“…dear as his eye
They are to Him; He’ll never them forsake.”

I: History

There is no great and no small
To the Soul that maketh all:
And where it cometh, all things are;
And it cometh everywhere.

I am owner of the sphere,
Of the seven stars and the solar year,
Of Caesar’s hand, and Plato’s brain,
Of Lord Christ’s heart, and Shakespeare’s strain.

THERE is one mind common to all individual men. Every man is an
inlet to the same and to all of the same. He that is once admitted to the
right of reason is made a freeman of the whole estate. What Plato has
thought, he may think; what a saint has felt, he may feel; what at any
time has befallen any man, he can understand. Who hath access to this
universal mind, is a party to all that is or can be done, for this is the only
and sovereign agent.

Of the works of this mind history is the record. Its genius is illustrated
by the entire series of days. Man is explicable by nothing less than all his
history. Without hurry, without rest, the human spirit goes forth from the
beginning to embody every faculty, every thought, every emotion, which
belongs to it in appropriate events. But always the thought is prior to the
fact; all the facts of history pre-exist in the mind as laws. Each law in
turn is made by circumstances predominant, and the limits of nature give
power to but one at a time. A man is the whole encyclopedia of facts.
The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn, and Egypt, Greece,
Rome, Gaul, Britain, America, lie folded already in the first man. Epoch
after epoch, camp, kingdom, empire, republic, democracy, are merely the
application of his manifold spirit to the manifold world.

This human mind wrote history and this must read it. The Sphinx must
solve her own riddle. If the whole of history is in one man, it is all to be
explained from individual experience. There is a relation between the
hours of our life and the centuries of time. As the air I breathe is drawn
from the great repositories of nature, as the light on my book is yielded
by a star a hundred millions of miles distant, as the poise of my body
depends on the equilibrium of centrifugal and centripetal forces, so the
hours should be instructed by the ages, and the ages explained by the
hours. Of the universal mind each individual man is one more
incarnation. All its properties consist in him. Every step in his private
experience flashes a light on what great bodies of men have done, and
the crises of his life refer to national crises. Every revolution was first a
thought in one man’s mind, and when the same thought occurs to
another man, it is the key to that era. Every reform was once a private
opinion, and when it shall be a private opinion again, it will solve the
problem of the age. The fact narrated must correspond to something in
me to be credible or intelligible. We as we read must become Greeks,
Romans, Turks, priest and king, martyr and executioner, must fasten
these images to some reality in our secret experience, or we shall see
nothing, learn nothing, keep nothing. What befell Asdrubal or Caesar
Borgia, is as much an illustration of the mind’s powers and depravations
as what has befallen us. Each new law and political movement has
meaning for you. Stand before each of its tablets and say, “Here is one of
my coverings. Under this fantastic, or odious, or graceful mask, did my
Proteus nature hide itself.” This remedies the defect of our too great
nearness to ourselves. This throws our own actions into perspective: and
as crabs, goats, scorpions, the balance and the water-pot, lose all their
meanness when hung as signs in the zodiac, so I can see my own vices
without heat in the distant persons of Solomon, Alcibiades and Catiline.

It is this universal nature which gives worth to particular men and
things. Human life as containing this is mysterious and inviolable, and
we hedge it round with penalties and laws. All laws derive hence their
ultimate reason, all express at last reverence for some command of this
supreme illimitable essence. Property also holds of the soul, covers great
spiritual facts, and instinctively we at first hold to it with swords and
laws, and wide and complex combinations. The obscure consciousness of
this fact is the light of all our day, the claim of claims; the plea for
education, for justice, for charity, the foundation of friendship and love,
and of the heroism and grandeur which belongs to acts of self-reliance. It
is remarkable that involuntarily we always read as superior beings.
Universal history, the poets, the romancers, do not in their stateliest
pictures- in the sacerdotal, the imperial palaces, in the triumphs of will,
or of genius, anywhere lose our ear, anywhere make us feel that we
intrude, that this is for our betters, but rather it is true that in the
grandest strokes, there we feel most at home. All that Shakespeare says
of the king, yonder slip of a boy that reads in the corner, feels to be true
to himself. We sympathize in the great movements of history, in the
great discoveries, the great resistances, the great prosperities of men-
because their law was enacted, the sea was searched, the land was found,
or the blow was struck (r)for us, as we ourselves in that place would
have done or applauded.

So is it in respect to condition and character. We honor the rich because
they have externally the freedom, power and grace which we feel to be
proper to man, proper to us. So all that is said of the wise man by stoic or
oriental or modern essayists, describes to each man his own idea,
describes his unattained but unattainable self. All literature writes the
character of the wise man. All books, monuments, pictures,
conversation, are portraits in which the wise man finds the lineaments he
is forming. The silent and the loud praise him, and accost him, and he is
stimulated wherever he moves as by personal allusions. A wise and good
soul, therefore, never needs look for allusions personal and laudatory in
discourse. He hears the commendation, not of himself, but more sweet,
of that character he seeks in every word that is said concerning
character, yea, further, in every fact that befalls- in the running river and
the rustling corn. Praise is looked, homage tendered, love flows from
mute nature, from the mountains and the lights of the firmament.

These hints, dropped as it were from sleep and night, let us use in broad
day. The student is to read history actively and not passively; to esteem
his own life the text, and books the commentary. Thus compelled, the
muse of history will utter oracles, as never to those who do not respect
themselves. I have no expectation that any man will read history aright,
who thinks that what was done in a remote age, by men whose names
have resounded far, has any deeper sense than what he is doing to-day.

The world exists for the education of each man. There is no age or state
of society or mode of action in history, to which there is not somewhat
corresponding in his life. Everything tends in a most wonderful manner
to abbreviate itself and yield its whole virtue to him. He should see that
he can live all history in his own person. He must sit at home with might
and main, and not suffer himself to be bullied by kings or empires, but
know that he is greater than all the geography and all the government of
the world; he must transfer the point of view from which history is
commonly read, from Rome and Athens and London to himself, and not
deny his conviction that he is the Court, and if England or Egypt have
anything to say to him, he will try the case; if not, let them forever be
silent. He must attain and maintain that lofty sight where facts yield their
secret sense, and poetry and annals are alike. The instinct of the mind,
the purpose of nature betrays itself in the use we make of the signal
narrations of history. Time dissipates to shining ether the solid
angularity of facts. No anchor, no cable, no fences avail to keep a fact a
fact. Babylon and Troy and Tyre and even early Rome are passing
already into fiction. The Garden of Eden, the Sun standing still in
Gibeon, is poetry thenceforward to all nations. Who cares what the fact
was, when we have thus made a constellation of it to hang in heaven an
immortal sign? London and Paris and New York must go the same way.
“What is History,” said Napoleon, “but a fable agreed upon?” This life of
ours is stuck round with Egypt, Greece, Gaul, England, War,
Colonization, Church, Court and Commerce, as with so many flowers
and wild ornaments grave and gay. I will not make more account of
them. I believe in Eternity. I can find Greece, Palestine, Italy, Spain and
the Islands, the genius and creative principle of each and of all eras in
my own mind.

We are always coming up with the facts that have moved us in history
in our private experience, and verifying them here. All history becomes
subjective; in other words, there is properly no History; only Biography.
Every soul must know the whole lesson for itself- must go over the whole
ground. What it does not see, what it does not live, it will not know.
What the former age has epitomized into a formula or rule for manipular
convenience, it will lose all the good of verifying for itself, by means of
the wall of that rule. Somewhere or other, some time or other, it will
demand and find compensation for that loss by doing the work itself.
Ferguson discovered many things in astronomy which had long been
known. The better for him.

History must be this or it is nothing. Every law which the state enacts,
indicates a fact in human nature; that is all. We must in our own nature
see the necessary reason for every fact- see how it could and must be. So
stand before every public, every private work; before an oration of Burke,
before a victory of Napoleon, before a martyrdom of Sir Thomas More,
of Sydney, of Marmaduke Robinson, before a French Reign of Terror,
and a Salem hanging of witches, before a fanatic Revival, and the
Animal Magnetism in Paris, or in Providence. We assume that we under
like influence should be alike affected, and should achieve the like; and
we aim to master intellectually the steps, and reach the same height or
the same degradation that our fellow, our proxy has done.

All inquiry into antiquity- all curiosity respecting, the pyramids, the
excavated cities, Stonehenge, the Ohio Circles, Mexico, Memphis, is the
desire to do away this wild, savage and preposterous There or Then, and
introduce in its place the Here and the Now. It is to banish the (r)Not
me, and supply (r)Me. It is to abolish difference and restore unity.
Belzoni digs and measures in the mummy-pits and pyramids of Thebes,
until he can see the end of the difference between the monstrous work
and himself. When he has satisfied himself, in general and in detail, that
it was made by such a person as himself, so armed and so motived, and
to ends to which he himself in given circumstances should also have
worked, the problem is then solved; his thought lives along the whole
line of temples and sphinxes and catacombs, passes through them all like
a creative soul, with satisfaction, and they live again to the mind, or are

A Gothic cathedral affirms that it was done by us, and not done by us.
Surely it was by man, but we find it not in our man. But we apply
ourselves to the history of its production. We put ourselves into the place
and historical state of the builder. We remember the forest dwellers, the
first temples, the adherence to the first type, and the decoration of it as
the wealth of the nation increased; the value which is given to wood by
carving led to the carving over the whole mountain of stone of a
cathedral. When we have gone through this process, and added thereto
the Catholic Church, its cross, its music, its processions, its Saints’ days
and image-worship, we have, as it were, been the man that made the
minster; we have seen how it could and must be. We have the sufficient

The difference between men is in their principle of association. Some
men classify objects by color and size, and other accidents of appearance;
others by intrinsic likeness, or by the relation of cause and effect. The
progress of the intellect consists in the clearer vision of causes, which
overlooks surface differences. To the poet, to the philosopher, to the
saint, all things are friendly and sacred, all events profitable, all days
holy, all men divine. For the eye is fastened on the life, and slights the
circumstance. Every chemical substance, every plant, every animal in its
growth, teaches the unity of cause, the variety of appearance.

Why, being as we are surrounded by this all-creating nature, soft and
fluid as a cloud or the air, should we be such hard pedants, and magnify
a few forms? Why should we make account of time, or of magnitude, or
of form? The soul knows them not, and genius, obeying its law, knows
how to play with them as a young child plays with graybeards and in
churches. Genius studies the causal thought, and far back in the womb of
things, sees the rays parting from one orb, that diverge ere they fall by
infinite diameters. Genius watches the monad through all his masks as
he performs the metempsychosis of nature. Genius detects through the
fly, through the caterpillar, through the grub, through the egg, the
constant type of the individual; through countless individuals the fixed
species; through many species the genus; through all genera the steadfast
type; through all the kingdoms of organized life the eternal unity. Nature
is a mutable cloud, which is always and never the same. She casts the
same thought into troops of forms, as a poet makes twenty fables with
one moral. Beautifully shines a spirit through the bruteness and
toughness of matter. Alone omnipotent, it converts all things to its own
end. The adamant streams into softest but precise form before it, but
while I look at it, its outline and texture are changed altogether. Nothing
is so fleeting as form. Yet never does it quite deny itself. In man we still
trace the rudiments or hints of all that we esteem badges of servitude in
the lower races, yet in him they enhance his nobleness and grace; as Io,
in AEschylus, transformed to a cow, offends the imagination, but how
changed when as Isis in Egypt she meets Jove, a beautiful woman, with
nothing of the metamorphosis left but the lunar horns as the splendid
ornament of her brows.

The identity of history is equally intrinsic, the diversity equally obvious.
There is at the surface infinite variety of things; at the center there is
simplicity and unity of cause. How many are the acts of one man in
which we recognize the same character. See the variety of the sources of
our information in respect to the Greek genius. Thus at first we have the
(r)civil history of that people, as Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon,
Plutarch have given it- a very sufficient account of what manner of
persons they were, and what they did. Then we have the same soul
expressed for us again in their (r)literature; in poems, drama and
philosophy: a very complete form. Then we have it once more in their
(r)architecture- the purest sensuous beauty- the perfect medium never
overstepping the limit of charming propriety and grace. Then we have it
once more in (r)sculpture- “the tongue on the balance of expression,”
those forms in every action, at every age of life, ranging through all the
scale of condition, from God to beast, and never transgressing the ideal
serenity, but in convulsive exertion the liege of order and of law. Thus,
of the genius of one remarkable people, we have a fourfold
representation- the most various expression of one moral thing: and to
the senses what more unlike than an ode of Pindar, a marble Centaur,
the Peristyle of the Parthenon, and the last actions of Phocion? Yet do
these various external expressions proceed from one national mind.

Every one must have observed faces and forms which, without any
resembling feature, make a like impression on the beholder. A particular
picture or copy of verses, if it do not awaken the same train of images,
will yet superinduce the same sentiment as some wild mountain walk,
although the resemblance is nowise obvious to the senses, but is occult
and out of the reach of the understanding. Nature is an endless
combination and repetition of a very few laws. She hums the old well-
known air through innumerable variations.

Nature is full of a sublime family likeness throughout her works. She
delights in startling us with resemblances in the most unexpected
quarters. I have seen the head of an old sachem of the forest, which at
once reminded the eye of a bald mountain summit, and the furrows of
the brow suggested the strata of the rock. There are men whose manners
have the same essential splendor as the simple and awful sculpture on
the friezes of the Parthenon, and the remains of the earliest Greek art.
And there are compositions of the same strain to be found in the books of
all ages. What is Guido’s Rospigliosi Aurora but a morning thought, as
the horses in it are only a morning cloud. If any one will but take pains
to observe the variety of actions to which he is equally inclined in certain
moods of mind, and those to which he is averse, he will see how deep is
the chain of affinity.

A painter told me that nobody could draw a tree without in some sort
becoming a tree; or draw a child by studying the outlines of its form
merely- but, by watching for a time his motions and plays, the painter
enters into his nature, and can then draw him at will in every attitude. So
Roos “entered into the inmost nature of a sheep.” I knew a draughtsman
employed in a public survey, who found that he could not sketch the
rocks until their geological structure was first explained to him.

What is to be inferred from these facts but this: that in a certain state of
thought is the common origin of very diverse works? It is the spirit and
not the fact that is identical. By descending far down into the depths of
the soul, and not primarily by a painful acquisition of many manual
skills, the artist attains the power of awakening other souls to a given
It has been said that “common souls pay with what they do; nobler
souls with that which they are.” And why? Because a soul, living from a
great depth of being, awakens in us by its actions and words, by its very
looks and manners, the same power and beauty that a gallery of
sculpture, or of pictures, are wont to animate.

Civil history, natural history, the history of art, and the history of
literature- all must be explained from individual history, or must remain
words. There is nothing but is related to us, nothing that does not
interest us- kingdom, college, tree, horse, or iron shoe, the roots of all
things are in man. It is in the soul that architecture exists. Santa Croce
and the Dome of St. Peter’s are lame copies after a divine model.
Strasburg Cathedral is a material counterpart of the soul of Erwin of
Steinbach. The true poem is the poet’s mind; the true ship is the
shipbuilder. In the man, could we lay him open, we should see the
sufficient reason for the last flourish and tendril of his work, as every
spine and tint in the sea-shell pre-exist in the secreting organs of the
fish. The whole of heraldry, and of chivalry is in courtesy. A man of fine
manners shall pronounce your name with all the ornament that titles of
nobility could ever add.

The trivial experience of every day is always verifying some old
prediction to us, and converting into things for us also the words and
signs which we had heard and seen without heed. Let me add a few
examples, such as fall within the scope of every man’s observation, of
trivial facts which go to illustrate great and conspicuous facts.

A lady, with whom I was riding in the forest, said to me, that the woods
always seemed to her (r)to wait, as if the genii who inhabit them
suspended their deeds until the wayfarer has passed onward. This is
precisely the thought which poetry has celebrated in the dance of the
fairies which breaks off on the approach of human feet. The man who
has seen the rising moon break out of the clouds at midnight, has been
present like an archangel at the creation of light and of the world. I
remember that being abroad one summer day, my companion pointed out
to me a broad cloud, which might extend a quarter of a mile parallel to
the horizon, quite accurately in the form of a cherub as painted over
churches,- a round block in the center which it was easy to animate with
eyes and mouth, supported on either side by wide stretched symmetrical
wings. What appears once in the atmosphere may appear often, and it
was undoubtedly the archetype of that familiar ornament. I have seen in
the sky a chain of summer lightning which at once revealed to me that
the Greeks drew from nature when they painted the thunderbolt in the
hand of Jove. I have seen a snow-drift along the sides of the stone wall
which obviously gave the idea of the common architectural scroll to abut
a tower.

By simply throwing ourselves into new circumstances we do
continually invent anew the orders and the ornaments of architecture, as
we see how each people merely decorated its primitive abodes. The Doric
temple still presents the semblance of the wooden cabin in which the
Dorian dwelt. The Chinese pagoda is plainly a Tartar tent. The Indian
and Egyptian temples still betray the mounds and subterranean houses of
their forefathers. “The custom of making houses and tombs in the living
rock,” (says Heeren, in his Researches on the Ethiopians) “determined
very naturally the principal character of the Nubian Egyptian
architecture to the colossal form which it assumed. In these caverns
already prepared by nature, the eye was accustomed to dwell on huge
shapes and masses, so that when art came to the assistance of nature, it
could not move on a small scale without degrading itself. What would
statues of the usual size, or neat porches and wings have been, associated
with those gigantic halls before which only Colossi would sit as
watchmen, or lean on the pillars of the interior?”

The Gothic church plainly originated in a rude adaptation of the forest
trees with all their boughs to a festal or solemn arcade, as the bands
about the cleft pillars still indicate the green withes that tied them. No
one can walk in a road cut through pine woods, without being struck
with the architectural appearance of the grove, especially in winter,
when the bareness of all other trees shows the low arch of the Saxons. In
the woods in a winter afternoon one will see as readily the origin of the
stained glass window with which the Gothic cathedrals are adorned, in
the colors of the western sky seen through the bare and crossing
branches of the forest. Nor can any lover of nature enter the old piles of
Oxford and the English cathedrals without feeling that the forest
overpowered the mind of the builder, and that his chisel, his saw, and
plane still reproduced its ferns its spikes of flowers, its locust, its pine, its
oak, its fir, its spruce.

The Gothic cathedral is a blossoming in stone subdued by the insatiable
demand of harmony in man. The mountain of granite blooms into an
eternal flower with the lightness and delicate finish as well as the aerial
proportions and perspective of vegetable beauty.

In like manner all public facts are to be individualized, all private facts
are to be generalized. Then at once History becomes fluid and true, and
Biography deep and sublime. As the Persian imitated in the slender
shafts and capitals of his architecture the stem and flower of the lotus
and palm, so the Persian Court in its magnificent era never gave over the
Nomadism of its barbarous tribes, but traveled from Ecbatana, where the
spring was spent, to Susa in summer, and to Babylon for the winter.

In the early history of Asia and Africa, Nomadism and Agriculture are
the two antagonist facts. The geography of Asia and of Africa
necessitated a nomadic life. But the nomads were the terror of all those
whom the soil or the advantages of a market had induced to build towns.
Agriculture therefore was a religious injunction because of the perils of
the state from nomadism. And in these late and civil countries of
England and America, the contest of these propensities still fights out
the old battle in each individual. We are all rovers and all fixtures by
turns, and pretty rapid turns. The nomads of Africa are constrained to
wander by the attacks of the gad-fly, which drives the cattle mad, and so
compels the tribe to emigrate in the rainy season and drive off the cattle
to the higher sandy regions. The nomads of Asia follow the pasturage
from month to month. In America and Europe the nomadism is of trade
and curiosity. A progress certainly from the gad-fly of Astaboras to the
Anglo and Italomania of Boston Bay. The difference between men in this
respect is the faculty of rapid domestication, the power to find his chair
and bed everywhere, which one man has, and another has not. Some
men have so much of the Indian left, have constitutionally such habits of
accommodation, that at sea, or in the forest, or in the snow, they sleep as
warm, and dine with as good appetite, and associate as happily, as in
their own house. And to push this old fact still one degree nearer, we
may find it a representative of a permanent fact in human nature. The
intellectual nomadism is the faculty of objectiveness, or of eyes which
everywhere feed themselves. Who hath such eyes, everywhere falls into
easy relations with his fellowmen. Every man, every thing is a prize, a
study, a property to him, and this love smooths his brow, joins him to
men and makes him beautiful and beloved in their sight. His house is a
wagon; he roams through all latitudes as easily as Calmuck.

Every thing the individual sees without him, corresponds to his states of
mind, and everything is in turn intelligible to him, as his onward
thinking leads him into the truth to which the fact of series belongs.

The primeval world, the Fore-World, as the Germans say- I can dive to
it in myself as well as grope for it with researching fingers in catacombs,
libraries and the broken reliefs and torsos of ruined villas.

What is the foundation of that interest all men feel in Greek history,
letters, art and poetry, in all its periods, from the heroic or Homeric age,
down to the domestic life of the Athenians and Spartans, four or five
centuries later? This period draws us because we are Greeks. It is a state
through which every man in some sort passes. The Grecian state is the
era of the bodily nature, the perfection of the senses- of the spiritual
nature unfolded in strict unity with the body. In it existed those human
forms which supplied the sculptor with his models of Hercules, Phoebus
and Jove; not like the forms abounding in the streets of modern cities,
wherein the face is a confused blur of features, but composed of
incorrupt, sharply defined and symmetrical features, whose eye-sockets
are so formed that it would be impossible for such eyes to squint, and
take furtive glances on this side and on that, but they must turn the
whole head.

The manners of that period are plain and fierce. The reverence
exhibited is for personal qualities, courage, address, self-command,
justice, strength, swiftness, a loud voice, a broad chest. Luxury is not
known, nor elegance. A sparse population and want make every man his
own valet, cook, butcher and soldier; and the habit of supplying his own
needs educates the body to wonderful performances. Such are the
Agamemnon and Diomed of Homer, and not far different is the picture
Xenophon gives of himself and his compatriots in the Retreat of the Ten
Thousand. “After the army had crossed the river Teleboas in Armenia,
there fell much snow, and the troops lay miserably on the ground,
covered with it. But Xenophon arose naked, and taking an ax, began to
split wood; whereupon others arose and did the like.” Throughout his
army seemed to be a boundless liberty of speech. They quarrel for
plunder, they wrangle with the generals on each new order, and
Xenophon is as sharp-tongued as any, and sharper-tongued than most,
and so gives as good as he gets. Who does not see that this is a gang of
great boys with such a code of honor and such lax discipline as great
boys have?

The costly charm of the ancient tragedy, and indeed of all the old
literature is, that the persons speak simply- speak as persons who have
great good sense without knowing it, before yet the reflective habit has
become the predominant habit of the mind. Our admiration of the
antique is not admiration of the old; but of the natural. The Greeks are
not reflective but perfect in their senses, perfect in their health, with the
finest physical organization in the world. Adults acted with the
simplicity and grace of boys. They made vases, tragedies, and statues
such as healthy senses should- that is, in good taste. Such things have
continued to be made in all ages, and are now, wherever a healthy
physique exists, but, as a class, from their superior organization, they
have surpassed all. They combine the energy, of manhood with the
engaging unconsciousness of childhood. Our reverence for them is our
reverence for childhood. Nobody can reflect upon an unconscious act
with regret or contempt. Bard or hero cannot look down on the word or
gesture of a child. It is as great as they. The attraction of these manners
is, that they belong to man, and are known to every man in virtue of his
being once a child; beside that always there are individuals who retain
these characteristics. A person of childlike genius and inborn energy is
still a Greek, and revives our love of the muse of Hellas. A great boy, a
great girl, with good sense, is a Greek. Beautiful is the love of nature in
the Philoctetes. But in reading those fine apostrophes to sleep, to the
stars, rocks, mountains, and waves, I feel time passing away as an ebbing
sea. I feel the eternity of man, the identity of his thought. The Greek had,
it seems, the same fellow being as I. The sun and moon, water and fire,
met his heart precisely as they meet mine. Then the vaunted distinction
between Greek and English between Classic and Romantic schools
seems superficial and pedantic. When a thought of Plato becomes a
thought to me- when a truth that fired the soul of Pindar fires mine, time
is no more. When I feel that we two meet in a perception, that our two
souls are tinged with the same hue, and do, as it were, run into one, why
should I measure degrees of latitude, why should I count Egyptian years.

The student interprets the age of chivalry by his own age of chivalry,
and the days of maritime adventure and circumnavigation by quite
parallel miniature experiences of his own. To the sacred history of the
world, he has the same key. When the voice of a prophet out of the deeps
of antiquity merely echoes to him a sentiment of his infancy, a prayer of
his youth, he then pierces to the truth through all the confusion of
tradition and the caricature of institutions.

Rare, extravagant spirits come to us at intervals, who disclose to us new
facts in nature. I see that men of God have always, from time to time,
walked among men and made their commission felt in the heart and soul
of the commonest hearer. Hence, evidently, the tripod, the priest, the
priestess inspired by the divine afflatus.

Jesus astonishes and overpowers sensual people. They cannot unite him
to history or reconcile him with themselves. As they come to revere their
intuitions and aspire to live holily, their own piety explains every fact,
every word.

How easily these old worships of Moses, of Zoroaster, of Menu, of
Socrates, domesticate themselves in the mind. I cannot find any antiquity
in them. They are mine as much as theirs.

Then I have seen the first monks and anchorets without crossing the
seas or centuries. More than once some individual has appeared to me
with such negligence of labor and such commanding contemplation, a
haughty beneficiary, begging in the name of God, as made good to the
nineteenth century Simeon the Stylite, the Thebais, and the first

The priestcraft of the East and West, of the Magian, Brahmin, Druid
and Inca, is expounded in the individual’s private life. The cramping
influence of a hard formalist on a young child in repressing his spirits
and courage, paralyzing the understanding, and that without producing
indignation, but only fear and obedience, and even much sympathy with
the tyranny- is a familiar fact explained to the child when he becomes a
man, only by seeing that the oppressor of his youth is himself a child
tyrannized over by those names and words and forms, of whose influence
he was merely the organ to the youth. The fact teaches him how Belus
was worshiped, and how the pyramids were built, better than the
discovery by Champollion of the names of all the workmen and the cost
of every tile. He finds Assyria and the Mounds of Cholula at his door,
and himself has laid the courses.

Again, in that protest which each considerate person makes against the
superstition of his times, he reacts step for step the part of old reformers,
and in the search after truth finds like them new perils to virtue. He
learns again what moral vigor is needed to supply the girdle of a
superstition. A great licentiousness treads on the heels of a reformation.
How many times in the history of the world has the Luther of the day
had to lament the decay of piety in his own household. “Doctor,” said his
wife to Martin Luther one day, “how is it that while subject to papacy,
we prayed so often and with such fervor, while now we pray with the
utmost coldness and very seldom?”

The advancing man discovers how deep a property he hath in all
literature- in all fable as well as in all history. He finds that the poet was
no odd fellow who described strange and impossible situations, but that
universal man wrote by his pen a confession true for one and true for all.
His own secret biography he finds in lines wonderfully intelligible to
him, yet dotted down before he was born. One after another he comes up
in his private adventures with every fable of Aesop, of Homer, of Hafiz,
of Ariosto, of Chaucer, of Scott, and verifies them with his own head and

The beautiful fables of the Greeks, being proper creations of the
Imagination and not of the Fancy, are universal verities. What a range of
meanings and what perpetual pertinence has the story of Prometheus!
Besides its primary value as the first chapter of the history of Europe,
(the mythology thinly veiling authentic facts, the invention of the
mechanic arts, and the migration of colonies), it gives the history of
religion with some closeness to the faith of later ages. Prometheus is the
Jesus of the old mythology. He is the friend of man; stands between the
unjust “justice” of the Eternal Father, and the race of mortals; and
readily suffers all things on their account. But where it departs from the
Calvinistic Christianity, and exhibits him as the defier of Jove, it
represents a state of mind which readily appears wherever the doctrine of
Theism is taught in a crude, objective form, and which seems the self-
defense of man against this untruth, namely, a discontent with the
believed fact that a God exists, and a feeling that the obligation of
reverence is onerous. It would steal, if it could, the fire of the Creator,
and live apart from him, and independent of him. The Prometheus
Vinctus is the romance of skepticism. Not less true to all time are all the
details of that stately apologue. Apollo kept the flocks of Admetus, said
the poets. Every man is a divinity in disguise, a god playing the fool. It
seems as if heaven had sent its insane angels into our world as to an
asylum, and here they will break out into their native music and utter at
intervals the words they have heard in heaven; then the mad fit returns,
and they mope and wallow like dogs. When the gods come among men,
they are not known. Jesus was not; Socrates and Shakespeare were not.
Antaeus was suffocated by the gripe of Hercules, but every time he
touched his mother earth, his strength was renewed. Man is the broken
giant, and in all his weakness, both his body and his mind are
invigorated by habits of conversation with nature. The power of music,
the power of poetry to unfix, and as it were, clap wings to all solid
nature, interprets the riddle of Orpheus, which was to his childhood an
idle tale. The philosophical perception of identity through endless
mutations of form, makes him know the Proteus. What else am I who
laughed or wept yesterday, who slept last night like a corpse, and this
morning stood and ran? And what see I on any side but the
transmigrations of Proteus? I can symbolize my thought by using the
name of any creature, of any fact, because every creature is man, agent or
patient. Tantalus is but a name for you and me. Tantalus means the
impossibility of drinking the waters of thought which are always
gleaming and waving within sight of the soul. The transmigration of
souls: that too is no fable. I would it were; but men and women are only
half human. Every animal of the barn-yard, the field and the forest, of
the earth and of the waters that are under the earth, has contrived to get
a footing and to leave the print of its features and form in some one or
other of these upright, heaven-facing speakers. Ah, brother, hold fast to
the man and awe the beast; stop the ebb of thy soul- ebbing downward
into the forms into whose habits thou hast now for many years slid. As
near and proper to us is also that old fable of the Sphinx, who was said to
sit in the roadside and put riddles to every passenger. If the man could
not answer she swallowed him alive. If he could solve the riddle, the
Sphinx was slain. What is our life but an endless flight of winged facts
or events! In splendid variety these changes come, all putting questions
to the human spirit. Those men who cannot answer by a superior wisdom
these facts or questions of time, serve them. Facts encumber them,
tyrannize over them, and make the men of routine, the men of (r)sense,
in whom a literal obedience to facts has extinguished every spark of that
light by which man is truly man. But if the man is true to his better
instincts or sentiments, and refuses the dominion of facts, as one that
comes of a higher race, remains fast by the soul and sees the principle,
then the facts fall aptly and supple into their places: they know their
master, and the meanest of them glorifies him.

See in Goethe’s Helena the same desire that every word should be a
thing. These figures, he would say, these Chirons, Griffins, Phorkyas,
Helen and Leda, are somewhat, and do exert a specific influence on the
mind. So far then are they eternal entities, as real to-day as in the first
Olympiad. Much revolving them, he writes out freely his humor, and
gives them body to his own imagination. And although that poem be as
vague and fantastic as a dream, yet is it much more attractive than the
more regular dramatic pieces of the same author, for the reason that it
operates a wonderful relief to the mind from the routine of customary
images- awakens the reader’s invention and fancy by the wild freedom of
the design, and by the unceasing succession of brisk shocks of surprise.

The universal nature, too strong for the petty nature of the bard, sits on
his neck and writes through his hand; so that when he seems to vent a
mere caprice and wild romance, the issue is an exact allegory. Hence
Plato said that “poets utter great and wise things which they do not
themselves understand.” All the fictions of the Middle Age explain
themselves as a masked or frolic expression of that which in grave
earnest the mind of that period toiled to achieve. Magic, and all that is
ascribed to it, is manifestly a deep presentiment of the powers of science.
The shoes of swiftness, the sword of sharpness, the power of subduing
the elements, of using the secret virtues of minerals, of understanding
the voices of birds, are the obscure efforts of the mind in a right
direction. The preternatural prowess of the hero, the gift of perpetual
youth, and the like, are alike the endeavor of the human spirit “to bend
the shows of things to the desires of the mind.”

In Perceforest and Amadis de Gaul, a garland and a rose bloom on the
head of her who is faithful, and fade on the brow of the inconstant. In the
story of the Boy and the Mantle, even a mature reader may be surprised
with a glow of virtuous pleasure at the triumph of the gentle Genelas;
and indeed, all the Postulates of elfin annals, that the Fairies do not like
to be named; that their gifts are capricious and not to be trusted; that
who seeks a treasure must not speak; and the like, I find true in Concord,
however they might be in Cornwall or Bretagne.

Is it otherwise in the newest romance? I read the Bride of
Lammermoor. Sir William Ashton is a mask for a vulgar temptation,
Ravenswood Castle, a fine name for proud poverty, and the foreign
mission of state only a Bunyan disguise for honest industry. We may all
shoot a wild bull that would toss the good and beautiful, by fighting
down the unjust and sensual. Lucy Ashton is another name for fidelity,
which is always beautiful and always liable to calamity in this world.

But along with the civil and metaphysical history of man, another
history goes daily forward- that of the external world- in which he is not
strictly implicated. He is the compend of time: he is also the correlative
of nature. The power of man consists in the multitude of his affinities, in
the fact that his life is intertwined with the whole chain of organic and
inorganic being. In the age of the Caesars, out from the Forum at Rome
proceeded the great highways north, south, east, west, to the center of
every province of the empire, making each market-town of Persia, Spain,
and Britain, pervious to the soldiers of the capital: so out of the human
heart go, as it were, highways to the heart of every object in nature, to
reduce it under the dominion of man. A man is a bundle of relations, a
knot of roots, whose flower and fruitage is the world. All his faculties
refer to natures out of him. All his faculties predict the world he is to
inhabit, as the fins of the fish foreshow that water exists, or the wings of
an eagle in the egg presuppose a medium light air. Insulate and you
destroy him. He cannot live without a world. Put Napoleon in an island
prison, let his faculties find no men to act on, no Alps to climb, no stake
to play for, and he would beat the air and appear stupid. Transport him
to large countries, dense population, complex interests, and antagonist
power, and you shall see that the man Napoleon, bounded, that is, by
such a profile and outline, is not the virtual Napoleon. This is but
Talbot’s shadow:

His substance is not here:
For what you see is but the smallest part,
And least proportion of humanity;
But were the whole frame here,
It is of such a spacious, lofty pitch,
Your roof were not sufficient to contain it.
-Henry VI.

Columbus needs a planet to shape his course upon. Newton and Laplace
need myriads of ages and thickstrown celestial areas. One may say a
gravitating solar system is already prophesied in the nature of Newton’s
mind. Not less does the brain of Davy and Gay Lussac from childhood
exploring always the affinities and repulsions of particles, anticipate the
laws of organization. Does not the eye of the human embryo predict the
light? the ear of Handel predict the witchcraft of harmonic sound? Do
not the constructive fingers of Watt, Fulton, Whittemore, Arkwright
predict the fusible, hard, and temperable texture of metals, the properties
of stone, water and wood? the lovely attributes of the maiden child
predict the refinements and decorations of civil society? Here also we are
reminded of the action of man on man. A mind might ponder its thought
for ages, and not gain so much self-knowledge as the passion of love
shall teach it in a day. Who knows himself before he has been thrilled
with indignation at an outrage, or has heard an eloquent tongue, or has
shared the throb of thousands in a national exultation or alarm? No man
can antedate his experience, or guess what faculty or feeling a new object
shall unlock, any more than he can draw to-day the face of a person
whom he shall see to-morrow for the first time.

I will not now go behind the general statement to explore the reason of
this correspondency. Let it suffice that in the light of these two facts,
namely, that the mind is One; and that nature is its correlative, history is
to be read and written.

Thus in all ways does the soul concentrate and reproduce its treasures
for each pupil, for each newborn man. He, too, shall pass through the
whole cycle of experience. He shall collect into a focus the rays of nature.
History no longer shall be a dull book. It shall walk incarnate in every
just and wise man. You shall not tell me by languages and titles a
catalogue of the volumes you have read. You shall make me feel what
periods you have lived. A man shall be the Temple of Fame. He shall
walk, as the poets have described that goddess, in a robe painted all over
with wonderful events and experiences;- his own form and features by
their exalted intelligence shall be that variegated vest. I shall find in him
the Foreworld; in his childhood the Age of Gold; the Apples of
Knowledge; the Argonautic Expedition; the calling of Abraham; the
building of the Temple; the Advent of Christ; Dark Ages; the Revival of
Letters; the Reformation; the discovery of new lands, the opening of new
sciences and new regions in man. He shall be the priest of Pan, and bring
with him into humble cottages the blessing of the morning stars and all
the recorded benefits of heaven and earth.

Is there somewhat overweening in this claim? Then I reject all I have
written, for what is the use of pretending to know what we know not?
But it is the fault of our rhetoric that we cannot strongly state one fact
without seeming to belie some other. I hold our actual knowledge very
cheap. Hear the rats in the wall, see the lizard on the fence, the fungus
under foot, the lichen on the log. What do I know sympathetically,
morally, of either of these worlds of life? As long as the Caucasian man-
perhaps longer- these creatures have kept their counsel beside him, and
there is no record of any word or sign that has passed from one to the
other. Nay, what does history yet record of the metaphysical annals of
man? What light does it shed on those mysteries which we hide under
the names Death and Immortality? Yet every history should be written in
a wisdom which divined the range of our affinities and looked at facts as
symbols. I am ashamed to see what a shallow village tale our so-called
History is. How many times we must say Rome, and Paris, and
Constantinople. What does Rome know of rat and lizard? What are
Olympiads and Consulates to these neighboring systems of being? Nay,
what food or experience or succor have they for the Esquimau seal-
hunter, for the Kanaka in his canoe, for the fisherman, the stevedore, the

Broader and deeper we must write our annals- from an ethical
reformation, from an influx of the ever new, ever sanative conscience- if
we would trulier express our central and wide-related nature, instead of
this old chronology of selfishness and pride to which we have too long
lent our eyes. Already that day exists for us, shines in on us at unawares,
but the path of science and of letters is not the way into nature, but from
it, rather. The idiot, the Indian, the child, and unschooled farmer’s boy,
come much nearer to these- understand them better than the dissector or
the antiquary.

II: Self-Reliance

Ne te quaesiveris extra.

“Man is his own star, and the soul that can
Render an honest and a perfect man,
Command all light, all influence, all fate,
Nothing to him falls early or too late.
Our acts our angels are, or good or ill,
Our fatal shadows that walk by us still.”
-(r)Epilogue to Beaumont and Fletcher’s Honest Man’s Fortune.

Cast the bantling on the rocks,
Suckle him with the she-wolf’s teat:
Wintered with the hawk and fox,
Power and speed be hands and feet.

I READ the other day some verses written by an eminent painter which
were original and not conventional. Always the soul hears an admonition
in such lines, let the subject be what it may. The sentiment they instill is
of more value than any thought they may contain. To believe your own
thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart, is true
for all men- that is genius. Speak your latent conviction and it shall be
the universal sense; for always the inmost becomes the outmost, and our
first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment.
Familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we ascribe
to Moses, Plato, and Milton, is that they set at naught books and
traditions, and spoke not what men, but what they, thought. A man
should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across
his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and
sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In
every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come
back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no
more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our
spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when
the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else, to-morrow a stranger
will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and
felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own
opinion from another.

There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the
conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must
take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide
universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him
but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to
him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none
but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he
has tried. Not for nothing one face, one character, one fact makes much
impression on him, and another none. It is not without pre-established
harmony, this sculpture in the memory. The eye was placed where one
ray should fall, that it might testify of that particular ray. Bravely let him
speak the utmost syllable of his confession. We but half express
ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us
represents. It may be safely trusted as proportionate and of good issues,
so it be faithfully imparted, but God will not have his work made
manifest by cowards. It needs a divine man to exhibit anything divine. A
man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and
done his best; but what he has said or done otherwise, shall give him no
peace. It is a deliverance which does not deliver. In the attempt his
genius deserts him; no muse befriends; no invention, no hope.

Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place
the divine Providence has found for you; the society of your
contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done
so and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying
their perception that the Eternal was stirring at their heart, working
through their hands, predominating in all their being. And we are now
men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny;
and not pinched in a corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but
redeemers and benefactors, pious aspirants to be noble clay plastic under
the Almighty effort, let us advance and advance on Chaos and the Dark.

What pretty oracles nature yields us on this text in the face and
behavior of children, babes and even brutes. That divided and rebel
mind, that distrust of a sentiment because our arithmetic has computed
the strength and means opposed to our purpose, these have not. Their
mind being whole, their eye is as yet unconquered, and when we look in
their faces, we are disconcerted. Infancy conforms to nobody: all
conform to it, so that one babe commonly makes four or five out of the
adults who prattle and play to it. So God has armed youth and puberty
and manhood no less with its own piquancy and charm, and made it
enviable and gracious and its claims not to be put by, if it will stand by
itself. Do not think the youth has no force because he cannot speak to
you and me. Hark! in the next room, who spoke so clear and emphatic?
Good Heaven! it is he! it is that very lump of bashfulness and phlegm
which for weeks has done nothing but eat when you were by, that now
rolls out these words like bell-strokes. It seems he knows how to speak to
his contemporaries. Bashful or bold, then, he will know how to make us
seniors very unnecessary.

The nonchalance of boys who are sure of a dinner, and would disdain
as much as a lord to do or say aught to conciliate one, is the healthy
attitude of human nature. How is a boy the master of society!-
independent, irresponsible, looking out from his corner on such people
and facts as pass by, he tries and sentences them on their merits, in the
swift summary ways of boys, as good, bad, interesting, silly, eloquent,
troublesome. He cumbers himself never about consequences, about
interests: he gives an independent, genuine verdict. You must court him:
he does not court you. But the man is, as it were, clapped into jail by his
consciousness. As soon as he has once acted or spoken with eclat, he is a
committed person, watched by the sympathy or the hatred of hundreds
whose affections must now enter into his account. There is no Lethe for
this. Ah, that he could pass again into his neutral, god-like
independence! Who can thus lose all pledge, and having observed,
observe again from the same unaffected, unbiased, unbribable,
unaffrighted innocence, must always be formidable, must always engage
the poet’s and the man’s regards. Of such an immortal youth the force
would be felt. He would utter opinions on all passing affairs, which being
seen to be not private but necessary, would sink like darts into the ear of
men, and put them in fear.

These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and
inaudible as we enter into the world. Society everywhere is in conspiracy
against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint stock
company in which the members agree for the better securing of his bread
to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The
virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves
not realities and creators, but names and customs.

Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather
immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must
explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of our
own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of
the world. I remember an answer which when quite young I was
prompted to make to a valued adviser who was wont to importune me
with the dear old doctrines of the church. On my saying, What have I to
do with the sacredness of traditions, if I live wholly from within? my
friend suggested- “But these impulses may be from below, not from
above.” I replied, “They do not seem to me to be such; but if I am the
devil’s child, I will live then from the devil.” No law can be sacred to me
but that of my nature. Good and bad are but names very readily
transferable to that or this; the only right is what is after my constitution,
the only wrong what is against it. A man is to carry himself in the
presence of all opposition as if everything were titular and ephemeral but
he. I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names,
to large societies and dead institutions. Every decent and well-spoken
individual affects and sways me more than is right. I ought to go upright
and vital, and speak the rude truth in all ways. If malice and vanity wear
the coat of philanthropy, shall that pass? If an angry bigot assumes this
bountiful cause of Abolition, and comes to me with his last news from
Barbadoes, why should I not say to him, “Go love thy infant; love thy
wood-chopper; be good-natured and modest; have that grace; and never
varnish your hard, uncharitable ambition with this incredible tenderness
for black folk a thousand miles off. Thy love afar is spite at home.”
Rough and graceless would be such greeting, but truth is handsomer
than the affectation of love. Your goodness must have some edge to it-
else it is none. The doctrine of hatred must be preached as the
counteraction of the doctrine of love when that pules and whines. I shun
father and mother and wife and brother, when my genius calls me. I
would write on the lintels of the door-post, (r)Whim. I hope it is
somewhat better than whim at last, but we cannot spend the day in
explanation. Expect me not to show cause why I seek or why I exclude
company. Then, again, do not tell me, as a good man did to-day, of my
obligation to put all poor men in good situations. Are they (r)my poor? I
tell thee, thou foolish Philanthropist, that I grudge the dollar, the dime,
the cent I give to such men as do not belong to me and to whom I do not
belong. There is a class of persons to whom by all spiritual affinity I am
bought and sold; for them I will go to prison, if need be; but your
miscellaneous popular charities; the education at college of fools; the
building of meeting-houses to the vain end to which many now stand;
alms to sots; and the thousandfold relief societies; though I confess with
shame I sometimes succumb and give the dollar, it is a wicked dollar
which by-and-by I shall have the manhood to withold.

Virtues are in the popular estimate rather the exception than the rule.
There is the man (r)and his virtues. Men do what is called a good
action, as some piece of courage or charity, much as they would pay a
fine in expiation of daily non-appearance on parade. Their works are
done as an apology or extenuation of their living in the world, as invalids
and the insane pay a high board. Their virtues are penances. I do not
wish to expiate, but to live. My life is not an apology, but a life. It is for
itself and not for a spectacle. I much prefer that it should be of a lower
strain, so it be genuine and equal, than that it should be glittering and
unsteady. I wish it to be sound and sweet, and not to need diet and
bleeding. My life should be unique; it should be an alms, a battle, a
conquest, a medicine. I ask primary evidence that you are a man, and
refuse this appeal from the man to his actions. I know that for myself it
makes no difference whether I do or forebear those actions which are
reckoned excellent. I cannot consent to pay for a privilege where I have
intrinsic right. Few and mean as my gifts may be, I actually am, and do
not need for my own assurance, or the assurance of my fellows, any
secondary testimony.

What I must do, is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This
rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the
whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder
because you will always find those who think they know what is your
duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the
world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great
man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the
independence of 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 you maintain a dead church, contribute to a dead Bible
society, vote with a great party either for the Government or against it,
spread your table like base housekeepers- under all these screens I have
difficulty to detect the precise man you are. And, of course, so much
force is withdrawn from your proper life. But do your thing, and I shall
know you. Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself. A man must
consider what a blind-man’s-buff is this game of conformity. If I know
your sect, I anticipate your argument. I hear a preacher announce for his
text and topic the expediency of one of the institutions of his church. Do
I not know beforehand that not possibly can he say a new and
spontaneous word? Do I not know that with all this ostentation of
examining the grounds of the institution, he will do no such thing? Do I
not know that he is pledged to himself not to look but at one side; the
permitted side, not as a man, but as a parish minister? He is a retained
attorney, and these airs of the bench are the emptiest affectation. Well,
most men have bound their eyes with one or another handkerchief, and
attached themselves to some one of these communities of opinion. This
conformity makes them not false in a few particulars, authors of a few
lies, but false in all particulars. Their every truth is not quite true. Their
two is not the real two, their four not the real four; so that every word
they say chagrins us, and we know not where to begin to set them right.
Meantime nature is not slow to equip us in the prison uniform of the
party to which we adhere. We come to wear one cut of face and figure,
and acquire by degrees the gentlest asinine expression. There is a
mortifying experience in particular which does not fail to wreck itself
also in the general history: I mean, “the foolish face of praise,” the forced
smile which we put on in company where we do not feel at ease in
answer to conversation which does not interest us. The muscles, not
spontaneously moved, but moved by a low usurping wilfulness, grow
tight about the outline of the face, and make the most disagreeable
sensation, a sensation of rebuke and warning which no brave young man
will suffer twice.

For non-conformity the world whips you with its displeasure. And
therefore a man must know how to estimate a sour face. The bystanders
look askance on him in the public street or in the friend’s parlor. If this
aversation had its origin in contempt and resistance like his own, he
might well go home with a sad countenance; but the sour faces of the
multitude, like their sweet faces, have no deep cause- disguise no god,
but are put on and off as the wind blows, and a newspaper directs. Yet is
the discontent of the multitude more formidable than that of the senate
and the college. It is easy enough for a firm man who knows the world to
brook the rage of the cultivated classes. Their rage is decorous and
prudent, for they are timid as being very vulnerable themselves. But
when to their feminine rage the indignation of the people is added, when
the ignorant and the poor are aroused, when the unintelligent brute force
that lies at the bottom of society is made to growl and mow, it needs the
habit of magnanimity and religion to treat it godlike as a trifle of no

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

But why should you keep your head over your shoulder? Why drag
about this monstrous corpse of your memory, lest you contradict
somewhat you have stated in this or that public place? Suppose you
should contradict yourself; what then? It seems to be a rule of wisdom
never to rely on your memory alone, scarcely even in acts of pure
memory, but bring the past for judgment into the thousand-eyed present,
and live ever in a new day. Trust your emotion. In your metaphysics you
have denied personality to the Deity; yet when the devout motions of the
soul come, yield to them heart and life, though they should clothe God
with shape and color. Leave your theory as Joseph his coat in the hand of
the harlot, and flee.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little
statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul
has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his
shadow on the wall. Out upon your guarded lips! Sew them up with
pack-thread, do. Else, if you would be a man, speak what you think to-
day in words as hard as cannon-balls, and to-morrow speak what to-
morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you
said to-day. Ah, then, exclaimed the aged ladies, you shall be sure to be
misunderstood. Misunderstood! It is a right fool’s word. Is it so bad then
to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and
Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every
pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be

I suppose no man can violate his nature. All the sallies of his will are
rounded in by the law of his being as the inequalities of the Andes and
Himalaya are insignificant in the curve of the sphere. Nor does it matter
how you gauge and try him. A character is like an acrostic or
Alexandrian stanza- read it forward, backward, or across, it still spells
the same thing. In this pleasing contrite wood-life which God allows me,
let me record day by day my honest thought without prospect or
retrospect, and, I cannot doubt, it will be found symmetrical, though I
mean it not, and see it not. My book should smell of pines and resound
with the hum of insects. The swallow over my window should interweave
that thread or straw he carries in his bill into my web also. We pass for
what we are. Character teaches above our wills. Men imagine that they
communicate their virtue or vice only by overt actions and do not see
that virtue or vice emit a breath every moment.

Fear never but you shall be consistent in whatever variety of actions, so
they be each honest and natural in their hour. For of one will, the actions
will be harmonious, however unlike they seem. These varieties are lost
sight of when seen at a little distance, at a little height of thought. One
tendency unites them all. The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a
hundred tacks. This is only microscopic criticism. See the line from a
sufficient distance, and it straightens itself to the average tendency. Your
genuine action will explain your other genuine actions. Your conformity
explains nothing. Act singly, and what you have already done singly,
will justify you now. Greatness always appears to the future. If I can be
great enough now to do right and scorn eyes, I must have done so much
right before, as to defend me now. Be it how it will, do right now.
Always scorn appearances, and you always may. The force of character
is cumulative. All the foregone days of virtue work their health into this.
What makes the majesty of the heroes of the senate and the field, which
so fills the imagination? The consciousness of a train of great days and
victories behind. There they all stand and shed an united light on the
advancing actor. He is attended as by a visible escort of angels to every
man’s eye. That is it which throws thunder into Chatham’s voice, and
dignity into Washington’s port, and America into Adam’s eye. Honor is
venerable to us because it is no ephemeris. It is always ancient virtue.
We worship it to-day, because it is not of to-day. We love it and pay it
homage, because it is not a trap for our love and homage, but is self-
dependent, self-derived, and therefore of an old immaculate pedigree,
even if shown in a young person.

I hope in these days we have heard the last of conformity and
consistency. Let the words be gazetted and ridiculous henceforward.
Instead of the gong for dinner, let us hear a whistle from the Spartan fife.
Let us bow and apologize never more. A great man is coming to eat at
my house. I do not wish to please him: I wish that he should wish to
please me. I will stand here for humanity, and though I would make it
kind, I would make it true. Let us affront and reprimand the smooth
mediocrity and squalid contentment of the times, and hurl in the face of
custom, and trade, and office, the fact which is the upshot of all history,
that there is a great responsible Thinker and Actor moving wherever
moves a man; that a true man belongs to no other time or place, but is
the center of things. Where he is, there is nature. He measures you, and
all men, and all events. You are constrained to accept his standard.
Ordinarily every body in society reminds us of somewhat else or of some
other person. Character, reality, reminds you of nothing else. It takes
place of the whole creation. The man must be so much that he must
make all circumstances indifferent- put all means into the shade. This all
great men are and do. Every true man is a cause, a country, and an age;
requires infinite spaces and numbers and time fully to accomplish his
thought- and posterity seem to follow his steps as a procession. A man
Caesar is born, and for ages after, we have a Roman Empire. Christ is
born, and millions of minds so grow and cleave to his genius, that he is
confounded with virtue and the possible of man. An institution is the
lengthened shadow of one man; as, the Reformation, of Luther;
Quakerism, of Fox; Methodism, of Wesley; Abolition, of Clarkson.
Scipio, Milton called “the height of Rome;” and all history resolves itself
very easily into the biography of a few stout and earnest persons.

Let a man then know his worth, and keep things under his feet. Let him
not peep or steal, or skulk up and down with the air of a charity-boy, a
bastard, or an interloper, in the world which exists for him. But the man
in the street finding no worth in himself which corresponds to the force
which built a tower or sculptured a marble god, feels poor when he looks
on these. To him a palace, a statue, or a costly book have an alien and
forbidding air, much like a gay equipage, and seem to say like that,
“Who are you, sir?” Yet they all are his, suitors for his notice, petitioners
to his faculties that they will come out and take possession. The picture
waits for my verdict; it is not to command me, but I am to settle its
claims to praise. That popular fable of the sot who was picked up dead
drunk in the street, carried to the duke’s house, washed and dressed and
laid in the duke’s bed, and, on his waking, treated with all obsequious
ceremony like the duke, and assured that he had been insane, owes its
popularity to the fact, that it symbolizes so well the state of man, who is
in the world a sort of sot, but now and then wakes up, exercises his
reason, and finds himself a true prince.

Our reading is mendicant and sycophantic. In history, our imagination
makes fools of us, plays us false. Kingdom and lordship, power and
estate are a gaudier vocabulary than private John and Edward in a small
house and common day’s work; but the things of life are the same to
both; the sum total of both is the same. Why all this deference to Alfred,
and Scanderbeg, and Gustavus? Suppose they were virtuous; did they
wear out virtue? As great a stake depends on your private act to-day, as
followed their public and renowned steps. When private men shall act
with vast views, the luster will be transferred from the actions of kings to
those of gentlemen.

The world has indeed been instructed by its kings who have so
magnetized the eyes of nations. It has been taught by this colossal
symbol the mutual reverence that is due from man to man. The joyful
loyalty with which men have everywhere suffered the king, the noble, or
the great proprietor to walk among them by a law of his own, make his
own scale of men and things, and reverse theirs, pay for benefits, not
with money but with honor, and represent the Law in his person, was the
hieroglyphic by which they obscurely signified their consciousness of
their own right and comeliness, the right of every man.

The magnetism which all original action exerts is explained when we
inquire the reason of self-trust. Who is the Trustee? What is the
aboriginal Self on which a universal reliance may be grounded? What is
the nature and power of that science-baffling star, without parallax,
without calculable elements, which shoots a ray of beauty even into
trivial and impure actions, if the least mark of independence appear? The
inquiry leads us to that source, at once the essence of genius, the essence
of virtue, and the essence of life, which we call Spontaneity or Instinct.
We denote this primary wisdom as Intuition, while all lateral teachings
are tuitions. In that deep force, the last fact behind which analysis cannot
go, all things find their common origin. For the sense of being which in
calm hours rises, we know not how, in the soul, is not diverse from
things, from space, from light, from time, from man, but one with them,
and proceedeth obviously from the same source whence their life and
being also proceedeth. We first share the life by which things exist, and
afterward see them as appearances in nature, and forget that we have
shared their cause. Here is the fountain of action and the fountain of
thought. Here are the lungs of that inspiration which giveth man
wisdom, of that inspiration of man which cannot be denied without
impiety and atheism. We lie in the lap of immense intelligence, which
makes us organs of its activity and receivers of its truth. When we
discern justice, when we discern truth, we do nothing of ourselves, but
allow a passage to its beams. If we ask whence this comes, if we seek to
pry into the soul that causes- all metaphysics, all philosophy is at fault.
Its presence or its absence is all we can affirm. Every man discerns
between the voluntary acts of his mind, and his involuntary perceptions.
And to his involuntary perceptions, he knows a perfect respect 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. All my wilful actions and
acquisitions are but roving- the most trivial reverie, the faintest native
emotion, are domestic and divine. Thoughtless people contradict as
readily the statement of perceptions as of opinions, or rather much more
readily; for, they do not distinguish between perception and notion. They
fancy that I choose to see this or that thing. But perception is not
whimsical, but fatal. If I see a trait, my children will see it after me, and
in course of time, all mankind- although it may chance that no one has
seen it before me. For my perception of it is as much a fact as the sun.

The relations of the soul to the divine spirit are so pure that it is profane
to seek to interpose helps. It must be that when God speaketh, he should
communicate not one thing, but all things; should fill the world with his
voice; should scatter forth light, nature, time, souls, from the center of
the present thought; and new date and new create the whole. Whenever a
mind is simple, and receives a divine wisdom, then old things pass away-
means, teachers, texts, temples fall; it lives now and absorbs past and
future into the present hour. All things are made sacred by relation to it-
one thing as much as another. All things are dissolved to their center by
their cause, and in the universal miracle petty and particular miracles
disappear. This is and must be. If, therefore, a man claims to know and
speak, of God, and carries you backward to the phraseology of some old
moldered nation in another country, in another world, believe him not. Is
the acorn better than the oak which is its fulness and completion? Is the
parent better than the child into whom he has cast his ripened being?
Whence then this worship of the past? The centuries are conspirators
against the sanity and majesty of the soul. Time and space are but
physiological colors which the eye maketh, 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 anything more than a cheerful apologue or parable of my
being and becoming.

Man is timid and apologetic. He is no longer upright. He dares not say
“I think,” “I am,” but quotes some saint or sage. He is ashamed before
the blade of grass or the blowing rose. These roses under my window
make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what
they are; they exist with God to-day. There is no time to them. There is
simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a
leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower, there is
no more; in the leafless root, there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it
satisfies nature, in all moments alike. There is no time to it. But man
postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with
reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround
him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and
strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.

This should be plain enough. Yet see what strong intellects dare not yet
hear God himself, unless he speak the phraseology of I know not what
David or Jeremiah, or Paul. We shall not always set so great a price on a
few texts, on a few lives. We are like children who repeat by rote the
sentences of grandames and tutors, and, as they grow older, of the men
of talents and character they chance to see- painfully recollecting the
exact words they spoke; afterward, when they come into the point of
view which those had who uttered these sayings, they understood them,
and are willing to let the words go; for, at any time, they can use words
as good, when occasion comes. So was it with us, so will it be, if we
proceed. If we live truly, we shall see truly. It is as easy for the strong
man to be strong, as it is for the weak to be weak. When we have new
perception, we shall gladly disburden the memory of its hoarded
treasures as old rubbish. When a man lives with God, his voice shall be
as sweet as the murmur of the brook and the rustle of the corn.

And now at last the highest truth on this subject remains unsaid;
probably, cannot be said; for all that we say is the far off remembering of
the intuition. That thought, by what I can now nearest approach to say it,
is this. When good is near you, when you have life in yourself- it is not
by any known or appointed way; you shall not discern the foot-prints of
any other; you shall not see the face of man; you shall not hear any
name- the way, the thought, the good shall be wholly strange and new. It
shall exclude all other being. You take the way from man not to man. All
persons that ever existed are its fugitive ministers. There shall be no fear
in it. Fear and hope are alike beneath it. It asks nothing. There is
somewhat low even in hope. We are then in vision. There is nothing that
can be called gratitude nor properly joy. The soul is raised over passion.
It seeth identity and eternal causation. It is a perceiving that Truth and
Right are. Hence it becomes a Tranquillity out of the knowing that all
things go well. Vast spaces of nature; the Atlantic Ocean, the South Sea;
vast intervals of time, years, centuries, are of no account. This which I
think and feel, underlay that former state of life and circumstances, as it
does underlie my present, and will always all circumstance, and what is
called life, and 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 the gulf; in the darting to an aim. This one fact the
world hates, that the soul (r)becomes; for, that forever degrades the
past; turns all riches to poverty; all reputation to a shame; confounds the
saint with the rogue; shoves Jesus and Judas equally aside. Why then do
we prate of self-reliance? In as much as the soul is present, there will be
power not confident but agent. To talk of reliance, is a poor external way
of speaking. Speak rather of that which relies, because it works and is.
Who has more soul than I masters me, though he should not raise his
finger. Round him I must revolve by the gravitation of spirits; who has
less, I rule with like facility. We fancy it rhetoric when we speak of
eminent virtue. We do not yet see that virtue is Height, and that a man or
a company of men plastic and permeable to principles, by the law of
nature must overpower and ride all cities, nations, kings, rich men,
poets, who are not.

This is the ultimate fact which we so quickly reach on this as on every
topic, the resolution of all into the ever blessed ONE. Virtue is the
governor, the creator, the reality. All things real are so by so much of
virtue as they contain. Hardship, husbandry, hunting, whaling, war,
eloquence, personal weight, are somewhat and engage my respect as
examples of the soul’s presence and impure action. I see the same law
working in nature for conservation and growth. The poise of a planet,
the bended tree recovering itself from the strong wind, the vital resources
of every vegetable and animal, are also demonstrations of the self-
sufficing, and therefore self-relying soul. All history from its highest to
its trivial passages is the various record of this power.

Thus all concentrates; let us not rove; let us sit at home with the cause.
Let us stun and astonish the intruding rabble of men and books and
institutions by a simple declaration of the divine fact. Bid them take the
shoes from off their feet, for God is here within. Let our simplicity judge
them, and our docility to our own law demonstrate the poverty of nature
and fortune beside our native riches.

But now we are a mob. Man does not stand in awe of man, nor is the
soul admonished to stay at home, to put itself in communication with the
internal ocean, but it goes abroad to beg a cup of water of the urns of
men. We must go alone. Isolation must precede true society. I like the
silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching. How
far off, how cool, how chaste the persons look, begirt each one with a
precinct or sanctuary. So let us always sit. Why should we assume the
faults of our friend, or wife, or father, or child, because they sit around
our hearth, or are said to have the same blood? All men have my blood,
and I have all men’s. Not for that will I adopt their petulance or folly,
even to the extent of being ashamed of it. But your isolation must not be
mechanical, but spiritual, that is, must be elevation. At times the whole
world seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with emphatic trifles.
Friend, client, child, sickness, fear, want, charity, all knock at once at
thy closet door and say: “Come out unto us,” Do not spill thy soul; do not
all descend; keep thy state; stay at home in thine own heaven; come not
for a moment into their facts, into their hubbub of conflicting
appearances, but let in the light of thy law on 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 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
be done in our smooth times by speaking the truth. Check this lying
hospitality and lying affection. Live no longer to the expectation of these
deceived and deceiving people with whom we converse. Say to them, O
father, O mother, O wife, O brother, O friend, I have lived with you after
appearances hitherto. Henceforward I am the truth’s. Be it known unto
you that henceforward I obey no law less than the eternal law. I will have
no covenants but proximities. I shall endeavor to nourish my parents, to
support my family, to be the chaste husband of one wife- but these
relations I must fill after a new and unprecedented way. I appeal from
your customs. I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for
you, or you. If you can love me for what I am, we shall be happier. If you
cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should. I must be myself. I
will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is
holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly
rejoices me, and the heart appoints. If you are noble, I will love you; if
you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions. If
you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your
companions; I will seek my own. I do this not selfishly, but humbly and
truly. It is alike your interest and mine and all men’s, however long we
have dwelt in lies, to live in truth. Does this sound harsh to-day? You
will soon love what is dictated by your nature as well as mine, and if we
follow the truth, it will bring us out safe at last. But so you may give
these friends pain. Yes, but I cannot sell my liberty and my power, to
save their sensibility. Besides, all persons have their moments of reason
when they look out into the region of absolute truth; then will they justify
me and do the same thing.

The populace think that your rejection of popular standards is a
rejection of all standard, and mere antinomianism; and the bold
sensualist will use the name of philosophy to gild his crimes. But the law
of consciousness abides. There are two confessionals, in one or the other
of which we must be shriven. You may fulfil your round of duties by
clearing yourself in the (r)direct, or, in the (r)reflex way. Consider
whether you have satisfied your relations to father, mother, cousin,
neighbor, town, cat and dog; whether any of these can upbraid you. But I
may also neglect this reflex standard, and absolve me to myself. I have
my own stern claims and perfect circle. It denies the name of duty to
many offices that are called duties. But if I can discharge its debts, it
enables me to dispense with the popular code. If any one imagines that
this law is lax, let him keep its commandment one day.

And truly it demands something godlike in him who has cast off the
common motives of humanity, and has ventured to trust himself for a
task-master. High be his heart, faithful his will, clear his sight, that he
may in good earnest be doctrine, society, law to himself, that a simple
purpose may be to him as strong as iron necessity is to others.

If any man consider the present aspects of what is called by distinction
(r)society, he will see the need of these ethics. The sinew and heart of
man seem to be drawn out, and we are become timorous, desponding
whimperers. We are afraid of truth, afraid of fortune, afraid of death, and
afraid of each other. Our age yields no great and perfect persons. We
want men and women who shall renovate life and our social state, but we
see that most natures are insolvent; cannot satisfy their own wants, have
an ambition out of all proportion to their practical force, and so do lean
and beg day and night continually. Our housekeeping is mendicant, our
arts, our occupations, our marriages, our religion we have not chosen,
but society has chosen for us. We are parlor soldiers. The rugged battle
of fate, where strength is born, we shun.

If our young men miscarry in their first enterprises, they lose all heart.
If the young merchant fails, men say he is (r)ruined. If the finest genius
studies at one of our colleges, and is not installed in an office within one
year afterward in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New York, it seems
to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened and in
complaining the rest of his life. A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or
Vermont, who in turn tries all the professions, who (r)teams it, farms it,
peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress,
buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always, like a cat,
falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls. He walks abreast
with his days, and feels no shame in not “studying a profession,” for he
does not postpone his life, but lives already. He has not one chance, but a
hundred chances. Let a stoic arise who shall reveal the resources of man,
and tell men they are not leaning willows, but can and must detach
themselves; that with the exercise of self-trust, new powers shall appear;
that a man is the word made flesh, born to shed healing to the nations,
that we should be ashamed of our compassion, and that the moment he
acts from himself, tossing the laws, the books, idolatries, and customs
out of the window, we pity him no more but thank and revere him, and
that teacher shall restore the life of man to splendor, and make his name
dear to all History.

It is easy to see that a greater self-reliance, a new respect for the
divinity in man, must work a revolution in all the offices and relations of
men; in their religion; in their education; in their pursuits; their modes
of living; their association; in their property; in their speculative views.

1. In what prayers do men allow themselves! That which they call a
holy office, is not so much as brave and manly. Prayer looks abroad and
asks for some foreign addition to come through some foreign virtue, and
loses itself in endless mazes of natural and supernatural, and mediatorial
and miraculous. Prayer that craves a particular commodity- any thing
less than all good, is vicious. Prayer is the contemplation of the facts of
life from the highest point of view. It is the soliloquy of a beholding and
jubilant soul. It is the spirit of God pronouncing his works good. But
prayer as a means to effect a private end, is theft and meanness. It
supposes dualism and not unity in nature and consciousness. As soon as
the man is at one with God, he will not beg. He will then see prayer in
all action. The prayer of the farmer kneeling in his field to weed it, the
prayer of the rower kneeling with the stroke of his oar, are true prayers
heard throughout nature, though for cheap ends. Caratach, in Fletcher’s
Bonduca, when admonished to inquire the mind of the god Audate,

“His hidden meaning lies in our endeavors,
Our valors are our best gods.”

Another sort of false prayers are our regrets. Discontent is the want of
self-reliance: it is infirmity of will. Regret calamities, if you can thereby
help the sufferer; if not, attend your own work, and already the evil
begins to be repaired. Our sympathy is just as base. We come to them
who weep foolishly, and sit down and cry for company, instead of
imparting to them truth and health in rough electric shocks, putting
them once more in communication with the soul. The secret of fortune is
joy in our hands. Welcome evermore to gods and men is the self-helping
man. For him all doors are flung wide. Him all tongues greet, all honors
crown, all eyes follow with desire. Our love goes out to him and
embraces him, because he did not need it. We solicitously and
apologetically caress and celebrate him, because he held on his way and
scorned our disapprobation. The gods love him because men hated him.
“To the persevering mortal,” said Zoroaster, “the blessed Immortals are

As men’s prayers are a disease of the will, so are their creeds a disease
of the intellect. They say with those foolish Israelites, “Let not God speak
to us, lest we die. Speak thou, speak any man with us and we will obey.”
Everywhere I am bereaved of meeting God in my brother, because he has
shut his own temple doors, and recites fables merely of his brother’s, or
his brother’s brother’s God. Every new mind is a new classification. If it
prove a mind of uncommon activity and power, a Locke, a Lavoisier, a
Hutton, a Bentham, a Spurzheim, it imposes its classification on other
men, and lo! a new system. In proportion always to the depth of the
thought, and so to the number of the objects it touches and brings within
reach of the pupil, in his complacency. But chiefly is this apparent in
creeds and churches, which are also classifications of some powerful
mind acting on the great elemental thought of Duty, and man’s relation
to the Highest. Such is Calvinism, Quakerism, Swedenborgianism. The
pupil takes the same delight in subordinating everything to the new
terminology that a girl does who has just learned botany, in seeing a new
earth and new seasons thereby. It will happen for a time, that the pupil
will feel a real debt to the teacher- will find his intellectual power has
grown by the study of his writings. This will continue until he has
exhausted his master’s mind. But in all unbalanced minds the
classification is idolized, passes for the end, and not for a speedily
exhaustible means, so that the walls of the system blend to their eye in
the remote horizon with the walls of the universe; the luminaries of
heaven seem to them hung on the arch their master built. They cannot
imagine how you aliens have any right to see- how you can see. “It must
be somehow that you stole the light from us.” They do not yet perceive
that light, unsystematic, indomitable, will break into any cabin, even into
theirs. Let them chirp a while and call it their own. If they are honest
and do well, presently their neat new pinfold will be too straight and
low, will crack, will lean, will rot and vanish, and the immortal light, all
young and joyful, million-orbed, million-colored, will beam over the
universe as on the first morning.

2. It is for want of self-culture that the idol of Traveling, the idol of
Italy, of England, of Egypt, remains for all educated Americans. They
who made England, Italy or Greece venerable in the imagination, did so
not by rambling round creation as a moth round a lamp, but by sticking
fast where they were, like an axis of the earth. In manly hours, we feel
that duty is our place, and that the merry men of circumstance should
follow as they may. The soul is no traveler: the wise man stays at home
with the soul, and when his necessities, his duties, on any occasion call
him from his house, or into foreign lands, he is at home still, and is not
gadding abroad from himself, and shall make men sensible by the
expression of his countenance, that he goes the missionary of wisdom
and virtue, and visits cities and men like a sovereign, and not like an
interloper or a valet.

I have no churlish objection to the circumnavigation of the globe, for
the purposes of art, of study and benevolence, so that the man is first
domesticated, or does not go abroad with the hope of finding somewhat
greater than he knows. He who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat
which he does not carry, travels away from himself, and grows old even
in youth among old things. In Thebes in Palmyra, his will and mind
have become old and dilapidated as they. He carries ruins to ruins.

Traveling is a fool’s paradise. We owe to our first journeys the
discovery that place is nothing. At home I dream that at Naples, at
Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my
trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in
Naples, and there beside me is the stern Fact, the sad self, unrelenting,
identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to
be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My
giant goes with me wherever I go.

3. But the rage of traveling is itself only a symptom of a deeper
unsoundness affecting the whole intellectual action. The intellect is
vagabond, and the universal system of education fosters restlessness. Our
minds travel when our bodies are forced to stay at home. We imitate; and
what is imitation but the traveling of the mind? Our houses are built with
foreign taste; our shelves are garnished with foreign ornaments; our
opinions, our tastes, our whole minds lean, and follow the Past and
Distant, as the eyes of a maid follow her mistress. The soul created the
arts wherever they have flourished. It was in his own mind that the artist
sought his model. It was an application of his own thought to the thing
to be done and the conditions to be observed. And why need we copy the
Doric or the Gothic model? Beauty, convenience, grandeur of thought,
and quaint expression are as near to us as to any, and if the American
artist will study with hope and love the precise thing to be done by him,
considering the climate, the soil, the length of the day, the wants of the
people, the habit and form of the government, he will create a house in
which all these will find themselves fitted, and taste and sentiment will
be satisfied also.

Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every
moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the
adopted talent of another you have only an extemporaneous, half
procession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach
him. No man yet knows what it is, nor can, till that person has exhibited
it. Where is the master who could have taught Shakespeare? Where is
the master who could have instructed Franklin, or Washington, or
Bacon, or Newton? Every great man is an unique. The Scipionism of
Scipio is precisely that part he could not borrow. If anybody will tell me
whom the great man imitates in the original crisis when he performs a
great act, I will tell him who else than himself can teach him.
Shakespeare will never be made by the study of Shakespeare. Do that
which is assigned thee, and thou canst not hope too much or dare to
much. There is at this moment, there is for me an utterance bare and
grand as that of the colossal chisel of Phidias, or trowel of the Egyptians,
or the pen of Moses, or Dante, but different from all these. Not possibly
will the soul all rich, all eloquent, with thousand-cloven tongue, deign to
repeat itself; but if I can hear what these patriarchs say, surely I can reply
to them in the same pitch of voice: for the ear and the tongue are two
organs of one nature. Dwell up there in the simple and noble regions of
thy life, obey thy heart, and thou shalt reproduce the Foreworld again.

4. As our Religion, our Education, our Art look abroad, so does our
spirit of society. All men plume themselves on the improvement of
society, and no man improves.

Society never advances. It recedes as fast on one side as it gains on the
other. Its progress is only apparent, like the workers of a tread-mill. It
undergoes continual changes; it is barbarous, it is civilized, it is
christianized, it is rich, it is scientific; but this change is not
amelioration. For every thing that is given, something is taken. Society
acquires new arts and loses old instincts. What a contrast between the
well-clad, reading, writing, thinking American, with a watch, a pencil,
and a bill of exchange in his pocket, and the naked New Zealander,
whose property is a club, a spear, a mat, and an undivided twentieth of a
shed to sleep under. But compare the health of the two men, and you
shall see that his aboriginal strength the white man has lost. If the
traveler tell us truly, strike the savage with a broad-ax, and in a day or
two the flesh shall unite and heal as if you struck the blow into soft pitch,
and the same blow shall send the white to his grave.

The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet. He
is supported on crutches, but loses so much support of muscle. He has
got a fine Geneva watch, but he has lost the skill to tell the hour by the
sun. A Greenwich nautical almanac he has, as so being sure of the
information when he wants it, the man in the street does not know a star
in the sky. The solstice he does not observe; the equinox he knows as
little; and the whole bright calendar of the year is without a dial in his
mind. His note-books impair his memory; his libraries overload his wit;
the insurance office increases the number of accidents; and it may be a
question whether machinery does not incumber; whether we have not
lost by refinement some energy, by a christianity intrenched in
establishments and forms, some vigor of wild virtue. For every stoic was
a stoic; but in Christendom where is the Christian?

There is no more deviation in the moral standard than in the standard
of height or bulk. No greater men are now than ever were. A singular
equality may be observed between the great men of the first and of the
last ages; nor can all the science, art, religion and philosophy of the
nineteenth century avail to educate greater men than Plutarch’s heroes,
three or four and twenty centuries ago. Not in time is the race
progressive. Phocion, Socrates, Anaxagoras, Diogenes, are great men,
but they leave no class. He who is really of their class will not be called
by their name, but be wholly his own man, and in his turn the founder of
a sect. The arts and inventions of each period are only its costume, and
do not invigorate men. The harm of the improved machinery may
compensate its good. Hudson and Behring accomplished so much in
their fishing-boats as to astonish Parry and Franklin, whose equipment
exhausted the resources of science and art. Galileo, with an opera-glass,
discovered a more splendid series of facts than any one since. Columbus
found the New World in an undecked boat. It is curious to see the
periodical disuse and perishing of means and machinery which were
introduced with loud laudation, a few years or centuries before. The great
genius returns to essential man. We reckoned the improvements of the
art of war among the triumphs of science, and yet Napoleon conquered
Europe by the Bivouac, which consisted of falling back on naked valor,
and disencumbering it of all aids. “The Emperor held it impossible to
make a perfect army,” says Las Casas, “without abolishing our arms,
magazines, commissaries, and carriages, until in imitation of the Roman
custom, the soldier should receive his supply of corn, grind it in his
hand-mill, and bake his bread himself.”

Society is a wave. The wave moves onward, but the water of which it is
composed, does not. The same particle does not rise from the valley to
the ridge. Its unity is only phenomenal. The persons who make up a
nation to-day, next year die, and their experience with them.

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 what
they call the soul’s progress, namely, the religious, learned, and civil
institutions, as guards of property, and they deprecate assaults on these,
because they feel them to be assaults on property. They measure their
esteem of each other, by what each has, and not by what each is. But a
cultivated man becomes ashamed of his property, ashamed of what he
has, out of new respect for his being. Especially he hates what he has, if
he sees that it is accidental- came to him by inheritance, or gift, or crime;
then he feels that it is not having; it does not belong to him, has no root
in him, and merely lies there, because no revolution or no robber takes it
away. But that which a man is, does always by necessity acquire, and
what the man acquires is permanent and 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 is put. “Thy
lot or portion of life,” said the Caliph Ali, “is seeking after thee;
therefore be at rest from seeking after it.” Our dependence on these
foreign goods leads us to our slavish respect for numbers. The political
parties meet in numerous conventions; the greater the concourse, and
with each new uproar of announcement, The delegation from Essex! The
Democrats from New Hampshire? The Whigs of Maine! the young
patriot feels himself stronger than before by a new thousand of eyes and
arms. In like manner the reformers summon conventions, and vote and
resolve in multitude. But not so, O friends! will the God deign to enter
and inhabit you, but by a method precisely the reverse. It is only as a
man puts off from himself all external support, and stands alone, that I
see him to be strong and to prevail. He is weaker by every recruit to his
banner. Is not a man better than a town? Ask nothing of men, and in the
endless mutation, thou only firm column must presently appear the
upholder of all that surrounds thee. He who knows that power is in the
soul, that he is weak only because he has looked for good out of him and
elsewhere, and so perceiving, throws himself unhesitatingly on his
thought, instantly rights himself, stands in the erect position, commands
his limbs, works miracles; just as a man who stands on his feet is
stronger than a man who stands on his head.

So use all that is called Fortune. Most men gamble with her, and gain
all, and lose all, as her wheel rolls. But do thou leave as unlawful these
winnings, and deal with Cause and Effect, the chancellors of God. In the
Will work and acquire, and thou hast chained the wheel of Chance, and
shalt always drag her after thee. A political victory, a rise of rents, the
recovery of your sick, or the return of your absent friend, or some other
quite external event, raises your spirits, and you think good days are
preparing for you. Do not believe it. It can never be so. Nothing can
bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the
triumph of principles.

III: Compemsation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Law writes the laws of cities and nations. It will not be balked of
its end in the smallest iota. It is in vain to build or plot or combine
against it. Things refuse to be mismanaged long. (r)Res nolunt diu male
administrari. Though no checks to a new evil appear, the checks exist
and will appear. If the government is cruel, the governor’s life is not safe.
If you tax too high, the revenue will yield nothing. If you make the
criminal code sanguinary, juries will not convict. Nothing arbitrary,
nothing artificial can endure. The true life and satisfactions of man seem
to elude the utmost rigors or felicities of condition, and to establish
themselves with great indifferency under all varieties of circumstance.
Under all governments the influence of character remains the same- in
Turkey and in New England about alike. Under the primeval despots of
Egypt, history honestly confesses that man must have been as free as
culture could make him.

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

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

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 inspirations; out
there in history we can see its fatal strength. It is almighty. All nature
feels its grasp. “It is in the world and the world was made by it.” It is
eternal, but it enacts itself in time and space. Justice is not postponed. A
perfect equity adjusts its balance in all parts of life. (r)Oi chuboi Dios aei
eupiptesi. The dice of God are always loaded. The world looks like a
multiplication-table or a mathematical equation, which, turn it how you
will, balances itself. Take what figure you will, its exact value, no more
nor less, still returns to you. Every secret is told, every crime is punished,
every virtue rewarded, every wrong redressed, in silence and certainty.
What we call retribution, is the universal necessity by which the whole
appears wherever a part appears. If you see smoke, there must be fire. If
you see a hand or a limb, you know that the trunk to which it belongs, is
there behind.

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

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

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

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

Life invests itself with inevitable conditions, which the unwise seek to
dodge, which one and another brags that he does not know; brags that
they do not touch him- but the brag is on his lips, the conditions are in
his soul. If he escapes them in one part; they attack him in another more
vital part. If he has escaped them in form, and in the appearance, it is
that he has resisted his life, and fled from himself, and the retribution is
so much death. So signal is the failure of all attempts to make this
separation of the good from the tax, that the experiment would not be
tried- since to try is to be mad- but for the circumstance, that when the
disease began in the will, of rebellion and separation, the intellect is at
once infected, so that the man ceases to see God whole in each object,
but is able to see the sensual allurement of an object, and not see the
sensual hurt; he sees the mermaid’s head, but not the dragon’s tail; and
thinks he can cut off that which he would have, from that which he
would not have. “How secret art thou who dwellest in the highest
heavens in silence. O thou only great God, sprinkling with an unwearied
Providence certain penal blindnesses upon such as have unbridled
desires!” *001

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

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

A plain confession of the in-working of the All, and of its moral aim.
The Indian mythology ends in the same ethics; and indeed 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 so though
Tithonus is immortal, he is old. Achilles is not quite invulnerable; for
Thetis held him by the heel when she dipped him in the Styx, and the
sacred waters did not wash that part. Siegfried in the Nibelungen, is not
quite immortal, for a leaf fell on his back while he was bathing in the
Dragon’s blood, and that spot which it covered is mortal, And so it
always is. There is a crack in everything God has made. Always, it
would seem, there is 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
backstroke, this kick of the gun, certifying that the law is fatal; that in
Nature, nothing can be given, all things are sold.

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

This voice of fable has in it somewhat divine. It came from thought
above the will of the writer. That is the best part of each writer, which
has nothing private in it. That is the best part of each, which he does not
know, that which flowed out of his constitution, and not from his too
active invention; that which in the study of a single artist you might not,
easily find, but in the study of many, you would abstract as the spirit of
them all. Phidias it is not, but the work of man in that early Hellenic
world, that I would know. The name and circumstance of Phidias,
however convenient for history, embarrasses 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 Shakespeare, the organ
whereby man at the moment wrought.

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

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

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

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

You cannot do wrong without suffering wrong.

“No man had ever a point of pride that was not injurious to him,” said
Burke. The exclusive in fashionable life does not see that he excludes
himself from enjoyment, in the attempt to appropriate it. The
exclusionist in religion does not see that he shuts the door of heaven on
himself, in striving to shut out others. Treat man as pawns and ninepins,
and you shall suffer as they. If you leave out their heart, you shall lose
your own. The senses would make things of all persons; of women, of
children, of the poor. The vulgar proverb, “I will get it from his purse or
get it from his skin,” is sound philosophy.

All infractions of love and equity in our social relations are speedily
punished. They are punished by Fear. While I stand in simple relations
to my fellow man, I have no displeasure in meeting him. We meet as
water meets water, or a current of air meets another, 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 neighbor feels the wrong; he shrinks from me as
far as I have shrunk from him; his eyes no longer seek mine; there is war
between us; there is hate in him, and fear in me.

All these old abuses in society, the great and universal, and the petty
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 always teaches, that there is
rottenness where he appears. He is a carrion crow, and though you see
not well what he hovers for, there is death somewhere. Our property is
timid, our laws are timid, our cultivated classes are timid. Fear for ages
has boded, and mowed, and gibbered over our government and property.
That obscene bird is not there for nothing. He indicates great wrongs
which must be revised.

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

Experienced men of the world know very well that it is always 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
anything who has received a hundred favors and rendered none? Has he
gained by borrowing, through indolence or cunning, his neighbor’s
wares, or horses, or money? There arises on the deed the instant
acknowledgment of benefit on the one part, and of debt on the other; that
is, of superiority and inferiority. The transaction remains in the memory
of himself and his neighbor; and every new transaction alters, according
to its nature, their relation to each other. He may soon come to see that
he had better have broken his own bones than to have ridden in his
neighbor’s coach, and that “the highest price he can pay for a thing is to
ask for it.”

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

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

Human labor, through all its forms, from the sharpening of a stake to
the construction of a city or an epic, is one immense illustration of the
perfect compensation of the universe. Everywhere and always this law is
sublime. The absolute balance of Give and Take, the doctrine that
everything 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 anything
without its price, this doctrine is not less sublime in the columns of a
ledger 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 ever implicated in those processes with which he is
conversant, the stern ethics which sparkle on his chisel-edge, which are
measured out by his plumb and foot-rule, which stands as manifest in the
footing of the shop-bill as in the history of a state, do recommend to him
his trade, and though seldom named, exalt his business to his

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

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

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

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

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

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

The history of persecution is a history of endeavors to cheat nature, to
make water run up hill, to twist a rope of sand. It makes no difference
whether the actors be many or one, a tyrant or a mob. A mob is a society
of bodies voluntarily bereaving themselves of reason and traversing its
work. The mob is man voluntarily descending to the nature of the beast.
Its fit hour of activity is night. Its actions are insane like its whole
constitution. It persecutes a principle; it would whip a right; it would tar
and feather justice, by inflicting fire and outrage upon the houses and
persons of those who have these. It resembles the prank of boys who run
with fire-engines to put out the ruddy aurora streaming to the stars. The
inviolate spirit turns their spite against the wrong-doers. The martyr
cannot be dishonored. Every lash inflicted is a tongue of fame; every
prison a more illustrious abode; every burned book or house enlightens
the world; every suppressed or expunged word reverberates through the
earth from side to side. The minds of men are at last aroused; reason
looks out and justifies her own, and malice finds all her work vain. It is
the whipper who is whipped, and the tyrant who is undone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet the compensations of calamity are made apparent to the
understanding also, after long intervals of time. A fever, a mutilation, a
cruel disappointment, a loss of wealth, a loss of friends seems at the
moment unpaid loss, and unpayable. But the sure years reveal the deep
remedial force that underlies all facts. The death of a dear friend, wife,
brother, lover, which seemed nothing but privation, somewhat later
assumes the aspect of a guide or genius; for it commonly operates
revolutions in our way of life, terminates an epoch of infancy or of youth
which was waiting to be closed, breaks up a wonted occupation, or a
household, or style of living, and allows the formation of new ones more
friendly to the growth of character. It permits or constrains the formation
of new acquaintances, and the reception of new influences that prove of
the first importance to the next year; 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 banyan of the forest, yielding shade and fruit to
wide neighborhoods of men.

IV: Spiritual Laws

WHEN the act of reflection takes place in the mind, when we look at
ourselves in the light of thought, we discover that our life is embosomed
in beauty. Behind us, as we go, all things assume pleasing forms, as
clouds do far off. Not only things familiar and stale, but even the tragic
and terrible are comely, as they take their place in the pictures of
memory. The river-bank, the weed at the water-side, the old house, the
foolish person- however neglected in the passing- have a grace in the
past. Even the corpse that has lain in the chambers has added a solemn
ornament to the house. The soul will not know either deformity or pain.
If in the hour of clear reason we should speak the severest truth, we
should say, that we had never made a sacrifice. In these hours the mind
seems so great that nothing can be taken from us that seems much. All
loss, all pain is particular: the universe remains to the heart unhurt.
Distress never, trifles never abate our trust. No man ever stated his griefs
as lightly as he might. Allow for exaggeration in the most patient and
sorely ridden hack that ever was driven. For it is only the finite that has
wrought and suffered; the infinite lies stretched in smiling repose.

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

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

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

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

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

The face of external nature teaches the same lesson with calm
superiority. Nature will not have us fret and fume.

She does not like our benevolence or our learning, much better than she
likes our frauds and wars. When we come out of the caucus, or the bank,
or the Abolition convention, or the temperance meeting or the
Transcendental club, into the fields and woods, she says to us, “So hot?
my little sir.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He may have his own. A man’s genius, the quality that differences him
from every other, the susceptibility to one class of influences, the
selection of what is fit for him, the rejection of what is unfit, determines
for him the character of the universe. As a man thinketh, so is he, and as
a man chooseth, so is he and so is nature. A man is a method, a
progressive arrangement; a selecting principle, gathering his like to him,
wherever he goes. He takes only his own out of the multiplicity that
sweeps and circles round him. He is like one of those booms which are
set out from the shore on rivers to catch drift-wood, or like the loadstone
among splinters of steel.

Those facts, words, persons which dwell in his memory without his
being able to say why, remain, because they have a relation to him not
less real for being as yet unapprehended. They are symbols of value to
him, as they can interpret parts of his consciousness which he would
vainly seek words for in the conventional images of books and other
minds. What attracts my attention shall have it, as I will go to the man
who knocks at my door, while a thousand persons, as worthy, go by it, to
whom I give no regard. It is enough that these particulars speak to me. A
few anecdotes, a few traits of character, manners, face, a few incidents
have an emphasis in your memory out of all proportion to their apparent
significance, if you measure them by the ordinary standards. They relate
to your gift. Let them have their weight, and do not reject them and cast
about for illustration and facts more usual in literature. Respect them, for
they have their origin in deepest nature. What your heart thinks great, is
great. The soul’s emphasis is always right.

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

A mutual understanding is ever the firmest chain. Nothing seems so
easy as to speak and to be understood. Yet a man may come to find
(r)that the strongest of defenses and of ties- that he has been
understood; and he who has received an opinion, may come to find it the
most inconvenient of bonds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In like manner the effect of every action is measured by the depth of the
sentiments from which it proceeds. The great man knew not that he was
great. It took a century or two, for that fact to appear. What he did, he
did because he must: he used no election: it was the most natural thing in
the world, and grew out of the circumstances of the moment. But now
everything he did, even to the lifting of his finger, or the eating of bread,
looks large, all-related, and is called an institution.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I may say it of our preposterous use of books: He knew not what to do,
and so, (r)he read. I can think of nothing to fill my time with, and so,
without any constraint, I find the Life of Brant. It is a very extravagant
compliment to pay to Brant, or to General Schuyler, or to General
Washington. My time should be as good as their time; my world, my
facts, all my net of relations as good as theirs, or either of theirs. Rather
let me do my work so well that other idlers, if they choose, may compare
my texture with the texture of these and find it identical with the best.

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

We are the photometers, we the irritable gold-leaf and tin-foil that
measure the accumulations of the subtle element. We know the authentic
effects of the true fire through every one of its million disguises.

V: Love

EVERY soul is a celestial Venus to every other soul. The heart has its
sabbaths and jubilees, in which the world appears as a hymeneal feast,
and all natural sounds and the circle of the seasons are erotic odes and
dances. Love is omnipresent in nature as motive and reward. Love is our
highest word, and the synonym of God. Every promise of the soul has
innumerable fulfilments: each of its joys ripens into a new want. Nature,
uncontainable, flowing, forelooking, in the first sentiment of kindness
anticipates already a benevolence which shall lose all particular regards
in its general light. The introduction to this felicity is in a private and
tender relation of one to one, which is the enchantment of human life;
which, like a certain divine rage and enthusiasm, seizes on man at one
period, and works a revolution in his mind and body; unites him to his
race, pledges him to the domestic and civic relations, carries him with
new sympathy into nature, enhances the power of the senses, opens the
imagination, adds to his character heroic and sacred attributes,
establishes marriage, and gives permanence to human society.

The natural association of the sentiment of love with the heyday of the
blood, seems to require that in order to portray it in vivid tints which
every youth and maid should confess to be true to their throbbing
experience, one must not be too old. The delicious fancies of youth reject
the least savor of a mature philosophy, as chilling with age and pedantry
their purple bloom. And, therefore, I know I incur the imputation of
unnecessary hardness and stoicism from those who compose the Court
and Parliament of Love. But from these formidable censors I shall appeal
to my seniors. For, it is to be considered that this passion of which we
speak, though it begin with the young, yet forsakes not the old, or rather
suffers no one who is truly its servant to grow old, but makes the aged
participators of it, not less than the tender maiden, though in a different
and nobler sort. For, it is a fire that kindling its first embers in the
narrow nook of a private bosom, caught from a wandering spark out of
another private heart, glows and enlarges until it warms and beams upon
multitudes of men and women, upon the universal heart of all, and so
lights up the whole world and all nature with its generous flames. It
matters not, therefore, whether we attempt to describe the passion at
twenty, at thirty, or at eighty years. He who paints it at the first period,
will lose some of its later; he who paints it at the last, some of its earlier
traits. Only it is to be hoped that by patience and the muses’ aid, we may
attain to that inward view of the law, which shall describe a truth ever
young, every beautiful, so central that it shall commend itself to the eye
at whatever angle beholden.

And the first condition is, that we must leave a too close and lingering
adherence to the actual, to facts, and study the sentiment as it appeared
in hope and not in history. For, each man sees his own life defaced and
disfigured, as the life of man is not, to his imagination. Each man sees
over his own experience a certain slime of error, while that of other men
looks fair and ideal. Let any man go back to those delicious relations
which make the beauty of his life, which have given him sincerest
instruction and nourishment, he will shrink and shrink. Alas! I know not
why, but infinite compunctions embitter in mature life all the
remembrances of budding sentiment, and cover every beloved name.
Everything is beautiful seen from the point of the intellect, or as truth.
But all is sour, if seen as experience. Details are always melancholy; the
plan is seemly and noble. It is strange how painful is the actual world-
the painful kingdom of time and place. There dwells care and canker and
fear. With thought, with the ideal, is immortal hilarity, the rose of joy.
Round it all the muses sing. But with names and persons and the partial
interests of to-day and yesterday, is grief.

The strong bent of nature is seen in the proportion which this topic of
personal relations usurps in the conversation of society. What do we wish
to know of any worthy person so much as how he has sped in the history
of this sentiment? What books in the circulating libraries circulate? How
we glow over these novels of passion, when the story is told with any
spark of truth and nature! And what fastens attention, in the intercourse
of life, like any passage betraying affection between two parties? Perhaps
we never saw them before, and never shall meet them again. But we see
them exchange a glance, or betray a deep emotion, and we are no longer
strangers. We understand them, and take the warmest interest in the
development of the romance. All mankind love a lover. The earliest
demonstrations of complacency and kindness are nature’s most winning
pictures. It is the dawn of civility and grace in the coarse and rustic. The
rude village boy teases the girls about the schoolhouse door; but to-day
he comes running into the entry, and meets one fair child arranging her
satchel: he holds her books to help her, and instantly it seems to him as
if she removed herself from him infinitely, and was a sacred precinct.
Among the throng of girls he runs rudely enough, but one alone
distances him: and these two little neighbors that were so close just now,
have learned to respect each other’s personality. Or who can avert his
eyes from the engaging, half-artful, half artless ways of schoolgirls who
go into the country shops to buy a skein of silk or a sheet of paper, and
talk half an hour about nothing, with the broad-faced, good-natured
shop-boy. In the village, they are on a perfect equality, which love
delights in, and without any coquetry the happy, affectionate nature of
woman flows out in this pretty gossip. The girls may have little beauty,
yet plainly do they establish between them and the good boy the most
agreeable, confiding relations, what with their fun and their earnest,
about Edgar, and Jonas, and Almira, and who was invited to the party,
and who danced at the dancing-school, and when the singing-school
would begin, and other nothings concerning which the parties cooed. By-
and-by that boy wants a wife, and very truly and heartily will he know
where to find a sincere and sweet mate, without any risk such as Milton
deplores as incident to scholars and great men.

I have been told that my philosophy is unsocial, and, that in public
discourses, my reverence for the intellect makes me unjustly cold to the
personal relations. But now I almost shrink at the remembrance of such
disparaging words. For persons are love’s world, and the coldest
philosopher cannot recount the debt of the young soul wandering here in
nature to the power of love, without being tempted to unsay as
treasonable to nature, aught derogatory to the social instincts. For,
though the celestial rapture falling out of heaven seizes only upon those
of tender age, and although a beauty overpowering all analysis or
comparison, and putting us quite beside ourselves, we can seldom see
after thirty years, yet the remembrance of these visions outlasts all other
remembrances, and is a wreath of flowers on the oldest brows. But here
is a strange fact; it may seem to many men in revising their experience,
that they have no fairer page in their life’s book than the delicious
memory of some passages wherein affection contrived to give a
witchcraft surpassing the deep attraction of its own truth to a parcel of
accidental and trivial circumstances. In looking backward, they may find
that several things which were not the charm, have more reality to this
groping memory than the charm itself which embalmed them. But be our
experience in particulars what it may, no man ever forgot the visitations
of that power to his heart and brain, which created all things new; which
was the dawn in him of music, poetry and art; which made the face of
nature radiant with purple light; the morning and the night varied
enchantments; when a single tone of one voice could make the heart
beat, and the most trivial circumstance, associated with one form, is put
in the amber of memory; when we became all eye when one was present,
and all memory when one was gone, when the youth becomes a watcher
of windows, and studious of a glove, a veil, a ribbon, or the wheels of a
carriage; when no place is too solitary, and none too silent for him who
has richer company and sweeter conversation in his new thoughts, than
any old friends, though best and purest, can give him; for, the figures,
the motions, the words of the beloved object are not like other images
written in water, but, as Plutarch said, “enameled in fire,” and make the
study of midnight.

“Thou are not gone being gone, where e’er thou art,
Thou leav’st in him thy watchful eyes, in him thy loving

In the noon and the afternoon of life, we still throb at the recollection of
days when happiness was not happy enough, but must be drugged with
the relish of pain and fear; for he touched the secret of the matter, who
said of love,

“All other pleasures are not worth its pains:”

and when the day was not long enough, but the night too must be
consumed in keen recollections; when the head boiled all night on the
pillow with the generous deed it resolved on; when the moonlight was a
pleasing fever, and the stars were letters, and the flowers ciphers, and the
air was coined into song; when all business seemed an impertinence, and
all the men and women running to and fro in the streets, mere pictures.

The passion re-makes the world for the youth. It makes all things alive
and significant. Nature grows conscious. Every bird on the boughs of the
trees sings now to his heart and soul. Almost the notes are articulate.
The clouds have faces, as he looks on them. The trees of the forest, the
waving grass and the peeping flowers have grown intelligent; and almost
he fears to trust them with the secret which they seem to invite. Yet
nature soothes and sympathizes. In the green solitude he finds a dearer
home than with men.

“Fountain heads and pathless groves,
Places which pale passion loves,
Moonlight walks, when all the fowls
Are safely housed, save bats and owls,
A midnight bell, a passing groan,
These are the sounds we feed upon.”

Behold there in the wood the fine madman! He is a palace of sweet
sounds and sights; he dilates; he is twice a man; he walks with arms
akimbo; he soliloquizes; he accosts the grass and the trees; he feels the
blood of the violet, the clover and the lily in his veins; and he talks with
the brook that wets his foot.

The causes that have sharpened his perceptions of natural beauty, have
made him love music and verse. It is a fact often observed, that men have
written good verses under the inspiration of passion, who cannot write
well under any other circumstances.

The like force has the passion over all his nature. It expands the
sentiment; it makes the clown gentle, and gives the coward heart. Into
the most pitiful and abject it will infuse a heart and courage to defy the
world, so only it have the countenance of the beloved object. In giving
him to another, it still more gives him to himself. He is a new man, with
new perceptions, new and keener purposes, and a religious solemnity of
character and aims. He does not longer appertain to his family and
society. (r)He is somewhat. (r)He is a person. (r)He is a soul.

And here let us examine a little nearer the nature of that influence
which is thus potent over the human youth. Let us approach and admire
Beauty, whose revelation to man we now celebrate- beauty, welcome as
the sun wherever it pleases to shine, which pleases everybody with it and
with themselves. Wonderful is its charm. It seems sufficient to itself. The
lover cannot paint his maiden to his fancy poor and solitary. Like a tree
in flower, so much soft, budding, informing loveliness is society for
itself, and she teaches his eye why Beauty was ever painted with Loves
and Graces attending her steps. Her existence makes the world rich.
Though she extrudes all other persons from his attention as cheap and
unworthy, yet she indemnifies him by carrying out her own being into
somewhat impersonal, large, mundane, so that the maiden stands to him
for a representative of all select things and virtues. For that reason the
lover sees never personal resemblances in his mistress to her kindred or
to others. His friends find in her a likeness to her mother, or her sisters,
or to persons not of her blood. The lover sees no resemblance except to
summer evenings and diamond mornings, to rainbows and the song of

Beauty is ever that divine thing the ancients esteemed it. It is, they said,
the flowering of virtue. Who can analyze the nameless charm which
glances from one and another face and form? We are touched with
emotions of tenderness and complacency, but we cannot find whereat
this dainty emotion, this wandering gleam points. It is destroyed for the
imagination by any attempt to refer it to organization. Nor does it point
to any relations of friendship or love that society knows and has, but, as
it seems to me, to a quite other and unattainable sphere, to relations of
transcendent delicacy and sweetness, a true fairy land; to what roses and
violets hint and foreshow. We cannot get at beauty. Its nature is like
opaline doves’-neck lusters, hovering and evanescent. Herein it
resembles the most excellent things, which all have this rainbow
character, defying all attempts at appropriation and use. What else did
Jean Paul Richter signify, when he said to music, “Away! away! thou
speakest to me of things which in all my endless life I have found not,
and shall not find.” The same fact may be observed in every work of the
plastic arts. The statue is then beautiful, when it begins to be
incomprehensible, when it is passing out of criticism, and can no longer
be defined by compass and measuring wand, but demands an active
imagination to go with it, and to say what it is in the act of doing. The
God or hero of the sculptor is always represented in a transition (r)from
that which is representable to the senses, (r)to that which is not. Then
first it ceases to be a stone. The same remark holds of painting. And of
poetry, the success is not attained when it lulls and satisfies, but when it
astonishes and fires us with new endeavors after the unattainable,
Concerning it, Landor inquires “whether it is not to be referred to some
purer state of sensation and existence.”

So must it be with personal beauty, which love worships. Then first is it
charming and itself, when it dissatisfies us with any end; when it
becomes a story without an end; when it suggests gleams and visions,
and not earthly satisfactions; when it seems

Too bright and good.
For human nature’s daily food;”

when it makes the beholder feel his unworthiness when he cannot feel
his right to it, though he were Caesar; he cannot feel more right to it,
than to the firmament and the splendors of a sunset.

Hence arose the saying: “If I love you, what is that to you?” We say so,
because we feel that what we love, is not in your will, but above it. It is
the radiance of you and not you. It is that which you know not in
yourself, and can never know.

This agrees well with that high philosophy of Beauty which the ancient
writers delighted in; for they said, that the soul of man, embodied here
on earth, went roaming up and down in quest of that other world of its
own, out of which it came into this, but was soon stupefied by the light of
the natural sun, and unable to see any other objects than those of this
world, which are but shadows of real things. Therefore, the Deity sends
the glory of youth before the soul, that it may avail itself of beautiful
bodies as aids to its recollection of the celestial good and fair; and the
man beholding such a person in the female sex, runs to her, and finds
the highest joy in contemplating the form, movement and intelligence of
this person, because it suggests to him the presence of that which indeed
is within the beauty, and the cause of the beauty.

If, however, from too much conversing with material objects, the soul
was gross, and misplaced its satisfaction in the body, it reaped nothing
but sorrow; body being unable to fulfil the promise which beauty holds
out; but if, accepting the hint of these visions and suggestions which
beauty makes to his mind, the soul passes through the body, and fails to
admire strokes of character, and the lovers contemplate one another in
their discourses and their actions, then they pass to the true palace of
Beauty, more and more inflame their love of it, and by this love
extinguishing the base affection, as the sun puts out the fire by shining
on the hearth, they become pure and hallowed. By conversation with that
which is in itself excellent, magnanimous, lowly and just, the lover
comes to a warmer love of these nobilities, and a quicker apprehension
of them. Then, he passes from loving them in one, to loving them in all,
and so is the one beautiful soul only the door through which he enters to
the society of all true and pure souls. In the particular society of his
mate, he attains a clearer sight of any spot, any taint, which her beauty
has contracted from this world, and is able to point it out, and this with
mutual joy that they are now able without offense to indicate blemishes
and hinderances in each other, and give to each all help and comfort in
curing the same. And, beholding in many souls the traits of the divine
beauty, and separating in each soul that which is divine from the taint
which they have contracted in the world, the lover ascends ever to the
highest beauty, to the love and knowledge of the Divinity, by steps on
this ladder of created souls.

Somewhat like this have the truly wise told us of love in all ages. The
doctrine is not old, nor is it new. If Plato, Plutarch and Apuleius taught
it, so have Petrarch, Angelo and Milton. It awaits a truer unfolding in
opposition and rebuke to that subterranean prudence which presides at
marriages with words that take hold of the upper world, while one eye is
eternally boring down into the cellar, so that its gravest discourse has
ever a slight savor of hams and powdering-tubs. Worst, when the snout
of this sensualism intrudes into the education of young women, and
withers the hope and affection of human nature, by teaching that
marriage signifies nothing but a housewife’s thrift, and that woman’s life
has no other aim.

But this dream of love, though beautiful, is only one scene in our play.
In the procession of the soul from within outward, it enlarges its circles
ever, like the pebble thrown into the pond, or the light proceeding from
an orb. The rays of the soul alight first on things nearest, on every
utensil and toy, on nurses and domestics, on the house and yard and
passengers, on the circle of household acquaintance, on politics, and
geography, and history. But by the necessity of our constitution, things
are ever grouping themselves according to higher or more interior laws.
Neighborhood, size, numbers, habits, persons, lose by degrees their
power over us. Cause and effect, real affinities, the longing for harmony
between the soul and the circumstance, the highest progressive
idealizing instinct, these predominate later, and ever the step backward
from the higher to the lower relations is impossible. Thus even love,
which is the deification of persons, must become more impersonal every
day. Of this at first it gives no hint. Little think the youth and maiden
who are glancing at each other across crowded rooms, with eyes so full
of mutual intelligence- of the precious fruit long hereafter to proceed
from this new quite external stimulus. The work of vegetation begins
first in the irritability of the bark and leaf-buds. From exchanging
glances, they advance to acts of courtesy, of gallantry, then to fiery
passion, to plighting troth and marriage. Passion beholds its object as a
perfect unit. The soul is wholly embodied, and the body is wholly

“Her pure and eloquent blood
Spoke in her cheeks, and so distinctly wrought,
That one might almost say her body thought.”

Romeo, if dead, should be cut up into little stars to make the heavens
fine. Life, with this pair, has no other aim, asks no more than Juliet-
than Romeo. Night, day, studies, talents, kingdoms, religion, are all
contained in this form full of soul, in this soul which is all form. The
lovers delight in endearments, in avowals of love, in comparisons of
their regards. When alone, they solace themselves with the remembered
image of the other. Does that other see the same star, the same melting
cloud, read the same book, feel the same emotion that now delight me?
They try and weigh their affection, and adding up all costly advantages,
friends, opportunities, properties, exult in discovering that willingly,
joyfully, they would give all as a ransom for the beautiful, the beloved
head, not one hair of which shall be harmed. But the lot of humanity is
on these children. Danger, sorrow, and pain arrive to them, as to all.
Love prays. It makes covenants with Eternal Power, in behalf of this dear
mate. The union which is thus affected, and which adds a new value to
every atom in nature, for it transmutes every thread throughout the
whole web of relation into a golden ray, and bathes the soul in a new and
sweeter element, is yet a temporary state. Not always can flowers, pearls,
poetry, protestations, nor even home in another heart, content the awful
soul that dwells in clay. It arouses itself at last from these endearments,
as toys, and puts on the harness, and aspires to vast and universal aims.
The soul which is in the soul of each, craving for a perfect beatitude,
detects incongruities, defects, and disproportion in the behavior of the
other. Hence arises surprise, expostulation, and pain. Yet that which
drew them to each other was signs of loveliness, signs of virtue: and
these virtues are there, however eclipsed. They appear and reappear, and
continue to attract; but the regard changes, quits the sign, and attaches to
the substance. This repairs the wounded affection. Meantime, as life
wears on, it proves a game of permutation and combination of all
possible positions of the parties, to extort all the resources of each, and
acquaint each with the whole strength and weakness of the other. For, it
is the nature and end of this relation, that they should represent the
human race to each other. All that is in the world which is or ought to be
known, is cunningly wrought into the texture of man, of woman.

“The person love does to us fit,
Like manna, has the taste of all in it.”

The world rolls: the circumstances vary, every hour. All the angels that
inhabit this temple of the body appear at the windows, and all the
gnomes and vices also. By all the virtues, they are united. If there be
virtue, all the vices are known as such; they confess and flee. Their once
flaming regard is sobered by time in either breast, and losing in violence
what it gains in extent, it becomes a thorough good understanding. They
resign each other, without complaint, to the good offices which man and
woman are severally appointed to discharge in time, and exchange the
passion which once could not lose sight of its object, for a cheerful,
disengaged furtherance, whether present or absent, of each other’s
designs. At last they discover that all which at first drew them together-
those once sacred features, that magical play of charms- was deciduous,
had a prospective end, like the scaffolding by which the house was built;
and the purification of the intellect and the heart, from year to year, is
the real marriage, foreseen and prepared from the first, and wholly above
their consciousness. Looking at these aims with which two persons, a
man and a woman, so variously and correlatively gifted, are shut up in
one house to spend in the nuptial society forty or fifty years, I do not
wonder at the emphasis with which the heart prophesies this crisis from
early infancy, at the profuse beauty with which the instincts deck the
nuptial bower, and nature and intellect and art emulate each other in the
gifts and the melody they bring to the epithalamium.

Thus are we put in training for a love which knows not sex, nor person,
nor partiality, but which seeketh virtue and wisdom everywhere, to the
end of increasing virtue and wisdom. We are by nature observers, and
thereby learners. That is our permanent state. But we are often made to
feel that our affections are but tents of a night. Though slowly and with
pain, the objects of the affections change, as the objects of thought do,
there are moments when the affections rule and absorb the man, and
make his happiness dependent on a person or persons. But in health the
mind is presently seen again- its overarching vault, bright with galaxies
of immutable lights, and the warm loves and fears that swept over us as
clouds, must lose their finite character, and blend with God, to attain
their own perfection. But we need not fear that we can lose anything by
the progress of the soul. The soul may be trusted to the end. That which
is so beautiful and attractive as these relations, must be succeeded and
supplanted only by what is more beautiful, and so on forever.

VI: Friendship

WE HAVE a great deal more kindness than is ever spoken. Barring 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 yet we
honor, and who honor us! How many we see in the street, or sit with in
church, whom, though silently, we warmly rejoice to be with! Read the
language of these wandering eye-beams. The heart knoweth.

The effect of the indulgence of this human affection is a certain cordial
exhilaration. In poetry, and in common speech, the emotions of
benevolence and complacency which are felt toward others, are likened
to the material effects of fire; so swift, or much more swift, more active,
more cheering are these fine inward irradiations. From the highest
degree of passionate love, to the lowest degree of good will, they make
the sweetness of life.

Our intellectual and active powers increase with our affection. The
scholar sits down to write, and all his years of meditation do not furnish
him with one good thought or happy expression; but it is necessary to
write a letter to a friend, and, forthwith, troops of gentle thoughts invest
themselves, on every hand, with chosen words. See in any house where
virtue and self-respect abide, the palpitation which the approach of a
stranger causes. A commended stranger is expected and announced, and
an uneasiness between pleasure and pain invades all the hearts of a
household. His arrival almost brings fear to the good hearts that would
welcome him. The house is dusted, all things fly into their places, the old
coat is exchanged for the new, and they must get up a dinner if they can.
Of a commended stranger, only the good report is told by others, only the
good and new is heard by us. He stands to us for humanity. He is, what
we wish. Having imagined and invested him, we ask how we should
stand related in conversation and action with such a man, and are uneasy
with fear. The same idea exalts conversation with him. We talk better
than we are wont. We have the nimblest fancy, a richer memory, and our
dumb devil has taken leave for the time. For long hours we can continue
a series of sincere, graceful, rich communications, drawn from the
oldest, secretest experience, so that they who sit by, of our own kinsfolk
and acquaintance, shall feel a lively surprise at our unusual powers. But
as soon as the stranger begins to intrude his partialities, his definitions,
his defects, into the conversation, it is all over. He has heard the first, the
last and best, he will ever hear from us. He is no stranger now.
Vulgarity, ignorance, misapprehension, are old acquaintances. Now,
when he comes, he may get the order, the dress, and the dinner, but the
throbbing of the heart, and the communications of the soul, no more.

Pleasant are these jets of affection which relume a young world for me
again. Delicious is a just and firm encounter of two, in a thought, in a
feeling. How beautiful, on their approach to this beating heart, the steps
and forms of the gifted and the true! The moment we indulge our
affections, the earth is metamorphosed: there is no winter, and no night:
all tragedies, all ennuis vanish; all duties even; nothing fills the
proceeding eternity but the forms all radiant of beloved persons. Let the
soul be assured that somewhere in the universe it should rejoin its friend,
and it would be content and cheerful alone for a thousand years.

I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old
and the new. Shall I not call God, the Beautiful, who daily showeth
himself so to me in his gifts? I chide society, I embrace solitude, and yet
I am not so ungrateful as not to see the wise, the lovely, and the noble-
minded, as from time to time they pass my gate. Who hears me, who
understands me, becomes mine- a possession for all time. Nor is nature
so poor, but she gives me this joy several times, and thus we weave social
threads of our own, a new web of relations; and, as many thoughts in
succession substantiate themselves, we shall by-and-by stand in a new
world of our own creation, and no longer strangers and pilgrims in a
traditionary globe. My friends have come to me unsought. The great God
gave them to me. By oldest right, by the divine affinity of virtue with
itself, I find them, or rather, not I, but the Deity in me and in them, both
deride and cancel the thick walls of individual character, relation, age,
sex and circumstance, at which he usually connives, and now makes
many one. High thanks I owe you, excellent lovers, who carry out the
world for me to new and noble depths, and enlarge the meaning of all
my thoughts. These are not stark and stiffened persons, but the newborn
poetry of God- poetry without stop- hymn, ode and epic, poetry still
flowing, and not yet caked in dead books with annotation and grammar,
but Apollo and the Muses chanting still. Will these two separate
themselves from me again, or some of them? I know not, but I fear it not;
for my relation to them is so pure, that we hold by simple affinity, and
the Genius of my life being thus social, the same affinity will exert its
energy on whomsoever is as noble as these men and women, wherever I
may be.

I confess to an extreme tenderness of nature on this point. It is almost
dangerous to me to “crush the sweet poison of misused wine” of the
affections. A new person is to me always a great event, and hinders me
from sleep. I have had such fine fancies lately about two or three
persons, as have given me delicious hours; but the joy ends in the day: it
yields no fruit. Thought is not born of it; my action is very little
modified. I must feel pride in my friend’s accomplishments as if they
were mine- wild, delicate, throbbing property in his virtues. I feel as
warmly when he is praised, as the lover when he hears applause of his
engaged maiden. We overestimate the conscience of our friend. His
goodness seems better than our goodness, his nature finer, his
temptations less. Everything that is his, his name, his form, his dress,
books and instruments, fancy enhances. Our own thought sounds new
and larger from his mouth.

Yet the systole and diastole of the heart are not without their analogy in
the ebb and flow of love. Friendship, like the immortality of the soul, is
too good to be believed. The lover, beholding his maiden, half knows
that she is not verily that which he worships; and in the golden hour of
friendship, we are surprised with shades of suspicion and unbelief. We
doubt that we bestow on our hero the virtues in which he shines, and
afterward worship the form to which we have ascribed this divine
inhabitation. In strictness, the soul does not respect men as it respects
itself. In strict science, all persons underlie the same condition of an
infinite remoteness. Shall we fear to cool our love by facing the fact, by
mining for the metaphysical foundation of this Elysian temple? Shall I
not be as real as the things I see? If I am, I shall not fear to know them
for what they are. Their essence is not less beautiful than their
appearance, though it needs finer organs for its apprehension. The root
of the plant is not unsightly to science, though for chaplets and festoons
we cut the stem short. And I must hazard the production of the bald fact
amid these pleasing reveries, though it should prove an Egyptian skull at
our banquet. A man who stands united with his thought, conceives
magnificently to himself. He is conscious of a universal success even
though bought by uniform particular failures. No advantages, no powers,
no gold or force can be any match for him. I cannot choose but rely on
my own property, more than on your wealth. I cannot make your
consciousness tantamount to mine. Only the star dazzles; the planet has
a faint, moonlike ray. I hear what you say of the admirable parts and
tried temper of the party you praise, but I see well that for all his purple
cloaks I shall not like him, unless he is at last a poor Greek like me. I
cannot deny it, O friend, that the vast shadow of the phenomenal
includes thee, also, in its pied and painted immensity- thee, also,
compared with whom all else is shadow. Thou art not Being, as Truth is,
as Justice is- thou art not my soul, but a picture and effigy of that. Thou
hast come to me lately, and already thou art seizing thy hat and cloak. Is
it not that the soul puts forth friends, as the tree puts forth leaves, and
presently, by the germination of new buds, extrudes the old leaf? The law
of nature is alternation forevermore. Each electrical state superinduces
the opposite. The soul environs itself with friends, that it may enter into
a grander self-acquaintance or solitude; and it goes alone, for a season,
that it may exalt its conversation or society. This method betrays itself
along the whole history of our personal relations. Ever the instinct of
affection revives the hope of union with our mates, and ever the
returning sense of insulation recalls us from the chase. Thus every man
passes his life in the search after friendship, and if he should record his
true sentiment, he might write a letter like this, to each new candidate
for his love:

If I was sure of thee, sure of thy capacity, sure to match my mood with
thine, I should never think again of trifles, in relation to thy comings and
goings. I am not very wise: my moods are quite attainable: and I respect
thy genius: it is to me as yet unfathomed; yet dare I not presume in thee a
perfect intelligence of me, and so thou art to me a delicious torment.
Thine ever, or never.

Yet these uneasy pleasures and fine pains are for curiosity, and not for
life. They are not to be indulged. This is to weave cobweb, and not cloth.
Our friendships hurry to short and poor conclusions, because we have
made them a texture of wine and dreams instead of the tough fiber of the
human heart. The laws of friendship are great, austere, and eternal, of
one web with the laws of nature and of morals. But we have aimed at a
swift and petty benefit, to suck a sudden sweetness. We snatch at the
slowest fruit in the whole garden of God, which many summers and
many winters must ripen. We seek our friend not sacredly but with an
adulterate passion which would appropriate him to ourselves. In vain.
We are armed all over with subtle antagonisms, which, as soon as we
meet, begin to play, and translate all poetry into stale prose. Almost all
people descend to meet. All association must be a compromise, and,
what is worst, the very flower and aroma of the flower of each of the
beautiful natures disappears as they approach each other. What a
perpetual disappointment is actual society, even of the virtuous and
gifted! After interviews have been compassed with long foresight, we
must be tormented presently by baffled blows, by sudden, unseasonable
apathies, by epilepsies of wit and of animal spirits, in the heyday of
friendship and thought. Our faculties do not play us true, and both
parties are relieved by solitude.

I ought to be equal to every relation. It makes no difference how many
friends I have, and what content I can find in conversing with each, if
there be one to whom I am not equal. If I have shrunk unequal from one
contest instantly the joy I find in all the rest becomes mean and
cowardly. I should hate myself, if then I made my other friends my

“The valiant warrior famoused for fight,
After a hundred victories, once foiled,
Is from the book of honor razed quite,
And all the rest forgot for which he toiled.”

Our impatience is thus sharply rebuked. Bashfulness and apathy are a
tough husk in which a delicate organization is protected from premature
ripening. It would be lost if it knew itself before any of the best souls
were yet ripe enough to know and own it. Respect the
(r)naturlangsamkeit which hardens the ruby in a million years, and
works in duration, in which Alps and Andes come and go as rainbows.
The good spirit of our life has no heaven which is the price of rashness.
Love, which is the essence of God, is not for levity, but for the total
worth of man. Let us not have this childish luxury in our regards; but the
austerest worth; let us approach our friend with an audacious trust in the
truth of his heart, in the breadth, impossible to be overturned, of his

The attractions of this subject are not to be resisted, and I leave, for the
time, all account of subordinate social benefit, to speak of that select and
sacred relation which is a kind of absolute, and which even leaves the
language of love suspicious and common, so much is this purer, and
nothing is so much divine.

I do not wish to treat friendships daintily, but with roughest courage.
When they are real, they are not glass threads or frost-work, but the
solidest thing we know. For now, after so many ages of experience, what
do we know of nature, or of ourselves? Not one step has man taken
toward the solution of the problem of his destiny. In one condemnation
of folly stand the whole universe of men. But the sweet sincerity of joy
and peace, which I draw from this alliance with my brother’s soul, is the
nut itself whereof all nature and all thought is but the husk and shell.
Happy is the house that shelters a friend! It might well be built, like a
festal bower or arch, to entertain him a single day. Happier, if he know
the solemnity of that relation, and honor its law! It is no idle band, no
holiday engagement. He who offers himself a candidate for that covenant
comes up, like an Olympian, to the great games, where the first-born of
the world are the competitors. He proposes himself for contests where
Time, Want, Danger are in the lists, and he alone is victor who has truth
enough in his constitution to preserve the delicacy of his beauty from the
wear and tear of all these. The gifts of fortune may be present or absent,
but all the hap in that contest depends on intrinsic nobleness, and the
contempt of trifles. There are two elements that go to the composition of
friendship, each so sovereign, that I can detect no superiority in either,
no reason why either should be first named. One is Truth. A friend is a
person with whom I may be sincere. Before him, I may think aloud. I am
arrived at last in the presence of a man so real and equal that I may drop
even those undermost garments of dissimulation, courtesy, and second
thought, which men never put off, and may deal with him with the
simplicity and wholeness, with which one chemical atom meets another.
Sincerity is the luxury allowed, like diadems and authority, only to the
highest rank, (r)that being permitted to speak truth, as having none
above it to court or conform unto. Every man alone is sincere. At the
entrance of a second person, hypocrisy begins. We parry and fend the
approach of our fellow man by compliments, by gossip, by amusements,
by affairs. We cover up our thought from him under a hundred folds. I
knew a man who, under a certain religious frenzy, cast off his drapery
and omitting all compliments and commonplace, spoke to the conscience
of every person he encountered, and that with great insight and beauty.
At first he was resisted, and all men agreed he was mad. But persisting,
as indeed he could not help doing, for some time in this course, he
attained to the advantage of bringing every man of his acquaintance into
true relations with him. No man would think of speaking falsely with
him, or of putting him off with any chat of markets or reading-rooms.
But every man was constrained by so much sincerity to face him, and
what love of nature, what poetry, what symbol of truth he had, he did
certainly show him. But to most of us society shows not its face and eye,
but its side and its back. To stand in true relations with men in a false
age, is worth a fit of insanity, is it not? We can seldom go erect. Almost
every man we meet requires some civility, requires to be humored- he
has some fame, some talent, some whim of religion or philanthropy in
his head that is not to be questioned, and so spoils all conversation with
him. But a friend is a sane man who exercises not my ingenuity but me.
My friend gives me entertainment without requiring me to stoop, or to
lisp, or to mask myself. A friend, therefore, is a sort of paradox in
nature. I who alone am, I who see nothing in nature whose existence I
can affirm with equal evidence to my own, behold now the semblance of
my being in all its height, variety and curiosity, reiterated in a foreign
form; so that a friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.

The other element of friendship is Tenderness. We are holden to men
by every sort of tie, by blood, by pride, by fear, by hope, by lucre, by lust,
by hate, by admiration, by every circumstance and badge and trifle, but
we can scarce believe that so much character can subsist in another as to
draw us by love. Can another be so blessed, and we so pure, that we can
offer him tenderness? When a man becomes dear to me, I have touched
the goal of fortune. I find very little written directly to the heart of this
matter in books. And yet I have one text which I cannot choose but
remember. My author says, “I offer myself faintly and bluntly to those
whose I effectually am, and tender myself least to him to whom I am the
most devoted.” I wish that friendship should have feet, as well as eyes
and eloquence. It must plant itself on the ground, before it walks 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 neighborhood; it watches with the
sick; it holds the pall at the funeral; and quite loses sight of the
delicacies and nobility of the relation. But though we cannot find the god
under this disguise of a sutler, yet, on the other hand, we cannot forgive
the poet if he spins his thread too fine, and does not substantiate his
romance by the municipal virtues of justice, punctuality, fidelity and pity.
I hate the prostitution of the name of friendship to signify modish and
worldly alliances. I much prefer the company of plow-boys and tin-
peddlers, to the silken and perfumed amity which only celebrates its days
of encounter by a frivolous display, by rides in a curricle, and dinners at
the best taverns. The end of friendship is a commerce the most strict and
homely that can be joined; more strict than any of which we have
experience. It is for aid and comfort through all the relations and
passages of life and death. It is fit for serene days, and graceful gifts, and
country rambles, but also for rough roads and hard fare, shipwreck,
poverty, and persecution. It keeps company with the sallies of the wit and
the trances of religion. We are to dignify to each other the daily needs
and offices of man’s life, and embellish it by courage, wisdom and unity.
It should never fall into something usual and settled, but should be alert
and inventive, and add rhyme and reason to what was drudgery.

For perfect friendship it may be said to require natures so rare and
costly, so well tempered each, and so happily adapted, and withal so
circumstanced (for even in that particular, a poet says, love demands that
the parties be altogether paired), that very seldom can its satisfaction be
realized. It cannot subsist in its perfection, say some of those who are
learned in this warm lore of the heart, betwixt more than two. I am not
quite so strict in my terms, perhaps because I have never known so high
a fellowship as others. I please my imagination more with a circle of
godlike men and women variously related to each other, and between
whom subsists a lofty intelligence. But I find this law of (r)one to one,
peremptory for conversation, which is the practice and consummation of
friendship. Do not mix waters too much. The best mix as ill as good and
bad. You shall have very useful and cheering discourse at several times
with two several men, but let all three of you come together, and you
shall not have one new and hearty word. Two may talk and one may
hear, but three cannot take part in a conversation of the most sincere and
searching sort. In good company there is never such discourse between
two, across the table, as takes place when you leave them alone. In good
company, the individuals at once merge their egotism into a social soul
exactly co-extensive with the several consciousnesses there present. No
partialities of friend to friend, no fondnesses of brother to sister, of wife
to husband, are there pertinent, but quite otherwise. Only he may then
speak who can sail on the common thought of the party, and not poorly
limited to his own. Now this convention, which good sense demands,
destroys the high freedom of great conversation, which requires an
absolute running of two souls into one.

No two men but being left alone with each other, enter into simpler
relations. Yet it is affinity that determines (r)which two shall converse.
Unrelated men give little joy to each other; will never suspect the latent
powers of each. We talk sometimes of a great talent for conversation, as
if it were a permanent property in some individuals. Conversation is an
evanescent relation- no more. A man is reputed to have thought and
eloquence; he cannot, for all that, say a word to his cousin or his uncle.
They accuse his silence with as much reason as they would blame the
insignificance of a dial in the shade. In the sun it will mark the hour.
Among those who enjoy his thought, he will regain his tongue.

Friendship requires that rare mean betwixt likeness and unlikeness, that
piques each with the presence of power and of consent in the other party.
Let me be alone to the end of the world, rather than that my friend
should overstep by a word or a look his real sympathy. I am equally
balked by antagonism and by compliance. Let him not cease an instant to
be himself. The only joy I have in his being mine, is that the (r)not
mine is (r)mine. It turns the stomach, it blots the daylight; where I
looked for a manly furtherance, or at least a manly resistance, to find a
mush of concession. Better be a nettle in the side of your friend, than his
echo. The condition which high friendship demands is ability to do
without it. To be capable of that high office requires great and sublime
parts. There must be very two before there can be very one. Let it be an
alliance of two large formidable natures, mutually beheld, mutually
feared, before yet they recognize the deep identity which beneath these
disparities unites them.

He only is fit for this society who is magnanimous. He must be so, to
know its law. He must be one who is sure that greatness and goodness
are always economy. He must be one who is not swift to intermeddle
with his fortunes. Let him not dare to intermeddle with this. Leave to the
diamond its ages to grow, nor expect to accelerate the births of the
eternal. Friendship demands a religious treatment. We must not be
wilful, we must not provide. 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, if he be a man, he has merits that are not yours, and
that you cannot honor, if you must needs hold him close to your person.
Stand aside. Give those merits room. Let them mount and expand. Be
not so much his friend that you can never know his peculiar energies,
like fond mammas who shut up their boy in the house until he is almost
grown a girl. Are you the friend of your friend’s buttons, or of his
thought? To a great heart he will still be a stranger in a thousand
particulars, that he may come near in the holiest ground. Leave it to girls
and boys to regard a friend as property, and to suck a short and all-
confounding pleasure instead of the pure nectar of God.

Let us buy our entrance to this guild by a long probation. Why should
we desecrate noble and beautiful souls by intruding on them? Why insist
on rash personal relations with your friend? Why go to his house, or
know his mother and brother and sisters? Why be visited by him at your
own? Are these things material to our covenant? Leave this touching and
clawing. Let him be to me a spirit. A message, a thought, a sincerity, a
glance from him I want, but not news, nor pottage. I can get politics, and
chat, and neighborly conveniences, from cheaper companions. Should
not the society of my friend be to me poetic, pure, universal, and great as
nature itself? Ought I to feel that our tie is profane in comparison with
yonder bar of cloud that sleeps on the horizon, or that clump of waving
grass that divides the brook? Let us not vilify but raise it to that standard.
That great defying eye, that scornful beauty of his mien and action, do
not pique yourself on reducing, but rather fortify and enhance. Worship
his superiorities. Wish him not less by a thought, but hoard and tell them
all. Guard him as thy great counterpart; have a princedom to thy friend.
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 too near. To my friend I write a letter, and from him I
receive a letter. That seems to you a little. Me it suffices. It is a spiritual
gift worthy of him to give and of me to receive. It profanes nobody. In
these warm lines the heart will trust itself, as it will not to the tongue,
and pour out the prophesy of a godlier existence than all the annals of
heroism have yet made good.

Respect so far the holy laws of this fellowship as not to prejudice its
perfect flower by your impatience for its opening. We must be our own
before we can be another’s. There is at least this satisfaction in crime,
according to the Latin proverb: you can speak to your accomplice on
even terms. (r)Crimen quos inquinat, aequat. To those whom we
admire and love, at first we cannot. Yet the least defect of self-possession
vitiates, in my judgment, the entire relation. There can never be deep
peace between two spirits, never mutual respect until, in their dialogue,
each stands for the whole world.

What is so great as friendship, let us carry with what grandeur of spirit
we can. Let us be silent- so we may hear the whisper of the gods. Let us
not interfere. Who set you to cast about what you should say to the select
souls, or to say anything to such? No matter how in genius, 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 soul
shall speak. Wait until the necessary and everlasting overpowers you,
until day and night avail themselves of your lips. The only money of God
is God. He pays never with anything less or anything else. The only
reward of virtue, is virtue: the only way to have a friend, is to be one.
Vain to hope to come nearer a man by getting into his house. If unlike,
his soul only flees the faster from you, and you shall catch never a true
glance of his eye. We see the noble afar off, and they repel us; why
should we intrude? Late- very late- we perceive that no arrangements, no
introductions, no consuetudes, or habits of society, would be of any avail
to establish us in such relations with them as we desire- but solely the
uprise of nature in us to the same degree it is in them: then shall we meet
as water with water: and if we should not meet them then, we shall not
want them, for we are already they. In the last analysis, love is only the
reflection of a man’s own worthiness from other men. Men have
sometimes exchanged names with their friends, as if they would signify
that in their friend each loved his own soul.

The higher the style we demand of friendship, of course the less easy to
establish it with flesh and blood. We walk alone in the world. Friends,
such as we desire, are dreams and fables. But a sublime hope cheers ever
the faithful heart, that elsewhere, in other regions of the universal power,
souls are now acting, enduring and daring, which can love us, and which
we can love. We may congratulate ourselves that the period of nonage, of
follies, of blunders, and of shame is passed in solitude, and when we are
finished men, we shall grasp heroic hands in heroic hands. Only be
admonished by what you already see, not to strike leagues of friendship
with cheap persons, where no friendship can be. Our impatience betrays
us into rash and foolish alliances which no God attends. By persisting in
your path, though you forfeit the little, you gain the great. You become
pronounced. You demonstrate yourself, so as to put yourself out of the
reach of false relations, and you draw to you the first-born of the world,
those rare pilgrims whereof only one or two wander in nature at once,
and before whom the vulgar great show as specters and shadows merely.

It is foolish to be afraid of making our ties too spiritual, as if so we
could lose any genuine love. Whatever correction of our popular views
we make from insight, nature will be sure to bear us out in, and though it
seem to rob us of some joy, will repay us with a greater. Let us feel, if we
will, the absolute insulation of man. We are sure that we have all in us.
We go to Europe, or we pursue persons, or we read books, in the
instinctive faith that these will call it out and reveal us to ourselves.
Beggars all. The persons are such as we; the Europe, an old faded
garment of dead persons; the books, their ghosts. Let us drop this
idolatry. Let us give over this mendicancy. Let us even bid our dearest
friends farewell, and defy them, saying, “Who are you? Unhand me. I
will be dependent no more.” Ah! seest thou not, O brother, that thus we
part only to meet again on a higher platform, and only be more each
other’s, because we are more our own? A friend is Janus-faced: he looks
to the past and the future. He is the child of all my foregoing hours, the
prophet of those to come. He is the harbinger of a greater friend. It is the
property of the divine to be reproductive.

I do then with my friends as I do with my books. I would have them
where I can find them, but I seldom use them. We must have society on
our own terms, and admit or exclude it on the slightest cause. I cannot
afford to speak much with my friend. If he is great, he makes me so great
that I cannot descend to converse. In the great days, presentiments hover
before me, far before me in the firmament. I ought then to dedicate
myself to them. I go in that I may seize them; I go out that I may seize
them. I fear only that I may lose them receding into the sky in which
now they are only a patch of brighter light. Then, though I prize my
friends, I cannot afford to talk with them and study their visions, lest I
lose my own. It would indeed give me a certain household joy to quit this
lofty seeking, this spiritual astronomy, or search of stars, and come down
to warm sympathies with you; but then I know well I shall mourn always
the vanishing of my mighty gods. It is true, next week I shall have
languid times, when I can well afford to occupy myself with foreign
objects; then I shall regret the lost literature of your mind, and wish you
were by my side again. But if you come, perhaps you will fill my mind
only with new visions, not with yourself but with your lusters, and I shall
not be able any more than now to converse with you. So I will owe to my
friends this evanescent intercourse. I will receive from them not what
they have, but what they are. They shall give me that which properly
they cannot give me, but which radiates from them. But they shall not
hold me by any relations less subtle and pure. We will meet as though we
met not, and part as though we parted not.

It has seemed to me lately more possible than I knew, to carry a
friendship greatly, on one side, without due correspondence on the other.
Why shall I cumber myself with the poor fact that the receiver is not
capacious? It never troubles the sun that some of his rays fall wide and
vain into ungrateful space, and only a small part on the reflecting planet.
Let your greatness educate the crude and cold companion. If he is
unequal, he will presently pass away, but thou art enlarged by thy own
shining; and, no longer a mate for frogs and worms, dost soar and burn
with the gods of the empyrean. It is thought a disgrace to love
unrequited. But the great will see that true love cannot be unrequited.
True love transcends instantly the unworthy object, and dwells and
broods on the eternal, and when the poor, interposed mask crumbles, it is
not sad, but feels rid of so much earth, and feels its independency the
surer. Yet these things may hardly be said without a sort of treachery to
the relation. The essence of friendship is entireness, a total magnanimity
and trust. It must not surmise or provide for infirmity. It treats its object
as a god, that it may deify both.

VII: Prudence

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 inventing of means and methods, not in adroit
steering, not in gentle repairing. I have no skill to make money spend
well, no genius in my economy, and whoever sees my garden, discovers
that I must have some other garden. Yet I love facts, and hate lubricity,
and people without perception. Then I have the same title to write on
prudence that I have to write on poetry or holiness. We write from
aspiration and antagonism, as well as from experience. We paint those
qualities which we do not possess. The poet admires the man of energy
and tactics; the merchant breeds his son for the church or the bar: and
where a man is not vain and egotistic, you shall find what he has not, by
his praise. Moreover, it would be hardly honest in me not to balance
these fine lyric words of Love and Friendship with words of courser
sound, and while my debt to my senses is real and constant, not to own it
in passing.

Prudence is the virtue of the senses. It is the science of appearances. It
is the outmost action of the inward life. It is God taking thought for
oxen. It moves matter after the laws of matter. It is content to seek health
of body by complying with physical conditions, and health of mind by
the laws of the intellect.

The world of the senses is a world of shows; it does not exist for itself,
but has a symbolic character; and a true prudence, or law of shows,
recognizes the co-presence of other laws; and knows that its own office is
subaltern; knows that it is surface and not center where it works.
Prudence is false when detached. It is legitimate when it is the Natural
History of the soul incarnate; when it unfolds the beauty of laws within
the narrow scope of the senses.

There are all degrees of proficiency in knowledge of the world. It is
sufficient, to our present purpose, to indicate three. One class lives to the
utility of the symbol; esteeming health and wealth a final good. Another
class live above this mark to the beauty of the symbol; as the poet, and
artist, and the naturalist, the man of science. A third class live above the
beauty of the symbol to the beauty of the thing signified; these are wise
men. The first class have common sense; the second, taste; and the third,
spiritual perception. Once in a long time, a man traverses the whole
scale, and sees and enjoys the symbol solidly; then also has a clear eye
for its beauty, and lastly, while he pitches his tent on this sacred volcanic
isle of nature, does not offer to build houses and barns thereon,
reverencing the splendor of the God which he sees bursting through each
chink and cranny.

The world is filled with the proverbs and acts and winkings of a base
prudence, which is a devotion to matter as if we possessed no other
faculties than the palate, the nose, the touch, the eye and ear; a prudence
which adores the Rule of Three, which never subscribes, which gives
never, which lends seldom, and asks but one question of any project-
Will it bake bread? This is a disease like a thickening of the skin until
the vital organs are destroyed. But culture, revealing the high origin of
the apparent world, and aiming at the perfection of the man as the end,
degrades everything else, as health and bodily life, into means. It sees
prudence not to be a several faculty, but a name for wisdom and virtue
conversing with the body and its wants. Cultivated men always feel and
speak so, as if a great fortune, the achievement of a civil or social
measure, great personal influence, a graceful and commanding address
had their value as proofs of the energy of the spirit. If a man lose his
balance, and immerse himself in any trades or pleasures for their own
sake, he may be a good wheel or pin, but he is not a cultivated 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 the sensualism by
admitting the knowledge of an eternal and real world. This recognition
once made- the order of the world and the distribution of affairs and
times being studied with the co-perception of their subordinate place,
will reward any degree of attention. For, our existence thus apparently
attached in nature to the sun and the returning moon and the periods
which they mark; so susceptible to climate and to country, so alive to
social good and evil, so fond of splendor, and so tender to hunger and
cold and debt- reads all its primary lessons out of these books.

Prudence does not go behind nature, and ask whence it is. It takes the
laws of the world whereby man’s being is conditioned, as they are, and
keeps these laws, that it may enjoy their proper good. It respects space
and time, climate, want, sleep, the law of polarity, growth and death.
There revolve to give bound and period to his being, on all sides, the sun
and moon, the great formalists in the sky: here lies stubborn matter, and
will not swerve from its chemical routine. Here is a planted globe,
pierced and belted with natural laws, and fenced and distributed
externally with civil partitions and properties which impose new
restraints on the young inhabitant.

We eat of the bread which grows in the field. We live by the air which
blows around us, and we are poisoned by the air that is too cold or too
hot, too dry or too wet. Time, which shows so vacant, indivisible and
divine in its coming, is slit and peddled into trifles and tatters. A door is
to be painted, a lock to be repaired. I want wood, or oil, or meal, or salt;
the house smokes, or I have a headache; then the tax; and an affair to be
transacted with a man without heart or brains; and the stinging
recollection of an injurious or very awkward word- these eat up the
hours. Do what we can, summer will have its flies. If we walk in the
woods, we must feed mosquitoes. If we go a fishing, we must expect a
wet coat. Then climate is a great impediment to idle persons. We often
resolve to give up the care of the weather, but still we regard the clouds
and the rain.

We are instructed by these petty experiences which usurp the hours and
years. The hard soil and four months of snow make the inhabitant of the
northern temperate zone wiser and abler than his fellow who enjoys the
fixed smile of the tropics. The islander may ramble all day at will. At
night he may sleep on a mat under the moon, and wherever a wild date-
tree grows, nature has, without a prayer even, spread a table for his
morning meal. The northerner is perforce a householder. He must brew,
bake, salt and preserve his food. He must pile wood and coal. But as it
happens that not one stroke can labor lay to, without some new
acquaintance with nature; and as nature is inexhaustibly significant, the
inhabitants of these climates have always excelled the southerner in
force. Such is the value of these matters, that a man who knows other
things, can never know too much of these. Let him have accurate
perceptions. Let him, if he have hands, handle; if eyes, measure and
discriminate; let him accept and hive every fact of chemistry, natural
history, and economics; the more he has, the less he is willing to spare
any one. Time is always bringing the occasions that disclose their value.
Some wisdom comes out of every natural and innocent action. The
domestic man, who loves no music so well as his kitchen clock, and the
airs which the logs sing to him as they burn on the hearth, has solaces
which others never dream of. The application of means to ends, insures
victory and the songs of victory not less in a farm or a shop than in the
tactics of party, or of war. The good husband finds method as efficient in
the packing of firewood in a shed, or in the harvesting of fruits in the
cellar, as in Peninsular campaigns or the files of the Department of State.
In the rainy day he builds a work-bench, or gets his tool-box set in the
corner of the barn-chamber, and stored with nails, gimlet, pincers,
screw-driver, and chisel. Herein he tastes an old joy of youth and
childhood, the cat-like love of garrets, presses, and corn-chambers, and
of the conveniences of long housekeeping. His garden or his poultry-
yard- very paltry places, it may be- tell him many pleasant anecdotes.
One might find argument for optimism, in the abundant flow of this
saccharine element of pleasure, in every suburb and extremity of the
good world. Let a man keep the law- any law- and his way will be strewn
with satisfactions. There is more difference in the quality of our
pleasures than in the amount.

On the other hand, nature punishes any neglect of prudence. If you
think the senses final, obey their law. If you believe in the soul, do not
clutch at sensual sweetness before it is ripe on the slow tree of cause and
effect. It is vinegar to the eyes to deal with men of loose and imperfect
perception. Dr. Johnson is reported to have said, “If the child says, he
looked out of this window, when he looked out of that- whip him.” Our
American character is marked by a more than average delight in
accurate perception, which is shown by the currency of the byword, “No
mistake.” But the discomfort of unpunctuality, of confusion of thought
about facts, of inattention to the wants of to-morrow, is of no nation. The
beautiful laws of time and space once dislocated by our inaptitude, are
holes and dens. If the hive be disturbed by rash and stupid hands, instead
of honey, it will yield us bees. Our words and actions to be fair, must be
timely. A gay and pleasant sound is the whetting of the scythe in the
mornings of June; yet what is more lonesome and sad than the sound of a
whetstone or mower’s rifle, when it is too late in the season to make hay?
Scatter-brained and “afternoon men” spoil much more than their own
affair, in spoiling the temper of those who deal with them. I have seen a
criticism on some paintings, of which I am reminded, when I see the
shiftless and unhappy men who are not true to their senses. The last
Grand Duke of Weimar, a man of superior understanding, said, “I have
sometimes remarked in the presence of great works of art, and just now
especially, in Dresden, how much a certain property contributes to the
effect which gives life to the figures, and to the life an irresistible truth.
This property is the hitting, in all the figures we draw, the right center of
gravity. I mean, the placing the figures firm upon their feet, making the
hands grasp, and fastening the eyes on the spot where they should look.
Even lifeless figures, as vessels and stools- let them be drawn ever so
correctly- lose all effect so soon as they lack the resting upon their center
of gravity, and have a certain swimming and oscillating appearance. The
Raphael, in the Dresden gallery (the only greatly affecting picture which
I have seen), is the quietest and most passionless piece you can imagine;
a couple of saints who worship the Virgin and child. Nevertheless, it
awakens a deeper impression than the contortions of ten crucified
martyrs. For, beside all the resistless beauty of form, it possesses in the
highest degree the property of the perpendicularity of all the figures.”
This perpendicularity we demand of all the figures in this picture of life.
Let them stand on their feet, and not float and swing. Let us know where
to find them. Let them discriminate between what they remember, and
what they dreamed. Let them call a spade a spade. Let them give us
facts, and honor their own senses with trust.

But what man shall dare tax another with imprudence? Who is
prudent? The men we call greatest are least in this kingdom. There is a
certain fatal dislocation in our relation to nature, distorting all our modes
of living, and making every law our enemy, which seems at last to have
aroused all the wit and virtue in the world to ponder the question of
Reform. We must call the highest prudence to counsel, and ask why
health and beauty and genius should now be the exception, rather than
the rule of human nature? We do not know the properties of plants and
animals and the laws of nature through our sympathy with the same, but
this remains the dream of poets. Poetry and prudence should be
coincident. Poets should be lawgivers; that is, the boldest lyric
inspiration should not chide and insult, but should announce and lead
the civil code, and the day’s work. But now the two things seem
irreconcilably parted. We have violated law upon law, until we stand
amid ruins, and when by chance we espy a coincidence between reason
and the phenomena, we are surprised. Beauty should be the dowry of
every man and woman, as invariably as sensation; but it is rare. Health
or sound organization should be universal. Genius should be the child of
genius, and every child should be inspired; but now it is not to be
predicted of any child, and nowhere is it pure. We call partial half-lights,
by courtesy, genius; talent which converts itself to money, talent which
glitters to-day, that it may dine and sleep well to-morrow; and society is
officered by (r)men of parts, as they are properly called, and not by
divine men. These use their gifts to refine luxury, not to abolish it.
Genius is always ascetic; and piety and love. Appetite shows to the finer
souls as a disease, and they find beauty in rites and bounds that resist it.

We have found out fine names to cover our sensuality withal, but no
gifts can raise intemperance. The man of talent affects to call his
transgressions of the laws of the senses trivial, and to count them
nothing considered with his devotion to his art. His art rebukes him.
That never taught him lewdness, nor the love of wine, nor the wish to
reap where he had not sowed. His art is less for every deduction from his
holiness, and less for every defect of common sense. On him who
scorned the world, as he said the scorned world wreaks its revenge. He
that despiseth small things will perish by little and little. Goethe’s Tasso
is very likely to be a pretty fair historical portrait, and that is true
tragedy. It does not seem to me so genuine grief when some tyrannous
Richard III oppresses and slays a score of innocent persons, as when
Antonio and Tasso, both apparently right, wrong each other. One living
after the maxims of this world, and consistent and true to them, the other
fired with all divine sentiments, yet grasping also at the pleasures of
sense, without submitting to their law. That is a grief we all feel, a knot
we cannot untie. Tasso’s is no infrequent case in modern biography. A
man of genius, of an ardent temperament, reckless of physical laws, self-
indulgent, becomes presently unfortunate, querulous, a “discomfortable
cousin,” a thorn to himself and to others.

The scholar shames us by his bifold life. While something higher than
prudence is active, he is admirable; when common sense is wanted, he is
an incumbrance. Yesterday, Caesar was not so great; today, Job not so
miserable. Yesterday, radiant with the light of an ideal world, in which
he lives, the first of men, and now oppressed by wants, and by sickness,
for which he must thank himself, none is so poor to do him reverence.
He resembles the opium-eaters, whom travelers describe as frequenting
the bazaars of Constantinople, who skulk about all day, the most pitiful
drivelers, yellow, emaciated, ragged, and sneaking; then, at evening,
when the bazaars are open, they slink to the opium shops, swallow their
morsel, and become tranquil, glorious, and great. And who has not seen
the tragedy of imprudent genius, struggling for years with paltry
pecuniary difficulties, at last sinking, chilled, exhausted, and fruitless,
like a giant slaughtered by pins?

Is it not better that a man should accept the first pains and
mortifications of this sort, which nature is not slack in sending him, as
hints that he must expect no other good than the just fruit of his own
labor and self-denial? Health, bread, climate, social position, have their
importance, and he will give them their due. Let him esteem Nature a
perpetual counselor, and her perfections the exact measure of our
deviations. Let him make the night, night, and the day, day. Let him
control the habit of expense. Let him see that as much wisdom may be
expended on a private economy, as on an empire, and as much wisdom
may be drawn from it. The laws of the world are written out for him on
every piece of money in his hand. There is nothing he will not be the
better for knowing, were it only the wisdom of Poor Richard; or the
State-street prudence of buying by the acre, to sell by the foot; or the
thrift of the agriculturist, to stick a tree between whiles, because it will
grow while he sleeps; or the prudence which consists in husbanding little
strokes of the tool, little portions of time, particles of stock, and small
gains. The eye of prudence may never shut. Iron, if kept at the
ironmonger’s, will rust. Beer, if not brewed in the right state of the
atmosphere, will sour. Timber of ships will rot at sea; or, if laid up high
and dry, will strain, warp, and dry-rot. Money, if kept by us, yields no
rent, and is liable to loss; if invested, is liable to depreciation of the
particular kind of stock. Strike, says the smith, the iron is white. Keep
the rake, says the haymaker, as nigh the scythe as you can, and the cart
as nigh the rake. Our Yankee trade is reputed to be very much on the
extreme of this prudence. It saves itself by its activity. It takes bank-
notes- good, bad, clean, ragged, and saves itself by the speed with which
it passes them off. Iron cannot rust, nor beer sour, nor timber rot, nor
calicoes go out of fashion, nor money-stocks depreciate, in the few swift
moments which the Yankee suffers any one of them to remain in his
possession. In skating over thin ice, our safety is in our speed.

Let him learn a prudence of a higher strain. Let him learn that
everything 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, and not at that of others, that
he may not stand in bitter and false relations to other men; for the best
good of wealth is freedom. Let him practice the minor virtues. How
much of human life is lost in waiting. Let him not make his fellow-
creatures wait. How many words and promises are promises of
conversation! Let his be words of fate. When he sees a folded and sealed
scrap of paper float round the globe in a pine ship, and come safe to the
eye for which it was written, amid a swarming population, let him
likewise feel the admonition to integrate his being across all these
distracting forces, and keep a slender human word among the storms,
distances, and accidents, that drive us hither and thither, and, by
persistency, make the paltry force of one man reappear to redeem its
pledge, after months and years, in the most distant climates.

We must not try to write the laws of any one virtue, looking at that
only. Human nature loves no contradictions, but is symmetrical. The
prudence which secures an outward well-being, is not to be studied by
one set of men while heroism and holiness are studied by another, but
they are reconcilable. Prudence concerns the present time, persons,
property and existing forms. But as every fact hath its roots in the soul,
and if the soul were changed, would cease to be, or would become some
other thing, therefore, the proper administration of outward things will
always rest on a just apprehension of their cause and origin, that is, the
good man will be the wise man, and the single-hearted, the politic man.
Every violation of truth is not only a sort of suicide in the liar, but is a
stab at the health of human society. On the most profitable lie, the course
of events presently lays a destructive tax; while frankness proves to be
the best tactics, for it invites frankness, puts the parties on a convenient
footing, and makes their business a friendship. Trust men, and they will
be true to you; treat them greatly, and they will show themselves great,
though they make an exception in your favor to all their rules of trade.

So, in regard to disagreeable and formidable things, prudence does not
consist in evasion, or in flight, but in courage. He who wishes to walk in
the most peaceful parts of life with any serenity must screw himself up to
resolution. Let him front the object of his worst apprehension, and his
stoutness will commonly make his fear groundless. The Latin proverb
says, that “in battles, the eye is first overcome.” The eye is daunted, and
greatly exaggerates the perils of the hour. Entire self-possession may
make a battle very little more dangerous to life than a match at foils or at
foot-ball. Examples are cited by soldiers, of men who have seen the
cannon pointed, and the fire given to it, and who have stepped aside
from the path of the ball. The terrors of the storm are chiefly confined to
the parlor and the cabin. The drover, the sailor, buffets it all day, and his
health renews itself at as vigorous a pulse under the sleet, as under the
sun of June.

In the occurrence of unpleasant things among neighbors, fear comes
readily to heart, and magnifies the consequence of the other party; but it
is a bad counselor. Every man is actually weak, and apparently strong.
To himself, he seems weak; to others, formidable. You are afraid of
Grim; but Grim also is afraid of you. You are solicitous of the good will
of the meanest person, uneasy at his ill will. But the sturdiest offender of
your peace and of the neighborhood, if you rip up (r)his claims, is as
thin and timid as any; and the peace of society is often kept, because, as
children say, one is afraid and the other dares not. Far off, men swell,
bully and threaten: bring them hand to hand, and they are a feeble folk.

It is a proverb, that “courtesy costs nothing;” but calculation might
come to value love for its profit. Love is fabled to be blind; but kindness
is necessary to perception; love is not a hood, but an eye water. If you
meet a sectary, or a hostile partisan, never recognize the dividing lines;
but meet on what common ground remains, if only that the sun shines,
and the rain rains for both, the area will widen very fast, and ere you
know it, the boundary mountains, on which the eye had fastened, have
melted into air. If he set out to contend, almost St. Paul will lie, almost
St. John will hate. What low, poor, paltry, hypocritical people, an
argument on religion will make of the pure and chosen souls. Shuffle
they will, and crow, crook and hide, feign to confess here, only that they
may brag and conquer there, and not a thought has enriched either party,
and not an emotion of bravery, modesty, or hope. So neither should you
put yourself in a false position to your contemporaries, by indulging a
vein of hostility and bitterness. Though your views are in straight
antagonism to theirs, assume an identity of sentiment, assume that you
are saying precisely that which all think, and in the flow of wit and love,
roll out your paradoxes in solid column, with not the infirmity of a
doubt. So at least shall you get an adequate deliverance. The natural
motions of the soul are so much better than the voluntary ones, that you
will never do yourself justice in dispute. The thought is not then taken
hold of by the right handle, does not show itself proportionate, and in its
true bearings, but bears extorted, hoarse, and half witness. But assumes a
consent, and it shall presently be granted, since, really, and underneath
all their external diversities, all men are of one heart and mind.

Wisdom will never let us stand with any man or men on an unfriendly
footing. We refuse sympathy and intimacy with people, as if we waited
for some better sympathy and intimacy to come. But whence and when?
To-morrow will be like to-day. Life wastes itself while we are preparing
to live. Our friends and fellow-workers die off from us. Scarcely can we
say we see new men, new women, approaching us. We are too old to
regard fashion, too old to expect patronage of any greater, or more
powerful. Let us suck the sweetness of those affections and consuetudes
that grow near us. These old shoes are easy to the feet. Undoubtedly, we
can easily pick faults in our company, can easily whisper names prouder,
and that tickle the fancy more. Every man’s imagination hath its friends;
and pleasant would life be with such companions. But, if you cannot
have them on good mutual terms, you cannot have them. If not the Deity,
but our ambition hews and shapes the new relations, their virtue escapes,
as strawberries lose their flavor in garden-beds.

Thus truth, frankness, courage, love, humility, and all the virtues range
themselves on the side of prudence, or the art of securing a present well-
being. I do not know if all matter will be found to be made of one
element, as oxygen or hydrogen, at last, but the world of manners and
actions is wrought of one stuff, and begin where we will we are pretty
sure, in a short space, to be mumbling our ten commandments.

VIII: Herosim

“Paradise is under the shadow of swords.”

IN the elder English dramatists, and mainly in the plays of Beaumont
and Fletcher, there is a constant recognition of gentility, as if a noble
behavior were as easily marked in the society of their age, as color is in
our American population. When any Rodrigo, Pedro, or Valerio enters,
though he be a stranger, the duke or governor exclaims, This is a
gentleman- and proffers civilities without end; but all the rest are slag
and refuse. In harmony with this delight in personal advantages, there is
in their plays a certain heroic cast of character and dialogue- as in
Bonduca, Sophocles, the Mad Lover, the Double Marriage- wherein the
speaker is so earnest and cordial, and on such deep grounds of character,
that the dialogue, on the slightest additional incident in the plot, rises
naturally into poetry. Among many texts, take the following. The Roman
Martius has conquered Athens- all but the invincible spirits of
Sophocles, the duke of Athens, and Dorigen, his wife. The beauty of the
latter inflames Martius, and he seeks to save her husband; but Sophocles
will not ask his life, although assured that a word will save him, and the
execution of both proceeds.

(r)Valerius. Bid thy wife farewell.
(r)Soph. No, I will take no leave. My Dorigen,
Yonder, above, ’bout Ariadne’s crown,
My spirit shall hover for thee. Prithee, haste.
(r)Dor. Stay, Sophocles- with this, tie up my sight;
Let not soft nature so transformed be,
And lose her gentler sexed humanity,
To make me see my lord bleed. So, ’tis well;
Never one object underneath the sun
Will I behold before my Sophocles:
Farewell; now teach the Romans how to die.
(r)Mar. Dost know what ’tis to die?
(r)Soph. Thou dost not, Martius,
And therefore, not what ’tis to live; to die
Is to begin to live. It is to end
An old, stale, weary work, and to commence
A newer, and a better. ‘Tis to leave
Deceitful knaves for the society
Of gods and goodness. Thou, thyself, must part
At last, from all thy garlands, pleasures, triumphs,
And prove thy fortitude what then ’twill do.
(r)Val. But art not grieved nor vexed to leave thy life thus?
(r)Soph. Why should I grieve or vex for being sent
To them I ever loved best? Now, I’ll kneel,
But with my back toward thee; ’tis the last duty
This trunk can do the gods.
(r)Mar. Strike, strike, Valerius,
Or Martius’ heart will leap out at his mouth:
This is a man, a woman! Kiss thy lord,
And live with all the freedom you were wont.
O love! thou doubly hast afflicted me
With virtue and with beauty. Treacherous heart,
My hand shall cast the quick into my urn,
Ere thou transgress this knot of piety.
(r)Val. What ails my brother?
(r)Soph. Martius, oh Martius,
Thou now hast found a way to conquer me.
(r)Dor. O star of Rome! what gratitude can speak
Fit words to follow such a deed as this?
(r)Mar. This admirable duke, Valerius,
With his disdain of fortune and of death,
Captived himself, has captived me,
And though my arm hath ta’en his body here,
His soul hath subjugated Martius’ soul.
By Romulus, he is all soul, I think;
He hath no flesh, and spirit cannot be gyved;
Then we have vanquished nothing; he is free,
And Martius walks now in captivity.

I do not readily remember any poem, play, sermon, novel, or oration,
that our press vents in the last few years, which goes to the same tune.
We have a great many flutes and flageolets, but not often the sound of
any fife. Yet, Wordsworth’s Laodamia, and the ode of “Dion,” and some
sonnets, have a certain noble music; and Scott will sometimes draw a
stroke like the portrait of Lord Evandale, given by Balfour of Burley.
Thomas Carlyle, with his natural taste for what is manly and daring in
character, has suffered no heroic trait in his favorites to drop from his
biographical and historical pictures. Earlier, Robert Burns has given us a
song or two. In the Harleian Miscellanies, there is an account of the
battle of Lutzen, which deserves to be read. And Simon Ockley’s History
of the Saracens, recounts the prodigies of individual valor with
admiration, all the more evident on the part of the narrator, that he
seems to think that his place in Christian Oxford requires of him some
proper protestations of abhorrence. But if we explore the literature of
Heroism, we shall quickly come to Plutarch, who is its Doctor and
historian. To him we owe the Brasidas, the Dion, the Epaminondas, the
Scipio of old, and I must think we are more deeply indebted to him than
to all the ancient writers. Each of his “Lives” is a refutation to the
despondency and cowardice of our religions and political theorists. A
wild courage, a stoicism not of the schools, but of the blood, shines in
every anecdote, and has given that book its immense fame.

We need books of this tart cathartic virtue, more than books of political
science, or of private economy. Life is a festival only to the wise, Seen
from the nook and chimney-side of prudence, it wears a ragged and
dangerous front. The violations of the laws of nature by our predecessors
and our contemporaries, are punished in us also. The disease and
deformity around us certify the infraction of natural, intellectual, and
moral laws, and often violation on violation to breed such compound
misery. A lock-jaw, that bends a man’s head back to his heels,
hydrophobia, that makes him bark at his wife and babes, insanity, that
makes him eat grass; war, plague, cholera, famine, indicate a certain
ferocity in nature, which, as it had its inlet by human crime, must have
its outlet by human suffering. Unhappily, almost no man exists who has
not in his own person become, to some amount, a stockholder in the sin,
and so made himself liable to a share in the expiation.

Our culture, therefore, must not omit the arming of the man. Let him
hear in season that he is born into the state of war, and that the
commonwealth and his own well-being require that he should not go
dancing in the weeds of peace, but warned, self-collected, and neither
defying nor dreading the thunder, let him take both reputation and life in
his hand, and with perfect urbanity, dare the gibbet and the mob by the
absolute truth of his speech and the rectitude of his behavior.

Toward all this external evil the man within the breast assumes a
warlike attitude, and affirms his ability to cope single-handed with the
infinite army of enemies. To this military attitude of the soul we give the
name of Heroism. Its rudest form is the contempt for safety and ease
which makes the attractiveness of war. It is a self-trust which slights the
restraints of prudence in the plenitude of its energy and power to repair
the harms it may suffer. The hero is a mind of such balance that no
disturbances can shake his will, but pleasantly, and, as it were, merrily,
he advances to his own music, alike in frightful alarms, and in the tipsy
mirth of universal dissoluteness. There is somewhat not philosophical in
heroism; there is somewhat not holy in it; it seems not to know that other
souls are of one texture with it; it hath pride; it is the extreme of
individual nature. Nevertheless, we must profoundly revere it. There is
somewhat in great actions which does not allow us to go behind them.
Heroism feels and never reasons, and therefore is always right, and
although a different breeding, different religion, and greater intellectual
activity, would have modified, or even reversed the particular action, yet
for the hero, that thing he does, is the highest deed, and is not open to
the censure of philosophers or divines. It is the avowal of the unschooled
man, that he finds a quality in him that is negligent of expense, of
health, of life, of danger, of hatred, of reproach, and that he knows that
his will is higher and more excellent than all actual and all possible

Heroism works in contradiction to the voice of mankind, and in
contradiction, for a time, to the voice of the great and good. Heroism is
an obedience to a secret impulse of an individual’s character. Now to no
other man can its wisdom appear as it does to him, for every man must
be supposed to see a little further on his own proper path, than any one
else. Therefore, just and wise men take umbrage at his act, until after
some little time be past: then, they see it to be in unison with their acts.
All prudent men see that the action is clean contrary to a sensual
prosperity; for every heroic act measures itself by its contempt of some
external good. But it finds its own success at last, and then the prudent
also extol.

Self-trust is the essence of heroism. It is the state of the soul at war, and
its ultimate objects are the last defiance of falsehood and wrong, and the
power to bear all that can be inflicted by evil agents. It speaks the truth,
and it is just. It is generous, hospitable, temperate, scornful of petty
calculations, and scornful of being scorned. It persists; it is of an
undaunted boldness, and of a fortitude not to be wearied out. Its jest is
the littleness of common life. That false prudence which dotes on health
and wealth, is the foil, the butt and merriment of heroism. Heroism, like
Plotinus, is almost ashamed of its body. What shall it say, then, to the
sugar-plums, and cats’-cradles, to the toilet, compliments, quarrels,
cards, and custard, which rack the wit of all human society. What joys
has kind nature provided for us dear creatures! There seems to be no
interval between greatness and meanness. When the spirit is not master
of the world, then is it its dupe. Yet the little man takes the great hoax so
innocently, works in it so headlong and believing, is born red, and dies
gray, arranging his toilet, attending on his own health, laying traps for
sweet food and strong wine, setting his heart on a horse or a rifle, made
happy with a little gossip, or a little praise, that the great soul cannot
choose but laugh at such earnest nonsense. “Indeed, these humble
considerations make me out of love with greatness. What a disgrace is it
to me to take note how many pairs of silk stockings thou hast, namely,
these and those that were the peach-colored ones or to bear the inventory
of thy shirts, as one for superfluity, and one other for use.”

Citizens thinking after the laws of arithmetic, consider the
inconvenience of receiving strangers at their fireside reckon narrowly the
loss of time and the unusual display: the soul of a better quality thrusts
back the unreasonable economy into the vaults of life, and says, I will
obey the God, and the sacrifice and the fire he will provide. Ibn Hankal,
the Arabian geographer, describes a heroic extreme in the hospitality of
Sogd, in Bokhara. “When I was in Sogd I saw a great building, like a
palace, the gates of which were open and fixed back to the wall with
large nails. I asked the reason, and was told that the house had not been
shut, night or day, for a hundred years. Strangers may present
themselves at any hour, and in whatever number; the master has amply
provided for the reception of the men and their animals, and is never
happier than when they tarry for some time. Nothing of the kind have I
seen in any other country.” The magnanimous know very well that they
who give time, or money, or shelter, to the stranger- so it be done for
love, and not for ostentation- do, as it were, put God under obligation to
them, so perfect are the compensations of the universe. In some way the
time they seem to lose is redeemed, and the pains they seem to take
remunerate themselves. These men fan the flame of human love and
raise the standard of civil virtue among mankind. But hospitality must be
for service, and not for show, or it pulls down the host. The brave soul
rates itself too high to value itself by the splendor of its table and
draperies. It gives what it hath, and all it hath, but its own majesty can
lend a better grace to bannocks and fair water, than belong to city feasts.

The temperance of the hero, proceeds from the same wish to do no
dishonor to the worthiness he has. But he loves it for its elegancy, not for
its austerity. It seems not worth his while to be solemn, and denounce
with bitterness flesh-eating, or wine-drinking, the use of tobacco, or
opium, or tea, or silk, or gold. A great man scarcely knows how he dines,
how he dresses, but without railing or precision, his living is natural and
poetic. John Eliot, the Indian Apostle, drank water, and said of wine, “It
is a noble, generous liquor, and we should be humbly thankful for it. But,
as I remember, water was made before it.” Better still, is the temperance
of King David who poured out on the ground unto the Lord the water
which three of his warriors had brought him to drink, at the peril of their

It is told of Brutus, that when he fell on his sword, after the battle of
Philippi, he quoted a line of Euripides, “O virtue, I have followed thee
through life, and I find thee at last but a shade.” I doubt not the hero is
slandered by this report. The heroic soul does not sell its justice and its
nobleness. It does not ask to dine nicely, and to sleep warm. The essence
of greatness is the perception that virtue is enough. Poverty is its
ornament. Plenty, it does not need, and can very well abide its loss.

But that which takes my fancy most, in the heroic class, is the good
humor and hilarity they exhibit. It is a height to which common duty can
very well attain, to suffer and to dare with solemnity. But these rare souls
set opinion, success and life, at so cheap a rate, that they will not soothe
their enemies by petitions, or the show of sorrow, but wear their own
habitual greatness. Scipio, charged with peculation, refuses to do himself
so great a disgrace as to wait for justification, though he had the scroll of
his accounts in his hands, but tears it to pieces before the tribunes.
Socrates’ condemnation of himself to be maintained in all honor in the
Prytaneum, during his life, and Sir Thomas More’s playfulness at the
scaffold, are of the same strain. In Beaumont and Fletcher’s “Sea
Voyage,” Juletta tells the stout captain and his company,

(r)Jul. Why, slaves, ’tis in our power to hang ye.
(r)Master, Very likely,
‘Tis in our powers, then, to be hanged, and scorn ye.

These replies are sound and whole. Sport is the bloom and glow of a
perfect health. The great will not condescend to take anything seriously;
all must be as gay as the song of a canary though it were the building of
cities or the eradication of old and foolish churches and nations, which
have cumbered the earth long thousands of years. Simple hearts put all
the history and customs of this world behind them, and play their own
play in innocent defiance of the Blue-Laws of the world; and such would
appear, could we see the human race assembled in vision, like little
children frolicking together, though, to the eyes of mankind at large,
they wear a stately and solemn garb of works and influences.

The interest these fine stories have for us, the power of a romance over
the boy who grasps the forbidden book under his bench at school, our
delight in the hero, is the main fact to our purpose. All these great and
transcendent properties are ours. If we dilate in beholding the Greek
energy, the Roman pride, it is that we are already domesticating the
same sentiment. Let us find room for this great guest in our small
houses. The first step of worthiness will be to disabuse us of our
superstitious associations with places and times, with number and size.
Why should these words, Athenian, Roman, Asia, and England, so tingle
in the ear? Let us feel that where the heart is, there the muses, there the
gods so sojourn, and not in any geography of fame. Massachusetts,
Connecticut River, and Boston Bay, you think paltry places, and the ear
loves names of foreign and classic topography. But here we are; that is a
great fact, and, if we will tarry a little, we may come to learn that here is
best. See to it only that thyself is here; and art and nature, hope and
dread, friends, angels, and the Supreme Being, shall not be absent from
the chamber where thou sittest. Epaminondas, brave and affectionate,
does not seem to us to need Olympus to die upon, nor the Syrian
sunshine. He lies very well where he is. The Jerseys were handsome
ground enough for Washington to tread, and London streets for the feet
of Milton. A great man illustrates his place, makes his climate genial in
the imagination of men, and its air the beloved element of all delicate
spirits. That country is the fairest, which is inhabited by the noblest
minds. The pictures which fill the imagination in reading the actions of
Pericles, Xenophon, Columbus, Bayard, Sidney, Hampden, teach us how
needlessly mean our life is, that we, by the depth of our living, should
deck it with more than regal or national splendor, and act on principles
that should interest man and nature in the length of our days.

We have seen or heard of many extraordinary young men, who never
ripened, or whose performance in actual life was not extraordinary.
When we see their air and mien, when we hear them speak of society, of
books, of religion, we admire their superiority- they seem to throw
contempt on the whole state of the world; theirs is the tone of a youthful
giant, who is sent to work revolutions. But they enter an active
profession, and the forming Colossus shrinks to the common size of
man. The magic they used was the ideal tendencies, which always make
the actual ridiculous; but the tough world had its revenge the moment
they put their horses of the sun to plow in its furrow. They found no
example and no companion, and their heart fainted. What then? The
lesson they gave in their first aspirations, is yet true, and a better valor,
and a purer truth, shall one day execute their will, and put the world to
shame. Or why should a woman liken herself to any historical woman,
and think, because Sappho, or Sevigne, or De Stael, or the cloistered
souls who have had genius and cultivation, do not satisfy the
imagination, and the serene Themis, none can- certainly not she. Why
not? She has a new and unattempted problem to solve, perchance that of
the happiest nature that ever bloomed. Let the maiden, with erect soul,
walk serenely on her way, accept the hint of each new experience, try, in
turn, all the gifts God offers her, that she may learn the power and the
charm, that like a new dawn radiating out of the deep of space, her new-
born being is. The fair girl, who repels interference by a decided and
proud choice of influences, so careless of pleasing, so wilful and lofty
inspires every beholder with somewhat of her own nobleness. The silent
heart encourages her; O friend, never strike sail to a fear. Come into port
greatly, or sail with God the seas. Not in vain you live, for every passing
eye is cheered and refined by the vision.

The characteristic of a genuine heroism is its persistency. All men have
wandering impulses, fits and starts of generosity. But when you have
resolved to be great, abide by yourself, and do not weakly try to reconcile
yourself with the world. The heroic cannot be the common, nor the
common the heroic. Yet we have the weakness to expect the sympathy of
people in those actions whose excellence is that they outrun sympathy,
and appeal to a tardy justice. If you would serve your brother, because it
is fit for you to serve him, do not take back your words when you find
that prudent people do not commend you. Be true to your own act, and
congratulate yourself if you have done something strange and
extravagant, and broken the monotony of a decorous age. It was a high
counsel that I once heard given to a young person: “Always do what you
are afraid to do.” A simple manly character need never make an apology,
but should regard its past action with the calmness of Phocion, when he
admitted that the event of the battle was happy, yet did not regret his
dissuasion from the battle.

There is no weakness or exposure for which we cannot find consolation
in the thought- this is a part of my constitution, part of my relation and
office to my fellow creature. Has nature covenanted with me that I
should never appear to disadvantage, never make a ridiculous figure? Let
us be generous of our dignity as well as of our money. Greatness once
and forever has done with opinion. We tell our charities, not because we
wish to be praised for them, not because we think they have great merit,
but for our justification. It is a capital blunder; as you discover when
another man recites his charities.

To speak the truth, even with some austerity to live with some rigor of
temperance, or some extremes of generosity, seems to be an asceticism
which common good nature would appoint to those who are at ease and
in plenty, in sign that they feel a brotherhood with the great multitude of
suffering men. And not only need we breathe and exercise the soul by
assuming the penalties of abstinence, of debt, of solitude, of
unpopularity, but it behooves the wise man to look with a bold eye into
those rarer dangers which sometimes invade men, and to familiarize
himself with disgusting forms of disease, with sounds of execration, and
the vision of violent death.

Times of heroism are generally times of terror, but the day never
shines, in which this element may not work. The circumstances of man,
we say, are historically somewhat better in this country, and at this hour,
than perhaps ever before. More freedom exists for culture, It will not
now run against an ax, at the first step out of the beaten track of opinion.
But whoso is heroic will always find crises to try his edge. Human virtue
demands her champions and martyrs, and the trial of persecution always
proceeds. It is but the other day that the brave Lovejoy gave his breast to
the bullets of a mob for the rights of free speech and opinion, and died
when it was better not to live.

I see not any road of perfect peace, which a man can walk, but to take
counsel of his own bosom. Let him quit too much association, let him go
home much, and establish himself in those courses he approves. The
unremitting retention of simple and high sentiments in obscure duties, is
hardening the character to that temper which will work with honor, if
need be, in the tumult, or on the scaffold. Whatever outrages have
happened to men, may befall a man again; and very easily in a republic,
if there appear any signs of a decay of religion. Coarse slander, fire, tar
and feathers, and the gibbet, the youth may freely bring home to his
mind, and with what sweetness of temper he can, and inquire how fast
he can fix his sense of duty, braving such penalties, whenever it may
please the next newspaper, and a sufficient number of his neighbors, to
pronounce his opinions incendiary.

It may calm the apprehension of calamity in the most susceptible heart,
to see how quick a bound nature has set to the utmost infliction of
malice. We rapidly approach a brink over which no enemy can follow us.

“Let them rave:
Thou art quiet in thy grave.”

In the gloom of our ignorance of what shall be, in the hour when we are
deaf to the higher voices, who does not envy them who have seen safely
to an end their manful endeavor? Who that sees the meanness of our
politics, but inly congratulates Washington, that he is long already
wrapped in his shroud, and forever safe; that he was laid sweet in his
grave, the hope of humanity not yet subjugated in him? Who does not
sometimes envy the good and brave, who are no more to suffer from the
tumults of the natural world, and await with curious complacency the
speedy term of his own conversation with finite nature? And yet the love
that will be annihilated sooner than treacherous, has already made death
impossible, and affirms itself no mortal, but a native of the deeps of
absolute and inextinguishable being.

IX: The Over-Soul

“But souls that of his own good life partake,”
He loves as his own self; dear as his eye
They are to Him: He’ll never them forsake:
When they shall die, then God himself shall die:
They live, they live in blest eternity.”
-Henry More.

THERE is a difference between one and another hour of life, in their
authority and subsequent effect. Our faith comes in moments; our vice is
habitual. Yet is there a depth in those brief moments, which constrains
us to ascribe more reality to them than to all other experiences. For this
reason, the argument, which is always forthcoming to silence those who
conceive extraordinary hopes of man, namely, the appeal to experience,
is forever invalid and vain. A mightier hope abolishes despair. We give
up the past to the objector, and yet we hope. He must explain this hope.
We grant that human life is mean; but how did we find out that it was
mean? What is the ground of this uneasiness of ours; of this old
discontent? What is the universal sense of want and ignorance, but the
fine inuendo by which the great soul makes its enormous claim? Why do
men feel that the natural history of man has never been written, but
always he is leaving behind what you have said of him, and it becomes
old, and books of metaphysics worthless? The philosophy of six thousand
years has not searched the chambers and magazines of the soul. In its
experiments there has always remained, in the last analysis, a residuum
it could not resolve. Man is a stream whose source is hidden. Always our
being is descended into us from we know not whence. The most exact
calculator has no prescience that somewhat incalculable may not balk the
very next moment. I am constrained every moment to acknowledge a
higher origin for events than the will I call mine.

As with events, so is it with thoughts. When I watch that flowing river,
which, out of regions I see not, pours for a season its streams into me- I
see that I am a pensioner- not a cause, but a surprised spectator of this
ethereal water; that I desire and look up, and put myself in the attitude of
reception, but from some alien energy the visions come.

The Supreme Critic on all the errors of the past and the present, and the
only prophet of that which must be, is that great nature in which we rest,
as the earth lies in the soft arms of the atmosphere; that Unity, that Over-
Soul, within which every man’s particular being is contained and made
one with all other; that common heart, of which all sincere conversation
is the worship, to which all right action is submission; that overpowering
reality which confutes our tricks and talents, and constrains every one to
pass for what he is, and to speak from his character and not from his
tongue; and which evermore tends and aims to pass into our thought and
hand, and become wisdom, and virtue, and power, and beauty. We live
in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime within man is
the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which
every part and particle is equally related; the eternal ONE. And this deep
power in which we exist, and whose beatitude is all accessible to us, is
not only self-sufficing and perfect in every hour, but the act of seeing,
and the thing seen, the seer and the spectacle, the subject and the object,
are one. We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the
animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are the shining parts, is
the soul. It is only by the vision of that Wisdom, that the horoscope of
the ages can be read, and it is only by falling back on our better thoughts,
by yielding to the spirit of prophesy which is innate in every man, that
we can know what it saith. Every man’s words, who speaks from that
life, must sound vain to those who do not dwell in the same thought on
their own part. I dare not speak for it. My words do not carry its august
sense; they fall short and cold. Only itself can aspire whom it will, and
behold, their speech shall be lyrical, and sweet, and universal as the
rising of the wind. Yet I desire, even by profane words, if sacred I may
not use, to indicate the heaven of this deity, and to report what hints I
have collected of the transcendent simplicity and energy of the Highest

If we consider what happens in conversation, in reveries, in remorse, in
times of passion, in surprises, in the instructions of dreams wherein often
we see ourselves in masquerade- the droll disguises only magnifying and
enhancing a real element, and forcing it on our distinct notice- we shall
catch many hints that will broaden and lighten into knowledge of the
secret of nature. All goes to show that the soul in man is not an organ,
but animates and exercises all the organs; is not a function, like the
power of memory, of calculation, of comparison, but uses these as hands
and feet; is not a faculty, but a light; is not the intellect or the will, but
the master of the intellect and the will; is the vast background of our
being, in which they lie, an immensity not possessed and that cannot be
possessed. From within or from behind, a light shines through us upon
things, and makes us aware that we are nothing, but the light is all. A
man is the facade of a temple wherein all wisdom and all good abide.
What we commonly call man, the eating, drinking, planting, counting
man, does not, as we know him represent himself, but misrepresents
himself. Him we do not respect, but the soul, whose organ he is, would
he let it appear through his action, would make our knees bend. When it
breathes through his intellect, it is genius; when it breathes through his
will, it is virtue; when it flows through his affection, it is love. And the
blindness of the intellect begins, when it would be something of itself.
The weakness of the will begins when the individual would be something
of himself. All reform aims, in some one particular, to let the great soul
have its way through us; in other words, to engage us to obey.

Of this pure nature every man is at some time sensible. Language
cannot paint it with his colors. It is too subtle. It is undefinable,
unmeasurable, but we know that it pervades and contains us. We know
that all spiritual being is in man. A wise old proverb says, “God comes to
see us without bell:” that is, as there is no screen or ceiling between our
heads and the infinite heavens, so is there no bar or wall in the soul
where man, the effect, ceases, and God, the cause, begins. The walls are
taken away. We lie open on one side to the deeps of spiritual nature, to
all the attributes of God. Justice we see and know, Love, Freedom,
Power. These natures no man ever got above, but always they tower over
us, and most in the moment when our interests tempt us to wound them.

The sovereignty of this nature whereof we speak, is made known by its
independency of those limitations which circumscribe us on every hand.
The soul circumscribeth all things. As I have said, it contradicts all
experience. In like manner it abolishes time and space. The influence of
the senses has, in most men, overpowered the mind to that degree, that
the walls of time and space have come to look solid, real and
insurmountable; and to speak with levity of these limits is, in the world,
the sign of insanity. Yet time and space are but inverse measures of the
force of the soul. A man is capable of abolishing them both. The spirit
sports with time-

“Can crowd eternity into an hour,
Or stretch an hour to eternity.”

We are often made to feel that there is another youth and age than that
which is measured from the year of our natural birth. Some thoughts
always find us young and keep us so. Such a thought is the love of the
universal and eternal beauty. Every man parts from that contemplation
with the feeling that it rather belongs to ages than to mortal life. The
least activity of the intellectual powers redeems us in a degree from the
influences of time. In sickness, in languor, give us a strain of poetry or a
profound sentence, and we are refreshed; or produce a volume of Plato,
or Shakespeare, or remind us of their names, and instantly we come into
a feeling of longevity. See how the deep, divine thought demolishes
centuries, and millenniums, and makes itself present through all ages. Is
the teaching of Christ less effective now than it was when first his mouth
was opened? The emphasis of facts and persons to my soul has nothing
to do with time. And so, always, the soul’s scale is one; the scale of the
senses and the understanding is another. Before the great revelations of
the soul, Time, Space and Nature shrink away. In common speech, we
refer all things to time, as we habitually refer the immensely sundered
stars to one concave sphere. And so we say that the Judgment is distant
or near, that the Millennium approaches, that a day of certain political,
moral, social reforms is at hand, and the like, when we mean, that in the
nature of things, one of the facts that we contemplate is external and
fugitive, and the other is permanent and connate with the soul. The
things we now esteem fixed, shall, one by one, detach themselves, like
ripe fruit, from our experience, and fall. The wind shall blow them none
knows whither. The landscapes, the figures, Boston, London, are facts as
fugitive as any institution past, or any whiff of mist or smoke, and so is
society, and so is the world. The soul looketh steadily forward, creating a
world always before her, and leaving worlds always behind her. She has
no dates, nor rites, nor persons, nor specialties, nor men. The soul knows
only the soul. All else is idle weeds for her wearing.

After its own law and not by arithmetic is the rate of its progress to be
computed. The soul’s advances are not made by gradation, such as can be
represented by motion in a straight line; but rather by ascension of state,
such as can be represented by metamorphosis- from the egg to the worm,
from the worm to the fly. The growths of genius are of a certain (r)total
character, that does not advance the elect individual first over John, then
Adam, then Richard, and give to each the pain of discovered inferiority,
but by every throe of growth, the man expands there where he works,
passing, at each pulsation, classes, populations of men. With each divine
impulse the mind rends the thin rinds of the visible and finite, and comes
out into eternity, and inspires and expires its air. It converses with truths
that have always been spoken in the world, and becomes conscious of a
closer sympathy with Zeno and Arrian, than with persons in the house.

This is the law of moral and of mental gain. The simple rise as by
specific levity, not into a particular virtue, but into the region of all the
virtues. They are in the spirit which contains them all. The soul is
superior to all the particulars of merit. The soul requires purity, but
purity is not it; requires justice, but justice is not that; requires
beneficence, but is somewhat better: so that there is a kind of descent and
accommodation felt when we leave speaking of moral nature to urge a
virtue which it enjoins. For, to the soul in her pure action, all the virtues
are natural, and not painfully acquired. Speak to his heart, and the man
becomes suddenly virtuous.

Within the same sentiment is the germ of intellectual growth, which
obeys the same law. Those who are capable of humility, of justice, of
love, of aspiration, are already on a platform that commands the sciences
and arts, speech and poetry, action and grace. For whoso dwells in this
moral beatitude, does already anticipate those special powers which men
prize so highly; just as love does justice to all the gifts of the object
beloved. The lover has no talent, no skill, which passes for quite nothing
with his enamored maiden, however little she may possess of related
faculty. And the heart, which abandons itself to the Supreme Mind, finds
itself related to all its works and will travel a royal road to particular
knowledges and powers. For, in ascending to this primary and aboriginal
sentiment, we have come from our remote station on the circumference
instantaneously to the center of the world, where, as in the closet of God,
we see causes, and anticipate the universe, which is but a slow effect.

One mode of the divine teaching is the incarnation of the spirit in a
form- in forms, like my own. I live in society; with persons who answer
to thoughts in my own mind, or outwardly express to me a certain
obedience to the great instincts to which I live. I see its presence to them.
I am certified of a common nature; and so these other souls, these
separated selves, draw me as nothing else can. They stir in me the new
emotions we call passion; of love, hatred, fear, admiration, pity; thence
comes conversation, competition, persuasion, cities, and war. Persons are
supplementary to the primary teaching of the soul. In youth we are mad
for persons. Childhood and youth see all the world in them. But the
larger experience of man discovers the identical nature appearing
through them all. Persons themselves acquaint us with the impersonal.
In all conversation between two persons, tacit reference is made as to a
third party, to a common nature. That third party or common nature is
not social; it is impersonal; is God. And so in groups where debate is
earnest, and especially on great questions of thought, the company
become aware of their unity; aware that the thought rises to an equal
height in all bosoms, that all have a spiritual property in what was said,
as well as the sayer. They all wax wiser than they were. It arches over
them like a temple, this unity of thought, in which every heart beats with
nobler sense of power and duty, and thinks and acts with unusual
solemnity. All are conscious of attaining to a higher self-possession. It
shines for all. There is a certain wisdom of humanity which is common
to the greatest men with the lowest, and which our ordinary education
often labors to silence and obstruct. The mind is one, and the best minds
who love truth for its own sake think much less of property in truth.
Thankfully they accept it everywhere, and do not label or stamp it with
any man’s name, for it is theirs long beforehand. It is theirs from
eternity. The learned and the studious of thought have no monopoly of
wisdom. Their violence of direction in some degree disqualifies them to
think truly. We owe many valuable observations to people who are not
very acute or profound, and who say the thing without effort, which we
want and have long been hunting in vain. The action of the soul is
oftener in that which is felt and left unsaid than in that which is said in
any conversation. It broods over every society, and they unconsciously
seek for it in each other. We know better than we do. We do not yet
possess ourselves, and we know at the same time that we are much more.
I feel the same truth how often in my trivial conversation with my
neighbors, that somewhat higher in each of us overlooks this by-play,
and Jove nods to Jove from behind each of us.

Men descend to meet. In their habitual and mean service to the world
for which they forsake their native nobleness, they resemble those
Arabian Sheiks, who dwell in mean houses and affect an external
poverty, to escape the rapacity of the Pasha, and reserve all their display
of wealth for their interior and guarded retirements.

As it is present in all persons, so it is in every period of life. It is adult
already in the infant man. In my dealing with my child, my Latin and
Greek, my accomplishments and my money stead me nothing. They are
all lost on him: but as much soul as I have, avails. If I am merely wilful,
he gives me a Roland for an Oliver, sets his will against mine, one for
one, and leaves me, if I please, the degradation of beating him by my
superiority of strength. But if I renounce my will, and act for the soul,
setting that up as umpire between us two, out of his young eyes looks the
same soul; he reveres and loves with me.

The soul is the perceiver and revealer of truth. We know truth when we
see it, let skeptic and scoffer say what they choose. Foolish people ask
you, when you have spoken what they do not wish to hear, “How do you
know it is truth, and not an error of your own?” We know truth when we
see it, from opinion, as we know when we are awake that we are awake.
It was a grand sentence of Emanuel Swedenborg, which would alone
indicate the greatness of that man’s perception- “It is no proof of a man’s
understanding to be able to affirm whatever he pleases, but to be able to
discern that what is true is true, and that what is false is false; this is the
mark and character of intelligence.” In the book I read, the good thought
returns to me, as every truth will, the image of the whole soul. To the
bad thought which I find in it, the same soul becomes a discerning,
separating sword that lops it away. We are wiser than we know. If we
will not interfere with our thought, but will act entirely, or see how the
thing stands in God, we know the particular thing, and everything, and
every man. For, the Maker of all things and all persons stands behind us,
and casts his dread omniscience through us over things.

But beyond this recognition of its own in particular passages of the
individual’s experience, it also reveals truth. And here we should seek to
reinforce ourselves by its very presence, and to speak with a worthier,
loftier strain of that advent. For the soul’s communication of truth is the
highest event in nature, for it then does not give somewhat from itself,
but it gives itself, or passes into and becomes that man whom it
enlightens; or in proportion, to that truth he receives, it takes him to

We distinguish the announcements of the soul, its manifestations of its
own nature, by the term (r)Revelation. These are always attended by the
emotion of the sublime. For this communication is an influx of the
Divine mind into our mind. It is an ebb of the individual rivulet before
the flowing surges of the sea of life. Every distinct apprehension of this
central commandment agitates men with awe and delight. A thrill passes
through all men at the reception of new truths, or at the performance of a
great action, which comes out of the heart of nature. In these
communications, the power to see, is not separated from the will to do,
but the insight proceeds from obedience, and the obedience proceeds
from a joyful perception. Every moment when the individual feels
himself invaded by it, is memorable. Always, I believe, by the necessity
of our constitution, a certain enthusiasm attends the individual’s
consciousness of that divine presence. The character and duration of this
enthusiasm varies with the state of the individual, from an ecstasy and
trance and prophetic inspiration- which is its rarer appearance- to the
faintest glow of virtuous emotion, in which form it warms, like our
household fires, all the families and associations of men, and makes
society possible. A certain tendency to insanity has always attended the
opening of the religious sense in men, as if “blasted with excess of light.”
The trances of Socrates; the “union” of Plotinus; the vision of Porphyry;
the conversion of Paul; the aurora of Behmen; the convulsions of George
Fox and his Quakers; the illumination of Swedenborg; are of this kind.
What was in the case of these remarkable persons a ravishment, has in
innumerable instances in common life, been exhibited in less striking
manner. Everywhere the history of religion betrays a tendency to
enthusiasm. The rapture of the Moravian and Quietist; the opening of
the internal sense of the Word, in the language of the New Jerusalem
Church; the revival of the Calvinistic Churches; the experiences of the
Methodists, are varying forms of that shudder of awe and delight with
which the individual soul always mingles with the universal soul.

The nature of these revelations is always the same: they are perceptions
of the absolute law. They are solutions of the soul’s own questions. They
do not answer the questions which the understanding asks. The soul
answers never by words, but by the thing itself that is inquired after.

Revelation is the disclosure of the soul. The popular notion of a
revelation is, that it is a telling of fortunes. In past oracles of the soul, the
understanding seeks to find answers to sensual questions, and undertakes
to tell from God how long men shall exist, what their hands shall do, and
who shall be their company, adding even names, and dates, and places.
But we must pick no locks. We must check this low curiosity. An answer
in words is delusive; it is really no answer to the questions you ask. Do
not ask a description of the countries toward which you sail. The
description does not describe them to you, and to-morrow you arrive
there, and know them by inhabiting them. Men ask of the immortality of
the soul, and the employments of heaven, and the state of the sinner, and
so forth. They even dream that Jesus has left replies to precisely these
interrogatories. Never a moment did that sublime spirit speak in their
(r)patois. To truth, justice, love, the attributes of the soul, the idea of
immutableness is essentially associated. Jesus, living in these moral
sentiments, heedless of sensual fortunes, heeding only the manifestations
of these, never made the separation of the idea of duration from the
essence of these attributes; never uttered a syllable concerning the
duration of the soul. It was left to his disciples to sever duration from the
moral elements and to teach the immortality of the soul as a doctrine,
and maintain it by evidences. The moment the doctrine of the
immortality is separately taught, man is already fallen. In the flowing of
love, in the adoration of humility, there is no question of continuance.
No inspired man ever asks this question, or condescends to these
evidences. For the soul is true to itself, and the man in whom it is shed
abroad cannot wander from the present, which is infinite, to a future
which would be finite.

These questions which we lust to ask about the future, are a confession
of sin. God has no answer for them. No answer in words can reply to a
question of things. It is not in an arbitrary “decree of God,” but in the
nature of man that a veil shuts down on the facts of to-morrow; for the
soul will not have us read any other cipher but that of cause and effect.
By this veil, which curtains events, it instructs the children of men to
live in to-day. The only mode of obtaining an answer to these questions
of the senses is to forego all low curiosity, and accepting the tide of being
which floats us into the secret of nature, work and live, work and live,
and all unawares, the advancing soul has built and forged for itself a new
condition, and the question and the answer are one.

Thus is the soul the perceiver and revealer of truth. By the same fire,
serene, impersonal, perfect, which burns until it shall dissolve all things
into the waves and surges of an ocean of light, we see and know each
other, and what spirit each is of. Who can tell the grounds of his
knowledge of the character of the several individuals in his circle of
friends? No man. Yet their acts and words do not disappoint him. In that
man, though he knew no ill of him, he put no trust. In that other, though
they had seldom met, authentic signs had yet passed, to signify that he
might be trusted as one who had an interest in his own character. We
know each other very well- which of us has been just to himself, and
whether that which we teach or behold is only an aspiration, or is our
honest effort also.

We are all discerners of spirits. That diagnosis lies aloft in our life or
unconscious power, not in the understanding. The whole intercourse of
society, its trade, its religion, its friendships, its quarrels- is one wide,
judicial investigation of character. In full court, or in small committee,
or confronted face to face, accuser and accused, men offer themselves to
be judged. Against their will they exhibit those decisive trifles by which
character is read. But who judges? and what? Not our understanding. We
do not read them by learning or craft. No the wisdom of the wise man
consists herein, that he does not judge them; he lets them judge
themselves, and merely reads and records their own verdict.

By virtue of this inevitable nature, private will is overpowered, and,
mauger our efforts, or our imperfections, your genius will speak from
you, and mine from me. That which we are, we shall teach, not
voluntarily, but involuntarily. Thoughts come into our minds by avenues
which we never left open, and thoughts go out of our minds through
avenues which we never voluntarily open. Character teaches over our
head. The infallible index of true progress is found in the tone the man
takes. Neither his age, nor his breeding, nor company, nor books, nor
actions, nor talents, nor all together, can hinder him from being
deferential to a higher spirit than his own. If he have not found his home
in God, his manners, his forms of speech, the turn of his sentences, the
build, shall I say, of all his opinions will involuntarily confess it, let him
brave it out how he will. If he have found his center, the Deity will shine
through him, through all the disguises of ignorance, of ungenial
temperament, of unfavorable circumstance. The tone of seeking is one,
and the tone of having is another.

The great distinction between teachers, sacred or literary; between poets
like Herbert, and poets like Pope; between philosophers like Spinoza,
Kant and Coleridge, and philosophers like Locke, Paley, Mackintosh and
Stewart; between men of the world who are reckoned accomplished
talkers, and here and there a fervent mystic, prophesying, half-insane
under the infinitude of his thought, is, that one class speak (r)from
within, or from experience, as parties and possessors of the fact; and the
other class, (r)from without, as spectators merely, or perhaps as
acquainted with the fact, on the evidence of third persons. It is of no use
to preach to me from without. I can do that too easily myself. Jesus
speaks always from within, and in a degree that transcends all others. In
that is the miracle. That includes the miracle. My soul believes
beforehand that it ought so to be. All men stand continually in the
expectation of the appearance of such a teacher. But if a man do not
speak from within the veil, where the word is one with that it tells of, let
him lowly confess it.

The same Omniscience flows into the intellect and makes what we call
genius. Much of the wisdom of the world is not wisdom, and the most
illuminated class of men are no doubt superior to literary fame, and are
not writers. Among the multitude of scholars and authors we feel no
hallowing presence; we are sensible of a knack and skill rather than of
inspiration; they have a light, and know not whence it comes, and call it
their own; their talent is some exaggerated faculty, some overgrown
member, so that their strength is a disease. In these instances, the
intellectual gifts do not make the impression of virtue, but almost of vice;
and we feel that a man’s talents stand in his way of his advancement in
truth. But genius is religion. It is a larger imbibing of the common heart.
It is not anomalous, but more like, and not less like, other men. There is
in all great poets a wisdom of humanity which is superior to any talents
they exercise. The author, the wit, the partisan, the fine gentleman, does
not take place of the man. Humanity shines in Homer, in Chaucer, in
Spenser, in Shakespeare, in Milton. They are content with truth. They
use the positive degree. They seem frigid and phlegmatic to those who
have been spiced with the frantic passion and violent coloring of inferior,
but popular writers. For, they are poets by the free course which they
allow to the informing soul, though their eyes beholdeth again and
blesseth the things which it hath made.

The soul is superior to its knowledge; wiser than any of its works. The
great poet makes us feel our own wealth, and then we think less of his
compositions. His greatest communication to our mind is to teach us to
despise all he has done. Shakespeare carries us to such a lofty strain of
intelligent activity as to suggest a wealth which beggars his own; and we
then feel that the splendid works which he has created, and which in
other hours we extol as a sort of self-existent poetry, take no stronger
hold of real nature than the shadow of a passing traveler on the rock.
The inspiration which uttered itself in Hamlet and Lear, could utter
things as good from day to day, forever. Why then should I make account
of Hamlet and Lear, as if we had not the soul from which they fell as
syllables from the tongue?

This energy does not descend into individual life, on any other
condition than entire possession. It comes to the lowly and simple; it
comes to whomsoever will put off what is foreign and proud; it comes as
insight; it comes as serenity and grandeur. When we see those whom it
inhabits, we are apprised of new degrees of greatness. From that
inspiration the man comes back with a changed tone. He does not talk
with men, with an eye to their opinion. He tries them. It requires of us to
be plain and true. The vain traveler attempts to embellish his life by
quoting my Lord, and the Prince, and the Countess, who thus said or did
to (r)him. The ambitious vulgar show you their spoons, and brooches,
and rings, and preserve their cards and compliments. The more
cultivated, in their account of their own experience, cull out the pleasing
poetic circumstance; the visit to Rome; the man of genius they saw; the
brilliant friend they know; still further on, perhaps, the gorgeous
landscape, the mountain lights, the mountain thoughts, they enjoyed
yesterday- and so seek to throw a romantic color over their life. But the
soul that ascendeth to worship the great God, is plain and true; has no
rose color; no fine friends; no chivalry; no adventures; does not want
admiration; dwells in the hour that now is, in the earnest experience of
the common day- by reason of the present moment, and the mere trifle
having become porous to thought, and bibulous of the sea of light.

Converse with a mind that is grandly simple, and literature looks like
word-catching. The simplest utterances are worthiest to be written, yet
are they so cheap, and so things of course, that in the infinite riches of
the soul, it is like gathering a few pebbles off the ground, or bottling a
little air in a vial, when the whole earth, and the whole atmosphere are
ours. The mere author, in such society, is like a pickpocket among
gentlemen, who has come in to steal a gold button or a pin. Nothing can
pass there, or make you one of the circle, but the casting aside your
trappings, and dealing man to man in naked truth, plain confession and
omniscient affirmation.

Souls, such as these, treat you as gods would; walk as gods in the earth,
accepting without any admiration, your wit, your bounty, your virtue,
even, say rather your act of duty, for your virtue they own as their proper
blood, royal as themselves, and over-royal, and the father of the gods.
But what rebuke their plain fraternal bearing casts on the mutual flattery
with which authors solace each other, and wound themselves! These
flatter not. I do not wonder that these men go to see Cromwell, and
Christina, and Charles II, and James I, and the Grand Turk. For they are
in their own elevation, the fellows of kings, and must feel the servile
tone of conversation in the world. They must always be a godsend to
princes, for they confront them, a king to a king, without ducking or
concession, and give a high nature the refreshment and satisfaction of
resistance, of plain humanity, of even companionship, and of new ideas.
They leave them wiser and superior men. Souls like these make us feel
that sincerity is more excellent than flattery. Deal so plainly with man
and woman, as to constrain the utmost sincerity, and destroy all hope of
trifling with you. It is the highest compliment you can pay. Their
“highest praising,” said Milton, “is not flattery, and their plainest advice
is a kind of praising.”

Ineffable is the union of man and God in every act of the soul. The
simplest person, who in his integrity worships God, becomes God; yet for
ever and ever the influx of this better and universal self is new and
unsearchable. Ever it inspires awe and astonishment. How dear, how
soothing to man, arises the idea of God, peopling the lonely place,
effacing the scars of our mistakes and disappointments! When we have
broken our god of tradition, and ceased from our god of rhetoric, then
may God fire the heart with his presence. It is the doubling of the heart
itself, nay, the infinite enlargement of the heart with a power of growth
to a new infinity on every side. It inspires in man an infallible trust. He
has not the conviction, but the sight that the best is the true, and may in
that thought easily dismiss all particular uncertainties and fears, and
adjourn to the sure revelation of time, the solution of his private riddles.
He is sure that his welfare is dear to the heart of being. In the presence of
law to his mind, he is overflowed with a reliance so universal, that it
sweeps away all cherished hopes and the most stable projects of the
mortal condition in its flood. He believes that he cannot escape from his
good. The things that are really for thee, gravitate to thee. You are
running to seek your friend. Let your feet run, but your mind need not. If
you do not find him, will you not acquiesce that it is best that you should
not find him? For there is a power, which, as it is in you, is in him also,
and could therefore very well bring you together, if it were for the best.
You are preparing with eagerness to go and render a service to which
your talent and your tastes invite you, the love of men, and the hope of
fame. Has it not occurred to you that you have no right to go, unless you
are equally willing to be prevented from going? O believe, as thou livest,
that every sound that is spoken over the round world, which thou
oughtest to hear, will vibrate on thine ear. Every proverb, every book,
every by-word that belongs to thee for aid or comfort shall surely come
home through open or winding passages. Every friend whom not thy
fantastic will, but the great and tender heart in thee craveth, shall lock
thee in his embrace. And this, because the heart in thee is the heart of
all; not a valve, not a wall, not an intersection is there anywhere in
nature, but one blood rolls uninterruptedly, an endless circulation
through all men, as the water of the globe is all one sea, and, truly seen,
its tide is one.

Let man then learn the revelation of all nature, and all thought to his
heart; this, namely: that the Highest dwells with him; that the sources of
nature are in his own mind, if the sentiment of duty is there. But if he
would know that the great God speaketh, he must “go into his closet and
shut the door,” as Jesus said. God will not make himself manifest to
cowards. He must greatly listen to himself, withdrawing himself from all
the accents of other men’s devotion. Their prayers even are hurtful to
him, until he have made his own. The soul makes no appeal from itself.
Our religion vulgarly stands on numbers of believers. Whenever the
appeal is made- no matter how indirectly- to numbers, proclamation is
then and there made that religion is not. He that finds God a sweet,
enveloping thought to him never counts his company. When I sit in that
presence, who shall dare to come in? When I rest in perfect humility,
when I burn with pure love, what can Calvin or Swedenborg say?

It makes no difference whether the appeal is to numbers or to one. The
faith that stands on authority is not faith. The reliance on authority,
measures the decline of religion, the withdrawal of the soul. The position
men have given to Jesus, now for many centuries of history, is a position
of authority. It characterizes themselves. It cannot alter the eternal facts.
Great is the soul, and plain. It is no flatterer, it is no follower; it never
appeals from itself. It always believes in itself. Before the immense
possibilities of man, all mere experiences, all past biography, however
spotless and sainted, shrinks away. Before that holy heaven which our
presentiments foreshow us, we cannot easily praise any form of life we
have seen or read of. We not only affirm that we have few great men,
but, absolutely speaking, that we have none; that we have no history, no
record of any character or mode of living that entirely contents us. The
saints and demigods whom history worships we are constrained to accept
with a grain of allowance. Though in our lonely hours we draw a new
strength out of their memory, yet pressed on our attention, as they are by
the thoughtless and customary, they fatigue and invade. The soul gives
itself alone, original and pure, to the Lonely, Original, and Pure, who, on
that condition, gladly inhabits, leads, and speaks through it. Then is it
glad, young and nimble. It is not wise, but it sees through all things. It is
not called religious, but it is innocent. It calls the light its own, and feels
that the grass grows, and the stone falls by a law inferior to, and
dependent on its nature. Behold, it saith, I am born into the great, the
universal mind. I the imperfect, adore my own Perfect. I am somehow
receptive of the great soul, and thereby I do overlook the sun and the
stars, and feel them to be but the fair accidents and effects which change
and pass. More and more the surges of everlasting nature enter into me,
and I become public and human in my regards and actions. So come I to
live in thoughts, and act with energies which are immortal. Thus
revering the soul, and learning, as the ancient said, that “its beauty is
immense,” man will come to see that the world is the perennial miracle
which the soul worketh, and be less astonished at particular wonders; he
will learn that there is no profane history; that all history is sacred; that
the universe is represented in an atom, in a moment of time. He will
weave no longer a spotted life of shreds and patches, but he will live with
a divine unity. He will cease from what is base and frivolous in his own
life, and be content with all places and any service he can render. He will
calmly front the morrow in the negligency of that trust which carries
God with it, and so hath already the whole future in the bottom of the

X: Circles

THE eye in the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second;
and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end. It is
the highest emblem in the cipher of the world. St. Augustine described
the nature of God as a circle whose center was everywhere, and its
circumference, nowhere. We are all our lifetime reading the copious
sense of this first of forms. One moral we have already deduced in
considering the circular or compensatory character of every human
action. Another analogy we shall now trace; that every action admits of
being outdone. Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around
every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but
every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on
mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens.

This fact, as far as it symbolizes the moral facts of the Unattainable, the
flying Perfect, around which the hands of man can never meet, at once
the inspirer and the condemner of every success, may conveniently serve
us to connect many illustrations of human power in every department.

There are no fixtures in nature. The universe is fluid and volatile:
Permanence is but a word of degrees. Our globe seen by God, is a
transparent law, not a mass of facts. The law dissolves the fact and holds
it fluid. Our culture is the predominance of an idea which draws after it
all this train of cities and institutions. Let us rise into another idea: they
will disappear. The Greek sculpture is all melted away, as if it had been
statues of ice: here and there a solitary figure or fragment remaining, as
we see flecks and scraps of snow left in cold dells and mountain clefts in
June and July. For, the genius that created it creates now somewhat else.
The Greek letters last a little longer, but are already passing under the
same sentence, and tumbling into the inevitable pit which the creation of
new thought opens for all that is old. The new continents are built out
out of the ruins of an old planet: the new races fed out of the
decomposition of the foregoing. New arts destroy the old. See the
investment of capital in aqueducts, made useless by hydraulics;
fortifications, by gunpowder; roads and canals, by railways; sails, by
steam; steam by electricity.

You admire his tower of granite, weathering the hurts of so many ages.
Yet a little waving hand built this huge wall, and that which builds, is
better than that which is built. The hand that built, can tear it down
much faster. Better than the hand, and nimbler, was the invisible thought
which wrought through it, and thus ever behind the coarse effect, is a
fine cause, which being narrowly seen, is itself the effect of a finer cause.
Everything looks permanent until its secret is known. A rich estate
appears to women and children, a firm and lasting fact; to a merchant,
one easily created out of any materials, and easily lost. An orchard, good
tillage, good grounds, seem a fixture, like a gold mine, or a river, to a
citizen, but to a large farmer, not much more fixed than the state of the
crop. Nature looks provokingly stable and secular, but it has a cause like
all the rest; and when once I comprehend that, Will these fields stretch
so immovably wide, these leaves hang so individually considerable?
Permanence is a word of degrees. Everything is medial. Moons are no
more bounds to spiritual power than bat-balls.

The key to every man is his thought. Sturdy and defying though he
look, he has a helm which he obeys, which is the idea after which all his
facts are classified. He can only be reformed by showing him a new idea
which commands his own. The life of man is a self-evolving circle,
which, from a ring imperceptibly small, rushes on all sides outward to
new and larger circles, and that without end. The extent to which this
generation of circles, wheel without wheel, will go, depends on the force
or truth of the individual soul. For, it is the inert effort of each thought
having formed itself into a circular wave of circumstance, as, for
instance, an empire, rules of an art, a local usage, a religious rite, to heap
itself on that ridge, and to solidify, and hem in the life. But if the soul is
quick and strong it bursts over that boundary on all sides, and expands
another orbit on the great deep, which also runs up into a high wave,
with attempt again to stop and to bind. But the heart refuses to be
imprisoned; in its first and narrowest pulses, it already tends outward
with a vast force, and to immense and innumerable expansions.

Every ultimate fact is only the first of a new series. Every general law
only a particular fact of some more general law presently to disclose
itself. There is no outside, no inclosing wall, no circumference to us. The
man finishes his story- how good! how final! how it puts a new face on
all things! He fills the sky. Lo, on the other side, rises also a man, and
draws a circle around the circle we had just pronounced the outline of
the sphere. Then already is our first speaker, not man, but only a first
speaker. His only redress is forthwith to draw a circle outside of his
antagonist. And so men do by themselves. The result of to-day which
haunts the mind and cannot be escaped will presently be abridged into a
word, and the principle that seemed to explain nature will itself be
included as one example of a bolder generalization. In the thought of to-
morrow there is a power to upheave all thy creed, all the creeds, all the
literatures of the nations, and marshal thee to a heaven which no epic
dream has yet depicted. Every man is not so much a workman in the
world, as he is a suggestion of that he should be. Men walk as prophecies
of the next age.

Step by step we scale this mysterious ladder: the steps are actions; the
new prospect is power. Every several result is threatened and judged by
that which follows. Every one seems to be contradicted by the new; it is
only limited by the new. The new statement is always hated by the old,
and, to those dwelling in the old, comes like an abyss of skepticism. But
the eye soon gets wonted to it, for the eye and it are effects of one cause;
then its innocency and benefit appear, and, presently, all its energy
spent, it pales and dwindles before the revelation of the new hour.

Fear not the new generalization. Does the fact look crass and material,
threatening to degrade thy theory of spirit? Resist it not; it goes to refine
and raise thy theory of matter just as much.

There are no fixtures to men, if we appeal to consciousness. Every man
supposes himself not to be fully understood; and if there is any truth in
him, if he rests at last on the divine soul, I see not how it can be
otherwise. The last chamber, the last closet, he must feel, was never
opened; there is always a residuum unknown, unanalyzable. That is,
every man believes that he has a greater possibility.

Our moods do not believe in each other. To-day, I am full of thoughts,
and can write what I please. I see no reason why I should not have the
same thought, the same power of expression to-morrow. What I write,
while I write it, seems the most natural thing in the world; but,
yesterday, I saw a dreary vacuity in this direction in which now I see so
much; and a month hence, I doubt not, I shall wonder who he was that
wrote so many continuous pages. Alas for this infirm faith, this will not
strenuous, this vast ebb of a vast flow! I am God in nature; I am a weed
by the wall.

The continual effort to raise himself above himself, to work a pitch
above his last height, betrays itself in a man’s relations. We thirst for
approbation, yet cannot forgive the approver. The sweet of nature is love;
yet if I have a friend, I am tormented by my imperfection. The love of me
accuses the other party. If he were high enough to slight me, then could I
love him, and rise by my affection to new heights. A man’s growth is
seen in the successive choirs of his friends. For every friend whom he
loses for truth, he gains a better. I thought, as I walked in the woods and
mused on my friends, why should I play with them this game of idolatry?
I know and see too well, when not voluntarily blind, the speedy limits of
persons called high and worthy. Rich, noble, and great they are by the
liberality of our speech, but truth is sad. O blessed Spirit, whom I forsake
for these, they are not thee! Every personal consideration that we allow,
costs us heavenly state. We sell the thrones of angels for a short and
turbulent pleasure.

How often must we learn this lesson? Men cease to interest us when we
find their limitations. The only sin is limitation. As soon as you once
come up with a man’s limitations, it is all over with him. Has he talents?
has he enterprises? has he knowledge? it boots not. Infinitely alluring
and attractive was he to you yesterday, a great hope, a sea to swim in;
now, you have found his shores, found it a pond, and you care not if you
never see it again.

Each new step we take in thought reconciles twenty seemingly
discordant facts, as expressions of one law. Aristotle and Plato are
reckoned the respective heads of two schools. A wise man will see that
Aristotle Platonizes. By going one step further back in thought,
discordant opinions are reconciled, by being seen to be two extremes of
one principle, and we can never go so far back as to preclude a still
higher vision.

Beware when the great God lets loose a thinker on this planet. Then all
things are at risk. It is as when a conflagration has broken out in a great
city, and no man knows what is safe, or where it will end. There is not a
piece of science, but its flank may be turned to-morrow; there is not any
literary reputation, not the so-called eternal names of fame, that may not
be reviled and condemned. The very hopes of man, the thoughts of his
heart, the religion of nations, the manners and morals of mankind, are
all at the mercy of a new generalization. Generalization is always a new
influx of the divinity into the mind. Hence the thrill that attends it.

Valor consists in the power of self-recovery, so that a man cannot have
his flank turned, cannot be outgeneraled, but put him where you will, he
stands. This can only be by his preferring truth to his past apprehension
of truth; and his alert acceptance of it from whatever quarter; the
intrepid conviction that his laws, his relations to society, his christianity,
his world, may at any time be superseded and decease.

There are degrees in idealism. We learn first to play with it
academically, as the magnet was once a toy. Then we see in the heyday
of youth and poetry that it may be true, that it is true in gleams and
fragments. Then, its countenance waxes stern and grand, and we see that
it must be true. It now shows itself ethical and practical. We learn that
God (r)is; that he is in me; and that all things are shadows of him. The
idealism of Berkeley is only a crude statement of the idealism of Jesus,
and that, again, is a crude statement of the fact that all nature is the
rapid efflux of goodness executing and organizing itself. Much more
obviously is history and the state of the world at any one time, directly
dependent on the intellectual classification then existing in the minds of
men. The things which are dear to men at this hour, are so on account of
the ideas which have emerged on their mental horizon, and which cause
the present order of things as a tree bears its apples. A new degree of
culture would instantly revolutionize the entire system of human

Conversation is a game of circles. In conversation we pluck up the
(r)termini which bound the common of silence on every side. The
parties are not to be judged by the spirit they partake and even express
under this Pentecost. To-morrow they will have receded from this high-
water mark. To-morrow you shall find them stooping under the old pack-
saddles. Yet let us enjoy the cloven flame while it glows on our walls.
When each new speaker strikes a new light, emancipates us from the
oppression of the last speaker, to oppress us with the greatness and
exclusiveness of his own thought, then yields us to another redeemer, we
seem to recover our rights, to become men. O what truths profound and
executable only in ages and orbs, are supposed in the announcement of
every truth! In common hours, society sits cold and statuesque. We all
stand waiting, empty- knowing, possibly, that we can be full, surrounded
by mighty symbols which are not symbols to us, but prose and trivial
toys. Then cometh the god, and converts the statues into fiery men, and
by a flash of his eye burns up the veil which shrouded all things, and the
meaning of the very furniture, of cup and saucer, of chair and clock and
tester, is manifest. The facts which loomed so large in the fogs of
yesterday- property, climate, breeding personal beauty, and the like, have
strangely changed their proportions. All that we reckoned settled, shakes
now and rattles; and literatures, cities, climates, religions, leave their
foundations, and dance before our eyes. And yet here again see the swift
circumscription. Good as is discourse, silence is better, and shames it.
The length of the discourse indicates the distance of thought betwixt the
speaker and the hearer. If they were at a perfect understanding in any
part, no words would be necessary thereon. If at one in all parts, no
words would be suffered.

Literature is a point outside of our hodiernal circle, through which a
new one may be described. The use of literature is to afford us a platform
whence we may command a view of our present life, a purchase by
which we may move it. We fill ourselves with ancient learning; install
ourselves the best we can in Greek, in Punic, in Roman houses, only that
we may wiselier see French, English, and American houses and modes
of living. In like manner we see literature best from the midst of wild
nature, or from the din of affairs, or from a high religion. The field
cannot be well seen from within the field. The astronomer must have his
diameter of the earth’s orbit, as a base to find the parallax of any star.

Therefore, we value the poet. All the argument, and all the wisdom, is
not in the encyclopedia, or the treatise on metaphysics, or the Body of
Divinity, but in the sonnet or the play. In my daily work I incline to
repeat my old steps, and do not believe in remedial force, in the power of
change and reform. But some Petrarch or Ariosto, filled with the new
wine of his imagination, writes me an ode, or a brisk romance, full of
daring thought and action. He smites and arouses me with his shrill
tones, breaks up my whole chain of habits, and I open my eye on my own
possibilities, He claps wings to the sides of all the solid old lumber of the
world, and I am capable one more of choosing a straight path in theory
and practice.

We have the same need to command a view of the religion of the world.
We can never see Christianity from the catechism- from the pastures,
from a boat in the pond, from amid the songs of wood-birds, we possibly
may. Cleansed by the elemental light and wind, steeped in the sea of
beautiful forms which the field offers us, we may chance to cast a right
glance back upon biography. Christianity is rightly dear to the best of
mankind; yet was there never a young philosopher whose breeding had
fallen into the Christian Church, by whom that brave text of Paul’s was
not specially prized, “Then shall also the Son be subject unto him who
put all things under him, that God may be all in all.” Let the claims and
virtues of persons be never so great and welcome, the instinct of man
presses eagerly onward to the impersonal and illimitable, and gladly
arms itself against the dogmatism of bigots with this generous word out
of the book itself.

The natural world may be conceived of as a system of concentric
circles, and we now and then detect in nature slight dislocations, which
apprize us that this surface on which we now stand is not fixed, but
sliding. These manifold tenacious qualities, this chemistry and
vegetation, these metals and animals, which seem to stand there for their
own sake, are means and methods only, are words of God, and as
fugitive as other words. Has the naturalist or chemist learned his craft,
who has explored the gravity of atoms and the elective affinities, who
has not yet discerned the deeper law whereof this is only a partial or
approximate statement, namely, that like draws to like; and that the
goods which belong to you, gravitate to you, and need not be pursued
with pains and cost? Yet is that statement approximate also, and not
final. Omnipresence is a higher fact. Not through subtle, subterranean
channels need friend and fact be drawn to their counterpart, but, rightly
considered, these things proceed from the eternal generation of the soul.
Cause and effect are two sides of one fact.

The same law of eternal procession ranges all that we call the virtues,
and extinguishes each in the light of a better. The great man will not be
prudent in the popular sense; all his prudence will be so much deduction
from his grandeur. But it behooves each to see when he sacrifices
prudence, to what god he devotes it; if to ease and pleasure, he had better
be prudent still: if to a great trust, he can well spare his mule and
panniers, who has a winged chariot instead. Geoffrey draws on his boots
to go through the wood, that his feet may be safer from the bite of
snakes; Aaron never thinks of such a peril. In many years, neither is
harmed by such an accident. Yet it seems to me that with every
precaution you take against such an evil, you put yourself into the power
of the evil. I suppose that the highest prudence is the lowest prudence. Is
this too sudden a rushing from the center to the verge of our orbit? Think
how many times we shall fall back into pitiful calculations before we
take up our rest in the great sentiment, or make the verse of to-day the
new center. Besides, your bravest sentiment is familiar to the humblest
men. The poor and the low have their way of expressing the last facts of
philosophy as well as you. “Blessed be nothing,” and “the worse things
are, the better they are,” are the proverbs which express the
transcendentalism of common life.

One man’s justice is another’s injustice; one man’s beauty, another’s
ugliness; one man’s wisdom, another’s folly, as one beholds the same
objects from a higher point of view. One man thinks justice consists in
paying debts, and has no measure in his abhorrence of another who is
very remiss in this duty, and makes the creditor wait tediously. But that
second man has his own way of looking at things; asks himself, which
debt must I pay first, the debt to the rich, or the debt to the poor? the debt
of money, or the debt of thought to mankind, of genius to nature? For
you, O broker, there is no other principle but arithmetic. For me,
commerce is of trivial import; love, faith, truth of character, the
aspiration of man, these are sacred; nor can I detach one duty, like you,
from all other duties, and concentrate my forces mechanically on the
payment of moneys. Let me live onward; you shall find that, though
slower, the progress of my character will liquidate all these debts without
injustice to higher claims. If a man should dedicate himself to the
payment of notes, would not this be injustice? Owes he no debt but
money? And are all claims on him to be postponed to a landlord’s or a

There is no virtue which is final; all are initial. The virtues of society
are vices of the saint. The terror of reform is the discovery that we must
cast away our virtues, or what we have always esteemed such, into the
same pit that has consumed our grosser vices.

“Forgive his crimes, forgive his virtues too,
Those smaller faults, half converts to the right.”

It is the highest power of divine moments that they abolish our
contritions also. I accuse myself of sloth and unprofitableness, day by
day; but when these waves of God flow into me, I no longer reckon lost
time. I no longer poorly compute my possible achievement by what
remains to me of the month or the year; for these moments confer a sort
of omnipresence and omnipotence, which asks nothing of duration, but
sees that the energy of the mind is commensurate with the work to be
done, without time.

And thus, O circular philosopher, I hear some reader exclaim, you have
arrived at a fine pyrrhonism, at an equivalence and indifferency of all
actions, and would fain teach us that (r)if we are true, forsooth, our
crimes may be lively stones out of which we shall construct the temple of
the true God.

I am not careful to justify myself. I own I am gladdened by seeing the
predominance of the saccharine principle throughout vegetable nature,
and not less by beholding in morals that unrestrained inundation of the
principle of good into every chink and hole that selfishness has left open,
yea, into selfishness and sin itself; so that no evil is pure; nor hell itself
without its extreme satisfactions. But lest I should mislead any when I
have my own head, and obey my whims, let me remind the reader that I
am only an experimenter. Do not set the least value on what I do, or the
least discredit on what I do not, as if I pretended to settle anything as
true or false. I unsettle all things. No facts are to me sacred; none are
profane; I simply experiment, an endless seeker, with no Past at my

Yet this incessant movement and progression, which all things partake,
could never become sensible to us, but by contrast to some principle of
fixture or stability in the soul. While the eternal generation of circles
proceeds, the eternal generator abides. That central life is somewhat
superior to creation, superior to knowledge and thought, and contains all
its circles. Forever it labors to create a life and thought as large and
excellent as itself; but in vain; for that which is made instructs how to
make a better.

Thus there is no sleep, no pause, no preservation, but all things renew,
germinate, and spring. Why should we import rags and relics into the
new hour? Nature abhors the old, and old age seems the only disease; all
others run into this one. We call it by many names, fever, intemperance,
insanity, stupidity, and crime: they are all forms of old age; they are rest,
conservatism, appropriation, inertia, not newness, not the way onward.
We grizzle every day. I see no need of it. While we converse with what is
above us, we do not grow old, but grow young. Infancy, youth, receptive,
aspiring, with religious eye looking upward, counts itself nothing, and
abandons itself to the instruction flowing from all sides. But the man and
woman of seventy assume to know all; throw up their hope; renounce
aspiration; accept the actual for the necessary; and talk down to the
young. Let them then become organs of the Holy Ghost; let them be
lovers; let them behold truth; and their eyes are uplifted, their wrinkles
smoothed, they are perfumed again with hope and power. This old age
ought not to creep on a human mind. In nature, every moment is new;
the past is always swallowed and forgotten; the coming only is sacred.
Nothing is secure but life, transition, the energizing spirit. No love can
be bound by oath or covenant to secure it against a higher love. No truth
so sublime but it may be trivial to-morrow in the light of new thoughts.
People wish to be settled; only as far as they are unsettled is there any
hope for them.

Life is a series of surprises. We do not guess today the mood, the
pleasure, the power of to-morrow, when we are building up our being. Of
lower states, of acts of routine and sense, we can tell somewhat, but the
masterpieces of God, the total growths, and universal movements of the
soul, he hideth; they are incalculable. I can know that truth is divine and
helpful, but how it shall help me, I can have no guess, for, (r)so to be is
the sole inlet of (r)so to know. The new position of the advancing man
has all the powers of the old, yet has them all new. It carries in its bosom
all the energies of the past, yet is itself an exhalation of the morning. I
cast away in this new moment all my once hoarded knowledge, as vacant
and vain. Now, for the first time, seem I to know anything rightly. The
simplest words, we do not know what they mean, except when we love
and aspire.

The difference between talents and character is adroitness to keep the
old and trodden round, and power and courage to make a new road to
new and better goals. Character makes an overpowering present, a
cheerful, determined hour, which fortifies all the company, by making
them see that much is possible and excellent that was not thought of.
Character dulls the impression of particular events. When we see the
conqueror, we do not think much of any one battle or success. We see
that we had exaggerated the difficulty. It was easy to him. The great man
is not convulsible or tormentable. He is so much that events pass over
him without much impression. People say sometimes, “See what I have
overcome; see how cheerful I am; see how completely I have triumphed
over these black events.” Not if they still remind me of the black event-
they have not yet conquered. Is it conquest to be a gay and decorated
sepulcher, or a half-crazed widow hysterically laughing? True conquest
is the causing the black event to fade and disappear as an early cloud of
insignificant result in a history large and advancing.

The one thing which we seek with insatiable desire, is to forget
ourselves, to be surprised out of our propriety, to lose our sempiternal
memory, and to do something without knowing how or why; in short, to
draw a new circle. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.
The way of life is wonderful. It is by abandonment. The great moments
of history are the facilities of performance through the strength of ideas,
as the works of genius and religion. “A man,” said Oliver Cromwell,
“never rises so high as when he knows not whither he is going.” Dreams
and drunkenness, the use of opium and alcohol are the semblance and
counterfeit of this oracular genius, and hence their dangerous attraction
for men. For the like reason, they ask the aid of wild passions, as in
gaming and war, to ape in some manner these flames and generosities of
the heart.

XI: Intellect

EVERY substance is negatively electric to that which stands above it in
the chemical tables, positively to that which stands below it. Water
dissolves wood and stone and salt; air dissolves water; electric fire
dissolves air, but the intellect dissolves fire, gravity, laws, method, and
the subtlest unnamed relations of nature in its resistless menstruum.
Intellect lies behind genius, which is intellect constructive. Intellect is
the simple power anterior to all action or construction. Gladly would I
unfold in calm degrees a natural history of the intellect, but what man
has yet been able to mark the steps and boundaries of that transparent
essence? The first questions are always to be asked, and the wisest doctor
is graveled by the inquisitiveness of a child. How can we speak of the
action of the mind under any divisions, as, of its knowledge, of its ethics,
of its works, and so forth, since it melts will into perception, knowledge
into act? Each becomes the other. Itself alone is. Its vision is not like the
vision of the eye, but is union with the things known.

Intellect and intellection signify, to the common ear, consideration of
abstract truth. The consideration of time and place, of you and me, of
profit and hurt, tyrannize over most men’s minds. Intellect separates the
fact considered from (r)you, from all local and personal reference, and
discerns it as if it existed for its own sake. Heraclitus looked upon the
affections as dense and colored mists. In the fog of good and evil
affections it is hard for man to walk forward in a straight line. Intellect is
void of affection, and sees an object as it stands in the light of science,
cool and disengaged. The intellect goes out of the individual, floats over
its own personality, and regards it as a fact, and not as (r)I and
(r)mine. He who is immersed in what concerns person or place cannot
see the problem of existence. This the intellect always ponders. Nature
shows all things formed and bound. The intellect pierces the form,
overleaps the wall, detects intrinsic likeness between remote things, and
reduces all things into a few principles.

The making a fact the subject of thought, raises it. All that mass of
mental and moral phenomena which we do not make objects of voluntary
thought come within the power of fortune; they constitute the
circumstance of daily life; they are subject to change, to fear and hope.
Every man beholds his human condition with a degree of melancholy. As
a ship aground is battered by the waves, so man, imprisoned in mortal
life, lies open to the mercy of coming events. But a truth, separated by
the intellect, is no longer a subject of destiny. We behold it as a god
upraised above care and fear. And so any fact in our life, or any record of
our fancies or reflections, disentangled from the web of our
unconsciousness, becomes an object impersonal and immortal. It is the
past restored, but embalmed. A better art than that of Egypt has taken
fear and corruption out of it. It is eviscerated of care. It is offered for
science. What is addressed to us for contemplation does not threaten us,
but makes us intellectual beings.

The growth of intellect is spontaneous in every step. The mind that
grows could not predict the times, the means, the mode of that
spontaneity. God enters by a private door into every individual. Long
prior to the age of reflection is the thinking of the mind. Out of darkness
it came insensibly into the marvelous light of to-day. Over it always
reigned a firm law. In the period of infancy it accepted and disposed of
all impressions from the surrounding creation after its own way.
Whatever any mind doth or saith, is after a law. It has no random act or
word. And this native law remains over it after it has come to reflection
or conscious thought. In the most worn, pedantic, introverted, self-
tormentor’s life, the greatest part is incalculable by him, unforeseen,
unimaginable, and must be, until he can take himself up by his own ears.
What am I? What has my will done to make me that I am? Nothing. I
have been floated into this thought, this hour, this connection of events,
by might and mind sublime, and my ingenuity and wilfulness have not
thwarted, have not aided to an appreciable degree.

Our spontaneous action is always the best. You cannot, with your best
deliberation and heed, come so close to any question as your spontaneous
glance shall bring you, while you rise from your bed, or walk abroad in
the morning after meditating the matter before sleep, on the previous
night. Always our thinking is a pious reception. Our truth of thought is
therefore vitiated as much by too violent direction given by our will, as
by too great negligence. We do not determine what we will think. We
only open our senses, clear away, as we can, all obstruction from the fact,
and suffer the intellect to see. We have little control over our thoughts.
We are the prisoners of ideas. They catch us up for moments into their
heaven, and so fully engage us, that we take no thought for the morrow,
gaze like children, without an effort to make them our own. By-and-by
we fall out of that rapture, bethink us where we have been, what we have
seen, and repeat, as truly as we can, what we have beheld. As far as we
can recall these ecstasies, we carry away in the ineffaceable memory, the
result, and all men and all the ages confirm it. It is called Truth. But the
moment we cease to report, and attempt to correct and contrive, it is not

If we consider what persons have stimulated and profited us, we shall
perceive the superiority of the spontaneous or intuitive principle over the
arithmetical or logical. The first always contains the second, but virtual
and latent. We want, in every man, a long logic; we cannot pardon the
absence of it, but it must not be spoken. Logic is the procession or
proportionate unfolding of the intuition; but its virtue is as silent method;
the moment it would appear as propositions, and have a separate value, it
is worthless.

In every man’s mind, some images, words, and facts remain, without
effort on his part to imprint them, which others forget, and afterward
these illustrate to him important laws. All our progress is an unfolding,
like the vegetable bud. You have first an instinct, then an opinion, then a
knowledge, as the plant has root, bud, and fruit. Trust the instinct to the
end, though you can render no reason. It is vain to hurry it. By trusting it
to the end, it shall ripen into truth, and you shall know why you believe.

Each mind has its own method. A true man never acquires after college
rules. What you have aggregated in a natural manner, surprises and
delights when it is produced. For we cannot oversee each other’s secret.
And hence the differences between men in natural endowment are
insignificant in comparison with their common wealth. Do you think the
porter and the cook have no anecdotes, no experiences, no wonders for
you? Everybody knows as much as the savant. The walls of rude minds
are scrawled all over with facts, with thoughts. They shall one day bring
a lantern and read the inscriptions. Every man, in the degree in which he
has wit and culture, finds his curiosity inflamed concerning the modes of
living and thinking of other men, and especially of those classes whose
minds have not been subdued by the drill of school education.

This instinctive action never ceases in a healthy mind, but becomes
richer and more frequent in its informations through all state of culture.
At last comes the era of reflection, when we not only observe, but take
pains to observe; when we of set purpose sit down to consider an abstract
truth; when we keep the mind’s eye open, while we converse, while we
read, while we act, intent to learn the secret law of some class of facts.

What is the hardest task in the world? To think. I would put myself in
the attitude to look in the eye an abstract truth. and I cannot. I blench
and withdraw on this side and on that. I seem to know what he meant,
who said, No man can see God face to face and live. For example, a man
explores the basis of civil government. Let him intend his mind without
respite, without rest, in one direction. His best heed long time avails him
nothing. Yet thoughts are flitting before him. We all but apprehend, we
dimly forebode the truth. We say, I will walk abroad, and the truth will
take form and clearness to me. We go forth, but cannot find it. It seems
as if we needed only the stillness and composed attitude of the library, to
seize the thought. But we come in, and are as far from it as at first. Then,
in a moment, and unannounced, the truth appears. A certain, wandering
light appears, and is the distinction, the principle we wanted. But the
oracle comes, because we had previously laid siege to the shrine. It
seems as if the law of the intellect resembled that law of nature by which
we now inspire, now expire the breath; by which the heart now draws in,
then hurls out the blood- the law of undulation. So now you must labor
with your brains, and now you must forbear your activity, and see what
the great Soul showeth.

Our intellections are mainly prospective. The immortality of man is as
legitimately preached from the intellections as from the moral volitions.
Every intellection is mainly prospective. Its present value is its least. It is
a little seed. Inspect what delights you in Plutarch, in Shakespeare, in
Cervantes. Each truth that a writer acquires is a lantern which he
instantly turns full on what facts and thoughts lay already in his mind,
and behold, all the mats and rubbish which had littered his garret
become precious. Every trivial fact in his private biography becomes an
illustration of this new principle, revisits the day, and delights all men by
its piquancy and new charm. Men say, where did he get this? and think
there was something divine in his life. But no; they have myriads of facts
just as good, would they only get a lamp to ransack their attics withal.

We are all wise. The difference between persons is not in wisdom but in
art. I knew, in an academical club, a person who always deferred to me,
who, seeing my whim for writing, fancied that my experiences had
somewhat superior; while I saw that his experiences were as good as
mine. Give them to me, and I would make the same use of them. He held
the old; he holds the new; I had the habit of tacking together the old and
the new, which he did not use to exercise. This may hold in the great
examples. Perhaps, if we should meet Shakespeare, we should not be
conscious of any steep inferiority; no: but of a great equality- only that he
possessed a strange skill of using, of classifying his facts, which we
lacked. For, notwithstanding our utter incapacity to produce anything
like Hamlet and Othello, see the perfect reception this wit, and immense
knowledge of life, and liquid eloquence find in us all.

If you gather apples in the sunshine, or make hay, or hoe corn, and then
retire within doors, and shut your eyes, and press them with your hand,
you shall still see apples hanging in the bright light, with boughs and
leaves thereto, or the tasseled grass, or the corn-flags, and this for five or
six hours afterward. There lie the impressions on the retentive organ,
though you knew it not. So lies the whole series of natural images with
which your life has made you acquainted, in your memory, though you
know it not, and a thrill of passion flashes light on their dark chamber,
and the active power seizes instantly the fit image, as the word of its
momentary thought.

It is long ere we discover how rich we are. Our history, we are sure, is
quite tame. We have nothing to write, nothing to infer. But our wiser
years still run back to the despised recollections of childhood, and always
we are fishing up some wonderful article out of that pond; until, by-and-
by, we begin to suspect that the biography of the one foolish person we
know is, in reality, nothing less than the miniature paraphrase of the
hundred volumes of the Universal History.

In the intellect constructive, which we popularly designate by the word
Genius, we observe the same balance of two elements, as in intellect
receptive. The constructive intellect produces thoughts, sentences,
poems, plans, designs, systems. It is the generation of the mind, the
marriage of thought with nature. To genius must always go two gifts, the
thought and the publication. The first is revelation, always a miracle,
which no frequency of occurrence, or incessant study can ever
familiarize, but which must always leave the inquirer stupid with
wonder. It is the advent of truth into the world, a form of thought now,
for the first time, bursting into the universe, a child, of the old eternal
soul, a piece of genuine and immeasurable greatness. It seems, for the
time, to inherit all that has yet existed, and to dictate to the unborn. It
affects every thought of man, and goes to fashion ever institution, But to
make it available, it needs a vehicle or art by which it is conveyed to
men. To be communicable, it must become picture or sensible object. We
must learn the language of facts. The most wonderful inspirations die
with their subject, if he has no hand to paint them to the senses. The ray
of light passes invisible through space, and only when it falls on an
object is it seen. When the spiritual energy is directed on something
outward, then is it a thought. The relation between it and you, first
makes you, the value of you, apparent to me. The rich inventive genius
of the painter must be smothered and lost for the want of the power of
drawing, and in our happy hours we should be inexhaustible poets, if
once we could break through the silence into adequate rhyme. As all men
have some access to primary truth, so all have some art or power of
communication in their head, but only in the artist does it descend into
the hand. There an inequality whose laws we do not yet know, between
two men, and between two moments of the same man, in respect to this
faculty. In common hours we have the same facts as in the uncommon or
inspired, but they do not sit for their portraits, they are not detached, but
lie in a web. The thought of genius is spontaneous; but the power of
picture or expression, in the most enriched and flowing nature, implies a
mixture of will, a certain control over the spontaneous states, without
which no production is possible. It is a conversion of all nature into the
rhetoric of thought, under the eye of judgment, with a strenuous exercise
of choice. And yet the imaginative vocabulary seems to be spontaneous
also. It does not flow from experience only or mainly, but from a richer
source. Not by any conscious imitation of particular forms are the grand
strokes of the painter executed, but by repairing to the fountain-head of
all forms in his mind. Who is the first drawing-master? Without
instruction we know very well the ideal of the human form. A child
knows if an arm or a leg be distorted in a picture, if the attitude be
natural, or grand, or mean, though he has never received any instruction
in drawing, or heard any conversation on the subject, nor can himself
draw with correctness a single feature. A good form strikes all eyes
pleasantly, long before they have any science on the subject, and a
beautiful face sets twenty hearts in palpitation, prior to all consideration
of the mechanical proportions of the features and head. We may owe to
dreams some light on the fountain of this skill; for, as soon as we let our
will go, and let the unconscious states ensue, see what cunning
draughtsmen we are! We entertain ourselves with wonderful forms of
men, of women, of animals, of gardens, of woods, and of monsters, and
the mystic pencil wherewith we them draw has no awkwardness or
inexperience, no meagerness or poverty; it can design well, and group
well; its composition is full of art, its colors are well laid on, and the
whole canvas which it paints is life-like, and apt to touch us with terror,
with tenderness, with desire, and with grief. Neither are the artist’s
copies from experience ever mere copies, but always touched and
softened by tints from this ideal domain.

The conditions essential to a constructive mind do not appear to be so
often combined but that a good sentence or verse remains fresh and
memorable for a long time. Yet when we write with ease, and come out
into the free air of thought, we seem to be assured that nothing is easier
than to continue this communication at pleasure. Up, down, around, the
kingdom of thought has no inclosures, but the Muse makes us free of her
city. Well, the world has a million writers. One would think, then, that
good thought would be as familiar as air and water, and the gifts of each
new hour would exclude the last. Yet we can count all our good books;
nay, I remember any beautiful verse for twenty years. It is true that the
discerning intellect of the world is always greatly in advance of the
creative, so that always there are many competent judges of the best
book, and few writers of the best books. But some of the conditions of
intellectual construction are of rare occurrence. The intellect is a whole,
and demands integrity in every work. This is resisted equally by a man’s
devotion to a single thought, and by his ambition to combine too many.

Truth is our element of life, yet if a man fasten his attention on a single
aspect of truth, and apply himself to that alone for a long time, the truth
becomes distorted and not itself, but falsehood; herein resembling the
air, which is our natural element, and the breath of our nostrils, but if a
stream of the same be directed on the body for a time, it causes cold,
fever, and even death. How wearisome the grammarian, the
phrenologist, the political or religious fanatic, or indeed any possessed
mortal, whose balance is lost by the exaggeration of a single topic. It is
incipient insanity. Every thought is a prison also. I cannot see what you
see, because I am caught up by a strong wind and blown so far in one
direction that I am out of the hope of your horizon.

Is it any better, if the student, to avoid this offense, and to liberalize
himself, aims to make a mechanical whole, of history, or science, or
philosophy, by a numerical addition of all the facts that fall within his
vision? The world refuses to be analyzed by addition and subtraction.
When we are young we spend much time and pains in filling our note-
books with all definitions of Religion, Love, Poetry, Polities, Art, in the
hope that in the course of a few years we shall have condensed into our
encyclopedia the net value of all the theories at which the world has yet
arrived. But year after year our tables get no completeness and at last we
discover that our curve is a parabola whose arcs will never meet.

Neither by detachment, neither by aggregation, is the integrity of the
intellect transmitted to its works, but by a vigilance which brings the
intellect in its greatness and best state to operate every moment. It must
have the same wholeness which nature has. Although no diligence can
rebuild the universe in a model, by the best accumulation or disposition
of details, yet does the world reappear in miniature in every event, so
that all the laws of nature may be read in the smallest fact. The intellect
must have the like perfection in its apprehension, and in its works. For
this reason an index or mercury of intellectual proficiency is the
perception of identity. We talk with accomplished persons who appear to
be strangers in nature. The cloud, the tree, the turf, the bird are not
theirs, have nothing of them: the world is only their lodging and table.
But the poet, whose verses are to be spheral and complete, is one whom
nature cannot deceive, whatsoever face of strangeness she may put on.
He feels a strict consanguinity, and detects more likeness than variety in
all her changes. We are stung by the desire for new thought, but when
we receive a new thought it is only the old thought with a new face, and
though we make it our own, we instantly crave another; we are not really
enriched. For the truth was in us before it was reflected to us from
natural objects; and the profound genius will cast the likeness of all
creatures into every product of his wit.

But if the constructive powers are rare, and it is given to few men to be
poets, yet every man is a receiver of this descending holy ghost, and may
well study the laws of its influx. Exactly parallel is the whole rule of
intellectual duty, to the rule of moral duty. A self-denial, no less austere
than the saint’s, is demanded of the scholar. He must worship truth and
forego all things for that, and choose defeat and pain, so that his treasure
in thought is thereby augmented.

God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take
which you please, you can never have both. Between these, as a
pendulum, man oscillates ever. He in whom the love of repose
predominates, will accept the first creed, the first philosophy, the first
political party he meets, most likely, his father’s. He gets rest,
commodity, and reputation; but he shuts the door of truth. He in whom
the love of truth predominates will keep himself aloof from all moorings
and afloat. He will abstain from dogmatism, and recognize all the
opposite negations between which, as walls, his being is swung. He
submits to the inconvenience of suspense and imperfect opinion, but he
is a candidate for truth, as the other is not, and respects the highest law
of his being.

The circle of the green earth he must measure with his shoes, to find
the man who can yield him truth. He shall then know that there is
somewhat more blessed and great in hearing than in speaking. Happy is
the hearing man; unhappy the speaking man. As long as I hear truth I
am bathed by a beautiful element, and am not conscious of any limits to
my nature. The suggestions are thousandfold that I hear and see. The
waters of the great deep have ingress and egress to the soul. But if I
speak, I define, I confine, and am less. When Socrates speaks, Lysis and
Menexenus are afflicted by no shame that they do not speak. They also
are good. He likewise defers to them, love them, while he speaks.
Because a true and natural man contains and is the same truth which an
eloquent man articulates: but in the eloquent man, because he can
articulate it, it seems something the less to reside, and he turns to these
silent beautiful with the more inclination and respect. The ancient
sentence said, “Let us be silent, for so are the gods.” Silence is a solvent
that destroys personality, and gives us leave to be great and universal.
Every man’s progress is through a succession of teachers, each of whom
seems at the time to have a superlative influence, but it at last gives place
to a new. Frankly let him accept it all. Jesus says, “Leave father, mother,
house and lands, and follow me. Who leaves all, receives more.” This is
as true intellectually as morally. Each new mind we approach seems to
require an abdication of all our past and present possessions. A new
doctrine seems at first a subversion of all our opinions, tastes, and
manner of living. Such has Swedenborg, such has Kant, such has
Coleridge, such has Cousin seemed to many young men in this country.
Take thankfully and heartily all they can give. Exhaust them, wrestle
with them, let them not go until their blessings be won, and after a short
season the dismay will be overpast, the excess of influence withdrawn,
and they will be no longer an alarming meteor, but one more bright star
shining serenely in your heaven, and blending its light with all your day.

But while he gives himself up unreservedly to that which draws him,
because that is his own, he is to refuse himself to that which draws him
not, whatsoever fame and authority may attend it, because it is not his
own. Entire self-reliance belongs to the intellect. One soul is a
counterpoise of all souls, as a capillary column of water is a balance for
the sea. It must treat things, and books, and sovereign genius, as itself
also a sovereign. If AEschylus be that man he is taken for, he has not yet
done his office when he has educated the learned of Europe for a
thousand years. He is now to approve himself a master of delight to me
also. If he cannot do that, all his fame shall avail him nothing with me. I
were a fool not to sacrifice a thousand AEschyluses to my intellectual
integrity. Especially take the same ground in regard to abstract truth, the
science of the mind. The Bacon, the Spinoza, the Hume, Schelling, Kant,
or whosoever propounds to you a philosophy of the mind, is only a more
or less awkward translator of things in your consciousness, which you
have also your way of seeing, perhaps of denominating. Say then, instead
of too timidly poring into his obscure sense, that he has not succeeded in
rendering back to you your consciousness. He has not succeeded, now let
another try. If Plato cannot, perhaps Spinoza will. If Spinoza cannot,
then perhaps Kant. Anyhow, when at last it is done, you will find it is no
recondite, but a simple, natural, common state, which the writer restores
to you.

But let us end these didactics. I will not, though the subject might
provoke it, speak to the open question between Truth and Love. I shall
not presume to interfere in the old politics of the skies: “The cherubim
know most; the seraphim love most.” The gods shall settle their own
quarrels. But I cannot recite, even thus rudely, laws of the intellect,
without remembering that lofty and sequestered class of men who have
been, its prophets and oracles, the high priesthood of the pure reason, the
(r)Trismegisti, the expounders of the principles of thought from age to
age. When at long intervals, we turn over their abstruse pages, wonderful
seems the calm and grand air of these few, these great spiritual lords,
who have walked in the world- these of the old religion- dwelling in a
worship which makes the sanctities of christianity look (r)parvenues
and popular; for “persuasion is in soul, but necessity is in intellect.” This
band of grandees, Hermes, Heraclitus, Empedocles, Plato, Plotinus,
Olympiodorus, Proclus, Synesius and the rest, have somewhat so vast in
their logic, so primary in their thinking, that it seems antecedent to all
the ordinary distinctions of rhetoric and literature, and to be at once
poetry, and music, and dancing, and astronomy, and mathematics. I am
present at the sowing of the seed of the world. With a geometry of
sunbeams, the soul lays the foundations of nature. The truth and
grandeur of their thought is proved by its scope and applicability, for it
commands the entire schedule and inventory of things for its illustration.
But what marks its elevation, and has even a comic look to us, is the
innocent serenity with which these babe-like Jupiters sit in their clouds,
and from age to age prattle to each other, and to no contemporary. Well
assured that their speech is intelligible, and the most natural thing in the
world, they add thesis to thesis, without a moment’s heed of the universal
astonishment of the human race below, who do not comprehend their
plainest argument; nor do they ever relent so much as to insert a popular
or explaining sentence; nor testify the least displeasure or petulance at
the dulness of their amazed auditory. The angels are so enamored of the
language that is spoken in heaven that they will not distort their lips with
the hissing and unmusical dialects of men, but speak their own, whether
there be any who understand it or not.

XII: Art

BECAUSE the soul is progressive, it never quite repeats itself, but in
every act attempts the production of a new and fairer whole. This
appears in works both of the useful and the fine arts, if we employ the
popular distinction of works according to their aim, either at use or
beauty. Thus, in our fine arts, not imitation, but creation is the aim. In
landscapes, the painter should give the suggestion of a fairer creation
than we know. The details, the prose of nature he should omit, and give
us only the spirit and splendor. He should know that the landscape has
beauty for his eye, because it expresses a thought which is to him good;
and this, because the same power which sees through his eyes is seen in
that spectacle; and he will come to value the expression of nature, and
not nature itself, and so exalt in his copy the features that please him. He
will give the gloom of gloom, and the sunshine of sunshine. In a portrait,
he must inscribe the character, and not the features, and must esteem the
man who sits to him as himself only an imperfect picture or likeness of
the aspiring original within.

What is that abridgment and selection we observe in all spiritual
activity, but itself the creative impulse? for it is the inlet of that higher
illumination which teaches to convey a larger sense by simpler symbols.
What is a man but nature’s finer success in self-explication? What is a
man but a finer and compacter landscape than the horizon figures;
nature’s eclecticism? And what is his speech, his love of painting, love of
nature, but a still finer success? all the weary miles and tons of space and
bulk left out, and the spirit or moral of it contracted into a musical word,
or the most cunning stroke of the pencil?

But the artist must employ the symbols in use in his day and nation to
convey his enlarged sense to his fellow-men. Thus the new in art is
always formed out of the old. The Genius of the Hour always sets his
ineffaceable seal on the work, and gives it an inexpressible charm for the
imagination. As far as the spiritual character of the period overpowers
the artist, and finds expression in his work, so far it will always retain a
certain grandeur, and will represent to future beholders the Unknown,
the Inevitable, the Divine. No man can quite exclude this element of
necessity from his labor. No man can quite emancipate himself from his
age and country, or produce a model in which the education, the
religion, the politics, usages, and arts, of his time shall have no share.
Though he were never so original, never so wilful and fantastic, he
cannot wipe out of his work every trace of the thoughts amid which it
grew. The very avoidance betrays the usage he avoids. Above his will,
and out of his sight, he is necessitated, by the air he breathes, and the
idea on which he and his contemporaries live and toil, to share the
manner of his times, without knowing what this manner is. Now that
which is inevitable in the work has a higher charm than individual talent
can ever give, inasmuch as the artist’s pen or chisel seems to have been
held and guided by a gigantic hand to inscribe a line in the history of the
human race. This circumstance gives a value to the Egyptian
hieroglyphics, to the Indian, Chinese, and Mexican idols, however gross
and shapeless. They denote the height of the human soul in that hour,
and were not fantastic but sprung from a necessity as deep as the world.
Shall I now add that the whole extant product of the plastic arts has
herein its highest value, as (r)history; as a stroke drawn in the portrait
of that fate, perfect and beautiful, according to whose ordinations all
beings advance to their beatitude.

Thus, historically viewed, it has been the office of art to educate the
perception of beauty. We are immersed in beauty, but our eyes have no
clear vision. It needs, by the exhibition of single traits, to assist and lead
the dormant taste. We carve and paint, or we behold what is carved and
painted, as students of the mystery of Form. The virtue of art lies in
detachment, in sequestering one object from the embarrassing variety.
Until one thing comes out from the connection of things, there can be
enjoyment, contemplation, but no thought. Our happiness and
unhappiness are unproductive. The infant lies in a pleasing trance, but
his individual character, and his practical power depend on his daily
progress in the separation of things, and dealing with one at a time. Love
and all the passions concentrate all existence around a single form. It is
the habit of certain minds to give an all-excluding fulness to the object,
the thought, the word, they alight upon, and to make that for the time the
deputy of the world. These are the artists, the orators, the leaders of
society. The power to detach, and to magnify by detaching, is the essence
of rhetoric in the hands of the orator and the poet. This rhetoric, or
power to fix the momentary eminency of an object, so remarkable in
Burke, in Byron, in Carlyle, the painter and sculptor exhibit in color and
in stone. The power depends on the depth of the artist’s insight of that
object he contemplates. For every object has its roots in central nature,
and may of course be so exhibited to us as to represent the world.
Therefore, each work of genius is the tyrant of the hour, and concentrates
attention on itself. For the time, it is the only thing worth naming, to do
that- be it a sonnet, an opera, a landscape, a statue, an oration, the plan
of a temple, of a campaign, or of a voyage of discovery. Presently we
pass to some other object, which rounds itself into a whole, as did the
first; for example, a well laid garden: and nothing seems worth doing but
the laying out of gardens. I should think fire the best thing in the world,
if I were not acquainted with air, and water, and earth. For it is the right
and property of all natural objects, of all genuine talents, of all native
properties whatsoever, to be for their moment the top of the world. A
squirrel leaping from bough to bough, and making the wood but one
wide tree for his pleasure, fills the eye not less than a lion, is beautiful,
self-sufficing, and stands then and there for nature. A good ballad draws
my ear and heart while I listen, as much as an epic has done before. A
dog, drawn by a master, or a litter of pigs, satisfies, and is a reality not
less than the frescoes of Angelo. From this succession of excellent
objects, learn we at last the immensity of the world, the opulence of
human nature, which can run out to infinitude in any direction. But I
also learn that what astonished and fascinated me in the first work,
astonished me in the second work also, that excellence of all things is

The office of painting and sculpture seems to be merely initial. The best
pictures can easily tell us their last secret. The best pictures are rude
draughts of a few of the miraculous dots and lines and dyes which make
up the ever-changing “landscape with figures” amid which we dwell.
Painting seems to be to the eye what dancing is to the limbs. When that
has educated the frame to self-possession, to nimbleness, to grace, the
steps of the dancing-master are better forgotten; so painting teaches me
the splendor of color and the expression of form, and, as I see many
pictures and higher genius in the art, I see the boundless opulence of the
pencil, the indifferency in which the artist stands free to choose out of
the possible forms. If he can draw everything, why draw anything? and
then is my eyes opened to the eternal picture which nature paints in the
street with moving men and children, beggars, and fine ladies, draped in
red, and green, and blue, and gray; long-haired, grizzled, white-faced,
black-faced, wrinkled, giant, dwarf, expanded, elfish- capped and based
by heaven, earth and sea.

A gallery of sculpture teaches more austerely the same lesson. As
picture teaches the coloring, so sculpture the anatomy of form. When I
have seen fine statues, and afterward enter a public assembly, I
understand well what he meant who said. “When I have been reading
Homer, all men look like giants.” I too see that painting and sculpture
are gymnastics of the eye, its training to the niceties and curiosities of its
function. There is no statue like this living man, with his infinite
advantage over all ideal sculpture, of perpetual variety. What a gallery of
art have I here! No mannerist made these varied groups and diverse
original single figures. Here is the artist himself improvising, grin and
glad, at his block. Now one thought strikes him, now another, and with
each moment he alters the whole air, attitude and expression of his clay.
Away with your nonsense of oil and easels, of marble and chisels: except
to open your eyes to the witchcraft of eternal art they are hypocritical

The reference of all production at last to an Aboriginal Power, explains
the traits common to all works of the highest art, that they are
universally intelligible; that they restore to us the simplest states of
mind; and are religious. Since what skill is therein shown is the
reappearance of the original soul, a jet of pure light; it should produce a
similar impression to that made by natural objects. In happy hours,
nature appears to us one with art; art perfected- the work of genius. And
the individual in whom simple tastes and susceptibility to all the great
human influences overpowers the accidents of a local and special culture,
is the best critic of art. Though we travel the world over to find the
beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not. The best of beauty is
a finer charm than skill in surfaces, in outlines, or rules of art can ever
teach, namely, a radiation from the work of art, of human character- a
wonderful expression through stone or canvas or musical sound of the
deepest and simplest attributes of our nature, and therefore most
intelligible at last to those souls which have these attributes. In the
sculptures of the Greeks, in the masonry of the Romans, and in the
pictures of the Tuscan and Venetian masters, the highest charm is the
universal language they speak. A confession of moral nature, of purity,
love, and hope, breathes from them all. That which we carry to them, the
same we bring back more fairly illustrated in the memory. The traveler
who visits the Vatican, and passes from chamber to chamber through
galleries of statues, vases sarcophagi, and candelabra, through all forms
of beauty, cut in the richest materials, is in danger of forgetting the
simplicity of the principles out of which they all sprung, and that they
had their origin from thoughts and laws in his own breast. He studies the
technical rules on these wonderful remains, but forgets that these works
were not always thus constellated; that they are the contributions of
many ages, and many countries; that each came out of the solitary
workshop of one artist, who toiled perhaps in ignorance of the existence
of other sculpture, created his work without other model, save life,
household life, and the sweet and smart of personal relations, of beating
hearts, and meeting eyes, of poverty, and necessity, and hope, and fear.
These were his inspirations, and these are the effects he carries home to
your heart and mind. In proportion to his force, the artist will find in his
work an outlet for his proper character. He must not be in any manner
pinched or hindered by his material, but through his necessity of
imparting himself, the adamant will be wax in his hands, and will allow
an adequate communication for himself in his full stature and
proportion. Not a conventional nature and culture need he cumber
himself with, nor ask what is the mode in Rome or in Paris, but that
house, and weather, and manner of living, which poverty and the fate of
birth have made at once so odious and so dear, in the gray, unpainted
wood cabin, on the corner of a New Hampshire farm, or in the log hut of
the backwoods, or in the narrow lodging where he has endured the
constraints and seeming of a city poverty- will serve as well as any other
condition, as the symbol of a thought which pours itself indifferently
through all.

I remember, when in my younger days, I had heard of the wonders of
Italian painting, I fancied the great pictures would be great strangers;
some surprising combination of color and form; a foreign wonder,
barbaric pearl and gold, like the spontoons and standards of the militia,
which play such pranks in the eyes and imaginations of school-boys. I
was to see and acquire I knew not what. When I came at last to Rome,
and saw with eyes the pictures, I found that genius left to novices the gay
and fantastic and ostentatious, and itself pierced directly to the simple
and true; that it was familiar and sincere; that it was the old, eternal fact
I had met already in so many forms; unto which I lived; that it was the
plain (r)you and me I knew so well- had left at home in so many
conversations. I had the same experience already in a church at Naples.
There I saw that nothing was changed with me but the place, and said to
myself, “Thou foolish child, hast thou come out hither, over four
thousand miles of salt water, to find that which was perfect to thee, there
at home?”- that fact I saw again in the Academmia at Naples, in the
chambers of sculpture, and yet again when I came to Rome, and to the
paintings of Raphael, Angelo, Sacchi, Titian, and Leonardo da Vinci.
“What, old mole! workest thou in the earth so fast?” It had traveled by
my side; that which I fancied I had left in Boston, was here in the
Vatican, and again at Milan, and at Paris, and made all traveling
ridiculous as a tread-mill. I now require this of all pictures, that they
domesticate me, not that they dazzle me. Pictures must not be too
picturesque. Nothing astonishes men so much as common sense and
plain dealing. All great actions have been simple and all great pictures

The Transfiguration, by Raphael, is an eminent example of this
peculiar merit. A calm, benignant beauty shines over all this picture, and
goes directly to the heart. It seems almost to call you by name. The sweet
and sublime face of Jesus is beyond praise, yet how it disappoints all
florid expectations! This familiar, simple, home-speaking countenance,
is as if one should meet a friend. The knowledge of picture-dealers has
its value, but listen not to their criticism when your heart is touched by
genius. It was not painted for them, it was painted for you; for such as
had eyes capable of being touched by simplicity and lofty emotions.

Yet when we have said all our fine things about the arts, we must end
with a frank confession, that the arts, as we know them, are but initial.
Our best praise is given to what they aimed and promised, not to the
actual result. He has conceived meanly of the resources of man, who
believes that the best age of production is past. The real value of the
Iliad, or the Transfiguration, is as signs of power; billows or ripples they
are of the great stream of tendency; tokens of the everlasting effort to
produce, which even in its worst estate the soul betrays. Art has not yet
come to its maturity, if it do not put itself abreast with the most potent
influences of the world, if it is not practical and moral, if it do not stand
in connection with the conscience, if it do not make the poor and
uncultivated feel that it addresses them with a voice of lofty cheer. There
is higher work for Art than the arts. They are abortive births of an
imperfect or vitiated instinct. Art is the need to create; but in its essence,
immense and universal, it is impatient of working with lame or tied
hands, and of making cripples and monsters, such as all pictures and
statues are. Nothing less than the creation of man and nature is its end.
A man should find in it an outlet for his whole energy. He may paint and
carve only as long as he can do that. Art should exhilarate, and throw
down the walls of circumstance on every side, awakening in the beholder
the same sense of universal relation and power which the work evinced
in the artist, and its highest effect is to make new artists.

Already History is old enough to witness the old age and disappearance
of particular arts. The art of sculpture is long ago perished to any real
effect. It was originally a useful art, a mode of writing, a savage’s record
of gratitude or devotion, and among a people possessed of a wonderful
perception of form, this childish carving was refined to the utmost
splendor of effect. But it is the game of a rude and youthful people, and
not the manly labor of a wise and spiritual nation. Under an oak tree
loaded with leaves and nuts, under a sky full of eternal eyes, I stand in a
thoroughfare; but in the works of our plastic arts, and especially of
sculpture, creation is driven into a corner. I cannot hide from myself that
there is a certain appearance of paltriness, as of toys, and the trumpery of
a theater, in sculpture. Nature transcends all our moods of thought, and
its secret we do not yet find. But the gallery stands at the mercy of our
moods, and there is a moment when it becomes frivolous. I do not
wonder that Newton, with an attention habitually engaged on the path of
planets and suns, should have wondered what the Earl of Pembroke
found to admire in “stone dolls.” Sculpture may serve to teach the pupil
how deep is the secret of form, how purely the spirit can translate its
meanings into that eloquent dialect. But the statue will look cold and
false before that new activity which needs to roll through all things, and
is impatient of counterfeits, and things not alive. Picture and sculpture
are the celebrations and festivities of form. But true art is never fixed,
but always flowing. The sweetest music is not in the oratorio, but in the
human voice when it speaks from its instant life, tones of tenderness,
truth, or courage. The oratorio has already lost its relation to the
morning, to the sun and the earth, but that persuading voice is in tune
with these. All works of art should not be detached, but extempore
performances. A great man is a new statue in every attitude and action.
A beautiful woman is a picture which drives all beholders nobly mad.
Life may be lyric or epic, as well as a poem or a romance.

A true announcement of the law of creation, if a man were found
worthy to declare it, would carry art up into the kingdom of nature, and
destroy its separate and contrasted existence. The fountains of invention
and beauty in modern society are all but dried up. A popular novel, a
theater, or a ball-room makes us feel that we are all paupers in the
almshouse of this world, without dignity, without skill or industry. Art is
as poor and low. The old tragic Necessity, which lowers on the brows
even of the Venuses and the Cupids of the antique, and furnishes the
soul apology for the intrusion of such anomalous figures into nature-
namely, that they were inevitable; that the artist was drunk with a
passion for form which he could not resist, and which vented itself in
these fine extravagancies- no longer dignifies the chisel or the pencil.
But the artist, and the connoisseur, now seek in art the exhibition of their
talent, or an asylum from the evils of life. Men are not well pleased with
the figure they make in their own imagination, and they flee to art, and
convey their better sense in an oratorio, a statue, or a picture. Art makes
the same effort which a sensual prosperity makes, namely, to detach the
beautiful from the useful, to do up the work as unavoidable, and hating
it, pass on to enjoyment. These solaces and compensations, this division
of beauty from use, the laws of nature do not permit. As soon as beauty is
sought not from religion and love, but for pleasure, it degrades the
seeker. High beauty is no longer attainable by him in canvas or in stone,
in sound, or in lyrical construction; an effeminate, prudent, sickly
beauty, which is not beauty, is all that can be formed; for the hand can
never execute anything higher than the character can inspire.

The art that thus separates, is itself first separated. Art must not be
superficial talent, but must begin further back in man. Now men do not
see nature to be beautiful, and they go to make a statue which shall be.
They abhor men as tasteless, dull, and inconvertible, and console
themselves with color-bags, and blocks of marble. They reject life as
prosaic, and create a death which they call poetic. They despatch the
day’s weary chores, and fly to voluptuous reveries. They eat and drink,
that they may afterward execute the ideal. Thus is art vilified; the name
conveys to the mind its secondary and bad senses; it stands in the
imagination as somewhat contrary to nature, and struck with death from
the first. Would it not be better to begin higher up- to serve the ideal
before they eat and drink; to serve the ideal in eating and drinking, in
drawing the breath, and in the functions of life? Beauty must come back
to the useful arts, and the distinction between the fine and the useful arts
be forgotten. If history were truly told, if life were nobly spent, it would
be no longer easy or possible to distinguish the one from the other. In
nature all is useful, all is beautiful. It is therefore beautiful because it is
alive, moving, reproductive; it is therefore useful, because it is
symmetrical and fair. Beauty will not come at the call of a legislature,
nor will it repeat in England or America its history in Greece. It will
come, as always, unannounced, and spring up between the feet of brave
and earnest men. It is in vain that we look for genius to reiterate its
miracles in the old arts; it is its instinct to find beauty and holiness in
new and necessary facts, in the field and roadside, in the shop and mill.
Proceeding from the religious heart it will raise to a divine use, the
railroad, the insurance office, the joint stock company, our law, our
primary assemblies, our commerce, the galvanic battery, the electric jar,
the prism, and the chemist’s retort, in which we seek now only an
economical use. Is not the selfish, and even cruel aspect which belongs to
our great mechanical works, to mills, railways, and machinery, the effect
of the mercenary impulses which these works obey? When its errands are
noble and adequate, a steamboat bridging the Atlantic between Old and
New England, and arriving at its ports with the punctuality of a planet-
is a step of man into harmony with nature. The boat at St. Petersburg,
which plies along the Lena by magnetism, needs little to make it
sublime. When science is learned in love, and its powers are wielded by
love, they will appear the supplements and continuations of the material