Treasures: Rule #1: Self-Reliance

Rule #1: What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think.

Treasures: Rule #1: Self-Reliance
“Ne te quaesiveris extra.”

Do not seek for things outside of yourself.

“Man is his own star; and the soul that can
Render an honest and a perfect man,
Commands all light, all influence, all fate;
Nothing to him falls early or too late.
Our acts our angels are, or good or ill,
Our fatal shadows that walk by us still.”

Rule #1: 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And, of course, so much force is withdrawn from your proper life.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 work, and I shall know you.

Do your work,

and you shall reinforce yourself.

To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius.

Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense;

for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost, —and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment.

Familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato, and Milton is, that they set at naught books and traditions,

and spoke not what men but what they thought.

A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages.

Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of

genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a

certain alienated majesty.

Great works of art have no more affecting lesson

for us than this.

They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side.

Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense

precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced

to take with shame our own opinion from another.

There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction

that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself

for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full

of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil

bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power

which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is

which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried. Not for nothing one

face, one character, one fact, makes much impression on him, and another

none. This sculpture in the memory is not without preestablished harmony.

The eye was placed where one ray should fall, that it might testify of that

particular ray. We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine

idea which each of us represents. It may be safely trusted as proportionate

and of good issues, so it be faithfully imparted, but God will not have his

work made manifest by cowards. A man is relieved and gay when he has

put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he has said or done

otherwise, shall give him no peace. It is a deliverance which does not deliver.

In the attempt his genius deserts him; no muse befriends; no invention, no


Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.

Accept the place

the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries,

the connection of events. Great men have always done so, and confided

themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception

that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through

their hands, predominating in all their being. And we are now men, and must

accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not minors

and invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution,

but guides, redeemers, and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort, and

advancing on Chaos and the Dark.

What pretty oracles nature yields us on this text, in the face and behaviour of children, babes, and even brutes! That divided and rebel mind,


that distrust of a sentiment because our arithmetic has computed the strength

and means opposed to our purpose, these have not. Their mind being whole,

their eye is as yet unconquered, and when we look in their faces, we are

disconcerted. Infancy conforms to nobody: all conform to it, so that one

babe commonly makes four or five out of the adults who prattle and play to

it. So God has armed youth and puberty and manhood no less with its own

piquancy and charm, and made it enviable and gracious and its claims not

to be put by, if it will stand by itself. Do not think the youth has no force,

because he cannot speak to you and me. Hark! in the next room his voice

is sufficiently clear and emphatic. It seems he knows how to speak to his

contemporaries. Bashful or bold, then, he will know how to make us seniors

very unnecessary.

The nonchalance of boys who are sure of a dinner, and would disdain as

much as a lord to do or say aught to conciliate one, is the healthy attitude

of human nature. A boy is in the parlour what the pit is in the playhouse;

independent, irresponsible, looking out from his corner on such people and

facts as pass by, he tries and sentences them on their merits, in the swift,

summary way of boys, as good, bad, interesting, silly, eloquent, troublesome.

He cumbers himself never about consequences, about interests: he gives an

independent, genuine verdict. You must court him: he does not court you.

But the man is, as it were, clapped into jail by his consciousness. As soon as

he has once acted or spoken with eclat, he is a committed person, watched

by the sympathy or the hatred of hundreds, whose affections must now enter

into his account. There is no Lethe for this. Ah, that he could pass again

into his neutrality! Who can thus avoid all pledges, and having observed,

observe again from the same unaffected, unbiased, unbribable, unaffrighted

innocence, must always be formidable. He would utter opinions on all passing

affairs, which being seen to be not private, but necessary, would sink like darts

into the ear of men, and put them in fear.

These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and

inaudible as we enter into the world. Society everywhere is in conspiracy

against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock

company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread

to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The

virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not

realities and creators, but names and customs.

Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather

immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must


explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your

own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the

world. I remember an answer which when quite young I was prompted to

make to a valued adviser, who was wont to importune me with the dear

old doctrines of the church. On my saying, What have I to do with the

sacredness of traditions, if I live wholly from within? my friend suggested,

— “But these impulses may be from below, not from above.” I replied,

“They do not seem to me to be such; but if I am the Devil’s child, I will live

then from the Devil.” No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature.

Good and bad are but names very readily transferable to that or this; the

only right is what is after my constitution, the only wrong what is against

it. A man is to carry himself in the presence of all opposition, as if every

thing were titular and ephemeral but he. I am ashamed to think how easily

we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions.

Every decent and well-spoken individual affects and sways me more than

is right. I ought to go upright and vital, and speak the rude truth in all

ways. If malice and vanity wear the coat of philanthropy, shall that pass?

If an angry bigot assumes this bountiful cause of Abolition, and comes to

me with his last news from Barbadoes, why should I not say to him, ‘Go

love thy infant; love thy wood-chopper: be good-natured and modest: have

that grace; and never varnish your hard, uncharitable ambition with this

incredible tenderness for black folk a thousand miles off. Thy love afar is

spite at home.’ Rough and graceless would be such greeting, but truth is

handsomer than the affectation of love. Your goodness must have some edge

to it, — else it is none. The doctrine of hatred must be preached as the

counteraction of the doctrine of love when that pules and whines. I shun

father and mother and wife and brother, when my genius calls me. I would

write on the lintels of the door-post, Whim. I hope it is somewhat better

than whim at last, but we cannot spend the day in explanation. Expect me

not to show cause why I seek or why I exclude company. Then, again, do not

tell me, as a good man did to-day, of my obligation to put all poor men in

good situations. Are they my poor? I tell thee, thou foolish philanthropist,

that I grudge the dollar, the dime, the cent, I give to such men as do not

belong to me and to whom I do not belong. There is a class of persons to

whom by all spiritual affinity I am bought and sold; for them I will go to

prison, if need be; but your miscellaneous popular charities; the education at

college of fools; the building of meeting-houses to the vain end to which many

now stand; alms to sots; and the thousandfold Relief Societies; — though I


confess with shame I sometimes succumb and give the dollar, it is a wicked

dollar which by and by I shall have the manhood to withhold.

Virtues are, in the popular estimate, rather the exception than the rule.

There is the man and his virtues. Men do what is called a good action, as

some piece of courage or charity, much as they would pay a fine in expiation

of daily non-appearance on parade. Their works are done as an apology or

extenuation of their living in the world, — as invalids and the insane pay a

high board. Their virtues are penances. I do not wish to expiate, but to live.

My life is for itself and not for a spectacle. I much prefer that it should be of

a lower strain, so it be genuine and equal, than that it should be glittering

and unsteady. I wish it to be sound and sweet, and not to need diet and

bleeding. I ask primary evidence that you are a man, and refuse this appeal

from the man to his actions. I know that for myself it makes no difference

whether I do or forbear those actions which are reckoned excellent. I cannot

consent to pay for a privilege where I have intrinsic right. Few and mean as

my gifts may be, I actually am, and do not need for my own assurance or

the assurance of my fellows any secondary testimony.

A man must consider what a blindman’s-buff

is this game of conformity. If I know your sect, I anticipate your argument.

I hear a preacher announce for his text and topic the expediency of one of

the institutions of his church. Do I not know beforehand that not possibly

can he say a new and spontaneous word? Do I not know that, with all this

ostentation of examining the grounds of the institution, he will do no such

thing? Do I not know that he is pledged to himself not to look but at one


side, — the permitted side, not as a man, but as a parish minister? He is a

retained attorney, and these airs of the bench are the emptiest affectation.

Well, most men have bound their eyes with one or another handkerchief,

and attached themselves to some one of these communities of opinion. This

conformity makes them not false in a few particulars, authors of a few lies,

but false in all particulars. Their every truth is not quite true. Their two

is not the real two, their four not the real four; so that every word they say

chagrins us, and we know not where to begin to set them right. Meantime

nature is not slow to equip us in the prison-uniform of the party to which

we adhere. We come to wear one cut of face and figure, and acquire by

degrees the gentlest asinine expression. There is a mortifying experience in

particular, which does not fail to wreak itself also in the general history;

I mean “the foolish face of praise,” the forced smile which we put on in

company where we do not feel at ease in answer to conversation which does

not interest us. The muscles, not spontaneously moved, but moved by a low

usurping wilfulness, grow tight about the outline of the face with the most

disagreeable sensation.

For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure. And therefore a man must know how to estimate a sour face. The by-standers look

askance on him in the public street or in the friend’s parlour. If this aversation had its origin in contempt and resistance like his own, he might well

go home with a sad countenance; but the sour faces of the multitude, like

their sweet faces, have no deep cause, but are put on and off as the wind

blows and a newspaper directs. Yet is the discontent of the multitude more

formidable than that of the senate and the college. It is easy enough for a

firm man who knows the world to brook the rage of the cultivated classes.

Their rage is decorous and prudent, for they are timid as being very vulnerable themselves. But when to their feminine rage the indignation of the people

is added, when the ignorant and the poor are aroused, when the unintelligent

brute force that lies at the bottom of society is made to growl and mow, it

needs the habit of magnanimity and religion to treat it godlike as a trifle of

no concernment.

The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word, because the eyes of others have no other data

for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loath to disappoint


But why should you keep your head over your shoulder? Why drag about

this corpse of your memory, lest you contradict somewhat you have stated


in this or that public place? Suppose you should contradict yourself; what

then? It seems to be a rule of wisdom never to rely on your memory alone,

scarcely even in acts of pure memory, but to bring the past for judgment into

the thousand-eyed present, and live ever in a new day. In your metaphysics

you have denied personality to the Deity: yet when the devout motions of

the soul come, yield to them heart and life, though they should clothe God

with shape and color. Leave your theory, as Joseph his coat in the hand of

the harlot, and flee.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little

statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has

simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on

the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak

what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing

you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is

it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and

Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton,

and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be


I suppose no man can violate his nature. All the sallies of his will are

rounded in by the law of his being, as the inequalities of Andes and Himmaleh

are insignificant in the curve of the sphere. Nor does it matter how you gauge

and try him. A character is like an acrostic or Alexandrian stanza; — read it

forward, backward, or across, it still spells the same thing. In this pleasing,

contrite wood-life which God allows me, let me record day by day my honest

thought without prospect or retrospect, and, I cannot doubt, it will be found

symmetrical, though I mean it not, and see it not. My book should smell

of pines and resound with the hum of insects. The swallow over my window

should interweave that thread or straw he carries in his bill into my web also.

We pass for what we are. Character teaches above our wills. Men imagine

that they communicate their virtue or vice only by overt actions, and do not

see that virtue or vice emit a breath every moment.

There will be an agreement in whatever variety of actions, so they be

each honest and natural in their hour. For of one will, the actions will be

harmonious, however unlike they seem. These varieties are lost sight of at a

little distance, at a little height of thought. One tendency unites them all.

The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks. See the line

from a sufficient distance, and it straightens itself to the average tendency.

Your genuine action will explain itself, and will explain your other genuine


actions. Your conformity explains nothing. Act singly, and what you have

already done singly will justify you now. Greatness appeals to the future. If

I can be firm enough to-day to do right, and scorn eyes, I must have done

so much right before as to defend me now. Be it how it will, do right now.

Always scorn appearances, and you always may. The force of character is

cumulative. All the foregone days of virtue work their health into this. What

makes the majesty of the heroes of the senate and the field, which so fills

the imagination? The consciousness of a train of great days and victories

behind. They shed an united light on the advancing actor. He is attended as

by a visible escort of angels. That is it which throws thunder into Chatham’s

voice, and dignity into Washington’s port, and America into Adams’s eye.

Honor is venerable to us because it is no ephemeris. It is always ancient

virtue. We worship it to-day because it is not of to-day. We love it and

pay it homage, because it is not a trap for our love and homage, but is selfdependent, self-derived, and therefore of an old immaculate pedigree, even if

shown in a young person.

I hope in these days we have heard the last of conformity and consistency.

Let the words be gazetted and ridiculous henceforward. Instead of the gong

for dinner, let us hear a whistle from the Spartan fife. Let us never bow and

apologize more. A great man is coming to eat at my house. I do not wish

to please him; I wish that he should wish to please me. I will stand here for

humanity, and though I would make it kind, I would make it true. Let us

affront and reprimand the smooth mediocrity and squalid contentment of the

times, and hurl in the face of custom, and trade, and office, the fact which is

the upshot of all history, that there is a great responsible Thinker and Actor

working wherever a man works; that a true man belongs to no other time or

place, but is the centre of things. Where he is, there is nature. He measures

you, and all men, and all events. Ordinarily, every body in society reminds

us of somewhat else, or of some other person. Character, reality, reminds

you of nothing else; it takes place of the whole creation. The man must be

so much, that he must make all circumstances indifferent. Every true man

is a cause, a country, and an age; requires infinite spaces and numbers and

time fully to accomplish his design; — and posterity seem to follow his steps

as a train of clients. A man Caesar is born, and for ages after we have a

Roman Empire. Christ is born, and millions of minds so grow and cleave

to his genius, that he is confounded with virtue and the possible of man.

An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man; as, Monachism, of the

Hermit Antony; the Reformation, of Luther; Quakerism, of Fox; Methodism,


of Wesley; Abolition, of Clarkson. Scipio, Milton called “the height of Rome”;

and all history resolves itself very easily into the biography of a few stout

and earnest persons.

Let a man then know his worth, and keep things under his feet. Let

him not peep or steal, or skulk up and down with the air of a charity-boy, a

bastard, or an interloper, in the world which exists for him. But the man in

the street, finding no worth in himself which corresponds to the force which

built a tower or sculptured a marble god, feels poor when he looks on these.

To him a palace, a statue, or a costly book have an alien and forbidding air,

much like a gay equipage, and seem to say like that, ‘Who are you, Sir?’ Yet

they all are his, suitors for his notice, petitioners to his faculties that they

will come out and take possession. The picture waits for my verdict: it is not

to command me, but I am to settle its claims to praise. That popular fable

of the sot who was picked up dead drunk in the street, carried to the duke’s

house, washed and dressed and laid in the duke’s bed, and, on his waking,

treated with all obsequious ceremony like the duke, and assured that he had

been insane, owes its popularity to the fact, that it symbolizes so well the

state of man, who is in the world a sort of sot, but now and then wakes up,

exercises his reason, and finds himself a true prince.

Our reading is mendicant and sycophantic. In history, our imagination

plays us false. Kingdom and lordship, power and estate, are a gaudier vocabulary than private John and Edward in a small house and common day’s

work; but the things of life are the same to both; the sum total of both is

the same. Why all this deference to Alfred, and Scanderbeg, and Gustavus?

Suppose they were virtuous; did they wear out virtue? As great a stake

depends on your private act to-day, as followed their public and renowned

steps. When private men shall act with original views, the lustre will be

transferred from the actions of kings to those of gentlemen.

The world has been instructed by its kings, who have so magnetized

the eyes of nations. It has been taught by this colossal symbol the mutual

reverence that is due from man to man. The joyful loyalty with which men

have everywhere suffered the king, the noble, or the great proprietor to walk

among them by a law of his own, make his own scale of men and things, and

reverse theirs, pay for benefits not with money but with honor, and represent

the law in his person, was the hieroglyphic by which they obscurely signified

their consciousness of their own right and comeliness, the right of every 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, of virtue, and of life, which we call

Spontaneity or Instinct. We denote this primary wisdom as Intuition, whilst

all later teachings are tuitions. In that deep force, the last fact behind which

analysis cannot go, all things find their common origin. For, the sense of being

which in calm hours rises, we know not how, in the soul, is not diverse from

things, from space, from light, from time, from man, but one with them, and

proceeds obviously from the same source whence their life and being also

proceed. We first share the life by which things exist, and afterwards see

them as appearances in nature, and forget that we have shared their cause.

Here is the fountain of action and of thought. Here are the lungs of that

inspiration which giveth man wisdom, and which cannot be denied without

impiety and atheism. We lie in the lap of immense intelligence, which makes

us receivers of its truth and organs of its activity. When we discern justice,

when we discern truth, we do nothing of ourselves, but allow a passage to

its beams. If we ask whence this comes, if we seek to pry into the soul that

causes, all philosophy is at fault. Its presence or its absence is all we can

affirm. Every man discriminates between the voluntary acts of his mind, and

his involuntary perceptions, and knows that to his involuntary perceptions a

perfect faith is due. He may err in the expression of them, but he knows that

these things are so, like day and night, not to be disputed. My wilful actions

and acquisitions are but roving; — the idlest reverie, the faintest native

emotion, command my curiosity and respect. Thoughtless people contradict

as readily the statement of perceptions as of opinions, or rather much more

readily; for, they do not distinguish between perception and notion. They

fancy that I choose to see this or that thing. But perception is not whimsical,

but fatal. If I see a trait, my children will see it after me, and in course of

time, all mankind, — although it may chance that no one has seen it before

me. For my perception of it is as much a fact as the sun.

The relations of the soul to the divine spirit are so pure, that it is profane

to seek to interpose helps. It must be that when God speaketh he should

communicate, not one thing, but all things; should fill the world with his

voice; should scatter forth light, nature, time, souls, from the centre of the

present thought; and new date and new create the whole. Whenever a mind

is simple, and receives a divine wisdom, old things pass away, — means,


teachers, texts, temples fall; it lives now, and absorbs past and future into

the present hour. All things are made sacred by relation to it, — one as much

as another. All things are dissolved to their centre by their cause, and, in

the universal miracle, petty and particular miracles disappear. If, therefore,

a man claims to know and speak of God, and carries you backward to the

phraseology of some old mouldered nation in another country, in another

world, believe him not. Is the acorn better than the oak which is its fulness

and completion? Is the parent better than the child into whom he has cast

his ripened being? Whence, then, this worship of the past? The centuries

are conspirators against the sanity and authority of the soul. Time and space

are but physiological colors which the eye makes, but the soul is light; where

it is, is day; where it was, is night; and history is an impertinence and an

injury, if it be any thing more than a cheerful apologue or parable of my

being and 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. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but

with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround

him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong

until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.

This should be plain enough. Yet see what strong intellects dare not yet

hear God himself, unless he speak the phraseology of I know not what David,

or Jeremiah, or Paul. We shall not always set so great a price on a few texts,

on a few lives. We are like children who repeat by rote the sentences of

grandames and tutors, and, as they grow older, of the men of talents and

character they chance to see, — painfully recollecting the exact words they

spoke; afterwards, when they come into the point of view which those had

who uttered these sayings, they understand them, and are willing to let the

words go; for, at any time, they can use words as good when occasion comes.

If we live truly, we shall see truly. It is as easy for the strong man to be

strong, as it is for the weak to be weak. When we have new perception, we

shall gladly disburden the memory of its hoarded treasures as old rubbish.


When a man lives with God, his voice shall be as sweet as the murmur of

the brook and the rustle of the corn.

And now at last the highest truth on this subject remains unsaid; probably cannot be said; for all that we say is the far-off remembering of the

intuition. That thought, by what I can now nearest approach to say it, is

this. When good is near you, when you have life in yourself, it is not by

any known or accustomed way; you shall not discern the foot-prints of any

other; you shall not see the face of man; you shall not hear any name; —

the way, the thought, the good, shall be wholly strange and new. It shall exclude example and experience. You take the way from man, not to man. All

persons that ever existed are its forgotten ministers. Fear and hope are alike

beneath it. There is somewhat low even in hope. In the hour of vision, there

is nothing that can be called gratitude, nor properly joy. The soul raised over

passion beholds identity and eternal causation, perceives the self-existence

of Truth and Right, and calms itself with knowing that all things go well.

Vast spaces of nature, the Atlantic Ocean, the South Sea, — long intervals

of time, years, centuries, — are of no account. This which I think and feel

underlay every former state of life and circumstances, as it does underlie my

present, and what is called life, and what is called 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 becomes; for that for ever degrades the past, turns all

riches to poverty, all reputation to a shame, confounds the saint with the

rogue, shoves Jesus and Judas equally aside. Why, then, do we prate of selfreliance? Inasmuch as the soul is present, there will be power not confident

but agent. To talk of reliance is a poor external way of speaking. Speak

rather of that which relies, because it works and is. Who has more obedience

than I masters me, though he should not raise his finger. Round him I must

revolve by the gravitation of spirits. We fancy it rhetoric, when we speak of

eminent virtue. We do not yet see that virtue is Height, and that a man or

a company of men, plastic and permeable to principles, by the law of nature

must overpower and ride all cities, nations, kings, rich men, poets, who are


This is the ultimate fact which we so quickly reach on this, as on every

topic, the resolution of all into the ever-blessed ONE. Self-existence is the

attribute of the Supreme Cause, and it constitutes the measure of good by

the degree in which it enters into all lower forms. All things real are so by


so much virtue as they contain. Commerce, husbandry, hunting, whaling,

war, eloquence, personal weight, are somewhat, and engage my respect as

examples of its presence and impure action. I see the same law working in

nature for conservation and growth. Power is in nature the essential measure

of right. Nature suffers nothing to remain in her kingdoms which cannot

help itself. The genesis and maturation of a planet, its poise and orbit, the

bended tree recovering itself from the strong wind, the vital resources of every

animal and vegetable, are demonstrations of the self-sufficing, and therefore

self-relying soul.

Thus all concentrates: let us not rove; let us sit at home with the cause.

Let us stun and astonish the intruding rabble of men and books and institutions, by a simple declaration of the divine fact. Bid the invaders take the

shoes from off their feet, for God is here within. Let our simplicity judge

them, and our docility to our own law demonstrate the poverty of nature

and fortune beside our native riches.

But now we are a mob. Man does not stand in awe of man, nor is his

genius admonished to stay at home, to put itself in communication with the

internal ocean, but it goes abroad to beg a cup of water of the urns of other

men. We must go alone. I like the silent church before the service begins,

better than any preaching. How far off, how cool, how chaste the persons

look, begirt each one with a precinct or sanctuary! So let us always sit.

Why should we assume the faults of our friend, or wife, or father, or child,

because they sit around our hearth, or are said to have the same blood?

All men have my blood, and I have all men’s. Not for that will I adopt

their petulance or folly, even to the extent of being ashamed of it. But your

isolation must not be mechanical, but spiritual, that is, must be elevation.

At times the whole world seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with

emphatic trifles. Friend, client, child, sickness, fear, want, charity, all knock

at once at thy closet door, and say, — ‘Come out unto us.’ But keep thy

state; come not into their confusion. The power men possess to annoy me, I

give them by a weak curiosity. No man can come near me but through my

act. “What we love that we have, but by desire we bereave ourselves of the


If we cannot at once rise to the sanctities of obedience and faith, let us

at least resist our temptations; let us enter into the state of war, and wake

Thor and Woden, courage and constancy, in our Saxon breasts. This is to be

done in our smooth times by speaking the truth. Check this lying hospitality

and lying affection. Live no longer to the expectation of these deceived and


deceiving people with whom we converse. Say to them, O father, O mother,

O wife, O brother, O friend, I have lived with you after appearances hitherto.

Henceforward I am the truth’s. Be it known unto you that henceforward I

obey no law less than the eternal law. I will have no covenants but proximities. I shall endeavour to nourish my parents, to support my family, to be

the chaste husband of one wife, — but these relations I must fill after a new

and unprecedented way. I appeal from your customs. I must be myself. I

cannot break myself any longer for you, or you. If you can love me for what

I am, we shall be the happier. If you cannot, I will still seek to deserve that

you should. I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what

is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly

rejoices me, and the heart appoints. If you are noble, I will love you; if you

are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions. If you are

true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I will

seek my own. I do this not selfishly, but humbly and truly. It is alike your

interest, and mine, and all men’s, however long we have dwelt in lies, to live

in truth. Does this sound harsh to-day? You will soon love what is dictated

by your nature as well as mine, and, if we follow the truth, it will bring us

out safe at last. — But so you may give these friends pain. Yes, but I cannot

sell my liberty and my power, to save their sensibility. Besides, all persons

have their moments of reason, when they look out into the region of absolute

truth; then will they justify me, and do the same thing.

The populace think that your rejection of popular standards is a rejection

of all standard, and mere antinomianism; and the bold sensualist will use the

name of philosophy to gild his crimes. But the law of consciousness abides.

There are two confessionals, in one or the other of which we must be shriven.

You may fulfil your round of duties by clearing yourself in the direct, or in

the reflex way. Consider whether you have satisfied your relations to father,

mother, cousin, neighbour, town, cat, and dog; whether any of these can

upbraid you. But I may also neglect this reflex standard, and absolve me to

myself. I have my own stern claims and perfect circle. It denies the name of

duty to many offices that are called duties. But if I can discharge its debts,

it enables me to dispense with the popular code. If any one imagines that

this law is lax, let him keep its commandment one day.

And truly it demands something godlike in him who has cast off the common motives of humanity, and has ventured to trust himself for a taskmaster.

High be his heart, faithful his will, clear his sight, that he may in good earnest

be doctrine, society, law, to himself, that a simple purpose may be to him as


strong as iron necessity is to others!

If any man consider the present aspects of what is called by distinction

society, he will see the need of these ethics. The sinew and heart of man seem

to be drawn out, and we are become timorous, desponding whimperers. We

are afraid of truth, afraid of fortune, afraid of death, and afraid of each

other. Our age yields no great and perfect persons. We want men and

women who shall renovate life and our social state, but we see that most

natures are insolvent, cannot satisfy their own wants, have an ambition out

of all proportion to their practical force, and do lean and beg day and night

continually. Our housekeeping is mendicant, our arts, our occupations, our

marriages, our religion, we have not chosen, but society has chosen for us.

We are parlour soldiers. We shun the rugged battle of fate, where strength

is born.

If our young men miscarry in their first enterprises, they lose all heart. If

the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. If the finest genius studies at

one of our colleges, and is not installed in an office within one year afterwards

in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New York, it seems to his friends and to

himself that he is right in being disheartened, and in complaining the rest of

his life. A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all

the professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits

a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive

years, and always, like a cat, falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city

dolls. He walks abreast with his days, and feels no shame in not ‘studying a

profession,’ for he does not postpone his life, but lives already. He has not one

chance, but a hundred chances. Let a Stoic open the resources of man, and

tell men they are not leaning willows, but can and must detach themselves;

that with the exercise of self-trust, new powers shall appear; that a man is

the word made flesh, born to shed healing to the nations, that he should

be ashamed of our compassion, and that the moment he acts from himself,

tossing the laws, the books, idolatries, and customs out of the window, we

pity him no more, but thank and revere him, — and that teacher shall restore

the life of man to splendor, and make his name dear to all history.

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

the offices and relations of men; in their religion; in their education; in their

pursuits; their modes of living; their association; in their property; in their

speculative 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 meanness and theft. It supposes dualism and not unity in

nature and consciousness. As soon as the man is at one with God, he will not

beg. He will then see prayer in all action. The prayer of the farmer kneeling

in his field to weed it, the prayer of the rower kneeling with the stroke of

his oar, are true prayers heard throughout nature, though for cheap ends.

Caratach, in Fletcher’s Bonduca, when admonished to inquire the mind of

the god Audate, replies, —

“His hidden meaning lies in our endeavours;

Our valors are our best gods.”

Another sort of false prayers are our regrets. Discontent is the want of

self-reliance: it is infirmity of will. Regret calamities, if you can thereby help

the sufferer; if not, attend your own work, and already the evil begins to be

repaired. Our sympathy is just as base. We come to them who weep foolishly,

and sit down and cry for company, instead of imparting to them truth and

health in rough electric shocks, putting them once more in communication

with their own reason. The secret of fortune is joy in our hands. Welcome

evermore to gods and men is the self-helping man. For him all doors are

flung wide: him all tongues greet, all honors crown, all eyes follow with

desire. Our love goes out to him and embraces him, because he did not need

it. We solicitously and apologetically caress and celebrate him, because he

held on his way and scorned our disapprobation. The gods love him because

men hated him. “To the persevering mortal,” said Zoroaster, “the blessed

Immortals are swift.”

As men’s prayers are a disease of the will, so are their creeds a disease

of the intellect. They say with those foolish Israelites, ‘Let not God speak

to us, lest we die. Speak thou, speak any man with us, and we will obey.’

Everywhere I am hindered of meeting God in my brother, because he has

shut his own temple doors, and recites fables merely of his brother’s, or his

brother’s brother’s God. Every new mind is a new classification. If it prove

a mind of uncommon activity and power, a Locke, a Lavoisier, a Hutton,


a Bentham, a Fourier, it imposes its classification on other men, and lo!

a new system. In proportion to the depth of the thought, and so to the

number of the objects it touches and brings within reach of the pupil, is his

complacency. But chiefly is this apparent in creeds and churches, which are

also classifications of some powerful mind acting on the elemental thought

of duty, and man’s relation to the Highest. Such is Calvinism, Quakerism,

Swedenborgism. The pupil takes the same delight in subordinating every

thing to the new terminology, as a girl who has just learned botany in seeing

a new earth and new seasons thereby. It will happen for a time, that the

pupil will find his intellectual power has grown by the study of his master’s

mind. But in all unbalanced minds, the classification is idolized, passes for

the end, and not for a speedily exhaustible means, so that the walls of the

system blend to their eye in the remote horizon with the walls of the universe;

the luminaries of heaven seem to them hung on the arch their master built.

They cannot imagine how you aliens have any right to see, — how you can

see; ‘It must be somehow that you stole the light from us.’ They do not yet

perceive, that light, unsystematic, indomitable, will break into any cabin,

even into theirs. Let them chirp awhile and call it their own. If they are

honest and do well, presently their neat new pinfold will be too strait and

low, will crack, will lean, will rot and vanish, and the immortal light, all

young and joyful, million-orbed, million-colored, will beam over the universe

as on the first morning.

2. It is for want of self-culture that the superstition of Travelling, whose

idols are Italy, England, Egypt, retains its fascination for all educated Americans. They who made England, Italy, or Greece venerable in the imagination

did so by sticking fast where they were, like an axis of the earth. In manly

hours, we feel that duty is our place. The soul is no traveller; the wise man

stays at home, and when his necessities, his duties, on any occasion call him

from his house, or into foreign lands, he is at home still, and shall make men

sensible by the expression of his countenance, that he goes the missionary of

wisdom and virtue, and visits cities and men like a sovereign, and not like

an interloper or a valet.

I have no churlish objection to the circumnavigation of the globe, for the

purposes of art, of study, and benevolence, so that the man is first domesticated, or does not go abroad with the hope of finding somewhat greater than

he knows. He who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat which he does

not carry, travels away from himself, and grows old even in youth among

old things. In Thebes, in Palmyra, his will and mind have become old and


dilapidated as they. He carries ruins to ruins.

Travelling is a fool’s paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be

intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my

friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside

me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I

seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and

suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.

3. But the rage of travelling is a symptom of a deeper unsoundness

affecting the whole intellectual action. The intellect is vagabond, and our

system of education fosters restlessness. Our minds travel when our bodies

are forced to stay at home. We imitate; and what is imitation but the

travelling of the mind? Our houses are built with foreign taste; our shelves

are garnished with foreign ornaments; our opinions, our tastes, our faculties,

lean, and follow the Past and the Distant. The soul created the arts wherever

they have flourished. It was in his own mind that the artist sought his model.

It was an application of his own thought to the thing to be done and the

conditions to be observed. And why need we copy the Doric or the Gothic

model? Beauty, convenience, grandeur of thought, and quaint expression are

as near to us as to any, and if the American artist will study with hope and

love the precise thing to be done by him, considering the climate, the soil,

the length of the day, the wants of the people, the habit and form of the

government, he will create a house in which all these will find themselves

fitted, and taste and sentiment will be satisfied also.

Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every

moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the

adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession.

That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him. No man

yet knows what it is, nor can, till that person has exhibited it. Where is the

master who could have taught Shakspeare? Where is the master who could

have instructed Franklin, or Washington, or Bacon, or Newton? Every great

man is a unique. The Scipionism of Scipio is precisely that part he could

not borrow. Shakspeare will never be made by the study of Shakspeare. Do

that which is assigned you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much.

There is at this moment for you an utterance brave and grand as that of the

colossal chisel of Phidias, or trowel of the Egyptians, or the pen of Moses,

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

all eloquent, with thousand-cloven tongue, deign to repeat itself; but if you


can hear what these patriarchs say, surely you can reply to them in the same

pitch of voice; for the ear and the tongue are two organs of one nature. Abide

in the simple and noble regions of thy life, obey thy heart, and thou shalt

reproduce the Foreworld again.

4. As our Religion, our Education, our Art look abroad, so does our spirit

of society. All men plume themselves on the improvement of society, and no

man improves.

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

other. It undergoes continual changes; it is barbarous, it is civilized, it is

christianized, it is rich, it is scientific; but this change is not amelioration.

For every thing that is given, something is taken. Society acquires new arts,

and loses old instincts. What a contrast between the well-clad, reading,

writing, thinking American, with a watch, a pencil, and a bill of exchange in

his pocket, and the naked New Zealander, whose property is a club, a spear,

a mat, and an undivided twentieth of a shed to sleep under! But compare

the health of the two men, and you shall see that the white man has lost

his aboriginal strength. If the traveller tell us truly, strike the savage with a

broad axe, and in a day or two the flesh shall unite and heal as if you struck

the blow into soft pitch, and the same blow shall send the white to his grave.

The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet. He

is supported on crutches, but lacks so much support of muscle. He has a fine

Geneva watch, but he fails of the skill to tell the hour by the sun. A Greenwich nautical almanac he has, and so being sure of the information when he

wants it, the man in the street does not know a star in the sky. The solstice

he does not observe; the equinox he knows as little; and the whole bright

calendar of the year is without a dial in his mind. His note-books impair

his memory; his libraries overload his wit; the insurance-office increases the

number of accidents; and it may be a question whether machinery does not

encumber; whether we have not lost by refinement some energy, by a Christianity entrenched in establishments and forms, some vigor of wild virtue.

For every Stoic was a Stoic; but in Christendom where is the Christian?

There is no more deviation in the moral standard than in the standard of

height or bulk. No greater men are now than ever were. A singular equality

may be observed between the great men of the first and of the last ages;

nor can all the science, art, religion, and philosophy of the nineteenth century avail to educate greater men than Plutarch’s heroes, three or four and

twenty centuries ago. Not in time is the race progressive. Phocion, Socrates,

Anaxagoras, Diogenes, are great men, but they leave no class. He who is re19

ally of their class will not be called by their name, but will be his own man,

and, in his turn, the founder of a sect. The arts and inventions of each period

are only its costume, and do not invigorate men. The harm of the improved

machinery may compensate its good. Hudson and Behring accomplished so

much in their fishing-boats, as to astonish Parry and Franklin, whose equipment exhausted the resources of science and art. Galileo, with an opera-glass,

discovered a more splendid series of celestial phenomena than any one since.

Columbus found the New World in an undecked boat. It is curious to see the

periodical disuse and perishing of means and machinery, which were introduced with loud laudation a few years or centuries before. The great genius

returns to essential man. We reckoned the improvements of the art of war

among the triumphs of science, and yet Napoleon conquered Europe by the

bivouac, which consisted of falling back on naked valor, and disencumbering

it of all aids. The Emperor held it impossible to make a perfect army, says

Las Casas, “without abolishing our arms, magazines, commissaries, and carriages, until, in imitation of the Roman custom, the soldier should receive

his supply of corn, grind it in his hand-mill, and bake his bread 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 the religious,

learned, and civil institutions as guards of property, and they deprecate assaults on these, because they feel them to be assaults on property. They

measure their esteem of each other by what each has, and not by what each

is. But a cultivated man becomes ashamed of his property, out of new respect

for his nature. Especially he hates what he has, if he see that it is accidental,

— came to him by inheritance, or gift, or crime; then he feels that it is not

having; it does not belong to him, has no root in him, and merely lies there,

because no revolution or no robber takes it away. But that which a man is,

does always by necessity acquire, and what the man acquires is living property, which does not wait the beck of rulers, or mobs, or revolutions, or fire,

or storm, or bankruptcies, but perpetually renews itself wherever the man

breathes. “Thy lot or portion of life,” said the Caliph Ali, “is seeking after

thee; therefore be at rest from seeking after it.” Our dependence on these

foreign goods leads us to our slavish respect for numbers. The political par20

ties meet in numerous conventions; the greater the concourse, and with each

new uproar of announcement, The delegation from Essex! The Democrats

from New Hampshire! The Whigs of Maine! the young patriot feels himself

stronger than before by a new thousand of eyes and arms. In like manner

the reformers summon conventions, and vote and resolve in multitude. Not

so, O friends! will the God deign to enter and inhabit you, but by a method

precisely the reverse. It is only as a man puts off all foreign support, and

stands alone, that I see him to be strong and to prevail. He is weaker by

every recruit to his banner. Is not a man better than a town? Ask nothing

of men, and in the endless mutation, thou only firm column must presently

appear the upholder of all that surrounds thee. He who knows that power

is inborn, that he is weak because he has looked for good out of him and

elsewhere, and so perceiving, throws himself unhesitatingly on his thought,

instantly rights himself, stands in the erect position, commands his limbs,

works miracles; just as a man who stands on his feet is stronger than a man

who stands on his head.

So use all that is called Fortune. Most men gamble with her, and gain

all, and lose all, as her wheel rolls. But do thou leave as unlawful these

winnings, and deal with Cause and Effect, the chancellors of God. In the

Will work and acquire, and thou hast chained the wheel of Chance, and shalt

sit hereafter out of fear from her rotations. A political victory, a rise of rents,

the recovery of your sick, or the return of your absent friend, or some other

favorable event, raises your spirits, and you think good days are preparing for

you. Do not believe it. Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing

can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.