con- 
dition these researches may have rescued, they can shed 
no light upon that infinite invention which is the con- 

25cealed magnet of his attraction for us. We are very 
clumsy writers of history. We tell the chronicle of par- 
entage, birth, birth-place, schooling, school-mates, earning 
of money, marriage, publication of books, celebrity, 
1 1 605-1 606. 

Shakespeare; or, the Poet 197 

death ; and when we have come to an end of this gossip, 
no ray of relation appears between it and the goddess- 
born ; and it seems as if, had we dipped at random into 
the " Modem Plutarch," and read any other life there, it 
would have fitted the poems as well. It is the essence of 5 
poetry to spring, like the rainbow daughter of Wonder, ^ 
from the invisible, to abolish the past and refuse all his- 
tory. Malone, Warburton, Dyce, and Collier, have wasted 
their oil. The famed theatres, Covent Garden, Drury 
Lane, the Park and Tremont have vainly assisted. Bet- 10 
terton, Garrick, Kemble, Kean, and Macready dedicate 
their lives to this genius ; him they crown, elucidate, obey 
and express. The genius knows them not. The recitation 
begins ; one golden word leaps out immortal from all this 
painted pedantry and sweetly torments us with invitations 15 
to its own inaccessible homes. I remember I went once 
to see the Hamlet of a famed performer, the pride of the 
English stage ; and all I then heard and all I now remem- 
ber of the tragedian was that in which the tragedian had 
no part; simply Hamlet's question to the ghost : — 20 

" What may this mean, 
That thou, dead corse, again in complete steel 
Revisit'st thus the glimpses of the moon ? " 

That imagination which dilates the closet he writes in 
to the world's dimension, crowds it with agents in rank 25 
and order, as quickly reduces the big reality to be the 
glimpses of the moon. These tricks of his magic spoil 


198 Essays of Emerson 

for us the illusions of the green-room. ' Can any biogra- 
phy shed light on the localities into which the Midsum- 
mer Night's Dream admits me ? Did Shakespeare confide 
to any notary or parish recorder, sacristan, or surrogate 
5 in Stratford, the genesis of that delicate creation ? The 
forest of Arden, the nimNe air of Scone Castle, the 
moonlight of Portia's villa, " the antres vast and desarts 
idle " of Othello's captivity, — where is the third cousin, 
or grand-nephew, the chancellor's file of accounts, or 

10 private letter, that has kept one word of those trans- 
cendent secrets ? In fine, in this drama, as in all great 
works of art, — in the Cyclopaean ^ architecture of Egypt 
and India, in the Phidian sculpture, the Gothic minsters, 
the Italian painting, the Ballads of Spain and Scotland, 

15 — the Genius draws up the ladder after him, when the 

creative age goes up to heaven, and gives way to a new 

age, which sees the works and asks in vain for a history. 

Shakespeare is the only biographer of Shakespeare ; and 

even he can tell nothing, except to the Shakespeare in us, 

20 that is, to our most apprehensive and sympathetic hour. 
He cannot step from off his tripod and give us anecdotes 
of his inspirations. Read the antique documents extri- 
cated, analysed, and compared by the assiduous Dyce 
and Collier, and now read one of these skyey sentences, 

25 — aerolites,^ — which seem to have fallen out of heaven, 

1 The room in which the actors wait before coming on the stage. 

2 Gigantic. 

8 Masses of matter falling to the earth out of celestial space; 
fragments of a meteor. 

Shakespeare; or, the Poet 199 

and which not your experience but the man within the 
breast has accepted as words of fate, and tell me if they 
match ; if the former account in any manner for the latter ; 
or which gives the most historical insight into the man. 

Hence, though our external history is so meagre, yet, 5 
with Shakespeare for biographer, instead of Aubrey and 
Rowe, we have really the information which is material ; 
that which describes character and fortune, that which, 
if we were about to meet the man and deal with him, 
would most import ^ us to know. We have his recorded 10 
convictions on those questions which knock for answer 
at every heart, — on life and death, on love, on wealth 
and poverty, on the prizes of life and the ways whereby 
we come at them ; on the characters of men, and the in- 
fluences, occult and open, which affect their fortunes ; 15 
and on those mysterious and demoniacal powers which 
defy our science and which yet interweave their malice and 
their gift in our brightest hours. Who ever read the volume 
of the ^nnets without finding that the poet had there re- 
vealed, under masks that are no masks to the intelligent, the 20 
lore of friendship and of love ; the confusion of sentiments 
in the most susceptible, and, at the same time, the most 
intellectual of men ? What trait of his private mind has he 
hidden in his dramas? One can discern, in his ample 
pictures of the gentleman and the king, what forms and 25 
humanities pleased him ; his delight in troops of friends, 
in large hospitality, in cheerful giving. Let Timon, let 
Warwick, let Antonio the merchant answer for his great 
1 Concern. 

200 Essays of Emerson 

heart. So far from Shakespeare's being the least known, 
he is the one person, in all modem history, known to us. 
What point of morals, of manners, of economy, of phi- 
losophy, of religion, ot taste, of the conduct of life, has 

5 he not settled ? What mystery has he not signified his 
knowledge of ? What office, or function, or district of 
man's work has he not remembered? What king has he 
not taught state, as Talma taught Napoleon? What 
maiden has not found him finer than her delicacy? 

10 What lover has he not outloved? What sage has he 
not outseen? What gentleman has he not instructed 
in the rudeness of his behaviour? 

Some able and appreciating critics think no criticism 
on Shakespeare valuable that does not rest purely on the 

15 dramatic merit ; that he is falsely judged as poet and 
philosopher. I think as highly as these critics of his 
dramatic merit, but still think it secondary. He was a 
full man, who liked to talk; a brain exhaling thoughts 
and images, which, seeking vent, found the drama next 

20 at hand. Had he been less, we should have had to con- 
sider how well he filled his place, how good a dramatist 
he was, — and he is the best in the world. But it 
turns out that what he has to say is of that^ weight as 
to withdraw some attention from the vehicle; and he 

25 is like some saint whose history is to be rendered into all 

languages, into verse and prose, into songs and pictures, 

and cut up into proverbs; so that the occasion which 

gave the saint's meaning the form of a conversation, or 


Shakespeare; or, the Poet 201 

of a prayer, or of a code of laws, is immaterial compared 
with the universality of its application. So it fares with 
the wise Shakespeare and his book of life. He wrote the 
airs for all our modern music : he wrote the text of 
modern life; the text of manners: he drew the man of 5 
England and Europe ; the father of the man in America ; 
he drew the man, and described the day, and what is done 
in it : he read the hearts of men and women, their probity, 
and their second thought and wiles ; the wiles of inno- 
cence, and the transitions by which virtues and vices 10 
slide into their contraries : he could divide the mother's 
part from the father's part in the face of the child, or draw 
the fine demarcations of freedom and of fate : he knew the 
laws of repression which make the police of nature : and all 
the sweets and all the terrors of human lot lay in his mind 15 
as truly but as softly as the landscape lies on the eye. And 
the importance of this wisdom of life sinks the form, as 
of Drama or Epic, out of notice. 'Tis like making a 
question concerning the paper on which a king's mes- 
sage is written. 20 

Shakespeare is as much out of the category of eminent 
authors, as he is out of the crowd. He is inconceivably 
wise ; the others, conceivably. A good reader can, in a 
sort, nestle into Plato's brain and think from thence ; but 
not into Shakespeare's. We are still out of doors. For 25 
executive faculty, for creation, Shakespeare is unique. 
No man can imagine it better. He was the farthest 
reach of subtlety ^ compatible with an individual self, — 
^ Rare, ethereal, and therefore pervasive. 

202 Essays of Emerson 

the subtilest of authors, and only just within the pos- 
sibility of authorship. With this wisdom of life is the 
equal endowment of imaginative and of lyric power. 
He clothed the creatures of his legend with form and 
5 sentiments as if they were people who had lived under 
his roof; and few real men have left such distinct 
characters as these fictions. And they spoke in lan- 
guage as sweet as it was fit. Yet his talents never se- 
duced him into an ostentation, nor did he harp on one 

10 string. An omnipresent humanity co-ordinates all his 
faculties. Give a man of talents a story to tell, and his 
partiality will presently appear. He has certain obser- 
vations, opinions, topics, which have some accidental 
prominence, and which he disposes all to exhibit. He 

15 crams this part and starves that other part, consulting 
not the fitness of the thing, but his fitness and strength. 
But Shakespeare has no peculiarity, no importunate topic ; 
but all is duly given ; no veins, no curiosities ; no cow- 
painter, no bird-fancier, no mannerist is he : he has 

20 no discoverable egotism : the great he tells greatly ; the 
small subordinately. He is wise without emphasis or 
assertion ; he is strong, as nature is strong, who lifts the 
land into mountain slopes without effort and by the same 
rule as she floats a bubble in the air, and likes as well 

25 to do the one as the other. This makes that equality of 
power in farce, tragedy, narrative, and love-songs; a 
merit so incessant that each reader is incredulous of the 
perception of other readers.* 

1 I.e. feels as if he alone had discovered these excellences. 

Shakespeare ; or, the Poet 203 

This power of expression, or of transferring the in- 
most truth of things into music and verse, makes him 
the type of the poet and has added a new problem to 
metaphysics.^ This is that which throws him into 
natural history, as a main production of the globe, 5 
and as announcing new eras and ameliorations. Things 
were mirrored in his poetry without loss or blur: he 
could paint the fine with precision, the great with com- 
pass, the tragic and the comic indifferently and with- 
out any distortion or favour. He carried his powerful ,0 
execution into minute details, to a hair point ; finishes 
an eyelash or a dimple as firmly as he draws a moun- 
tain ; and yet these, like nature's, will bear the scrutiny 
of the solar microscope. 

In short, he is the chief example to prove that more 13 
or less of production, more or fewer pictures, is a thing 
indifferent. He had the power to make one picture. 
Daguerre learned how to let one flower etch its image 
on his plate of iodine, and then proceeds at leisure to 
etch a million. There are always objects; but there 20 
was never representation. Here is perfect representa- 
tion, at last ; and now let the world of figures sit for 
their portraits. No recipe can be given for the making 
of a Shakespeare ; but the possibiUty of the translation 
of things into song is demonstrated. 25 

His lyric power lies in the genius of the piece.^ The 
Sonnets, though their excellence is lost in the splendour 

^ I^, to account for such a universal mind. 
2 /./. the pervading spirit of each lyric. 

204 Essays of Emerson 

of the dramas, are as inimitable as they ; and it is not a 
merit of lines, but a total merit of the piece ; like the 
tone of voice of some incomparable person, so is this a 
speech of poetic beings, and any clause as unproducible 
5 now as a whole poem. 

Though the speeches in the plays, and single lines, 
have a beauty which tempts the ear to pause on them 
for their euphuism,^ yet the sentence is so loaded with 
meaning and so linked with its foregoers and followers, 

10 that the logician is satisfied. His means are as admirable 
as his ends ; every subordinate invention, by which he 
helps himself to connect some irreconcilable opposites, 
is a poem too. He is not reduced to dismount and 
walk because his horses are running off with him in 

15 some distant direction : he always rides. 

The finest poetry was first experience ; but the thought 
has suffered a transformation since it was an experience. 
Cultivated men often attain a good degree of skill in 
writing verses ; but it is easy to read, through their poems, 

20 their personal history : any one acquainted with the par- 
ties can name every figure ; ^ this is Andrew and that is 
Rachel. The sense thus remains prosaic. It is a cater- 
pillar with wings, and not yet a butterfly. In the poet's 
mind the fact has gone quite over into the new element 

25 of thought, and has lost all that is exuvial.^ This gener- 
osity abides with Shakespeare. We say, from the truth and 

^ Emerson means euphony, agreeable sound. Cf. note. 
^ Like the cast-off skin of a snake, or the covering of an 

Shakespeare; or, the Poet 205 

closeness of his pictures, that he knows the lesson by 
heart. Yet there is not a trace of egotism. 

One more royal trait properly belongs to the poet. I 
mean his cheerfulness, without which no man can be a 
poet, — for beauty is his aim. He loves virtue, not for its 5 
obligation but for its grace : he delights in the world, in 
man, in woman, for the lovely light that sparkles from 
them. Beauty, the spirit of joy and hilarity, he sheds over 
the universe. Epicurus relates that poetry hath such charms 
that a lover might forsake his mistress to partake of them. 10 
And the trae bards have been noted for their firm and 
cheerful temper. Homer lies in sunshine ; Chaucer is glad 
and erect ; and Saadi says, " It was rumoured abroad that 
I was penitent ; but what had I to do with repentance? " 
Not less sovereign and cheerful, — much more sovereign 15 
and cheerful, is the tone of Shakespeare. His name sug- 
gests joy and emancipation to the heart of men. If he 
should appear in any company of human souls, who would 
not march in his troop? He touches nothing that does 
not borrow health and longevity from his festal style. 20 

And now, how stands the account of man with this bard 
and benefactor, when, in solitude, shutting our ears to the 
reverberations of his fame, we seek to strike the balance ? 
Solitude has austere lessons ; it can teach us to spare both 
heroes and poets ; and it weighs Shakespeare also, and finds 25 
him to share the halfness and imperfection of humanity. 

Shakespeare, Homer, Dante, Chaucer, saw the splendour 
pf meaning that plays over the visible world ; knew that 

2o6 Essays of Emerson 

a tree had another use than for apples, and com another 
than for meal, and the ball of the earth, than for tillage 
and roads : that these things bore a second and finer 
harvest to the mind, being emblems of its thoughts, and 
5 conveying in all their natural history a certain mute com- 
mentary on human life. Shakespeare employed them as 
colours to compose his picture. He rested in their beauty ; 
and never took the step which seemed inevitable to such 
genius, namely to explore the virtue which resides in 

10 these symbols and imparts this power : — what is that 
which they themselves say ^? He converted the elements 
which waited on his command, into entertainments. He 
was master of the revels to mankind. Is it not as if one 
should have, through majestic powers of science, the 

15 comets given into his hand, or the planets and their 
moons, and should draw them from their orbits to glare 
with the municipal fireworks on a holiday night, and ad- 
vertise in all towns, " Very superior pyrotechny this even- 
ing"? Are the agents of nature, and the power to 

20 understand them, worth no more than a street serenade, 
or the breath of a cigar? One remembers again the 
trumpet-text in the Koran, — "The heavens and the 
earth and all that is between them, think ye we have 
created them in jest?" As long as the question is of talent 

25 and mental power, the world of men has not his equal to 

show. But when the question is, to life and its materials 

and its auxiliaries, how does he profit me ? What does it 

signify? It is but a Twelfth Night, or Midsummer Night's 

^ This seems contradictory to page 204, 11. 6-10, 23-2J. 

Shakespeare ; or, the Poet 207 

Dream, or Winter Evening's Tale ; what signifies another 
picture more or less ? The Egyptian verdict of the Shake- 
speare Societies comes to mind ; that he was a jovial actor 
and manager. I can not marry this fact to his verse. 
Other admirable men have led lives in some sort of keep- 5 
ing with their thought ; but this man, in wide contrast. 
Had he been less, had he reached only the common 
measure of great authors, of Bacon, Milton, Tasso, Cer- 
vantes, we might leave the fact in the twilight of human 
fate : but that this man of men, he who gave to the 10 
science of mind a new and larger subject than had ever 
existed, and planted the standard of humanity some fur- 
longs forward into Chaos, — that he should not be wise 
for himself; — it must even go into the world's history 
that the best poet led an obscure and profane life, using 15 
his genius for the public amusement. 

Well, other men, priest and prophet, Israelite, German 
and Swede, beheld the same objects : they also saw 
through them that which was contained. And to what 
purpose ? The beauty straightway vanished ; they read 20 
commandments, all-excluding mountainous duty ; an ob- 
ligation, a sadness, as of piled mountains, fell on them, 
and life became ghastly, joyless, a pilgrim's progress, a 
probation, beleaguered round with doleful histories of 
Adam's fall and curse behind us ; with doomsdays and 25 
purgatorial and penal fires before us ; and the heart of 
the seer and the heart of the listener sank in them. 

It must be conceded that these are half-views of half- 
men. The world still wants its poet-priest, a reconciler. 

2o8 Essays of Emerson 

who shall not trifle, with Shakespeare the player, nor shall 
grope in graves, with Swedenborg the mourner ; but who 
shall see, speak, and act, with equal inspiration.^ For 
knowledge will brighten the sunshine; right is more 
5 beautiful than private affection ; and love is compatible 
with universal wisdom. 

1 One only, among all who have walked the earth, has reached 
this level. 


Gifts of one who loved me, — 
Twas high time they came ; 
When he ceased to love me, 
Time they stopped for shame. 



Theme : The best way to make and to receive gifts. 

Structure : A. Introduction, Gifts are of love and not of debt, 
because we take pleasure in giving : but the difficulty lies in choos- 
ing what to give. 

B. Discussion, I. Flowers and fruits are always fit, because they 
seem like Nature's gifts to us. II. The necessities of men suggest 
lines for giving. III. Gifts which represent our own life and work 
are better than rings or jewels. IV. Substantial benefits must be 
offered with care, lest we seem to bestow favours. Patronage be- 
gets either a slavish gladness or an offended pride. Gratitude 
expected is destroyed. Debtors are resentful. V. Gifts come 
short of our good will toward those who are truly magnanimous. 
Their service to us exceeds our power to give to them. Their 
gratitude makes us ashamed. 

C. Conclusion, Yet, after all, love is the king of giving and can 
make his own rules. In the long run the bond that unites kindred 
hearts is the only thing of real value. To love is giving and 


It is said that the world is in a state of bankruptcy ; 
that the world owes the world more than the world can 
pay, and ought to go into chancery ^ and be sold. I do 
not think this general insolvency, which involves in some 
sort all the population, to be the reason of the difficulty 5 
experienced at Christmas and New Year and other times, 
in bestowing gifts ; since it is always so pleasant to be 
generous, though very vexatious to pay debts. But the 
impediment lies in the choosing. If at any time it comes 
into my head that a present is due from me to somebody, 10 
I am puzzled what to give, until the opportunity is gone. 
Flowers and fruits are always fit presents ; flowers, because 
they are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues 
all the utilities of the world. These gay natures contrast 
with the somewhat stern countenance of ordinary nature : 15 
they are like music heard out of a workhouse. Nature 
does not cocker ^ us ; we are children, not pets ; she is 
not fond ; everything is dealt to us without fear or favour, 
after severe universal laws. Yet these delicate flowers look 
like the frolic and interference of love and beauty. Men 20 
use to tell us that we love flattery even though we are 
not deceived by it, because it shows that we are of im- 
portance enough to be courted. Something like that 
pleasure, the flowers give us : what am I to whom these 
1 A court of equity. 2 spoil by indulgence. 

212 Essays of fimerson 

sweet hints are addressed? Fruits are acceptable gifts, 
because they are the flower of commodities, and admit of 
fantastic values being attached to them. If a man should 
send to me to come a hundred miles to visit him and 
5 should set before me a basket of fine summer-fruit, I 
should think there was some proportion between the 
labour and the reward. 

For common gifts, necessity makes pertinences ^ and 
beauty every day, and one is glad when an imperative 

10 leaves him no option; since if the man at the door 
have no shoes, you have not to consider whether 
you could procure him a paint-box. And as it is 
always pleasing to see a man eat bread, or drink water, 
in the house or out of doors, so it is always a great satis- 

15 faction to supply these first wants. Necessity does every- 
thing well. In our condition of universal dependence it 
seems heroic to- let the petitioner be the judge of his 
'necessity, and to give all that is asked, though at 'great 
inconvenience. If it be a fantastic desire, it is better 

20 to leave to others the office of punishing him. I can 
think of many parts I should prefer playing to that of 
the Furies. Next to things of necessity, the rule for 
a gift, which one of my friends prescribed, is that we 
might convey to some person that which properly be- 

25 longed to his character, and was easily associated with 

him in thought. But our tokens of compliment and 

love are for the most part barbarous. Rings and other 

jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only 

1 Fitness, 

Gifts 213 

gift is a portion of thyself. Thou must bleed for me. 
Therefore the poet brings his poem; the shepherd, his 
lamb ; the farmer, corn ; the miner, a gem ; the sailor, 
coral and shells; the painter, his picture; the girl, a 
handkerchief of her own sewing. This is right and pleas- 5 
ing, for it restores society in so far to the primary basis, 
when a man's biography is conveyed in his gift, and 
every man's wealth is an index of his merit. But it is 
a cold lifeless business when you go to the shop to buy 
me something which does not represent your life and 10 
talent, but a goldsmith *s. This is fit for kings, and rich 
men who represents kings, and a false state of property, 
to make presents of gold and silver stuffs, as a kind of 
symbolical sin-offering, or payment of blackmail. 

The law of benefits is a difficult channel, which 15 
requires careful sailing, or rude boats. It is not the 
office of a man to receive gifts. How dare you give 
them? We wish to be self-sustained. We do not quite 
forgive a giver. The hand that feeds us is in some 
danger of being bitten. We can receive anything from ao 
love, for . that is a way of receiving it from ourselves ; 
but not from any one who assumes to bestow. We some- 
times hate the meat which we eat, because there seems 
something of degrading dependence in living by it : — 

" Brother, if Jove to thee a present make, 25 

Take heed that from his hands thou nothing take." 

We ask the whole. Nothing less will content us. We 
arraign society if it do not give us, besides earth and 

214 Essays of Emerson 

fire and water, opportunity, love, reverence, and objects 
of veneration. 

He is a good man who can receive a gift well. We are 
either glad or sorry at a gift, and both emotions are 
5 unbecoming. Some violence I think is done, some 
degradation borne, when I rejoice or grieve at a gift. I 
am sorry when my independence is invaded, or when a 
gift comes from such as do not know my spirit, and so 
the act is not supported ; and if the gift pleases me 

10 overmuch, then I should be ashamed that the donor 
should read my heart, and see that I love his commodity, 
and not him. The gift, to be true, must be the flow- 
ing of the giver unto me, correspondent to my flowing 
unto him. When the waters are at level, then my goods 

15 pass to him, and his to me. All his are mine, all mine 
his. I say to him. How can you give me this pot of oil 
or this flagon of wine when all your oil and wine is mine, 
which belief of mine this gift seems to deny ? Hence 
the fitness of beautiful, not usefiil things, for gifts. This 

20 giving is flat usurpation, and therefore when the benefi- 
ciary is ungratefiil, as all beneficiaries hate all Timons, 
not at all considering the value of the gift but looking 
back to the greater store it was taken from, — I rather 
sympathize with the beneficiary than with the anger of 

25 my lord Timon. For the expectation of gratitude is 
mean, and is continually punished by the total insensibil- 
ity of the obliged person. It is a great happiness to get 
off" without injury and heart-burning fi*om one who has 
had the ill-luck to be served by you. It is a very onerous 

Gifts 1 1 5 

business, this of being served, and the debtor naturally 
wishes to give you a slap. A golden text for these gentle- 
men is that which I so admire in the Buddhist, who 
never thanks, and who says, " Do not flatter your bene- 
factors." 5 

The reason of these discords I conceive to be that 
there is no commensurability between a man and any 
gift. You cannot give anything to a magnanimous 
person. After you have served him he at once puts 
you in debt by his magnanimity. The service a mamo 
renders his friend is trivial and selfish compared with 
the service he knows his friend stood in readiness to 
yield him, alike before he had begun to serve his friend, 
and now also. Compared with that good -will I bear my 
friend, the benefit it is in my power to render him seems 15 
small. Besides, our action on each other, good as well as 
evil, is so incidental and at random that we can seldom 
hear the acknowledgments of any person who would 
thank us for a benefit, without some shame and humilia- 
tion. We can rarely strike a direct stroke, but must be 20 
content with an oblique one ; we seldom have the satis- 
faction of yielding a direct benefit which is directly 
received. But rectitude scatters favours on every side 
without knowing it, and receives with wonder the thanks 
of all people. 25 

I fear to breathe any treason against the majesty of 
love, which is the genius and god of gifts, and to whom 
we must not affect to prescribe. Let him give kingdoms 
or flower-leaves indifferently. There are persons from 

2i6 Essays of Emerson 

whom we always expect fairy-tokens ; let us not cease to 
expect them. This is prerogative, and not to be limited 
by our mimicipal rules. For the rest, I like to see that we 
cannot be bought and sold. The best of hospitality and of 
5 generosity is also not in the will, but in fate. I find that I am 
not much to you ; you do not need me ; you do not feel me ; 
then am I thrust out of doors, though you proffer me 
house and lands. No services are of any value, but 
only likeness. When I have attempted to join myself 
10 to others by services, it proved an intellectual trick, — 
no more. They eat your service like apples, and leave 
you out. But love them, and they feel you and delight 
in you all the time. 


The heavy marginal figures stand for page, and the lighter ones for line. 

33 : I. Recommencement of our literary year. Emerson was 
invited in 1837 ^^ deliver the annual oration before the Harvard 
chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa, a society composed of honour-men 
from various American colleges. The college "commencement," 
at that time, was held in the autumn or late summer, at the begin- 
ning of the college year. The audience to which Emerson spoke 
crowded the hall, and contained many distinguished men. The 
oration excited general attention, and was warmly admired and 
as warmly condemned. Oliver Wendell Holmes called it " our 
intellectual Declaration of Independence." But it is, in fact, as 
much a claim for originality and liberty in every other country as 
in America. So far from teaching a new doctrine, it presents the 
philosophy of the German idealists, Hegel and Fichte and Schelling 
and others, which Coleridge had already made familiar to English 
readers, in a form which certainly bears traces of the influence of 
Bacon and Carlyle. 

33 : 5. The ancient Greeks. The Grecian games (Olympian, 
Pjrthian, Nemean, and Isthmian) were, for the most part, public 
contests in athletic sports, running, boxing, wrestling, throwing the 
discus, and so on. They were held regularly, at certain intervals of 
years, and were connected with religious ceremonies. At some 
of them there were musical contests, and in later times poems and 
histories were recited for a prize. The Festivals of the Panathensea 


2 1 8 Notes 

and the Dionysia at Athens included the singing of odes and the 
presentation of tragedies and comedies. 

33 : 6. Troubadotirs. Poets and minstrels of southern France 
in the Middle Ages. They wandered from court to court, singing 
of love and war. Sometimes a prince or princess would hold a 
contest for these singers, gathered from different provinces; and 
this was called a '* parliament." 

34 : 7. The pole-^tar. The name given to that star which is 
nearest to the northern point of the invisible axis around which the 
heavens seem to turn. This star is now Polaris, which is about i i 
degrees from the polar point. It will, in course of time, move a 
little nearer to the pole, and then farther away. After about 
twelve thousand years the star Vega, one of the brightest in the 
constellation Lyra, will be the pole-star. Emerson means that 
poetry will be the central star of men's thoughts ; and he 
chooses this Hgure because the Lyre, or Harp, is the emblem of the 

35 : 7. The members. The figure of the body and its members 
is used by St. Paul in i Corinthians xii. 14-21. Emerson's vivid 
poetic imagination expresses itself in this metaphor of the mem- 
bers strutting about separately. He is fond of using concrete 
images, and much prefers metaphor to simile. Cf. p. 35, 1. 19 , "the 
priest becomes a form," etc.; p. 38, 1. 8, "seal and print"; p. 45, 
1. 23, " pearls and rubies to his discourse." 

36 : 6. Two handles: beware of the wrong one. A maxim 
of Epictetus, a Stoic philosopher of the first century, preserved by 
Arrian in a book called Encheiridion, 

36 : 12. Every day, the sun. The verb is omitted. This is a 
favourite construction with Emerson, who is sparing in his use of 
words and likes to condense. 

36: 15. Beholding and beholden. An illustration of Emerson's 
odd use of words. " Behold " originally meant to hold by, keep, 
retain. This sense is now obsolete, and the word means to hold in 
view, to see with attention. The participle " beholden," however, 

Notes 219 

follows the older sense, and means bound, held by obligation. 
Emerson uses "beholding" in the modern sense, of seeing; and 
" beholden " in the older sense, of being bound by ties of duty. 

36 : 25. Nature . . . mind. Here begins the unfolding of Emer- 
son's favourite doctrine that nature and the human mind correspond, 
and that in the relation between them the mind imposes its own 
laws and ideas on nature, instead of being evolved out of nature, so 
that the form of things as we see them is really of spiritual origin, 
coming from within us, and in the end we can look forward (as he 
says on page 38) '* to an ever expanding knowledge as to a becom- 
ing creator." This, of course, is idealism; the doctrine that ideas 
and mental laws are the real things, and material objects are 
temporary forms. 

38 : 5. A becoming creator. For example, the knowledge of 
astronomy brings the stars for us into an orderly universe obedient 
to gravitation and other laws, all of which, so far as we know them, 
are the product of thought, of mental power. Thus " the soul is the 
seal, and nature is the print." 

38 : 13. Know thyself. A saying of Chilon, one of the Seven 
Wise Men of Greece, who lived in the sixth century B.C. 

39 : 16. Each generation for the next succeeding. To-day men 
go farther, and say that each generation must write the books for 

40 : 7. Cicero (106-43 b.c). A Roman statesman, orator, and 

40 : 7. Locke (1632-1704). An English philosopher. 

40 : 8. Bacon (1561-1626). An English judge and essayist. 
All three of these men made good use of the ancient wisdom 
which they found in libraries ; and other "young men in libraries" 
may well follow their example. 

40 : 14. Third Estate. In some countries, for example France, 
the nation has been politically divided into three estates or classes, 
nobility, clergy, and the common people. The last is called " the 
third estate." 

220 Notes 

42 : 15. Chaucer (i 340-1 400). Called "the morning star of 
English poetry"; author of the Canterbury Tales. 

42 : 15. Marvell (i 621- 1678). One of Emerson's favourite 
poets; author of The Garden^ The Bermudas^ Ode on Cromwell. 

42 : 15. Dryden (i 631-1700). A dramatist and satiric poet; 
author of Absalom and Achitophel, The Hind and the Panther, 
Alexander's Feast^ etc. The " modern joy " which Emerson finds 
in these old poets refutes what he says a little before: "the books 
of an older period will not fit this." 

43 : 10. Wealth of the Indies. A Spanish proverb. 

43 : 19. Plato (429-348 B.C.). The greatest of Greek idealists. 

43 : 19. Shakespeare (i 564-1 61 6). The greatest English dra- 
matic poet. 

44 : 12. A pen-knife for an axe. This should be " a pen-knife 
for the work of an axe." 

45 : 15. The dumb abyss. Does this refer to the world 
within, or without ? 

46 : 2. A mulberry leaf . . . satin. Satin is made from the 
cocoon of the silkworm, which feeds on the leaves of the mulberry. 

46 : 16. The corruptible . . . incorruption. i Cor, xv. 54. 

47 : 9. Savoyards. The inhabitants of a small country in the 
Western Alps, south of Geneva. It is now a part of France. The 
making of wooden toys is one of the industries of the country, and 
at one time the fir forests around certain villages were much 
reduced by careless cutting. The damage has now been largely 
repaired by scientific forestry. 

47 : 13. Authors . . . replenish their stock. Washington 
Irving published Astoria in 1836, The Rocky Mountains in 1837. 
Longfellow published Outre-Mer in 1835. N. P. Willis published 
sketches of travel in Europe aud the East in 1835 and 1836. To 
these and other instances Emerson not very kindly alluded. 

48 : 12. Newton (i 642-1 727). Sir Isaac Newton, English man 
of science, discoverer of the law of gravitation. 

49 : 13. Druids. Priests of the ancient Celtic people of Gaul 

Notes 221 

and Britain. Their religion was full of superstitious rites and wild 

49 : 13. Berserkers. Berserk (bearsark) was a name given to 
a mythological hero of the Norsemen, because he went into battle 
without armour, clad in a shirt of bearskin. In later times the 
name was given to those who went crazy in fighting, and were 
dangerous to friends as well as enemies. It is something like the 
Oriental phrase of " running amuck." 

49 : 14. Alfred (849-901), King of the West Saxons, a patron 
of learning and religion, one of the wisest and greatest of English 

50:3. Flamsteed. John Flamsteed (1646-17 19), English 
astronomer royal; his observations at Greenwich are the beginning 
of modem practical astronomy. 

50 : 3. Herschel. Sir William Herschel (i 738-1822), private 
astronomer to George III. of England, discovered the planet 
Uranus, 145 new double stars, the existence of systems beyond our 
own, and did more than any other man to make the immensity 
of the stellar universe known to men. 

50 : 23. Hostility ... to educated society. Here we see a 
trace of Emerson's sensitiveness to the opposition and criticism 
which were called out by his radical views and independent action.. 
The conservatives distrusted him, and the academic authorities, at 
first, were rather scornful towards him. He often speaks indirectly 
in the tons of a martyr for liberty. But his martyrdom was mild 
and profitable. 

5a : 18. Priyatest, secretest. This use of the superlative in 
words which are usually compared with " most " is a trick of 
Carlyle's, from whom Emerson doubtless caught it. 

54 : 8. The head of the table. The idea that the great man 
makes the seat which he occupies the seat of honour, is found in 
Don Quixotfy where a gentleman who has offered the head of the 
table to a farmer, out of courtesy, is vexed by the persistent re- 
fusal of the rustic to take it, and cries out, "Sit down, clodpole; 

222 Notes 

for let me sit wherever I will, that will still be the upper end." 
As a Scotch saying it is usually attributed to the head of the clan 
Macdonald, whose chiefs of old were kings of the Gaels. 

54 : 9. Linnaeus. Karl von Linne (i 707-1 778), a Swede, was 
the founder of the systematic classification of plants and animals, 
and is regarded as one of the greatest of botanists, though his 
method of nomenclature is no longer used. 

54 : 10. Davy. Sir Humphry Davy (i 778-1829), an English 
natural philosopher, the inventor of the safety-lamp used by miners. 

54 ; II. Cuvier. Georges, Baron de Cuvier (1769-1832), a 
French naturalist, founder of the science of comparative anatomy, 
one of the first to study the fossils of extinct animals. 

54 : 14. Follow the moon. The daily rising of the waters of 
the ocean, which is called the tide, is caused by the attraction of 
gravitation exerted by the sun and the moon, but chiefly the moon, 
because it is so much nearer to the earth than the sun. 

54 : 23. Men are become of no account. Here Emerson diverge 
from Carlyle, who holds that the hero is, and ought to be, the only 
person who counts. The multitude are of no consequence. But 
Emerson holds to ideal democracy, and believes that genius is the 
right of every man, and that the private person ought to count. 
He protests against the present state of hero-worship as a wrong 
done by man to himself. 

55 : 19. "Spoils ... of ofllce." The theory that the right of 
appointment to minor as well as major offices in the government 
service should be used by a victorious political party to reward its 
followers and strengthen its power, came into American politics 
through the states of New York and Pennsylvania, with the victories 
of the Republican party early in the nineteenth century. The use 
of the word " spoils " to describe these appointments probably origi- 
nated in a speech of Senator Marcy, in the United States Senate, 
1832, "the rule that to the victor belong the spoils of the enemy." 

56 : 17. Etna . . . Vesuvius. Two active volcanoes, the 
former on the island of Sicily, the latter on the mainland near 

Notes 223 

Naples. There is an undoubted connection between them, but 
their great eruptions do not occur at the same time. 

56 : 28. Classic . . . Romantic . . . Reflective. The Qassic 
age is marked by attention to rule and severity of form; the 
Romantic, by freedom of passion and luxuriance of ornament ; the 
Reflective, by universal criticism and intellectual curiosity. 

57 : 15. " Sicklied o*er," etc. HamUtyxn, i. 

58 : 29. The meal in the firkin, etc. Note here how Emerson 
shows his love of the plain fact, the concrete homely illustration. 

59 : 14. Goldsmith (1728-1774). An Irish writer, best known 
by his poem, The Deserted Village, and his little novel, The 
Vicar of Wakefield. In form he followed to some extent the 
artiBcial manner of the writers of the Age of Queen Anne; but in 
spirit he was much more simple and natural, and helped to lead 
the way to the romantic and democratic period of English literature. 

59 : 14. Bums (i 759-1 796). The greatest lyrical poet of Scot- 
land, whose familiar songs, in lowland Scotch dialect, express the 
simple feelings of humanity with great beauty. His best descriptive 
pieces. Tarn O'^Shanter, and The Cotter'' s Saturday Night, deal 
with peasant life. 

59 : 15. Cowper ( 1 731-1800). An English reflective and de- 
scriptive poet, whose verse contains some excellent observations of 
nature at flrst hand, and much simple and humane sentiment, 
sympathy with the poor, and religious feeling. 

59 : 15. Goethe (i 749-1 832). The greatest of German writers 
famous for the breadth of his thought, the philosophical depth of 
his genius, and the freedom with which he wrote in various styles, 
classical and romantic. His most celebrated poem is Faust. In 
prose, Wilhelm Meister is one of his greatest works. 

59 : 15. Wordsworth (i 770-1 850). An English lyrical and 
reflective poet, the leader of the return to simplicity in diction, and 
the best exponent of the life of the plain people. His Lyrical Bal- 
lads (1798) mark the beginning of a new epoch in English poetry. 

59 : 16. Carlyle (i 795-1881). A Scotch essayist, lecturer, and 

224 Notes 

historian, a great friend of Emerson. Carlyle wrote with fierce- 
ness and freedom, attacking the shams of conventional society, 
and using a wild, grotesque style of his own. But he was not at 
all democratic in his spirit. 

59 : 1 8. Pope ( 1 688- 1 744). An English poet, excelling chiefly 
in reflective and satirical verse, the most famous writer of the Age 
of Queen Anne, master of a polished, pointed, intellectual style. 

59 : 18. Johnson (i 709-1 784). An English scholar and essay- 
ist, the literary dictator of his ti(pe, and the great example of that 
balanced, dignified, long-worded style which is called Johnsonian. 

59 : 18. Gibbon (173 7-1 794). An English historical writer 
whose life was almost entirely given to the composition of his great 
work on The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire^ written 
in the Johnsonian style. 

Pope, Johnson, and Gibbon represent the classical influence in 
English literature : elegant, formal, clear, restrained, artificial 
Goldsmith, Burns, and Cowper were poets of the transition, when 
the old forms were beginning to break up under the influence of 
democracy and the romantic spirit. Wordsworth, Goethe, and 
Carlyle represent modern literature as Emerson read it. There is no 
great resemblance among the three, but they all write freely and 
express the new ideas in new ways. 

59 : 29. Swedenborg (1688-1772). A Swedish philosopher 
and mjrstic, at first devoted to natural science, and then given 
up to poetic visions and interpretations of religion. His theology 
explained the Bible in a symbolic or spiritual sense, and he claimed 
to be in association with the inhabitants of the unseen world, just 
as if he had died and become one of them. He founded the 
Church of the New Jerusalem. Emerson greatly admired his 
writings and often quoted him. 

60 : 21. Pestalozzi (i 746-1 827). A Swiss teacher and reformer 
of education. He has had great influence on modern teaching, 
and in particular, the kindergarten idea was developed by his pupil 
Frobel. Most of his practical experiments failed; therefore Emer- 

Notes 225 

son calls him ** the melancholy Pestalozzi/' But his thoughts and 
principles lived. 

62 : 20. Inspires all men. Emerson here closes with his fa- 
vourite idea of the Universal Reason, and its unity manifested 
through the individuality of every man. 


63 : 8. Beaumont and Fletcher. Francis Beaumont and John 
Fletcher, dramatists of the Elizabethan Age, who wrote much in 
partnership. They were among the greatest of Shakespeare's con- 

63 : 9. Bantling on the rocks. An allusion to Romulus and 
Remus, who, according to the fable, were cast out in infancy, and 
nourished by a she-wolf. They became the founders of Rome. 

65 : 5. An eminent painter. Perhaps Washington Allston, one 
of the early American painters, who was living at this time near 
Emerson, and who wrote some good original verse. 

65 : 13. Milton. John Milton (1608-1674), the most learned of 
English poets, author of Paradise Lost, Samson AgonisteSy etc. He 
never set traditions at naught. 

68 : 12. The pit in the playhouse. In early English theatres 
the floor of the house was known as the pit. The name is still given 
to that part of the floor which lies behind the orchestra stalls. It 
contains the cheaper seats, and the people who occupy the pit are 
likely to express their approval or dislike of the play with great 
freedom and in noisy ways. It corresponds to what we call " the 
gallery " in American theatres. 

68 : 24. Lethe. A river in the underworld (according to 
Greek mythology), by drinking of which the souls of the dead 
were made to forget their earthly life. 

70 : I. I will live then from the Devil. Here we see Emer- 
son's doctrine carried to an extreme. 

70 : 15. Barbadoes. An island in the Atlantic, off the coast of 


226 Notes 

North America, belonging to Great Britain. The negroes, forming 
the chief part of the population, were emancipated from slavery in 
1834. This criticism of the so-called Abolitionists illustrates Emer- 
son's attitude toward political movements and parties in the United 
States. Cf. Introduction^ page 23. 

71 : 10. To whom I am bought and sold. This ungrammati- 
cal sentence illustrates Emerson's occasional carelessness in the use 
of a striking phrase. 

73 : 9. Do I not know beforehand, etc. Why is not this 
equally true of Emerson's defence of self-reliance ? May not the 
preacher honestly and fairly show the reasons which have led him 
to take his position ? 

75 : 17. Clothe God with shape and colour. Emerson im- 
plies that it is natural and right to speak of God as a person, even 
though you may hold, in your philosophy, that the Divine Being 
has no bounds or limits. This is in accordance with his own 

75 : 18. Joseph. Genesis xxxix. 12. Forsake and surrender 
anything that would keep from being true to your own impulse and 

76 : 2 ff. Pythagoras, etc. The Greek philosopher, Pythago- 
ras (582-500 B.C.) died in exile. Socrates (470-399 B.C.) was 
condemned by the Athenians to die by drinking poison. The 
Divine Founder of Christianity was crucified. Martin Luther 
(1483-1546), the leader of the Protestant Reformation, was ex- 
communicated and outlawed. Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) 
the discoverer of modern astronomy, was neglected and ridiculed; 
and Galileo Galilei (i 564-1 642), one of his greatest followers, was 
persecuted and imprisoned. Isaac Newton (i 642-1 727), the Eng- 
lish philosopher, who discovered the law of gravitation, was long 
misunderstood and opposed in his teachings. 

76 : 9. Andes and Himmaleh. The great mountain ranges of 
South America and Asia, respectively ; they contain the highest 
peaks of the earth. The Asian range is usually called Himalaya. 

Notes 227 

76 : II. Acrostic. An example of Emerson's incorrect use of 
odd words. A verse which reads the same backwards or for- 
wards is not an acrostic, but a palindrome : e^, ** Madam, I'm 

77 : 22-23. Chatham, etc. William Pitt, Earl of Chatham 
( 1 708-1778), a great English statesman and orator, friendly to the 
cause of the Americans in the Revolution. George Washington 
( 1 732-1 799), the leader of the American armies and first President 
of the United States. Samuel Adams, (i 722-1803), a Massachu- 
setts patriot, intensely devoted to the cause of liberty in the col- 
onies, a man of simple habits and plain speech, called the ** Father 
of the Revolution." 

78 : 5. Gazetted. There are three official journals published 
in Great Britain, called Gazettes, containing lists of (i) appoint- 
ments to office, (2) public honours conferred, and (3) persons 
declared bankrupt. It is to the last of these lists that the phrase, 
" to get into the gazette," usually refers. 

78 : 7. Spartan fife. Sparta was the most martial state of 
ancient Greece, renowned for bravery and accustomed to train all 
its young men for war. The fife gave the signal for drill and for 

78 : 20. Every body . . . reminds us, etc. Even so the pupils 
of Emerson, who follow his advice, will certainly remind us of 

78 : 27. Caesar. Julius Oesar (100-44 i^'C.), a great Roman 
general and statesman, the founder of imperial power in Rome. 

79 : 4-6. Hermit Antony, etc. Antonius (250-356), a Christian 
of Upper Egypt, who went out into the desert to live alone, in 
voluntary self-denial and absolute poverty, is regarded as the first 
of the hermits and the beginner of the various orders of Christian 
monks. George Fox (i 624-1 691) founded the Society of Friends 
(commonly called Quakers) in England. John Wesley (1703- 
I79i)» ^^ English clergyman, was the leader of that religious 
revival which resulted in the Methodist Church. Thomas Clarkson 

228 Notes 

(1760- 1 846) was an English philanthropist whose work resulted in 
action of Parliament, in 1807, declaring the slave trade illegal. 

79 : 6. Scipio (234-184 B.c.)f the Roman general who defeated 
Hannibal and destroyed Carthage. Cf. Milton's Paradise Lost^ 
ix, 510. 

79 : 23. Popular fable of the sot, etc. This fable is found in 
many languages and in various forms. Cf. The Arabian Nights^ 
** The Sleeper Awakened." But it is not a well-chosen illustration 
for Emerson's purpose, since the drunken man's greatness was only 
a deception and lasted but a day. 

80 : 10. Scanderbeg and Gustayus. George Castriota, known 
in history as Iskander Beg or Scanderbeg, was an Albanian chief 
who forsook the religion of Mahomet and fought against the Turks 
with great success (1403-1468). Gustavus II. (i 594-1632) was 
the greatest king of Sweden, a brave soldier, and a wise, beneficent 

8z : 5. Parallax. The apparent displacement of a heavenly 
body caused by a change of place of the beholder. It is used to 
calculate the size and distance of the stars. A star so distant as to 
have no parallax could not be measured. 

81 : 10. Intuition. Here is the central doctrine of transcen- 
dentalism, which holds that the soul perceives the highest truths 
directly, without argument or reasoning, because the soul itself is a 
personal manifestation of the universal Reason. Cf. IntroaucHon^ 
page 17. 

83 : 20. Man is timid and apologetic, etc. This idea is worked 
out in Emerson's poem of The Sphinx, 

86 : 18. Resolution of allinto . . . One. This is called Monism, 
the doctrine that there is but one real substance, force, and life in • 
the universe. 

87 : 10. Take the shoes, etc. The removal of the shoes is a 
common sign of reverence in the Oriental religions, and signifies 
that the place in which one stands is holy. Cf. Exodus iii. 5. 

88 : 13. Thor and Woden. In the Scandinavian mythology, 

Notes 229 

current among the ancient Saxons, Woden, the chief god, was ex- 
cellent in power and wisdom ; Thor, his oldest son, was the god of 
thunder, and personified warlike courage. 

88 : 23. No coyenants but proximities. Does " but " in this 
sentence mean " except " ; or does it introduce a clause in opposi- 
tion to that which precedes it ? In the former case Emerson's 
meaning is : "I will acknowledge no ties except those which arise 
out of nearness and relationship." In the latter case he means: 
" I will not make any ties or bonds at all, but will only recognize 
that certain people are near to me." This would carry indepen- 
dence very far and make social and family life difficult. 

90 : 13. High be his heart, etc. Here is Emerson's safeguard 
against the dangers of the doctrine of absolute independence. 

91 : 21. Stoic. A follower of the philosopher Zeno, who taught 
at Athens, in the Stoa or porch. The Stoics held that man should 
be indifferent to pleasure and pain, and follow the dictates of con- 
science firmly. 

91 : 24. The word made flesh. 5/. /okn i. 14. 

92 : II. Prayer. This passage gives only one side of the truth 
about prayer; for the other side, read 5/. Matthew vii. 7-12; St» 
John xvi. 23-24; St, Luke xi., xviii. 

9a : 26. Caratach. Caractacus, orCaradoc (50A.D.),chiefof the 
Catuvellauni, and Boadicea, queen of the Iceni, were leaders of 
the Britons in the struggle against the tyranny of Rome. They 
appear in Fletcher's play under the names of Bonduca and Caratach. 
Audate was a Celtic goddess. 

93 : 22. Zoroaster. The founder of the ancient religion of 

93 : 26. Let not God speak to us. Exodus xx. 19. 

94 : 13. Calvinism. The theology of John Calvin, a French 
reformer (i 509-1 564). 

94 : 13. Swedenborgism. The doctrine of Emanuel Sweden- 
borg (see note 59 : 29), usually called Swedenborgianism. 

95 : II. They who made England, etc. But Homer, Herodo- 

230 Notes 

tus, Plutarch, Dante, Petrarch, Leonardo, Chaucer, Spenser, 
Sidney, Raleigh, Milton, Scott, Wordsworth, etc., were all travellers. 
96 : 4. Thebes. The ancient capital of Upper Egypt, now al- 
together a ruin. 

96 : 4. Palmyra. A city founded by Solomon in an oasis of 
eastern Syria, afterwards the residence gf Queen Zenobia ; nothing 
now remains of it but some splendid ruins. 

97 : I. Doric, etc. The Doric was the earliest of the three 
chief styles of Greek architecture, and is marked by straight lines 
and simple columns. The Gothic architecture developed in the 
Middle Ages, and is marked by the use of pointed arches and 
clustered columns. 

97 : 18. Franklin. Benjamin Franklin (i 706-1 790), American 
philosopher, writer, discoverer, and patriot. He was the first to 
prove the nature of lightning by his famous experiment with the 

97 : 20. Scipionism. Scipio was the name of a distinguished 
Roman family which produced great generals and statesmen in 
three successive generations. Scipionism is precisely the thing 
which was handed on from one to another in this family. 

97 : 25. Phidias (500-430 b.c), the most famous uf Greek 
sculptors. The style of his work may be judged by the frieze of the 
Parthenon of Athens. 

97 : 25. Trowel of the Egyptians. The trowel is a poor symbol 
of the architecture of the Egjrptians, for their greatest buildings 
were in huge courses of accurately dressed stones, held by their own 
weight, or sometimes fastened with metal clamps ; very little mortar 
was used. 

97:26. Dante. Dante Alighieri( 1265-132 1), the greatest poet 
of Italy, author of The Divine Comedy, 

98 : 23. Compare the health of the two men. This is a mis- 
take. Savage tribes, as a rule, are more subject to disease and less 
able to resist it, than civilized peoples. Unless the matter of 
climate comes in, the white explorer can usually wear out his red 

Notes 23 1 

or black or yellow guides. The trained athlete of civilization is 
stronger than the barbarian. 

99 : 5. Geneva. A Swiss city, noted for the manufacture of 
watches, and long the centre of the world's trade in them. 

99 : 7. Greenwich. The Royal Observatory at Greenwich, near 
London, in England, is taken as the starting-point for the cal- 
culation of the degrees of longitude ; and the almanac which is 
issued there is used by all English-speaking geographers and 
astronomers, and by many others. Greenwich time is the standard 
for the British Empire. 

99 : 13. Increases the number of accidents. This is a mistake. 
The number of accidents is probably not affected at all by the 
existence of insurance societies. If they have any effect, it is to 
increase the precautions against accident. 

99 : 26. Plutarch (b. about 46 a.d.), a Greek historian, moral 
philosopher, and essayist, and one of Emerson's favourite au- 
thors. From Plutarch's Parallel Lives of Greek and Roman 
heroes, Emerson draws many of his illustrations. Among the 
ancients Plutarch is Emerson's nearest of kin. 

100 : 8. Hudson, etc. Henry Hudson (d. 161 1), an English 
navigator, the discoverer of the Hudson River and Hudson Bay. 
Vitus Behring (1680-1741), a Danish navigator after whom Beh- 
ring Strait was named. Sir William Parry and Sir John Franklin 
were famous English explorers of the Arctic regions in the first part 
of the nineteenth century. 

100 : 12. A more splendid series, etc. This is a mistake. The 
observations of Herschel and other modern astronomers were more 
splendid than those of Galileo. He was one of the inventors of the 
telescope, which was at first made double, like an opera-glass, and 
had a magnifying power of thirty times. 

100: 13. Columbus. Christopher Columbus (1445 ?-i5o6), a 
Genoese navigator, generally regarded as the discoverer of America; 
though some assert that there were earlier discoveries by the 
Norsemen, etc* 

232 Notes 

100 : 19. Napoleon. Napoleon Bonaparte (i 769-1821), a Cot- 
sican soldier who became lieutenant in the army of France 1785, 
general of the French army in Italy, 1796, in Egypt, 1798, First 
Consul and practical ruler of France, 1799, First* Emperor of the 
French, 1704-17 14. He almost succeeded in conquering all the 
other nations of Europe ; was beaten by the English and Prussians 
at Waterloo; and died in exile, a captive of Great Britain, on the 
island of St. Helena. The Count de las Cases was his companion 
in exile and wrote Memorial de Ste, Helene, Emerson confuses him 
with Las Casas, a Spanish missionary. 

loi : 4. Their experience dies with them. This is Emerson's 
great mistake. The experience of men is preserved in books, laws, 
institutions, and for this reason the past can teach us much. This 
is the secret of human progress, which Emerson in this passage 
seems to deny, though elsewhere he admits it. 

loi : 25. CaUph Ali (6cx>-66i ), a cousin and adopted son of 
Mahomet and the fourth caliph to succeed him in the leadership 
of Islam. Ali was called " the Lion of God," and was the author 
of many lyric poems and a collection of proverbs. 

102 : 13. Weaker by every recruit to his banner. But note 
what Emerson says on pages 63, 75 about the power of self-helping 
man to attract others to him. 

Z02 : 25. Wheel rolls. Fortuna, the ancient Italian goddess of 
good-luck, was depicted with a wheel as her symbol. In roulette, 
a gambling game, the wheel is used as the instrument. 


107 : 2. Compensation. In common speech this means a 
payment for service rendered or for injury suffered. In law, 
it is a counter claim or set-off: where two men are in debt to 
each other, their debts are cancelled if equal ; if unequal, a bal- 
ance is struck. In physics it is a method of counteracting errors 
in an experiment by introducing other factors which act in an 

Notes 233 

opposite direction from the factors which cause the error. Emer- 
son uses the word in a philosophic sense which implies all three 

no : 4. Polarity. One of Emerson's favourite long words, 
which he does not always use accurately. Polarity is derived from 
pole (Greek ir6Xoj, a pivot, hinge, axis), which means, first, one 
of the two points in which the axis of revolution of the earth cuts 
the surface ; and then, the opposite parts of the surface in any more 
or less spherical body. Polarity, however, refers not merely to the 
possession of two poles, but especially to a variation in certain 
properties of a body so that in one direction they are the opposite 
of what they are in the opposite direction ; e^, the magnetic 
needle has polarity because the negative end repels what the posi- 
tive end attracts. 

Ill : 10. Periodic or compensating errors. Changes in the 
orbit of a planet which are caused by the attraction of the other 
planets, and which move it alternately forward and backward at 
short periods of years. 

Ill : 13. The barren soil does not, etc. But it does. Fevers 
prevail in unfruitful lands like the Italian Maremma; tigers among 
the rocky districts of India; scorpions in the desert, etc. 

113: 2. He must hate father and mother, etc. The word 
*• hate " is here used in the sense of withholding the supreme love. 
Cf. the words of Christ, St, Luke xiv. 26. 

113 : 6. A byword and a hissing. Jeremiah xix. 8. 

113 : 9. Res nolunt diu, etc. A Latin saying, of which the 
preceding sentence is a translation. 

115 : 2. That soul, i.e. The Soul of the Universe. 

115 : 4. It is in the world, etc. St. John i. : a reference to the 
Divine Word (X^os), or Reason, which pervades all things. 

115 : 7. 01 K^poi Ai6s del c^irCirrovo-i. The dice of God always 
fall well, i,e, as He wishes them. There is no chance or uncertainty 
in the world. 

115 : 12. Every secret is told, etc., St, Luke xii. 3. 

234 Notes 

115 : 23. The causal retribution, etc. For example, if you 
commit a theft, it makes you a thief, and your sense of honesty suf- 
fers or is killed. But it may be a long time before you are detected 
and put in jail, or even before you are suspected and begin to lose 
the confidence of your neighbours. Yet the outward punishment is 
really a part of the inward punishment. 

117 : 15. ** Drive out Nature with a fork," etc. An old Latin 
proverb, quoted by the poet Horace. 

118 : 7. Mermaid's head . . . dragon's tail. A mermaid is a 
fabulous creature of the sea, having a woman's head and body, and 
the tail of a fish, not a dragon. 

118 : 9. "How secret art thou," etc. TAe Confessions of St. 
Augustine^ Bk. I. 

118 : 17. Jupiter. The Greeks called their supreme god Zeus. 
In the Roman mythology Jupiter was the name of the correspond- 
ing deity. He was supposed to be subject, with all the other gods, 
to a higher power called Ananke, or fate. 

118 : 20. Helpless as a king of England. The Parliament, in 
England, has supreme power in making laws, voting supplies of 
public money, etc. The king has rather less power than the Presi- 
dent of the United States. 

118 : 21. Prometheus. A semi-divine personage in Greek my- 
thology, the friend of man, who stole fire from heaven and taught 
men how to use it. For this he was chained to a rock and torn by 
vultures. The important secret which he was supposed to know 
was a certain danger which threatened the throne of Zeus, and the 
only way to avert it. To obtain this secret Zeus offered to free him 
from his torture. 

118:22. Minerva. Athena in the Greek mythology, correspond- 
ing to Minerva in the Roman, the goddess of wisdom, had the cus- 
tody of the thunderbolts which Zeus used to display his anger and 
to punish men. 

119 : 3. Aurora. The goddess of the dawn, who fell in love 
with Tithonus, son of a Trojan king. She persuaded Zeus to 

Notes 235 

promise that Tithonus should never die, but forgot to ask that he 
should remain young. 

119 : 4. Achilles. The hero of Homer's Iliad^ son of the sea- 
goddess Thetis, who dipped him in the river Styx, when he was a 
baby, to make him invulnerable. But the heel by which she held 
him was not immersed, and, being wounded there, he died. 

119 : 6. Siegfried. The hero of the great German epic, the 
Nibelungenlied, He vanquished the Nibelungs and carried away 
fheir treasure, but was killed by Hagen who struck him from 

119 : 17. Nemesis. A mysterious Greek goddess, personifying 
the certainty of moral justice. She punished especially the proud 
and insolent who defied the divine laws. 

119: 19. The Furies. There were three Furies, Electo,Tisi- 
phone, and Megsera, whose work it was to punish the guilty with 
their secret stings and whips. 

119 : 23. Ajaz . . . Hector. In the Iliads it is narrated that 
Hector, the Trojan, exchanged arms and accoutrements with Ajax, 
the Greek, after a single combat. Hector was afterwards killed 
by Achilles. Ajax committed suicide by falling on the sword given 
him by Hector. 

119 : 27. Thasians. The inhabitants of Thasos, a Greek island. 
Theagenes was one of their famous athletes. 

120 : 16. We are to see that which man, etc. This is the oppo- 
site of Carlyle*s theory that history is but the record of heroes and 
that the multitudes of men are of little consequence. Emerson 
seems to vacillate between the two theories. Cf. the passage on 
Druids and Berserkers, The American Scholar, p. 49. In Self- 
Reliance, p. 79, he says that " all history resolves itself into the 
biography of a few stout and earnest persons." 

122 : 5. Burke. Edmund Burke (i 729-1 797), Irish orator and 
statesman, one of the most eloquent speakers in the British House 
of Commons. 

123 : 15. Polycrates. The tyrant of the Greek island of Samos, 

236 Notes 

whose good fortune was so unbroken that he was advised to part 
with his most valued possession, lest the envy of the gods should 
destroy him. He threw his priceless emerald ring into the sea. 
But soon after a fisherman presented the king with a fish which 
had swallowed the ring; disaster followed, and Polycrates died 

123 : 21. Scot and lot. Parish taxes assessed according to the 
ability of the person taxed. 

127 : 19. The stag in the fable. One of the apologues of JEsop, 
whom tradition describes as a dwarf and a slave, living in Greece 
in the sixth century B.c. 

129 : 7. A third silent party. This should be ** a silent third 
party"; for Emerson does not mean that there are three silent 
parties, but three parties, one of whom is silent. 

129 : 14. Compound interest on compound interest. Is this 
possible? Compound interest means the interest on interest and 
capital. To double the phrase adds nothing to its meaning. 

130 : 14. Compensation . . . indifferency. Emerson here begins 
to explain the difference between the working of the law in the 
natural or outward world, and in the spiritual or inward world. 
He concludes by saying that there is no tax on the good of virtue, 
no loss to balance a moral gain; which amounts, after all, to an 
exemption of the soul from the strict rule that everything must be 
paid for. 

132 : 20. St. Bernard (1091-1153). Abbot of Clairvaux in 
France, a famous churchman and a great writer on religion. 

133 : 17. His wit, etc. Is this true? Must the intelligence of 
the wise man be discounted if there are some people who cannot 
comprehend or share it? 

133 : 24. As the shell-fish, etc. This idea is beautifully ex- 
pressed in the poem, TAe Chambered Nautilus^ by Oliver Wendell 

135 : 19. The banian of the forest. An East Indian variety of 
fig tree, whose branches send down roots to the ground which in 

Notes 237 

their turn become trunks to. support the tree. A single specimen 
will often cover a circle 100 yards in diameter. 


142 : 9. Apollo. The Greek god of the sun, also of music, 
poetry, and healing. The nine Muses, who presided over different 
arts, followed him. 

143 : 18. Elysian. The souls of the good and heroes exempt 
from death are represented by Greek mythology as dwelling in 
the Elysian Fields, in the Islands of the Blest, or somewhere above 
the earth. 

143 : 26. Egyptian skull. It was the custom of the ancient 
Egyptians, sajrs Plutarch, to bring in a skeleton at the close of a 
feast, to remind the guests that they must die. " Eat, drink, and 
be merry," etc. 

146 : 13. Heyday. This word means a wild frolic, from the Ger- 
man heiday an exclamation of delight or surprise. Emerson makes 
the common mistake of using it as if it meant '* high-day." 

146 : 22. " The valiant warrior," etc. misquoted from Shake- 
speare, Sonnet xxv. 

148 : 6. Olympian. Olympia is a valley in Elis, Greece, where 
the sanctuary of Zeus was situated, and the famous Olympic games 
were held, to which the most noted athletes of the ancient world 
came to contend for prizes. 

149 : 3. I knew a man, etc. Perhaps this refers to Jonas Very, 
a young enthusiast, intensely in earnest and extremely plain- 
spoken about his religious and moral convictions. Though he 
offended many, his sincerity and the beauty of his character were 
undoubted. He wrote a little poetry, of a lofty spiritual nature, 
and two or three of his sonnets are fine. 

149 : 19. Is worth a fit of insanity. Compare the words of St. 
Paul, 2 Corinthians V, 13: "For whether we be beside ourselves, 
it is to God; or whether we be sober, it is for your cause." 

238 Notes 

153 : 21. The not mine is mine. That is, something different 
from myself is put at my disposal and given for my advantage. 
Weak agreement would destroy this. 

155 : 4. Nor pottage. The allusion is to the story of Jacob and 
Esau {Genesis xxv.). Pottage is the symbol of a low, sensual 
benefit, for which something higher is sacrificed. 

X56 : 5. Crimen quos inquinat aequat : 

** Those whom a crime doth stain 
It puts on equal plane." 

158 : 21. Janus-faced. Janus, the ancient Latin god of war, was 
depicted with two faces, one looking backward, the other forward. 

159 : 28. It has seemed to me lately, etc. Oliver Wendell 
Holmes says that this "suggests some personal relation of Emerson*s 
about which we cannot help being inquisitive. Was he thinking 
of his relations with Carlyle? " 


163 : 6. Whoever sees my garden, etc. Emerson loved his gar- 
den and at one time thought that he should cultivate it entirely with 
his own hands. But he found that hard labour out-of-doors meant 
poorer work in his study. He was not very skilful as a gardener. 
One day his little son, seeing him at work with a spade, cried out, 
" Take care, papa, you will dig your leg ! " 

164 : 9. The Natural History of the soul incarnate. That is, a 
care for outward things is lawful when it expresses the desire of an 
orderly soul to keep its house in order. 

164 : 25. This sacred yolcanic isle. The figure here is that of 
nature as an island thrown up by the action of the hidden fire of the 
Divine Spirit. Such an island is temporary, and therefore offers 
only a transient dwelling-place. 

165 : 8. A disease like, etc. Elephantiasis. 

167 : 10. Regard the clouds. " He that regardeth the clouds 
shall not reap." Ecclesiastes xi. 4, 

Notes 239 

168 : 14. Peninsular campaigns. The name usually given to the 
campaigns of Wellington and his allies in Spain and Portugal, 
against Napoleon^s invading army. 

169 : 6. Dr. Johnson. Samuel Johnson (i 709-1 784), the chief 
literary authority of the Georgian Age in England, maker of the 
first great English dictionary, and a famous sayer of good things 
in a rough way. 

X69 : 27. The last Grand Duke of Weimar. Charles Augustus 
(1757-1828), grand duke of Weimar, the friend and patron of 
Goethe, a man of taste and learning. 

170 : 12. Raphael in the Dresden gallery. The most famous 
picture by the Italian painter, Raphael, called the ** Sistine Ma- 
donna," hangs in the Royal Gallery at Dresden. 

172 : 14. Goethe's Tasso. A poetic drama by Goethe, dealing 
with the life of Torquato Tasso (i 544-1 595), an Italian poet. 

174 : 5. Poor Richard. The name under which Benjamin 
Franklin set forth his proverbs and prudential maxims, full of 
homely common sense. 

174 : 5- State-Street. The financial district of the city of Bos- 
ton, Massachusetts. 

174 : 7. Stick a tree between whiles. A saying of the old 
Laird of Dumbiedikes, a character in Scott's novel, The Heart of 
Midlothian, chap. vii. "Jock, when ye hae naething else to do, 
ye may be aye sticking in a tree : it will be growing, Jock, when 
ye're sleeping." 


X83. Shakespeare (1564-1616), the greatest of English dra- 
matic poets. He is now recognized by critics of all countries as 
the chief of a brilliant group of writers for the stage who made the 
reign of Queen Elizabeth illustrious in the history of literature. 

185 : 19. Pnnch. The leading comic periodical of England, 
founded in 1 841. 

240 Notes 

186 : 7. At the time. About 1586. 

186 : 1 1. Tale of Troy. The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troy 
by William Caxton, the History ^ Sege and Destruccion of IVoye by 
Lydgate, and Troilus and Creseide by Chaucer, were books to which 
Shakespeare had access and from which he took material for his 
play of Troilus and Cressida, 

186 : 12. The Death of Julias Csesar. A tragedy in Latin on the 
death of Julius Caesar was acted in Oxford in 1582. Shakespeare 
drew the material for his tragedy chiefly from the lives of Caesar, 
Brutus, Antony, and Cicero in North's English translation of Plu- 
tarch's Parallel Lives of illustrious Greeks and Romans, which was 
written early in the second century. 

186 : 15. Brut. A poetical version of the legendary history of 
Britain, in French by Wace, in semi-Saxon by Layamon, about 
1200 A.D. 

186 : 15. Arthur. The legends relating to the British king 
Arthur were collected and retold by Sir Thomas Malory in Eng- 
lish, and published in 1485. 

186 : 15. Royal Henries. Holinshed's Chronicles of England, 
Scotland f and Ireland^ published in 1578, were the main sources 
of Shakespeare's English History plays. 

^ 188 : 9. Malone. Edmund Malone, an Irish scholar and critic, 
published his edition of Shakespeare in 1790. 

188 : 21. Wolsey's soliloquy. Henry VIII, iii. 2. 

189 : 23. Saadi. The most famous of Persian poets. He lived 
and died at Shiraz in the thirteenth century. 

190 : 7. Lydgate and Caxton, etc. It is entirely unnecessary, 
in a book for young readers, to load down the pages with 
notes explanatory of all these references. It may be doubted 
whether Emerson himself looked them all up in the original 

191 : 8. Sir Robert Peel (i 788-1850), an English statesman, 
the founder of the modern conservative party and leader of Eng- 
land's free-trade policy (1846). 

Notes 241 

191 : 8. Mr. Webster. Daniel Webster (i 782-1852), a famous 
American statesman and orator, and leader of the Whig party. 

191 : II. Menu. One of a class of fourteen demiurgic beings 
in the Sanskrit mythology. Emerson's defective scholarship is 
shown by his putting Menu, a mythical personage, in conjunction 
with Saadi and Milton. 

191 : 16. Delphi. A town in Greece, the seat of the oracle of 
the Pythian Apollo; hence a secret shrine to which one comes for 
divine counsel and guidance. 

191 : 27. English Bible. The so-called Authorized Version of 
the Bible in English was made by forty-seven men (1604-1611), on 
the basis of several earlier translations. 

192 : 8. Grotius (1583-1645), a Dutch scholar and states- 

193 : 9. Sliakespeare Society. Founded by J. O. Halliwell- 
Phillipps and J. P. Collier, 1841 ; dissolved 1853. The New Shake- 
speare Society was founded in 1874. 

Z93 : 10. Mysteries. Plays dealing with characters and events 
from the Bible, chiefly from the Gospels, with illustrations from the 
Old Testament prophecies of Christ. 

193 : 13. Ferrex and Porrex. Two characters in the tragedy 
of Gorboducy by Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville, 1561. 

Z93 : 13. Gammer Gurton's Needle. An English comedy by 
Bishop Still, acted at Cambridge, 1566. 

Z94 : 13. Ben Jonson (1573-1637), an Elizabethan poet and 
dramatist of high rank ; a friend and admirer of Shakespeare. 

194 : 21. Sir Henry Wotton (i568-i639),an English statesman 
and author, one of the best-known men of the Elizabethan Age. 

195 • 5* Pericles (c 495-429, b.c), Athenian statesman and 
orator, in whose days Greek literature and art were at their 

195 : 15. Lessing (i 729-1 781), German critic and dramatist. 
195 : 15. Wieland (i 733-1813), German poet and romancer, 
translator of Shakespeare. 


242 Notes 

195 : 16. Schlegel (1767-1845), German poet arid critic, trans- 
lator of Shakespeare. 

195 : 23. Coleridge (i 772-1834), English poet and critic; Lec- 
tures on Shakespeare, 

195 : 23. Goethe (i 749-1 832), German poet, critic, and ro- 
mancer. His criticisms on Shakespeare may be found in his 
Autobiography t Conversations with hckermann, and Wilhelm 

196 : 6. Blackfriars' Theatre. A famous London playhouse, 
founded about 1596. 

197 : 8. Malone, Warburton, Dyce, etc. Commentators on 

197 : 10. Betterton, Garrick, Kemble, etc. Actors who have 
become famous in their interpretation of Shakesperean rdles. 

197 : 17. The Hamlet of a famed performer, etc. This was 
Macready, whom Emerson saw in America in 1848-49, just before 
the publication of this essay. May it not have been the actor's art 
which made Hamlet's question to the Ghost stand out so clear 
and vivid ? 

198 : 6. Forest of Arden. The scene of As You Like It. 

198 : 6. Scone Castle. Emerson refers to the castle of Macbeth 
(i. 6), which was at Inverness, not Scone. 

198 : 7. Portia's villa. Belmont, The Merchant of Venice^ i. 2. 

198 : 21. Tripod . . . inspirations. The tripod at Delphi was 
a bronze altar, on thiree legs, standing over a cleft in the floor of the 
temple. Here the priestess sat when she was about to deliver the 
inspired oracle of Apollo. 

199 : 6. Aubrey and Rowe. John Aubrey was an English an- 
tiquary and collector of anecdotes. Nicholas Rowe edited Shake- 
speare badly in 1709. 

199 : 27. Timon. A Greek misanthrope of the fifth century, 
B.C.; the principal character in Shakespeare's Timon of Athens, 

199 : 28. Warwick. Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, a lead- 
ing character in King Henry the Sixth, 

Notes 243 

Z99 : 28. Antonio. The princely merchant from whom The 
Merchant of Venice takes its name. 

200 : 8. As Talma taught Napoleon. A French actor (1783- 
1826); intimate friend and counsellor of Napoleon I. 

201 : 17. As of Drama or Epic. Here is an illustration of Em- 
erson's defect as a critic. For the dramatic form conditions the 
expression of Shakespeare's wisdom, — what he says through the 
mouth of lago is quite different from what he says in the character 
of Hamlet 

203 : 18. Daguerre (i 789-1851), a French painter who in- 
vented, in 1839, a process of making pictures by the action of 
sunlight on a plate prepared with iodine ; they were called daguer- 

203 : 24. The possibility ... is demonstrated. Here is an 
example of extravagant and rhetorical criticism, Emerson writes 
as if Shakespeare were the first to prove "the possibility of the 
translation of things into song." But this is to leave out Homer 
and Euripides, Virgil and Dante, Chaucer and Marlowe, and a host 
of others. 

204 : 8. Euphuism. An affected literary style, named from John 
Lyly's Euphues (1579). Emerson uses the wrong word: what he 
means is " euphony," that is, the real beauty and melody of Shake- 
speare's diction. Euphuism is caricatured in Lov^s Labour's Lost 

205 : 9. Epicurus (342-270 B.C.), a Greek philosopher who 
taught that pleasure is the end of rational life, and that the highest 
pleasure is freedom. 

206 : 22. Koran. The sacred scripture of the Mohammedans, 
which is supposed to contain the revelations made by God to 
Mohammed, and delivered by him at Mecca and Medina. 

207 : 2. Egyptian yerdict of the Shakespeare Societies. Per- 
haps this refers to the Egyptian custom of bringing in a skeleton at 
^ banc^uet, to remind the guests, " You are all mortal." 

244 Notes 


aia : 22. The Furies. Female divinities, in the Greek mythology, 
who punished men for iniquity. Alecto, " the unresting " ; Megrera, 
" the jealous *' ; and Tisiphone, " the avenger." 

a 12 : 28. The only gift is a portion of thyself. Compare 
Lowell's Vision of Sir Launfal. 

" The gift without the giver is bare. 
Who gives himself with his alms feeds three, — 
Himself, his hungering neighbour, and me." 

2x4 : 25. Timon. An Athenian who lived in the fifth century, 
B.C. He gave away all his property to his professed friends, who 
thereupon forsook him and would have nothing to do with him. 
This changed him into a misanthrope. 

215 : 3. Buddhist. A follower of the Indian sage who lived in 
the fifth century, B.C., and taught his disciples that the way of sal- 
vation is the renunciation of all personal desire. 

215 : 17. We can seldom hear the acknowledgments, etc 
Compare Wordsworth's poem, Simon Lee, 

•* — I've heard of hearts unkind, kind deeds 
With coldness still returning ; 
Alas ! the gratitude of men 
Hath oftener left me mourning." 


Standard Text : Emersot^s Complete Works : Riverside Edition, 
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Life and Letters: A Memoir of Ralph Waldo Emerson: by 
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1883. Correspondence between John Sterling and Ralph 
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Emerson in Concord: By Edward Waldo Emerson, Boston. 
1889. Emerson as a Poet: by Joel Benton, New York, 1883. 
Contemporaries : by Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Boston, 
1899. My Literary Friends and Acquaintances : by W. D. 
Howells, New York, 1900. Discourses in America: by 
Matthew Arnold, London, 1885. Talks with Emerson : by 
C. J. WoodlDury, Boston, 1890. Literary and Social Essays : 
by George William Curtis, New York, 189 1. Modern Human- 
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