But do your thing, and I shall know you. Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself. A man must consider what a blindman's-buff is this game of conformity. If i know your sect i anticipate your argument. I hear a preacher announce for his text and topic the expediency of one of the institutions of his church. Do i not know beforehand that not possibly can he say a new and spontaneous word? Do i not know that with all this ostentation of examining the grounds of the institution he will do no such thing? Do i not know that he is pledged to himself not to look but at one side, the permitted side, not as a man, but as a parish minister?
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I know that for myself it makes no difference whether for I do or forbear those village 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 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 And of course so much force is withdrawn from your proper life.
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 essay 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.
Then, again, do not tell me, as a good man did today, 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 summary men as do not belong to me and to whom gender 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 the college of fools; the building of meeting-houses to the. 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.
If an angry bigot assumes this bountiful cause of Abolition, and comes to me with his last news from Barbados, 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. Thy love afar is spite at home.' rough and graceless would be such a 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. 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 exclude company.
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It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs. Whoso would be a man, must be a non-conformist. 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 writing yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world. I remember an answer which when quite young I was prompted to make 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. 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. A man is to carry himself in the presence of all opposition as if every thing were titular and ephemeral but. 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?
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 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 éclat he is a committed person, watched by the sympathy or the hatred of hundreds, whose affections must now enter into his account.
Ah, that he could pass again into his neutral, godlike 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 a 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.
Ancillary list for English 470: Christian Classics
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 pray. 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 year by itself. Do not think the youth has no force, because he cannot speak to you and. In the next room who spoke so clear and emphatic? It seems he knows how to speak to his contemporaries. It is that very lump of bashfulness and phlegm which for weeks has done nothing but eat when you were margaret by, but now rolls out these words like bell-strokes. Bashful or bold then, he will know how to make us seniors very unnecessary.
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 resume 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 under the Almighty effort let us advance. What pretty oracles nature yields us on this text in the face and behavior of children, babes, and even brutes.
full of good, no kernel. 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.
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 Judgement. 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 paper 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 tomorrow 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.
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This is the full text of Ralph year Waldo Emerson's essay, self-Reliance. Emerson uses several words that are not in common use today. You'll find the definitions of those words by simply clicking on them (they are underlined). Self-Reliance was a revelation in its day and it is completely relevant today. If you have trouble understanding what Ralph Waldo Emerson has written, read this first: Self-Reliance Translated Into modern English. Self-Reliance, 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.