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Title: Essays — Second Series
Author: Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 1803-1882
Language: English
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By Ralph Waldo Emerson

     THE POET.

     A moody child and wildly wise
     Pursued the game with joyful eyes,
     Which chose, like meteors, their way,
     And rived the dark with private ray:
     They overleapt the horizon's edge,
     Searched with Apollo's privilege;
     Through man, and woman, and sea, and star
     Saw the dance of nature forward far;
     Through worlds, and races, and terms, and times
     Saw musical order, and pairing rhymes.

     Olympian bards who sung
       Divine ideas below,
     Which always find us young,
       And always keep us so.


Those who are esteemed umpires of taste are often persons who have
acquired some knowledge of admired pictures or sculptures, and have an
inclination for whatever is elegant; but if you inquire whether they are
beautiful souls, and whether their own acts are like fair pictures, you
learn that they are selfish and sensual. Their cultivation is local, as
if you should rub a log of dry wood in one spot to produce fire, all the
rest remaining cold. Their knowledge of the fine arts is some study of
rules and particulars, or some limited judgment of color or form, which
is exercised for amusement or for show. It is a proof of the shallowness
of the doctrine of beauty as it lies in the minds of our amateurs, that
men seem to have lost the perception of the instant dependence of form
upon soul. There is no doctrine of forms in our philosophy. We were
put into our bodies, as fire is put into a pan to be carried about; but
there is no accurate adjustment between the spirit and the organ, much
less is the latter the germination of the former. So in regard to other
forms, the intellectual men do not believe in any essential dependence
of the material world on thought and volition. Theologians think it a
pretty air-castle to talk of the Spiritual meaning of a ship or a cloud,
of a city or a contract, but they prefer to come again to the solid
ground of historical evidence; and even the poets are contented with a
civil and conformed manner of living, and to write poems from the fancy,
at a safe distance from their own experience. But the highest minds of
the world have never ceased to explore the double meaning, or shall
I say the quadruple or the centuple or much more manifold meaning, of
every sensuous fact; Orpheus, Empedocles, Heraclitus, Plato, Plutarch,
Dante, Swedenborg, and the masters of sculpture, picture, and poetry.
For we are not pans and barrows, nor even porters of the fire and
torch-bearers, but children of the fire, made of it, and only the same
divinity transmuted and at two or three removes, when we know least
about it. And this hidden truth, that the fountains whence all this
river of Time and its creatures floweth are intrinsically ideal and
beautiful, draws us to the consideration of the nature and functions of
the Poet, or the man of Beauty; to the means and materials he uses, and
to the general aspect of the art in the present time.

The breadth of the problem is great, for the poet is representative. He
stands among partial men for the complete man, and apprises us not
of his wealth, but of the common wealth. The young man reveres men of
genius, because, to speak truly, they are more himself than he is. They
receive of the soul as he also receives, but they more. Nature enhances
her beauty, to the eye of loving men, from their belief that the poet
is beholding her shows at the same time. He is isolated among his
contemporaries by truth and by his art, but with this consolation in his
pursuits, that they will draw all men sooner or later. For all men live
by truth and stand in need of expression. In love, in art, in avarice,
in politics, in labor, in games, we study to utter our painful secret.
The man is only half himself, the other half is his expression.

Notwithstanding this necessity to be published, adequate expression is
rare. I know not how it is that we need an interpreter, but the great
majority of men seem to be minors, who have not yet come into possession
of their own, or mutes, who cannot report the conversation they have
had with nature. There is no man who does not anticipate a supersensual
utility in the sun and stars, earth and water. These stand and wait to
render him a peculiar service. But there is some obstruction or some
excess of phlegm in our constitution, which does not suffer them to
yield the due effect. Too feeble fall the impressions of nature on us to
make us artists. Every touch should thrill. Every man should be so much
an artist that he could report in conversation what had befallen him.
Yet, in our experience, the rays or appulses have sufficient force to
arrive at the senses, but not enough to reach the quick and compel the
reproduction of themselves in speech. The poet is the person in whom
these powers are in balance, the man without impediment, who sees
and handles that which others dream of, traverses the whole scale of
experience, and is representative of man, in virtue of being the largest
power to receive and to impart.

For the Universe has three children, born at one time, which reappear
under different names in every system of thought, whether they be called
cause, operation, and effect; or, more poetically, Jove, Pluto, Neptune;
or, theologically, the Father, the Spirit, and the Son; but which
we will call here the Knower, the Doer, and the Sayer. These stand
respectively for the love of truth, for the love of good, and for
the love of beauty. These three are equal. Each is that which he is
essentially, so that he cannot be surmounted or analyzed, and each of
these three has the power of the others latent in him, and his own,

The poet is the sayer, the namer, and represents beauty. He is a
sovereign, and stands on the centre. For the world is not painted or
adorned, but is from the beginning beautiful; and God has not made some
beautiful things, but Beauty is the creator of the universe. Therefore
the poet is not any permissive potentate, but is emperor in his own
right. Criticism is infested with a cant of materialism, which assumes
that manual skill and activity is the first merit of all men, and
disparages such as say and do not, overlooking the fact that some men,
namely poets, are natural sayers, sent into the world to the end of
expression, and confounds them with those whose province is action but
who quit it to imitate the sayers. But Homer's words are as costly and
admirable to Homer as Agamemnon's victories are to Agamemnon. The poet
does not wait for the hero or the sage, but, as they act and think
primarily, so he writes primarily what will and must be spoken,
reckoning the others, though primaries also, yet, in respect to him,
secondaries and servants; as sitters or models in the studio of a
painter, or as assistants who bring building materials to an architect.

For poetry was all written before time was, and whenever we are so
finely organized that we can penetrate into that region where the air
is music, we hear those primal warblings and attempt to write them down,
but we lose ever and anon a word or a verse and substitute something of
our own, and thus miswrite the poem. The men of more delicate ear write
down these cadences more faithfully, and these transcripts, though
imperfect, become the songs of the nations. For nature is as truly
beautiful as it is good, or as it is reasonable, and must as much appear
as it must be done, or be known. Words and deeds are quite indifferent
modes of the divine energy. Words are also actions, and actions are a
kind of words.

The sign and credentials of the poet are that he announces that which no
man foretold. He is the true and only doctor; he knows and tells; he is
the only teller of news, for he was present and privy to the appearance
which he describes. He is a beholder of ideas and an utterer of the
necessary and causal. For we do not speak now of men of poetical
talents, or of industry and skill in metre, but of the true poet. I
took part in a conversation the other day concerning a recent writer of
lyrics, a man of subtle mind, whose head appeared to be a music-box of
delicate tunes and rhythms, and whose skill and command of language, we
could not sufficiently praise. But when the question arose whether he
was not only a lyrist but a poet, we were obliged to confess that he is
plainly a contemporary, not an eternal man. He does not stand out of our
low limitations, like a Chimborazo under the line, running up from the
torrid Base through all the climates of the globe, with belts of the
herbage of every latitude on its high and mottled sides; but this genius
is the landscape-garden of a modern house, adorned with fountains and
statues, with well-bred men and women standing and sitting in the walks
and terraces. We hear, through all the varied music, the ground-tone of
conventional life. Our poets are men of talents who sing, and not the
children of music. The argument is secondary, the finish of the verses
is primary.

For it is not metres, but a metre-making argument that makes a poem,--a
thought so passionate and alive that like the spirit of a plant or an
animal it has an architecture of its own, and adorns nature with a new
thing. The thought and the form are equal in the order of time, but in
the order of genesis the thought is prior to the form. The poet has a
new thought; he has a whole new experience to unfold; he will tell us
how it was with him, and all men will be the richer in his fortune. For
the experience of each new age requires a new confession, and the world
seems always waiting for its poet. I remember when I was young how much
I was moved one morning by tidings that genius had appeared in a youth
who sat near me at table. He had left his work and gone rambling none
knew whither, and had written hundreds of lines, but could not tell
whether that which was in him was therein told; he could tell nothing
but that all was changed,--man, beast, heaven, earth and sea. How gladly
we listened! how credulous! Society seemed to be compromised. We sat
in the aurora of a sunrise which was to put out all the stars. Boston
seemed to be at twice the distance it had the night before, or was much
farther than that. Rome,--what was Rome? Plutarch and Shakspeare were
in the yellow leaf, and Homer no more should be heard of. It is much to
know that poetry has been written this very day, under this very roof,
by your side. What! that wonderful spirit has not expired! These stony
moments are still sparkling and animated! I had fancied that the oracles
were all silent, and nature had spent her fires; and behold! all night,
from every pore, these fine auroras have been streaming. Every one has
some interest in the advent of the poet, and no one knows how much it
may concern him. We know that the secret of the world is profound, but
who or what shall be our interpreter, we know not. A mountain ramble,
a new style of face, a new person, may put the key into our hands.
Of course the value of genius to us is in the veracity of its report.
Talent may frolic and juggle; genius realizes and adds. Mankind in good
earnest have availed so far in understanding themselves and their work,
that the foremost watchman on the peak announces his news. It is the
truest word ever spoken, and the phrase will be the fittest, most
musical, and the unerring voice of the world for that time.

All that we call sacred history attests that the birth of a poet is
the principal event in chronology. Man, never so often deceived, still
watches for the arrival of a brother who can hold him steady to a truth
until he has made it his own. With what joy I begin to read a poem which
I confide in as an inspiration! And now my chains are to be broken; I
shall mount above these clouds and opaque airs in which I live,--opaque,
though they seem transparent,--and from the heaven of truth I shall see
and comprehend my relations. That will reconcile me to life and renovate
nature, to see trifles animated by a tendency, and to know what I am
doing. Life will no more be a noise; now I shall see men and women, and
know the signs by which they may be discerned from fools and satans.
This day shall be better than my birthday: then I became an animal; now
I am invited into the science of the real. Such is the hope, but the
fruition is postponed. Oftener it falls that this winged man, who will
carry me into the heaven, whirls me into mists, then leaps and frisks
about with me as it were from cloud to cloud, still affirming that he
is bound heavenward; and I, being myself a novice, am slow in perceiving
that he does not know the way into the heavens, and is merely bent that
I should admire his skill to rise like a fowl or a flying fish, a little
way from the ground or the water; but the all-piercing, all-feeding, and
ocular air of heaven that man shall never inhabit. I tumble down again
soon into my old nooks, and lead the life of exaggerations as before,
and have lost my faith in the possibility of any guide who can lead me
thither where I would be.

But, leaving these victims of vanity, let us, with new hope, observe
how nature, by worthier impulses, has ensured the poet's fidelity to his
office of announcement and affirming, namely by the beauty of things,
which becomes a new and higher beauty when expressed. Nature offers
all her creatures to him as a picture-language. Being used as a type,
a second wonderful value appears in the object, far better than its old
value; as the carpenter's stretched cord, if you hold your ear close
enough, is musical in the breeze. "Things more excellent than every
image," says Jamblichus, "are expressed through images." Things admit of
being used as symbols because nature is a symbol, in the whole, and in
every part. Every line we can draw in the sand has expression; and
there is no body without its spirit or genius. All form is an effect of
character; all condition, of the quality of the life; all harmony,
of health; and for this reason a perception of beauty should be
sympathetic, or proper only to the good. The beautiful rests on the
foundations of the necessary. The soul makes the body, as the wise
Spenser teaches:--

     "So every spirit, as it is most pure,
      And hath in it the more of heavenly light,
      So it the fairer body doth procure
      To habit in, and it more fairly dight,
      With cheerful grace and amiable sight.
      For, of the soul, the body form doth take,
      For soul is form, and doth the body make."

Here we find ourselves suddenly not in a critical speculation but in a
holy place, and should go very warily and reverently. We stand before
the secret of the world, there where Being passes into Appearance and
Unity into Variety.

The Universe is the externization of the soul. Wherever the life is,
that bursts into appearance around it. Our science is sensual, and
therefore superficial. The earth and the heavenly bodies, physics, and
chemistry, we sensually treat, as if they were self-existent; but
these are the retinue of that Being we have. "The mighty heaven,"
said Proclus, "exhibits, in its transfigurations, clear images of the
splendor of intellectual perceptions; being moved in conjunction with
the unapparent periods of intellectual natures." Therefore science
always goes abreast with the just elevation of the man, keeping step
with religion and metaphysics; or the state of science is an index of
our self-knowledge. Since everything in nature answers to a moral power,
if any phenomenon remains brute and dark it is that the corresponding
faculty in the observer is not yet active.

No wonder then, if these waters be so deep, that we hover over them with
a religious regard. The beauty of the fable proves the importance of the
sense; to the poet, and to all others; or, if you please, every man is
so far a poet as to be susceptible of these enchantments of nature; for
all men have the thoughts whereof the universe is the celebration. I
find that the fascination resides in the symbol. Who loves nature? Who
does not? Is it only poets, and men of leisure and cultivation, who live
with her? No; but also hunters, farmers, grooms, and butchers, though
they express their affection in their choice of life and not in their
choice of words. The writer wonders what the coachman or the hunter
values in riding, in horses and dogs. It is not superficial qualities.
When you talk with him he holds these at as slight a rate as you. His
worship is sympathetic; he has no definitions, but he is commanded
in nature, by the living power which he feels to be there present. No
imitation or playing of these things would content him; he loves the
earnest of the north wind, of rain, of stone, and wood, and iron. A
beauty not explicable is dearer than a beauty which we can see to the
end of. It is nature the symbol, nature certifying the supernatural,
body overflowed by life which he worships with coarse but sincere rites.

The inwardness and mystery of this attachment drives men of every class
to the use of emblems. The schools of poets and philosophers are not
more intoxicated with their symbols than the populace with theirs. In
our political parties, compute the power of badges and emblems. See
the great ball which they roll from Baltimore to Bunker hill! In the
political processions, Lowell goes in a loom, and Lynn in a shoe,
and Salem in a ship. Witness the cider-barrel, the log-cabin, the
hickory-stick, the palmetto, and all the cognizances of party. See the
power of national emblems. Some stars, lilies, leopards, a crescent, a
lion, an eagle, or other figure which came into credit God knows how, on
an old rag of bunting, blowing in the wind on a fort at the ends of
the earth, shall make the blood tingle under the rudest or the most
conventional exterior. The people fancy they hate poetry, and they are
all poets and mystics!

Beyond this universality of the symbolic language, we are apprised of
the divineness of this superior use of things, whereby the world is a
temple whose walls are covered with emblems, pictures, and commandments
of the Deity,--in this, that there is no fact in nature which does not
carry the whole sense of nature; and the distinctions which we make in
events and in affairs, of low and high, honest and base, disappear when
nature is used as a symbol. Thought makes everything fit for use. The
vocabulary of an omniscient man would embrace words and images excluded
from polite conversation. What would be base, or even obscene, to the
obscene, becomes illustrious, spoken in a new connexion of thought. The
piety of the Hebrew prophets purges their grossness. The circumcision is
an example of the power of poetry to raise the low and offensive. Small
and mean things serve as well as great symbols. The meaner the type by
which a law is expressed, the more pungent it is, and the more lasting
in the memories of men: just as we choose the smallest box or case in
which any needful utensil can be carried. Bare lists of words are found
suggestive to an imaginative and excited mind; as it is related of Lord
Chatham that he was accustomed to read in Bailey's Dictionary when he
was preparing to speak in Parliament. The poorest experience is rich
enough for all the purposes of expressing thought. Why covet a knowledge
of new facts? Day and night, house and garden, a few books, a few
actions, serve us as well as would all trades and all spectacles. We are
far from having exhausted the significance of the few symbols we use.
We can come to use them yet with a terrible simplicity. It does not
need that a poem should be long. Every word was once a poem. Every new
relation is a new word. Also we use defects and deformities to a sacred
purpose, so expressing our sense that the evils of the world are such
only to the evil eye. In the old mythology, mythologists observe,
defects are ascribed to divine natures, as lameness to Vulcan, blindness
to Cupid, and the like,--to signify exuberances.

For as it is dislocation and detachment from the life of God that
makes things ugly, the poet, who re-attaches things to nature and the
Whole,--re-attaching even artificial things and violations of nature,
to nature, by a deeper insight,--disposes very easily of the most
disagreeable facts. Readers of poetry see the factory-village and the
railway, and fancy that the poetry of the landscape is broken up by
these; for these works of art are not yet consecrated in their reading;
but the poet sees them fall within the great Order not less than the
beehive or the spider's geometrical web. Nature adopts them very fast
into her vital circles, and the gliding train of cars she loves like
her own. Besides, in a centred mind, it signifies nothing how many
mechanical inventions you exhibit. Though you add millions, and never so
surprising, the fact of mechanics has not gained a grain's weight. The
spiritual fact remains unalterable, by many or by few particulars; as no
mountain is of any appreciable height to break the curve of the sphere.
A shrewd country-boy goes to the city for the first time, and the
complacent citizen is not satisfied with his little wonder. It is not
that he does not see all the fine houses and know that he never saw such
before, but he disposes of them as easily as the poet finds place for
the railway. The chief value of the new fact is to enhance the great and
constant fact of Life, which can dwarf any and every circumstance, and
to which the belt of wampum and the commerce of America are alike.

The world being thus put under the mind for verb and noun, the poet is
he who can articulate it. For though life is great, and fascinates, and
absorbs; and though all men are intelligent of the symbols through which
it is named; yet they cannot originally use them. We are symbols and
inhabit symbols; workmen, work, and tools, words and things, birth and
death, all are emblems; but we sympathize with the symbols, and being
infatuated with the economical uses of things, we do not know that they
are thoughts. The poet, by an ulterior intellectual perception, gives
them a power which makes their old use forgotten, and puts eyes and
a tongue into every dumb and inanimate object. He perceives the
independence of the thought on the symbol, the stability of the thought,
the accidency and fugacity of the symbol. As the eyes of Lyncaeus were
said to see through the earth, so the poet turns the world to glass, and
shows us all things in their right series and procession. For through
that better perception he stands one step nearer to things, and sees
the flowing or metamorphosis; perceives that thought is multiform; that
within the form of every creature is a force impelling it to ascend
into a higher form; and following with his eyes the life, uses the forms
which express that life, and so his speech flows with the flowing of
nature. All the facts of the animal economy, sex, nutriment, gestation,
birth, growth, are symbols of the passage of the world into the soul
of man, to suffer there a change and reappear a new and higher fact. He
uses forms according to the life, and not according to the form. This is
true science. The poet alone knows astronomy, chemistry, vegetation
and animation, for he does not stop at these facts, but employs them as
signs. He knows why the plain or meadow of space was strewn with these
flowers we call suns and moons and stars; why the great deep is adorned
with animals, with men, and gods; for in every word he speaks he rides
on them as the horses of thought.

By virtue of this science the poet is the Namer or Language-maker,
naming things sometimes after their appearance, sometimes after their
essence, and giving to every one its own name and not another's, thereby
rejoicing the intellect, which delights in detachment or boundary. The
poets made all the words, and therefore language is the archives of
history, and, if we must say it, a sort of tomb of the muses. For though
the origin of most of our words is forgotten, each word was at first
a stroke of genius, and obtained currency because for the moment
it symbolized the world to the first speaker and to the hearer. The
etymologist finds the deadest word to have been once a brilliant
picture. Language is fossil poetry. As the limestone of the continent
consists of infinite masses of the shells of animalcules, so language
is made up of images or tropes, which now, in their secondary use, have
long ceased to remind us of their poetic origin. But the poet names the
thing because he sees it, or comes one step nearer to it than any other.
This expression or naming is not art, but a second nature, grown out
of the first, as a leaf out of a tree. What we call nature is a certain
self-regulated motion or change; and nature does all things by her own
hands, and does not leave another to baptize her but baptizes herself;
and this through the metamorphosis again. I remember that a certain poet
described it to me thus:

Genius is the activity which repairs the decays of things, whether
wholly or partly of a material and finite kind. Nature, through all her
kingdoms, insures herself. Nobody cares for planting the poor fungus; so
she shakes down from the gills of one agaric countless spores, any one
of which, being preserved, transmits new billions of spores to-morrow or
next day. The new agaric of this hour has a chance which the old one had
not. This atom of seed is thrown into a new place, not subject to the
accidents which destroyed its parent two rods off. She makes a man;
and having brought him to ripe age, she will no longer run the risk of
losing this wonder at a blow, but she detaches from him a new self, that
the kind may be safe from accidents to which the individual is exposed.
So when the soul of the poet has come to ripeness of thought, she
detaches and sends away from it its poems or songs,--a fearless,
sleepless, deathless progeny, which is not exposed to the accidents of
the weary kingdom of time; a fearless, vivacious offspring, clad with
wings (such was the virtue of the soul out of which they came) which
carry them fast and far, and infix them irrecoverably into the hearts
of men. These wings are the beauty of the poet's soul. The songs, thus
flying immortal from their mortal parent, are pursued by clamorous
flights of censures, which swarm in far greater numbers and threaten to
devour them; but these last are not winged. At the end of a very short
leap they fall plump down and rot, having received from the souls out of
which they came no beautiful wings. But the melodies of the poet ascend
and leap and pierce into the deeps of infinite time.

So far the bard taught me, using his freer speech. But nature has a
higher end, in the production of New individuals, than security, namely
ascension, or the passage of the soul into higher forms. I knew in my
younger days the sculptor who made the statue of the youth which stands
in the public garden. He was, as I remember, unable to tell directly,
what made him happy or unhappy, but by wonderful indirections he could
tell. He rose one day, according to his habit, before the dawn, and saw
the morning break, grand as the eternity out of which it came, and for
many days after, he strove to express this tranquillity, and lo! his
chisel had fashioned out of marble the form of a beautiful youth,
Phosphorus, whose aspect is such that it is said all persons who look
on it become silent. The poet also resigns himself to his mood, and that
thought which agitated him is expressed, but alter idem, in a manner
totally new. The expression is organic, or the new type which things
themselves take when liberated. As, in the sun, objects paint their
images on the retina of the eye, so they, sharing the aspiration of the
whole universe, tend to paint a far more delicate copy of their essence
in his mind. Like the metamorphosis of things into higher organic forms
is their change into melodies. Over everything stands its daemon or
soul, and, as the form of the thing is reflected by the eye, so the
soul of the thing is reflected by a melody. The sea, the mountain-ridge,
Niagara, and every flower-bed, pre-exist, or super-exist, in
pre-cantations, which sail like odors in the air, and when any man goes
by with an ear sufficiently fine, he overhears them and endeavors to
write down the notes without diluting or depraving them. And herein is
the legitimation of criticism, in the mind's faith that the poems are a
corrupt version of some text in nature with which they ought to be made
to tally. A rhyme in one of our sonnets should not be less pleasing than
the iterated nodes of a sea-shell, or the resembling difference of a
group of flowers. The pairing of the birds is an idyl, not tedious as
our idyls are; a tempest is a rough ode, without falsehood or rant;
a summer, with its harvest sown, reaped, and stored, is an epic song,
subordinating how many admirably executed parts. Why should not the
symmetry and truth that modulate these, glide into our spirits, and we
participate the invention of nature?

This insight, which expresses itself by what is called Imagination, is
a very high sort of seeing, which does not come by study, but by the
intellect being where and what it sees; by sharing the path or circuit
of things through forms, and so making them translucid to others. The
path of things is silent. Will they suffer a speaker to go with them? A
spy they will not suffer; a lover, a poet, is the transcendency of their
own nature,--him they will suffer. The condition of true naming, on the
poet's part, is his resigning himself to the divine aura which breathes
through forms, and accompanying that.

It is a secret which every intellectual man quickly learns, that, beyond
the energy of his possessed and conscious intellect he is capable of a
new energy (as of an intellect doubled on itself), by abandonment to the
nature of things; that beside his privacy of power as an individual man,
there is a great public power on which he can draw, by unlocking, at
all risks, his human doors, and suffering the ethereal tides to roll
and circulate through him; then he is caught up into the life of the
Universe, his speech is thunder, his thought is law, and his words are
universally intelligible as the plants and animals. The poet knows that
he speaks adequately then only when he speaks somewhat wildly, or, "with
the flower of the mind;" not with the intellect used as an organ, but
with the intellect released from all service and suffered to take its
direction from its celestial life; or as the ancients were wont to
express themselves, not with intellect alone but with the intellect
inebriated by nectar. As the traveller who has lost his way throws his
reins on his horse's neck and trusts to the instinct of the animal
to find his road, so must we do with the divine animal who carries us
through this world. For if in any manner we can stimulate this instinct,
new passages are opened for us into nature; the mind flows into and
through things hardest and highest, and the metamorphosis is possible.

This is the reason why bards love wine, mead, narcotics, coffee, tea,
opium, the fumes of sandal-wood and tobacco, or whatever other procurers
of animal exhilaration. All men avail themselves of such means as they
can, to add this extraordinary power to their normal powers; and to
this end they prize conversation, music, pictures, sculpture, dancing,
theatres, travelling, war, mobs, fires, gaming, politics, or love, or
science, or animal intoxication,--which are several coarser or
finer quasi-mechanical substitutes for the true nectar, which is the
ravishment of the intellect by coming nearer to the fact. These are
auxiliaries to the centrifugal tendency of a man, to his passage out
into free space, and they help him to escape the custody of that body
in which he is pent up, and of that jail-yard of individual relations
in which he is enclosed. Hence a great number of such as were
professionally expressers of Beauty, as painters, poets, musicians, and
actors, have been more than others wont to lead a life of pleasure and
indulgence; all but the few who received the true nectar; and, as it was
a spurious mode of attaining freedom, as it was an emancipation not into
the heavens but into the freedom of baser places, they were punished for
that advantage they won, by a dissipation and deterioration. But never
can any advantage be taken of nature by a trick. The spirit of the
world, the great calm presence of the Creator, comes not forth to the
sorceries of opium or of wine. The sublime vision comes to the pure
and simple soul in a clean and chaste body. That is not an inspiration,
which we owe to narcotics, but some counterfeit excitement and fury.
Milton says that the lyric poet may drink wine and live generously, but
the epic poet, he who shall sing of the gods and their descent unto men,
must drink water out of a wooden bowl. For poetry is not 'Devil's wine,'
but God's wine. It is with this as it is with toys. We fill the hands
and nurseries of our children with all manner of dolls, drums, and
horses; withdrawing their eyes from the plain face and sufficing objects
of nature, the sun, and moon, the animals, the water, and stones, which
should be their toys. So the poet's habit of living should be set on
a key so low that the common influences should delight him. His
cheerfulness should be the gift of the sunlight; the air should suffice
for his inspiration, and he should be tipsy with water. That spirit
which suffices quiet hearts, which seems to come forth to such from
every dry knoll of sere grass, from every pine-stump and half-imbedded
stone on which the dull March sun shines, comes forth to the poor and
hungry, and such as are of simple taste. If thou fill thy brain with
Boston and New York, with fashion and covetousness, and wilt stimulate
thy jaded senses with wine and French coffee, thou shalt find no
radiance of wisdom in the lonely waste of the pinewoods.

If the imagination intoxicates the poet, it is not inactive in other
men. The metamorphosis excites in the beholder an emotion of joy. The
use of symbols has a certain power of emancipation and exhilaration for
all men. We seem to be touched by a wand which makes us dance and run
about happily, like children. We are like persons who come out of a cave
or cellar into the open air. This is the effect on us of tropes, fables,
oracles, and all poetic forms. Poets are thus liberating gods. Men have
really got a new sense, and found within their world another world, or
nest of worlds; for, the metamorphosis once seen, we divine that it
does not stop. I will not now consider how much this makes the charm
of algebra and the mathematics, which also have their tropes, but it
is felt in every definition; as when Aristotle defines space to be an
immovable vessel in which things are contained;--or when Plato defines
a line to be a flowing point; or figure to be a bound of solid; and
many the like. What a joyful sense of freedom we have when Vitruvius
announces the old opinion of artists that no architect can build any
house well who does not know something of anatomy. When Socrates, in
Charmides, tells us that the soul is cured of its maladies by certain
incantations, and that these incantations are beautiful reasons, from
which temperance is generated in souls; when Plato calls the world an
animal; and Timaeus affirms that the plants also are animals; or affirms
a man to be a heavenly tree, growing with his root, which is his head,
upward; and, as George Chapman, following him, writes,--

     "So in our tree of man, whose nervie root
      Springs in his top;"--

when Orpheus speaks of hoariness as "that white flower which marks
extreme old age;" when Proclus calls the universe the statue of the
intellect; when Chaucer, in his praise of 'Gentilesse,' compares good
blood in mean condition to fire, which, though carried to the darkest
house betwixt this and the mount of Caucasus, will yet hold its natural
office and burn as bright as if twenty thousand men did it behold; when
John saw, in the Apocalypse, the ruin of the world through evil, and the
stars fall from heaven as the figtree casteth her untimely fruit; when
Aesop reports the whole catalogue of common daily relations through
the masquerade of birds and beasts;--we take the cheerful hint of the
immortality of our essence and its versatile habit and escapes, as when
the gypsies say "it is in vain to hang them, they cannot die."

The poets are thus liberating gods. The ancient British bards had for
the title of their order, "Those Who are free throughout the world."
They are free, and they make free. An imaginative book renders us
much more service at first, by stimulating us through its tropes, than
afterward when we arrive at the precise sense of the author. I think
nothing is of any value in books excepting the transcendental and
extraordinary. If a man is inflamed and carried away by his thought, to
that degree that he forgets the authors and the public and heeds only
this one dream which holds him like an insanity, let me read his paper,
and you may have all the arguments and histories and criticism. All
the value which attaches to Pythagoras, Paracelsus, Cornelius Agrippa,
Cardan, Kepler, Swedenborg, Schelling, Oken, or any other who introduces
questionable facts into his cosmogony, as angels, devils, magic,
astrology, palmistry, mesmerism, and so on, is the certificate we have
of departure from routine, and that here is a new witness. That also is
the best success in conversation, the magic of liberty, which puts the
world like a ball in our hands. How cheap even the liberty then seems;
how mean to study, when an emotion communicates to the intellect the
power to sap and upheave nature; how great the perspective! nations,
times, systems, enter and disappear like threads in tapestry of large
figure and many colors; dream delivers us to dream, and while the
drunkenness lasts we will sell our bed, our philosophy, our religion, in
our opulence.

There is good reason why we should prize this liberation. The fate of
the poor shepherd, who, blinded and lost in the snow-storm, perishes in
a drift within a few feet of his cottage door, is an emblem of the state
of man. On the brink of the waters of life and truth, we are miserably
dying. The inaccessibleness of every thought but that we are in, is
wonderful. What if you come near to it; you are as remote when you are
nearest as when you are farthest. Every thought is also a prison; every
heaven is also a prison. Therefore we love the poet, the inventor, who
in any form, whether in an ode or in an action or in looks and behavior
has yielded us a new thought. He unlocks our chains and admits us to a
new scene.

This emancipation is dear to all men, and the power to impart it, as
it must come from greater depth and scope of thought, is a measure of
intellect. Therefore all books of the imagination endure, all which
ascend to that truth that the writer sees nature beneath him, and uses
it as his exponent. Every verse or sentence possessing this virtue will
take care of its own immortality. The religions of the world are the
ejaculations of a few imaginative men.

But the quality of the imagination is to flow, and not to freeze. The
poet did not stop at the color or the form, but read their meaning;
neither may he rest in this meaning, but he makes the same objects
exponents of his new thought. Here is the difference betwixt the poet
and the mystic, that the last nails a symbol to one sense, which was a
true sense for a moment, but soon becomes old and false. For all symbols
are fluxional; all language is vehicular and transitive, and is good, as
ferries and horses are, for conveyance, not as farms and houses are,
for homestead. Mysticism consists in the mistake of an accidental and
individual symbol for an universal one. The morning-redness happens to
be the favorite meteor to the eyes of Jacob Behmen, and comes to stand
to him for truth and faith; and, he believes, should stand for the same
realities to every reader. But the first reader prefers as naturally the
symbol of a mother and child, or a gardener and his bulb, or a jeweller
polishing a gem. Either of these, or of a myriad more, are equally
good to the person to whom they are significant. Only they must be held
lightly, and be very willingly translated into the equivalent terms
which others use. And the mystic must be steadily told,--All that you
say is just as true without the tedious use of that symbol as with it.
Let us have a little algebra, instead of this trite rhetoric,--universal
signs, instead of these village symbols,--and we shall both be gainers.
The history of hierarchies seems to show that all religious error
consisted in making the symbol too stark and solid, and was at last
nothing but an excess of the organ of language.

Swedenborg, of all men in the recent ages, stands eminently for the
translator of nature into thought. I do not know the man in history to
whom things stood so uniformly for words. Before him the metamorphosis
continually plays. Everything on which his eye rests, obeys the impulses
of moral nature. The figs become grapes whilst he eats them. When
some of his angels affirmed a truth, the laurel twig which they held
blossomed in their hands. The noise which at a distance appeared like
gnashing and thumping, on coming nearer was found to be the voice of
disputants. The men in one of his visions, seen in heavenly light,
appeared like dragons, and seemed in darkness; but to each other they
appeared as men, and when the light from heaven shone into their cabin,
they complained of the darkness, and were compelled to shut the window
that they might see.

There was this perception in him which makes the poet or seer an object
of awe and terror, namely that the same man or society of men may wear
one aspect to themselves and their companions, and a different aspect to
higher intelligences. Certain priests, whom he describes as conversing
very learnedly together, appeared to the children who were at some
distance, like dead horses; and many the like misappearances. And
instantly the mind inquires whether these fishes under the bridge,
yonder oxen in the pasture, those dogs in the yard, are immutably
fishes, oxen, and dogs, or only so appear to me, and perchance to
themselves appear upright men; and whether I appear as a man to all
eyes. The Bramins and Pythagoras propounded the same question, and
if any poet has witnessed the transformation he doubtless found it
in harmony with various experiences. We have all seen changes as
considerable in wheat and caterpillars. He is the poet and shall draw us
with love and terror, who sees through the flowing vest the firm nature,
and can declare it.

I look in vain for the poet whom I describe. We do not with sufficient
plainness or sufficient profoundness address ourselves to life, nor dare
we chaunt our own times and social circumstance. If we filled the day
with bravery, we should not shrink from celebrating it. Time and nature
yield us many gifts, but not yet the timely man, the new religion, the
reconciler, whom all things await. Dante's praise is that he dared to
write his autobiography in colossal cipher, or into universality. We
have yet had no genius in America, with tyrannous eye, which knew the
value of our incomparable materials, and saw, in the barbarism and
materialism of the times, another carnival of the same gods whose
picture he so much admires in Homer; then in the Middle Age; then in
Calvinism. Banks and tariffs, the newspaper and caucus, Methodism and
Unitarianism, are flat and dull to dull people, but rest on the same
foundations of wonder as the town of Troy and the temple of Delphi,
and are as swiftly passing away. Our logrolling, our stumps and their
politics, our fisheries, our Negroes and Indians, our boats and our
repudiations, the wrath of rogues and the pusillanimity of honest men,
the northern trade, the southern planting, the western clearing, Oregon
and Texas, are yet unsung. Yet America is a poem in our eyes; its ample
geography dazzles the imagination, and it will not wait long for metres.
If I have not found that excellent combination of gifts in my countrymen
which I seek, neither could I aid myself to fix the idea of the poet
by reading now and then in Chalmers's collection of five centuries of
English poets. These are wits more than poets, though there have been
poets among them. But when we adhere to the ideal of the poet, we have
our difficulties even with Milton and Homer. Milton is too literary, and
Homer too literal and historical.

But I am not wise enough for a national criticism, and must use the old
largeness a little longer, to discharge my errand from the muse to the
poet concerning his art.

Art is the path of the creator to his work. The paths or methods are
ideal and eternal, though few men ever see them; not the artist himself
for years, or for a lifetime, unless he come into the conditions. The
painter, the sculptor, the composer, the epic rhapsodist, the orator,
all partake one desire, namely to express themselves symmetrically
and abundantly, not dwarfishly and fragmentarily. They found or put
themselves in certain conditions, as, the painter and sculptor before
some impressive human figures; the orator, into the assembly of the
people; and the others in such scenes as each has found exciting to his
intellect; and each presently feels the new desire. He hears a voice,
he sees a beckoning. Then he is apprised, with wonder, what herds of
daemons hem him in. He can no more rest; he says, with the old painter,
"By God, it is in me and must go forth of me." He pursues a beauty,
half seen, which flies before him. The poet pours out verses in every
solitude. Most of the things he says are conventional, no doubt; but by
and by he says something which is original and beautiful. That charms
him. He would say nothing else but such things. In our way of talking
we say 'That is yours, this is mine;' but the poet knows well that it is
not his; that it is as strange and beautiful to him as to you; he would
fain hear the like eloquence at length. Once having tasted this immortal
ichor, he cannot have enough of it, and as an admirable creative power
exists in these intellections, it is of the last importance that these
things get spoken. What a little of all we know is said! What drops of
all the sea of our science are baled up! and by what accident it is
that these are exposed, when so many secrets sleep in nature! Hence the
necessity of speech and song; hence these throbs and heart-beatings in
the orator, at the door of the assembly, to the end namely that thought
may be ejaculated as Logos, or Word.

Doubt not, O poet, but persist. Say 'It is in me, and shall out.' Stand
there, balked and dumb, stuttering and stammering, hissed and hooted,
stand and strive, until at last rage draw out of thee that dream-power
which every night shows thee is thine own; a power transcending all
limit and privacy, and by virtue of which a man is the conductor of
the whole river of electricity. Nothing walks, or creeps, or grows, or
exists, which must not in turn arise and walk before him as exponent
of his meaning. Comes he to that power, his genius is no longer
exhaustible. All the creatures by pairs and by tribes pour into his mind
as into a Noah's ark, to come forth again to people a new world. This is
like the stock of air for our respiration or for the combustion of
our fireplace; not a measure of gallons, but the entire atmosphere if
wanted. And therefore the rich poets, as Homer, Chaucer, Shakspeare, and
Raphael, have obviously no limits to their works except the limits of
their lifetime, and resemble a mirror carried through the street, ready
to render an image of every created thing.

O poet! a new nobility is conferred in groves and pastures, and not in
castles or by the sword-blade any longer. The conditions are hard, but
equal. Thou shalt leave the world, and know the muse only. Thou shalt
not know any longer the times, customs, graces, politics, or opinions of
men, but shalt take all from the muse. For the time of towns is tolled
from the world by funereal chimes, but in nature the universal hours are
counted by succeeding tribes of animals and plants, and by growth of joy
on joy. God wills also that thou abdicate a manifold and duplex life,
and that thou be content that others speak for thee. Others shall be thy
gentlemen and shall represent all courtesy and worldly life for thee;
others shall do the great and resounding actions also. Thou shalt lie
close hid with nature, and canst not be afforded to the Capitol or the
Exchange. The world is full of renunciations and apprenticeships, and
this is thine: thou must pass for a fool and a churl for a long
season. This is the screen and sheath in which Pan has protected his
well-beloved flower, and thou shalt be known only to thine own, and they
shall console thee with tenderest love. And thou shalt not be able to
rehearse the names of thy friends in thy verse, for an old shame before
the holy ideal. And this is the reward; that the ideal shall be real
to thee, and the impressions of the actual world shall fall like summer
rain, copious, but not troublesome, to thy invulnerable essence. Thou
shalt have the whole land for thy park and manor, the sea for thy bath
and navigation, without tax and without envy; the woods and the rivers
thou shalt own; and thou shalt possess that wherein others are only
tenants and boarders. Thou true land-lord! sea-lord! air-lord! Wherever
snow falls or water flows or birds fly, wherever day and night meet in
twilight, wherever the blue heaven is hung by clouds or sown with stars,
wherever are forms with transparent boundaries, wherever are outlets
into celestial space, wherever is danger, and awe, and love,--there is
Beauty, plenteous as rain, shed for thee, and though thou shouldest walk
the world over, thou shalt not be able to find a condition inopportune
or ignoble.



      THE lords of life, the lords of life,--
      I saw them pass,
      In their own guise,
      Like and unlike,
      Portly and grim,
      Use and Surprise,
      Surface and Dream,
      Succession swift, and spectral Wrong,
      Temperament without a tongue,
      And the inventor of the game
      Omnipresent without name;--
      Some to see, some to be guessed,
      They marched from east to west:
      Little man, least of all,
      Among the legs of his guardians tall,
      Walked about with puzzled look:--
      Him by the hand dear Nature took;
      Dearest Nature, strong and kind,
      Whispered, 'Darling, never mind!
      Tomorrow they will wear another face,
      The founder thou! these are thy race!'


WHERE do we find ourselves? In a series of which we do not know the
extremes, and believe that it has none. We wake and find ourselves on a
stair; there are stairs below us, which we seem to have ascended; there
are stairs above us, many a one, which go upward and out of sight. But
the Genius which according to the old belief stands at the door by which
we enter, and gives us the lethe to drink, that we may tell no tales,
mixed the cup too strongly, and we cannot shake off the lethargy now at
noonday. Sleep lingers all our lifetime about our eyes, as night hovers
all day in the boughs of the fir-tree. All things swim and glitter. Our
life is not so much threatened as our perception. Ghostlike we glide
through nature, and should not know our place again. Did our birth
fall in some fit of indigence and frugality in nature, that she was so
sparing of her fire and so liberal of her earth that it appears to us
that we lack the affirmative principle, and though we have health and
reason, yet we have no superfluity of spirit for new creation? We have
enough to live and bring the year about, but not an ounce to impart or
to invest. Ah that our Genius were a little more of a genius! We are
like millers on the lower levels of a stream, when the factories above
them have exhausted the water. We too fancy that the upper people must
have raised their dams.

If any of us knew what we were doing, or where we are going, then when
we think we best know! We do not know to-day whether we are busy or
idle. In times when we thought ourselves indolent, we have afterwards
discovered that much was accomplished, and much was begun in us. All our
days are so unprofitable while they pass, that 'tis wonderful where or
when we ever got anything of this which we call wisdom, poetry, virtue.
We never got it on any dated calendar day. Some heavenly days must have
been intercalated somewhere, like those that Hermes won with dice of the
Moon, that Osiris might be born. It is said all martyrdoms looked mean
when they were suffered. Every ship is a romantic object, except that
we sail in. Embark, and the romance quits our vessel and hangs on every
other sail in the horizon. Our life looks trivial, and we shun to
record it. Men seem to have learned of the horizon the art of perpetual
retreating and reference. 'Yonder uplands are rich pasturage, and my
neighbor has fertile meadow, but my field,' says the querulous farmer,
'only holds the world together.' I quote another man's saying; unluckily
that other withdraws himself in the same way, and quotes me. 'Tis
the trick of nature thus to degrade to-day; a good deal of buzz, and
somewhere a result slipped magically in. Every roof is agreeable to
the eye until it is lifted; then we find tragedy and moaning women and
hard-eyed husbands and deluges of lethe, and the men ask, 'What's the
news?' as if the old were so bad. How many individuals can we count in
society? how many actions? how many opinions? So much of our time is
preparation, so much is routine, and so much retrospect, that the pith
of each man's genius contracts itself to a very few hours. The
history of literature--take the net result of Tiraboschi, Warton, or
Schlegel,--is a sum of very few ideas and of very few original tales;
all the rest being variation of these. So in this great society wide
lying around us, a critical analysis would find very few spontaneous
actions. It is almost all custom and gross sense. There are even few
opinions, and these seem organic in the speakers, and do not disturb the
universal necessity.

What opium is instilled into all disaster! It shows formidable as we
approach it, but there is at last no rough rasping friction, but the
most slippery sliding surfaces. We fall soft on a thought; Ate Dea is

     "Over men's heads walking aloft,
      With tender feet treading so soft."

People grieve and bemoan themselves, but it is not half so bad with them
as they say. There are moods in which we court suffering, in the hope
that here at least we shall find reality, sharp peaks and edges of
truth. But it turns out to be scene-painting and counterfeit. The only
thing grief has taught me is to know how shallow it is. That, like all
the rest, plays about the surface, and never introduces me into the
reality, for contact with which we would even pay the costly price of
sons and lovers. Was it Boscovich who found out that bodies never come
in contact? Well, souls never touch their objects. An innavigable
sea washes with silent waves between us and the things we aim at and
converse with. Grief too will make us idealists. In the death of my son,
now more than two years ago, I seem to have lost a beautiful estate,--no
more. I cannot get it nearer to me. If to-morrow I should be informed of
the bankruptcy of my principal debtors, the loss of my property would be
a great inconvenience to me, perhaps, for many years; but it would
leave me as it found me,--neither better nor worse. So is it with this
calamity: it does not touch me; something which I fancied was a part of
me, which could not be torn away without tearing me nor enlarged without
enriching me, falls off from me and leaves no scar. It was caducous. I
grieve that grief can teach me nothing, nor carry me one step into real
nature. The Indian who was laid under a curse that the wind should not
blow on him, nor water flow to him, nor fire burn him, is a type of us
all. The dearest events are summer-rain, and we the Para coats that shed
every drop. Nothing is left us now but death. We look to that with a
grim satisfaction, saying There at least is reality that will not dodge

I take this evanescence and lubricity of all objects, which lets them
slip through our fingers then when we clutch hardest, to be the most
unhandsome part of our condition. Nature does not like to be observed,
and likes that we should be her fools and playmates. We may have the
sphere for our cricket-ball, but not a berry for our philosophy. Direct
strokes she never gave us power to make; all our blows glance, all our
hits are accidents. Our relations to each other are oblique and casual.

Dream delivers us to dream, and there is no end to illusion. Life is a
train of moods like a string of beads, and as we pass through them they
prove to be many-colored lenses which paint the world their own hue, and
each shows only what lies in its focus. From the mountain you see the
mountain. We animate what we can, and we see only what we animate.
Nature and books belong to the eyes that see them. It depends on the
mood of the man whether he shall see the sunset or the fine poem. There
are always sunsets, and there is always genius; but only a few hours so
serene that we can relish nature or criticism. The more or less depends
on structure or temperament. Temperament is the iron wire on which
the beads are strung. Of what use is fortune or talent to a cold and
defective nature? Who cares what sensibility or discrimination a man has
at some time shown, if he falls asleep in his chair? or if he laugh and
giggle? or if he apologize? or is infected with egotism? or thinks of
his dollar? or cannot go by food? or has gotten a child in his boyhood?
Of what use is genius, if the organ is too convex or too concave and
cannot find a focal distance within the actual horizon of human life? Of
what use, if the brain is too cold or too hot, and the man does not care
enough for results to stimulate him to experiment, and hold him up in
it? or if the web is too finely woven, too irritable by pleasure and
pain, so that life stagnates from too much reception without due
outlet? Of what use to make heroic vows of amendment, if the same old
law-breaker is to keep them? What cheer can the religious sentiment
yield, when that is suspected to be secretly dependent on the seasons of
the year and the state of the blood? I knew a witty physician who found
the creed in the biliary duct, and used to affirm that if there was
disease in the liver, the man became a Calvinist, and if that organ
was sound, he became a Unitarian. Very mortifying is the reluctant
experience that some unfriendly excess or imbecility neutralizes the
promise of genius. We see young men who owe us a new world, so readily
and lavishly they promise, but they never acquit the debt; they die
young and dodge the account; or if they live they lose themselves in the

Temperament also enters fully into the system of illusions and shuts us
in a prison of glass which we cannot see. There is an optical illusion
about every person we meet. In truth they are all creatures of given
temperament, which will appear in a given character, whose boundaries
they will never pass: but we look at them, they seem alive, and we
presume there is impulse in them. In the moment it seems impulse; in the
year, in the lifetime, it turns out to be a certain uniform tune
which the revolving barrel of the music-box must play. Men resist the
conclusion in the morning, but adopt it as the evening wears on, that
temper prevails over everything of time, place, and condition, and is
inconsumable in the flames of religion. Some modifications the moral
sentiment avails to impose, but the individual texture holds its
dominion, if not to bias the moral judgments, yet to fix the measure of
activity and of enjoyment.

I thus express the law as it is read from the platform of ordinary
life, but must not leave it without noticing the capital exception. For
temperament is a power which no man willingly hears any one praise but
himself. On the platform of physics we cannot resist the contracting
influences of so-called science. Temperament puts all divinity to rout.
I know the mental proclivity of physicians. I hear the chuckle of the
phrenologists. Theoretic kidnappers and slave-drivers, they esteem each
man the victim of another, who winds him round his finger by knowing the
law of his being; and by such cheap signboards as the color of his beard
or the slope of his occiput, reads the inventory of his fortunes and
character. The grossest ignorance does not disgust like this impudent
knowingness. The physicians say they are not materialists; but they
are:--Spirit is matter reduced to an extreme thinness: O so thin!--But
the definition of spiritual should be, that which is its own evidence.
What notions do they attach to love! what to religion! One would not
willingly pronounce these words in their hearing, and give them the
occasion to profane them. I saw a gracious gentleman who adapts his
conversation to the form of the head of the man he talks with! I had
fancied that the value of life lay in its inscrutable possibilities; in
the fact that I never know, in addressing myself to a new individual,
what may befall me. I carry the keys of my castle in my hand, ready to
throw them at the feet of my lord, whenever and in what disguise
soever he shall appear. I know he is in the neighborhood hidden among
vagabonds. Shall I preclude my future by taking a high seat and kindly
adapting my conversation to the shape of heads? When I come to that, the
doctors shall buy me for a cent.--'But, sir, medical history; the report
to the Institute; the proven facts!'--I distrust the facts and
the inferences. Temperament is the veto or limitation-power in the
constitution, very justly applied to restrain an opposite excess in the
constitution, but absurdly offered as a bar to original equity. When
virtue is in presence, all subordinate powers sleep. On its own level,
or in view of nature, temperament is final. I see not, if one be once
caught in this trap of so-called sciences, any escape for the man from
the links of the chain of physical necessity. Given such an embryo,
such a history must follow. On this platform one lives in a sty of
sensualism, and would soon come to suicide. But it is impossible that
the creative power should exclude itself. Into every intelligence there
is a door which is never closed, through which the creator passes. The
intellect, seeker of absolute truth, or the heart, lover of absolute
good, intervenes for our succor, and at one whisper of these high powers
we awake from ineffectual struggles with this nightmare. We hurl it into
its own hell, and cannot again contract ourselves to so base a state.

The secret of the illusoriness is in the necessity of a succession
of moods or objects. Gladly we would anchor, but the anchorage is
quicksand. This onward trick of nature is too strong for us: Pero si
muove. When at night I look at the moon and stars, I seem stationary,
and they to hurry. Our love of the real draws us to permanence, but
health of body consists in circulation, and sanity of mind in variety
or facility of association. We need change of objects. Dedication to
one thought is quickly odious. We house with the insane, and must humor
them; then conversation dies out. Once I took such delight in Montaigne,
that I thought I should not need any other book; before that, in
Shakspeare; then in Plutarch; then in Plotinus; at one time in Bacon;
afterwards in Goethe; even in Bettine; but now I turn the pages of
either of them languidly, whilst I still cherish their genius. So with
pictures; each will bear an emphasis of attention once, which it cannot
retain, though we fain would continue to be pleased in that manner. How
strongly I have felt of pictures that when you have seen one well, you
must take your leave of it; you shall never see it again. I have had
good lessons from pictures which I have since seen without emotion or
remark. A deduction must be made from the opinion which even the wise
express of a new book or occurrence. Their opinion gives me tidings of
their mood, and some vague guess at the new fact, but is nowise to be
trusted as the lasting relation between that intellect and that thing.
The child asks, 'Mamma, why don't I like the story as well as when
you told it me yesterday?' Alas! child it is even so with the oldest
cherubim of knowledge. But will it answer thy question to say, Because
thou wert born to a whole and this story is a particular? The reason
of the pain this discovery causes us (and we make it late in respect to
works of art and intellect), is the plaint of tragedy which murmurs from
it in regard to persons, to friendship and love.

That immobility and absence of elasticity which we find in the arts,
we find with more pain in the artist. There is no power of expansion in
men. Our friends early appear to us as representatives of certain ideas
which they never pass or exceed. They stand on the brink of the ocean of
thought and power, but they never take the single step that would bring
them there. A man is like a bit of Labrador spar, which has no lustre as
you turn it in your hand until you come to a particular angle; then it
shows deep and beautiful colors. There is no adaptation or universal
applicability in men, but each has his special talent, and the mastery
of successful men consists in adroitly keeping themselves where and when
that turn shall be oftenest to be practised. We do what we must, and
call it by the best names we can, and would fain have the praise of
having intended the result which ensues. I cannot recall any form of man
who is not superfluous sometimes. But is not this pitiful? Life is not
worth the taking, to do tricks in.

Of course it needs the whole society to give the symmetry we seek. The
party-colored wheel must revolve very fast to appear white. Something is
earned too by conversing with so much folly and defect. In fine, whoever
loses, we are always of the gaining party. Divinity is behind our
failures and follies also. The plays of children are nonsense, but very
educative nonsense. So it is with the largest and solemnest things, with
commerce, government, church, marriage, and so with the history of every
man's bread, and the ways by which he is to come by it. Like a bird
which alights nowhere, but hops perpetually from bough to bough, is the
Power which abides in no man and in no woman, but for a moment speaks
from this one, and for another moment from that one.

But what help from these fineries or pedantries? What help from thought?
Life is not dialectics. We, I think, in these times, have had lessons
enough of the futility of criticism. Our young people have thought and
written much on labor and reform, and for all that they have written,
neither the world nor themselves have got on a step. Intellectual
tasting of life will not supersede muscular activity. If a man should
consider the nicety of the passage of a piece of bread down his throat,
he would starve. At Education-Farm, the noblest theory of life sat
on the noblest figures of young men and maidens, quite powerless and
melancholy. It would not rake or pitch a ton of hay; it would not
rub down a horse; and the men and maidens it left pale and hungry. A
political orator wittily compared our party promises to western roads,
which opened stately enough, with planted trees on either side to
tempt the traveller, but soon became narrow and narrower and ended in
a squirrel-track and ran up a tree. So does culture with us; it ends in
headache. Unspeakably sad and barren does life look to those who a few
months ago were dazzled with the splendor of the promise of the times.
"There is now no longer any right course of action nor any self-devotion
left among the Iranis." Objections and criticism we have had our fill
of. There are objections to every course of life and action, and the
practical wisdom infers an indifferency, from the omnipresence of
objection. The whole frame of things preaches indifferency. Do not craze
yourself with thinking, but go about your business anywhere. Life is not
intellectual or critical, but sturdy. Its chief good is for well-mixed
people who can enjoy what they find, without question. Nature hates
peeping, and our mothers speak her very sense when they say, "Children,
eat your victuals, and say no more of it." To fill the hour,--that is
happiness; to fill the hour and leave no crevice for a repentance or an
approval. We live amid surfaces, and the true art of life is to skate
well on them. Under the oldest mouldiest conventions a man of native
force prospers just as well as in the newest world, and that by skill
of handling and treatment. He can take hold anywhere. Life itself is a
mixture of power and form, and will not bear the least excess of either.
To finish the moment, to find the journey's end in every step of the
road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom. It is not
the part of men, but of fanatics, or of mathematicians if you will,
to say that the shortness of life considered, it is not worth caring
whether for so short a duration we were sprawling in want or sitting
high. Since our office is with moments, let us husband them. Five
minutes of today are worth as much to me as five minutes in the next
millennium. Let us be poised, and wise, and our own, today. Let us treat
the men and women well; treat them as if they were real; perhaps they
are. Men live in their fancy, like drunkards whose hands are too soft
and tremulous for successful labor. It is a tempest of fancies, and the
only ballast I know is a respect to the present hour. Without any shadow
of doubt, amidst this vertigo of shows and politics, I settle myself
ever the firmer in the creed that we should not postpone and refer and
wish, but do broad justice where we are, by whomsoever we deal with,
accepting our actual companions and circumstances, however humble or
odious as the mystic officials to whom the universe has delegated
its whole pleasure for us. If these are mean and malignant, their
contentment, which is the last victory of justice, is a more satisfying
echo to the heart than the voice of poets and the casual sympathy of
admirable persons. I think that however a thoughtful man may suffer
from the defects and absurdities of his company, he cannot without
affectation deny to any set of men and women a sensibility to
extraordinary merit. The coarse and frivolous have an instinct of
superiority, if they have not a sympathy, and honor it in their blind
capricious way with sincere homage.

The fine young people despise life, but in me, and in such as with me
are free from dyspepsia, and to whom a day is a sound and solid good, it
is a great excess of politeness to look scornful and to cry for company.
I am grown by sympathy a little eager and sentimental, but leave me
alone and I should relish every hour and what it brought me, the potluck
of the day, as heartily as the oldest gossip in the bar-room. I am
thankful for small mercies. I compared notes with one of my friends who
expects everything of the universe and is disappointed when anything
is less than the best, and I found that I begin at the other extreme,
expecting nothing, and am always full of thanks for moderate goods. I
accept the clangor and jangle of contrary tendencies. I find my account
in sots and bores also. They give a reality to the circumjacent picture
which such a vanishing meteorous appearance can ill spare. In the
morning I awake and find the old world, wife, babes, and mother, Concord
and Boston, the dear old spiritual world and even the dear old devil not
far off. If we will take the good we find, asking no questions, we
shall have heaping measures. The great gifts are not got by analysis.
Everything good is on the highway. The middle region of our being is
the temperate zone. We may climb into the thin and cold realm of pure
geometry and lifeless science, or sink into that of sensation. Between
these extremes is the equator of life, of thought, of spirit, of
poetry,--a narrow belt. Moreover, in popular experience everything
good is on the highway. A collector peeps into all the picture-shops of
Europe for a landscape of Poussin, a crayon-sketch of Salvator; but the
Transfiguration, the Last Judgment, the Communion of St. Jerome, and
what are as transcendent as these, are on the walls of the Vatican, the
Uffizii, or the Louvre, where every footman may see them; to say nothing
of Nature's pictures in every street, of sunsets and sunrises every day,
and the sculpture of the human body never absent. A collector recently
bought at public auction, in London, for one hundred and fifty-seven
guineas, an autograph of Shakspeare; but for nothing a school-boy
can read Hamlet and can detect secrets of highest concernment yet
unpublished therein. I think I will never read any but the commonest
books,--the Bible, Homer, Dante, Shakspeare, and Milton. Then we are
impatient of so public a life and planet, and run hither and thither for
nooks and secrets. The imagination delights in the woodcraft of Indians,
trappers, and bee-hunters. We fancy that we are strangers, and not so
intimately domesticated in the planet as the wild man and the wild beast
and bird. But the exclusion reaches them also; reaches the climbing,
flying, gliding, feathered and four-footed man. Fox and woodchuck, hawk
and snipe and bittern, when nearly seen, have no more root in the deep
world than man, and are just such superficial tenants of the globe. Then
the new molecular philosophy shows astronomical interspaces betwixt atom
and atom, shows that the world is all outside; it has no inside.

The mid-world is best. Nature, as we know her, is no saint. The lights
of the church, the ascetics, Gentoos, and corn-eaters, she does not
distinguish by any favor. She comes eating and drinking and sinning. Her
darlings, the great, the strong, the beautiful, are not children of our
law; do not come out of the Sunday School, nor weigh their food, nor
punctually keep the commandments. If we will be strong with her strength
we must not harbor such disconsolate consciences, borrowed too from the
consciences of other nations. We must set up the strong present tense
against all the rumors of wrath, past or to come. So many things are
unsettled which it is of the first importance to settle;--and, pending
their settlement, we will do as we do. Whilst the debate goes forward on
the equity of commerce, and will not be closed for a century or two,
New and Old England may keep shop. Law of copyright and international
copyright is to be discussed, and in the interim we will sell our books
for the most we can. Expediency of literature, reason of literature,
lawfulness of writing down a thought, is questioned; much is to say on
both sides, and, while the fight waxes hot, thou, dearest scholar, stick
to thy foolish task, add a line every hour, and between whiles add
a line. Right to hold land, right of property, is disputed, and the
conventions convene, and before the vote is taken, dig away in your
garden, and spend your earnings as a waif or godsend to all serene and
beautiful purposes. Life itself is a bubble and a skepticism, and a
sleep within a sleep. Grant it, and as much more as they will,--but
thou, God's darling! heed thy private dream; thou wilt not be missed in
the scorning and skepticism; there are enough of them; stay there in
thy closet and toil until the rest are agreed what to do about it. Thy
sickness, they say, and thy puny habit require that thou do this or
avoid that, but know that thy life is a flitting state, a tent for a
night, and do thou, sick or well, finish that stint. Thou art sick, but
shalt not be worse, and the universe, which holds thee dear, shall be
the better.

Human life is made up of the two elements, power and form, and the
proportion must be invariably kept if we would have it sweet and sound.
Each of these elements in excess makes a mischief as hurtful as its
defect. Everything runs to excess; every good quality is noxious if
unmixed, and, to carry the danger to the edge of ruin, nature causes
each man's peculiarity to superabound. Here, among the farms, we adduce
the scholars as examples of this treachery. They are nature's victims of
expression. You who see the artist, the orator, the poet, too near, and
find their life no more excellent than that of mechanics or farmers, and
themselves victims of partiality, very hollow and haggard, and pronounce
them failures, not heroes, but quacks,--conclude very reasonably that
these arts are not for man, but are disease. Yet nature will not bear
you out. Irresistible nature made men such, and makes legions more
of such, every day. You love the boy reading in a book, gazing at a
drawing, or a cast; yet what are these millions who read and behold, but
incipient writers and sculptors? Add a little more of that quality which
now reads and sees, and they will seize the pen and chisel. And if one
remembers how innocently he began to be an artist, he perceives that
nature joined with his enemy. A man is a golden impossibility. The line
he must walk is a hair's breadth. The wise through excess of wisdom is
made a fool.

How easily, if fate would suffer it, we might keep forever these
beautiful limits, and adjust ourselves, once for all, to the perfect
calculation of the kingdom of known cause and effect. In the street
and in the newspapers, life appears so plain a business that manly
resolution and adherence to the multiplication-table through all
weathers will insure success. But ah! presently comes a day, or is
it only a half-hour, with its angel-whispering,--which discomfits the
conclusions of nations and of years! Tomorrow again everything looks
real and angular, the habitual standards are reinstated, common sense is
as rare as genius,--is the basis of genius, and experience is hands and
feet to every enterprise;--and yet, he who should do his business on
this understanding would be quickly bankrupt. Power keeps quite another
road than the turnpikes of choice and will; namely the subterranean and
invisible tunnels and channels of life. It is ridiculous that we are
diplomatists, and doctors, and considerate people: there are no dupes
like these. Life is a series of surprises, and would not be worth taking
or keeping if it were not. God delights to isolate us every day, and
hide from us the past and the future. We would look about us, but with
grand politeness he draws down before us an impenetrable screen
of purest sky, and another behind us of purest sky. 'You will not
remember,' he seems to say, `and you will not expect.' All good
conversation, manners, and action, come from a spontaneity which forgets
usages and makes the moment great. Nature hates calculators; her methods
are saltatory and impulsive. Man lives by pulses; our organic movements
are such; and the chemical and ethereal agents are undulatory and
alternate; and the mind goes antagonizing on, and never prospers but by
fits. We thrive by casualties. Our chief experiences have been casual.
The most attractive class of people are those who are powerful obliquely
and not by the direct stroke; men of genius, but not yet accredited; one
gets the cheer of their light without paying too great a tax. Theirs
is the beauty of the bird or the morning light, and not of art. In the
thought of genius there is always a surprise; and the moral sentiment is
well called "the newness," for it is never other; as new to the oldest
intelligence as to the young child;--"the kingdom that cometh without
observation." In like manner, for practical success, there must not be
too much design. A man will not be observed in doing that which he
can do best. There is a certain magic about his properest action which
stupefies your powers of observation, so that though it is done before
you, you wist not of it. The art of life has a pudency, and will not
be exposed. Every man is an impossibility until he is born; every thing
impossible until we see a success. The ardors of piety agree at last
with the coldest skepticism,--that nothing is of us or our works,--that
all is of God. Nature will not spare us the smallest leaf of laurel.
All writing comes by the grace of God, and all doing and having. I would
gladly be moral and keep due metes and bounds, which I dearly love, and
allow the most to the will of man; but I have set my heart on honesty in
this chapter, and I can see nothing at last, in success or failure, than
more or less of vital force supplied from the Eternal. The results of
life are uncalculated and uncalculable. The years teach much which the
days never know. The persons who compose our company, converse, and come
and go, and design and execute many things, and somewhat comes of it
all, but an unlooked-for result. The individual is always mistaken.
He designed many things, and drew in other persons as coadjutors,
quarrelled with some or all, blundered much, and something is done; all
are a little advanced, but the individual is always mistaken. It turns
out somewhat new and very unlike what he promised himself.

The ancients, struck with this irreducibleness of the elements of human
life to calculation, exalted Chance into a divinity; but that is to
stay too long at the spark, which glitters truly at one point, but the
universe is warm with the latency of the same fire. The miracle of life
which will not be expounded but will remain a miracle, introduces a new
element. In the growth of the embryo, Sir Everard Home I think noticed
that the evolution was not from one central point, but coactive from
three or more points. Life has no memory. That which proceeds in
succession might be remembered, but that which is coexistent, or
ejaculated from a deeper cause, as yet far from being conscious, knows
not its own tendency. So is it with us, now skeptical or without unity,
because immersed in forms and effects all seeming to be of equal yet
hostile value, and now religious, whilst in the reception of spiritual
law. Bear with these distractions, with this coetaneous growth of the
parts; they will one day be members, and obey one will. On that one
will, on that secret cause, they nail our attention and hope. Life
is hereby melted into an expectation or a religion. Underneath the
inharmonious and trivial particulars, is a musical perfection; the
Ideal journeying always with us, the heaven without rent or seam. Do but
observe the mode of our illumination. When I converse with a profound
mind, or if at any time being alone I have good thoughts, I do not at
once arrive at satisfactions, as when, being thirsty, I drink water;
or go to the fire, being cold; no! but I am at first apprised of my
vicinity to a new and excellent region of life. By persisting to read
or to think, this region gives further sign of itself, as it were in
flashes of light, in sudden discoveries of its profound beauty and
repose, as if the clouds that covered it parted at intervals and showed
the approaching traveller the inland mountains, with the tranquil
eternal meadows spread at their base, whereon flocks graze and shepherds
pipe and dance. But every insight from this realm of thought is felt as
initial, and promises a sequel. I do not make it; I arrive there,
and behold what was there already. I make! O no! I clap my hands in
infantine joy and amazement before the first opening to me of this
august magnificence, old with the love and homage of innumerable ages,
young with the life of life, the sunbright Mecca of the desert. And what
a future it opens! I feel a new heart beating with the love of the new
beauty. I am ready to die out of nature and be born again into this new
yet unapproachable America I have found in the West:--

     "Since neither now nor yesterday began
      These thoughts, which have been ever, nor yet can
      A man be found who their first entrance knew."

If I have described life as a flux of moods, I must now add that there
is that in us which changes not and which ranks all sensations and
states of mind. The consciousness in each man is a sliding scale, which
identifies him now with the First Cause, and now with the flesh of his
body; life above life, in infinite degrees. The sentiment from which it
sprung determines the dignity of any deed, and the question ever is, not
what you have done or forborne, but at whose command you have done or
forborne it.

Fortune, Minerva, Muse, Holy Ghost,--these are quaint names, too narrow
to cover this unbounded substance. The baffled intellect must still
kneel before this cause, which refuses to be named,--ineffable cause,
which every fine genius has essayed to represent by some emphatic
symbol, as, Thales by water, Anaximenes by air, Anaxagoras by (Nous)
thought, Zoroaster by fire, Jesus and the moderns by love; and the
metaphor of each has become a national religion. The Chinese Mencius has
not been the least successful in his generalization. "I fully understand
language," he said, "and nourish well my vast-flowing vigor."--"I beg
to ask what you call vast-flowing vigor?"--said his companion. "The
explanation," replied Mencius, "is difficult. This vigor is supremely
great, and in the highest degree unbending. Nourish it correctly and do
it no injury, and it will fill up the vacancy between heaven and earth.
This vigor accords with and assists justice and reason, and leaves no
hunger."--In our more correct writing we give to this generalization the
name of Being, and thereby confess that we have arrived as far as we can
go. Suffice it for the joy of the universe that we have not arrived at a
wall, but at interminable oceans. Our life seems not present so much as
prospective; not for the affairs on which it is wasted, but as a hint of
this vast-flowing vigor. Most of life seems to be mere advertisement of
faculty; information is given us not to sell ourselves cheap; that
we are very great. So, in particulars, our greatness is always in a
tendency or direction, not in an action. It is for us to believe in the
rule, not in the exception. The noble are thus known from the ignoble.
So in accepting the leading of the sentiments, it is not what we believe
concerning the immortality of the soul or the like, but the universal
impulse to believe, that is the material circumstance and is the
principal fact in the history of the globe. Shall we describe this cause
as that which works directly? The spirit is not helpless or needful
of mediate organs. It has plentiful powers and direct effects. I am
explained without explaining, I am felt without acting, and where I am
not. Therefore all just persons are satisfied with their own praise.
They refuse to explain themselves, and are content that new actions
should do them that office. They believe that we communicate without
speech and above speech, and that no right action of ours is quite
unaffecting to our friends, at whatever distance; for the influence of
action is not to be measured by miles. Why should I fret myself because
a circumstance has occurred which hinders my presence where I was
expected? If I am not at the meeting, my presence where I am should be
as useful to the commonwealth of friendship and wisdom, as would be my
presence in that place. I exert the same quality of power in all places.
Thus journeys the mighty Ideal before us; it never was known to fall
into the rear. No man ever came to an experience which was satiating,
but his good is tidings of a better. Onward and onward! In liberated
moments we know that a new picture of life and duty is already possible;
the elements already exist in many minds around you of a doctrine of
life which shall transcend any written record we have. The new statement
will comprise the skepticisms as well as the faiths of society, and out
of unbeliefs a creed shall be formed. For skepticisms are not gratuitous
or lawless, but are limitations of the affirmative statement, and the
new philosophy must take them in and make affirmations outside of them,
just as much as it must include the oldest beliefs.

It is very unhappy, but too late to be helped, the discovery we have
made that we exist. That discovery is called the Fall of Man. Ever
afterwards we suspect our instruments. We have learned that we do not
see directly, but mediately, and that we have no means of correcting
these colored and distorting lenses which we are, or of computing the
amount of their errors. Perhaps these subject-lenses have a creative
power; perhaps there are no objects. Once we lived in what we saw;
now, the rapaciousness of this new power, which threatens to absorb all
things, engages us. Nature, art, persons, letters, religions, objects,
successively tumble in, and God is but one of its ideas. Nature and
literature are subjective phenomena; every evil and every good thing is
a shadow which we cast. The street is full of humiliations to the proud.
As the fop contrived to dress his bailiffs in his livery and make them
wait on his guests at table, so the chagrins which the bad heart gives
off as bubbles, at once take form as ladies and gentlemen in the street,
shopmen or bar-keepers in hotels, and threaten or insult whatever is
threatenable and insultable in us. 'Tis the same with our idolatries.
People forget that it is the eye which makes the horizon, and
the rounding mind's eye which makes this or that man a type or
representative of humanity, with the name of hero or saint. Jesus, the
"providential man," is a good man on whom many people are agreed
that these optical laws shall take effect. By love on one part and
by forbearance to press objection on the other part, it is for a time
settled, that we will look at him in the centre of the horizon, and
ascribe to him the properties that will attach to any man so seen. But
the longest love or aversion has a speedy term. The great and crescive
self, rooted in absolute nature, supplants all relative existence and
ruins the kingdom of mortal friendship and love. Marriage (in what is
called the spiritual world) is impossible, because of the inequality
between every subject and every object. The subject is the receiver of
Godhead, and at every comparison must feel his being enhanced by that
cryptic might. Though not in energy, yet by presence, this magazine of
substance cannot be otherwise than felt; nor can any force of intellect
attribute to the object the proper deity which sleeps or wakes forever
in every subject. Never can love make consciousness and ascription
equal in force. There will be the same gulf between every me and thee as
between the original and the picture. The universe is the bride of the
soul. All private sympathy is partial. Two human beings are like globes,
which can touch only in a point, and whilst they remain in contact,
all other points of each of the spheres are inert; their turn must
also come, and the longer a particular union lasts the more energy of
appetency the parts not in union acquire.

Life will be imaged, but cannot be divided nor doubled. Any invasion
of its unity would be chaos. The soul is not twin-born but the only
begotten, and though revealing itself as child in time, child in
appearance, is of a fatal and universal power, admitting no co-life.
Every day, every act betrays the ill-concealed deity. We believe in
ourselves as we do not believe in others. We permit all things to
ourselves, and that which we call sin in others is experiment for us. It
is an instance of our faith in ourselves that men never speak of crime
as lightly as they think; or every man thinks a latitude safe for
himself which is nowise to be indulged to another. The act looks very
differently on the inside and on the outside; in its quality and in its
consequences. Murder in the murderer is no such ruinous thought as poets
and romancers will have it; it does not unsettle him or fright him
from his ordinary notice of trifles; it is an act quite easy to be
contemplated; but in its sequel it turns out to be a horrible jangle
and confounding of all relations. Especially the crimes that spring from
love seem right and fair from the actor's point of view, but when acted
are found destructive of society. No man at last believes that he can be
lost, nor that the crime in him is as black as in the felon. Because the
intellect qualifies in our own case the moral judgments. For there is
no crime to the intellect. That is antinomian or hypernomian, and judges
law as well as fact. "It is worse than a crime, it is a blunder," said
Napoleon, speaking the language of the intellect. To it, the world is
a problem in mathematics or the science of quantity, and it leaves out
praise and blame and all weak emotions. All stealing is comparative. If
you come to absolutes, pray who does not steal? Saints are sad, because
they behold sin (even when they speculate), from the point of view of
the conscience, and not of the intellect; a confusion of thought.
Sin, seen from the thought, is a diminution, or less: seen from the
conscience or will, it is pravity or bad. The intellect names it
shade, absence of light, and no essence. The conscience must feel it as
essence, essential evil. This it is not; it has an objective existence,
but no subjective.

Thus inevitably does the universe wear our color, and every object fall
successively into the subject itself. The subject exists, the subject
enlarges; all things sooner or later fall into place. As I am, so I see;
use what language we will, we can never say anything but what we are;
Hermes, Cadmus, Columbus, Newton, Bonaparte, are the mind's ministers.
Instead of feeling a poverty when we encounter a great man, let us treat
the new comer like a travelling geologist who passes through our estate
and shows us good slate, or limestone, or anthracite, in our brush
pasture. The partial action of each strong mind in one direction is a
telescope for the objects on which it is pointed. But every other part
of knowledge is to be pushed to the same extravagance, ere the soul
attains her due sphericity. Do you see that kitten chasing so prettily
her own tail? If you could look with her eyes you might see her
surrounded with hundreds of figures performing complex dramas, with
tragic and comic issues, long conversations, many characters, many ups
and downs of fate,--and meantime it is only puss and her tail. How long
before our masquerade will end its noise of tambourines, laughter, and
shouting, and we shall find it was a solitary performance? A subject and
an object,--it takes so much to make the galvanic circuit complete, but
magnitude adds nothing. What imports it whether it is Kepler and the
sphere, Columbus and America, a reader and his book, or puss with her

It is true that all the muses and love and religion hate these
developments, and will find a way to punish the chemist who publishes in
the parlor the secrets of the laboratory. And we cannot say too little
of our constitutional necessity of seeing things under private aspects,
or saturated with our humors. And yet is the God the native of these
bleak rocks. That need makes in morals the capital virtue of self-trust.
We must hold hard to this poverty, however scandalous, and by more
vigorous self-recoveries, after the sallies of action, possess our axis
more firmly. The life of truth is cold and so far mournful; but it
is not the slave of tears, contritions and perturbations. It does not
attempt another's work, nor adopt another's facts. It is a main lesson
of wisdom to know your own from another's. I have learned that I cannot
dispose of other people's facts; but I possess such a key to my own as
persuades me, against all their denials, that they also have a key to
theirs. A sympathetic person is placed in the dilemma of a swimmer among
drowning men, who all catch at him, and if he give so much as a leg or a
finger they will drown him. They wish to be saved from the mischiefs of
their vices, but not from their vices. Charity would be wasted on this
poor waiting on the symptoms. A wise and hardy physician will say, Come
out of that, as the first condition of advice.

In this our talking America we are ruined by our good nature and
listening on all sides. This compliance takes away the power of being
greatly useful. A man should not be able to look other than directly
and forthright. A preoccupied attention is the only answer to the
importunate frivolity of other people; an attention, and to an aim which
makes their wants frivolous. This is a divine answer, and leaves no
appeal and no hard thoughts. In Flaxman's drawing of the Eumenides of
Aeschylus, Orestes supplicates Apollo, whilst the Furies sleep on
the threshold. The face of the god expresses a shade of regret and
compassion, but is calm with the conviction of the irreconcilableness
of the two spheres. He is born into other politics, into the eternal and
beautiful. The man at his feet asks for his interest in turmoils of the
earth, into which his nature cannot enter. And the Eumenides there
lying express pictorially this disparity. The god is surcharged with his
divine destiny.

Illusion, Temperament, Succession, Surface, Surprise, Reality,
Subjectiveness,--these are threads on the loom of time, these are the
lords of life. I dare not assume to give their order, but I name them as
I find them in my way. I know better than to claim any completeness for
my picture. I am a fragment, and this is a fragment of me. I can very
confidently announce one or another law, which throws itself into relief
and form, but I am too young yet by some ages to compile a code. I
gossip for my hour concerning the eternal politics. I have seen many
fair pictures not in vain. A wonderful time I have lived in. I am not
the novice I was fourteen, nor yet seven years ago. Let who will
ask Where is the fruit? I find a private fruit sufficient. This is
a fruit,--that I should not ask for a rash effect from meditations,
counsels and the hiving of truths. I should feel it pitiful to demand a
result on this town and county, an overt effect on the instant month and
year. The effect is deep and secular as the cause. It works on periods
in which mortal lifetime is lost. All I know is reception; I am and I
have: but I do not get, and when I have fancied I had gotten anything,
I found I did not. I worship with wonder the great Fortune. My reception
has been so large, that I am not annoyed by receiving this or that
superabundantly. I say to the Genius, if he will pardon the proverb,
In for a mill, in for a million. When I receive a new gift, I do not
macerate my body to make the account square, for if I should die I could
not make the account square. The benefit overran the merit the first
day, and has overrun the merit ever since. The merit itself, so-called,
I reckon part of the receiving.

Also that hankering after an overt or practical effect seems to me an
apostasy. In good earnest I am willing to spare this most unnecessary
deal of doing. Life wears to me a visionary face. Hardest roughest
action is visionary also. It is but a choice between soft and turbulent
dreams. People disparage knowing and the intellectual life, and urge
doing. I am very content with knowing, if only I could know. That is
an august entertainment, and would suffice me a great while. To know a
little would be worth the expense of this world. I hear always the law
of Adrastia, "that every soul which had acquired any truth, should be
safe from harm until another period."

I know that the world I converse with in the city and in the farms, is
not the world I think. I observe that difference, and shall observe it.
One day I shall know the value and law of this discrepance. But I have
not found that much was gained by manipular attempts to realize the
world of thought. Many eager persons successively make an experiment
in this way, and make themselves ridiculous. They acquire democratic
manners, they foam at the mouth, they hate and deny. Worse, I observe
that in the history of mankind there is never a solitary example of
success,--taking their own tests of success. I say this polemically, or
in reply to the inquiry, Why not realize your world? But far be from me
the despair which prejudges the law by a paltry empiricism;--since there
never was a right endeavor but it succeeded. Patience and patience, we
shall win at the last. We must be very suspicious of the deceptions of
the element of time. It takes a good deal of time to eat or to sleep,
or to earn a hundred dollars, and a very little time to entertain a hope
and an insight which becomes the light of our life. We dress our garden,
eat our dinners, discuss the household with our wives, and these things
make no impression, are forgotten next week; but, in the solitude to
which every man is always returning, he has a sanity and revelations
which in his passage into new worlds he will carry with him. Never mind
the ridicule, never mind the defeat; up again, old heart!--it seems to
say,--there is victory yet for all justice; and the true romance which
the world exists to realize will be the transformation of genius into
practical power.



     The sun set; but set not his hope:
     Stars rose; his faith was earlier up:
     Fixed on the enormous galaxy,
     Deeper and older seemed his eye:
     And matched his sufferance sublime
     The taciturnity of time.
     He spoke, and words more soft than rain
     Brought the Age of Gold again:
     His action won such reverence sweet,
     As hid all measure of the feat.

     Work of his hand
     He nor commends nor grieves
     Pleads for itself the fact;
     As unrepenting Nature leaves
     Her every act.


I HAVE read that those who listened to Lord Chatham felt that there was
something finer in the man than any thing which he said. It has been
complained of our brilliant English historian of the French Revolution
that when he has told all his facts about Mirabeau, they do not justify
his estimate of his genius. The Gracchi, Agis, Cleomenes, and others of
Plutarch's heroes, do not in the record of facts equal their own fame.
Sir Philip Sidney, the Earl of Essex, Sir Walter Raleigh, are men of
great figure and of few deeds. We cannot find the smallest part of the
personal weight of Washington in the narrative of his exploits. The
authority of the name of Schiller is too great for his books. This
inequality of the reputation to the works or the anecdotes is not
accounted for by saying that the reverberation is longer than the
thunder-clap, but somewhat resided in these men which begot an
expectation that outran all their performance. The largest part of their
power was latent. This is that which we call Character,--a reserved
force which acts directly by presence, and without means. It is
conceived of as a certain undemonstrable force, a Familiar or Genius,
by whose impulses the man is guided but whose counsels he cannot impart;
which is company for him, so that such men are often solitary, or
if they chance to be social, do not need society but can entertain
themselves very well alone. The purest literary talent appears at one
time great, at another time small, but character is of a stellar and
undiminishable greatness. What others effect by talent or by eloquence,
this man accomplishes by some magnetism. "Half his strength he put not
forth." His victories are by demonstration of superiority, and not by
crossing of bayonets. He conquers because his arrival alters the face of
affairs. "O Iole! how did you know that Hercules was a god?" "Because,"
answered Iole, "I was content the moment my eyes fell on him. When I
beheld Theseus, I desired that I might see him offer battle, or at least
guide his horses in the chariot-race; but Hercules did not wait for a
contest; he conquered whether he stood, or walked, or sat, or whatever
thing he did." Man, ordinarily a pendant to events, only half attached,
and that awkwardly, to the world he lives in, in these examples appears
to share the life of things, and to be an expression of the same laws
which control the tides and the sun, numbers and quantities.

But to use a more modest illustration and nearer home, I observe that in
our political elections, where this element, if it appears at all,
can only occur in its coarsest form, we sufficiently understand
its incomparable rate. The people know that they need in their
representative much more than talent, namely the power to make his
talent trusted. They cannot come at their ends by sending to Congress a
learned, acute, and fluent speaker, if he be not one who, before he was
appointed by the people to represent them, was appointed by Almighty God
to stand for a fact,--invincibly persuaded of that fact in himself,--so
that the most confident and the most violent persons learn that here is
resistance on which both impudence and terror are wasted, namely faith
in a fact. The men who carry their points do not need to inquire of
their constituents what they should say, but are themselves the country
which they represent; nowhere are its emotions or opinions so instant
and true as in them; nowhere so pure from a selfish infusion. The
constituency at home hearkens to their words, watches the color of
their cheek, and therein, as in a glass, dresses its own. Our public
assemblies are pretty good tests of manly force. Our frank countrymen of
the west and south have a taste for character, and like to know whether
the New Englander is a substantial man, or whether the hand can pass
through him.

The same motive force appears in trade. There are geniuses in trade,
as well as in war, or the State, or letters; and the reason why this or
that man is fortunate is not to be told. It lies in the man; that is all
anybody can tell you about it. See him and you will know as easily why
he succeeds, as, if you see Napoleon, you would comprehend his fortune.
In the new objects we recognize the old game, the Habit of fronting the
fact, and not dealing with it at second hand, through the perceptions of
somebody else. Nature seems to authorize trade, as soon as you see the
natural merchant, who appears not so much a private agent as her factor
and Minister of Commerce. His natural probity combines with his insight
into the fabric of society to put him above tricks, and he communicates
to all his own faith that contracts are of no private interpretation.
The habit of his mind is a reference to standards of natural equity and
public advantage; and he inspires respect and the wish to deal with
him, both for the quiet spirit of honor which attends him, and for the
intellectual pastime which the spectacle of so much ability affords.
This immensely stretched trade, which makes the capes of the Southern
Ocean his wharves, and the Atlantic Sea his familiar port, centres in
his brain only; and nobody in the universe can make his place good. In
his parlor I see very well that he has been at hard work this morning,
with that knitted brow and that settled humor, which all his desire to
be courteous cannot shake off. I see plainly how many firm acts have
been done; how many valiant noes have this day been spoken, when others
would have uttered ruinous yeas. I see, with the pride of art and
skill of masterly arithmetic and power of remote combination, the
consciousness of being an agent and playfellow of the original laws of
the world. He too believes that none can supply him, and that a man must
be born to trade or he cannot learn it.

This virtue draws the mind more when it appears in action to ends not
so mixed. It works with most energy in the smallest companies and in
private relations. In all cases it is an extraordinary and incomputable
agent. The excess of physical strength is paralyzed by it. Higher
natures overpower lower ones by affecting them with a certain sleep. The
faculties are locked up, and offer no resistance. Perhaps that is the
universal law. When the high cannot bring up the low to itself, it
benumbs it, as man charms down the resistance of the lower animals. Men
exert on each other a similar occult power. How often has the influence
of a true master realized all the tales of magic! A river of command
seemed to run down from his eyes into all those who beheld him, a
torrent of strong sad light, like an Ohio or Danube, which pervaded them
with his thoughts and colored all events with the hue of his mind. "What
means did you employ?" was the question asked of the wife of Concini,
in regard to her treatment of Mary of Medici; and the answer was, "Only
that influence which every strong mind has over a weak one." Cannot
Caesar in irons shuffle off the irons and transfer them to the person
of Hippo or Thraso the turnkey? Is an iron handcuff so immutable a bond?
Suppose a slaver on the coast of Guinea should take on board a gang
of negroes which should contain persons of the stamp of Toussaint
L'Ouverture: or, let us fancy, under these swarthy masks he has a gang
of Washingtons in chains. When they arrive at Cuba, will the relative
order of the ship's company be the same? Is there nothing but rope and
iron? Is there no love, no reverence? Is there never a glimpse of right
in a poor slave-captain's mind; and cannot these be supposed available
to break or elude or in any manner overmatch the tension of an inch or
two of iron ring?

This is a natural power, like light and heat, and all nature cooperates
with it. The reason why we feel one man's presence and do not feel
another's is as simple as gravity. Truth is the summit of being; justice
is the application of it to affairs. All individual natures stand in a
scale, according to the purity of this element in them. The will of the
pure runs down from them into other natures as water runs down from
a higher into a lower vessel. This natural force is no more to be
withstood than any other natural force. We can drive a stone upward for
a moment into the air, but it is yet true that all stones will forever
fall; and whatever instances can be quoted of unpunished theft, or of
a lie which somebody credited, justice must prevail, and it is the
privilege of truth to make itself believed. Character is this moral
order seen through the medium of an individual nature. An individual is
an encloser. Time and space, liberty and necessity, truth and thought,
are left at large no longer. Now, the universe is a close or pound. All
things exist in the man tinged with the manners of his soul. With what
quality is in him he infuses all nature that he can reach; nor does he
tend to lose himself in vastness, but, at how long a curve soever, all
his regards return into his own good at last. He animates all he can,
and he sees only what he animates. He encloses the world, as the patriot
does his country, as a material basis for his character, and a theatre
for action. A healthy soul stands united with the Just and the True,
as the magnet arranges itself with the pole; so that he stands to all
beholders like a transparent object betwixt them and the sun, and whoso
journeys towards the sun, journeys towards that person. He is thus the
medium of the highest influence to all who are not on the same level.
Thus, men of character are the conscience of the society to which they

The natural measure of this power is the resistance of circumstances.
Impure men consider life as it is reflected in opinions, events, and
persons. They cannot see the action until it is done. Yet its moral
element preexisted in the actor, and its quality as right or wrong it
was easy to predict. Everything in nature is bipolar, or has a positive
and negative pole. There is a male and a female, a spirit and a fact,
a north and a south. Spirit is the positive, the event is the negative.
Will is the north, action the south pole. Character may be ranked as
having its natural place in the north. It shares the magnetic currents
of the system. The feeble souls are drawn to the south or negative
pole. They look at the profit or hurt of the action. They never behold a
principle until it is lodged in a person. They do not wish to be lovely,
but to be loved. Men of character like to hear of their faults; the
other class do not like to hear of faults; they worship events; secure
to them a fact, a connection, a certain chain of circumstances, and they
will ask no more. The hero sees that the event is ancillary; it must
follow him. A given order of events has no power to secure to him the
satisfaction which the imagination attaches to it; the soul of goodness
escapes from any set of circumstances; whilst prosperity belongs to a
certain mind, and will introduce that power and victory which is its
natural fruit, into any order of events. No change of circumstances
can repair a defect of character. We boast our emancipation from many
superstitions; but if we have broken any idols it is through a transfer
of the idolatry. What have I gained, that I no longer immolate a bull to
Jove or to Neptune, or a mouse to Hecate; that I do not tremble
before the Eumenides, or the Catholic Purgatory, or the Calvinistic
Judgment-day,--if I quake at opinion, the public opinion, as we call it;
or at the threat of assault, or contumely, or bad neighbors, or poverty,
or mutilation, or at the rumor of revolution, or of murder? If I quake,
what matters it what I quake at? Our proper vice takes form in one or
another shape, according to the sex, age, or temperament of the
person, and, if we are capable of fear, will readily find terrors. The
covetousness or the malignity which saddens me when I ascribe it to
society, is my own. I am always environed by myself. On the other part,
rectitude is a perpetual victory, celebrated not by cries of joy but by
serenity, which is joy fixed or habitual. It is disgraceful to fly to
events for confirmation of our truth and worth. The capitalist does not
run every hour to the broker to coin his advantages into current money
of the realm; he is satisfied to read in the quotations of the market
that his stocks have risen. The same transport which the occurrence of
the best events in the best order would occasion me, I must learn to
taste purer in the perception that my position is every hour meliorated,
and does already command those events I desire. That exultation is only
to be checked by the foresight of an order of things so excellent as to
throw all our prosperities into the deepest shade.

The face which character wears to me is self-sufficingness. I revere the
person who is riches; so that I cannot think of him as alone, or poor,
or exiled, or unhappy, or a client, but as perpetual patron, benefactor,
and beatified man. Character is centrality, the impossibility of being
displaced or overset. A man should give us a sense of mass. Society
is frivolous, and shreds its day into scraps, its conversation into
ceremonies and escapes. But if I go to see an ingenious man I shall
think myself poorly entertained if he give me nimble pieces of
benevolence and etiquette; rather he shall stand stoutly in his place
and let me apprehend if it were only his resistance; know that I have
encountered a new and positive quality;--great refreshment for both of
us. It is much that he does not accept the conventional opinions and
practices. That nonconformity will remain a goad and remembrancer, and
every inquirer will have to dispose of him, in the first place. There is
nothing real or useful that is not a seat of war. Our houses ring with
laughter and personal and critical gossip, but it helps little. But the
uncivil, unavailable man, who is a problem and a threat to society, whom
it cannot let pass in silence but must either worship or hate,--and
to whom all parties feel related, both the leaders of opinion and the
obscure and eccentric,--he helps; he puts America and Europe in the
wrong, and destroys the skepticism which says, 'man is a doll, let us
eat and drink, 'tis the best we can do,' by illuminating the untried
and unknown. Acquiescence in the establishment and appeal to the public,
indicate infirm faith, heads which are not clear, and which must see a
house built, before they can comprehend the plan of it. The wise man
not only leaves out of his thought the many, but leaves out the few.
Fountains, the self-moved, the absorbed, the commander because he is
commanded, the assured, the primary,--they are good; for these announce
the instant presence of supreme power.

Our action should rest mathematically on our substance. In nature, there
are no false valuations. A pound of water in the ocean-tempest has no
more gravity than in a midsummer pond. All things work exactly according
to their quality and according to their quantity; attempt nothing they
cannot do, except man only. He has pretension; he wishes and attempts
things beyond his force. I read in a book of English memoirs, "Mr. Fox
(afterwards Lord Holland) said, he must have the Treasury; he had served
up to it, and would have it." Xenophon and his Ten Thousand were quite
equal to what they attempted, and did it; so equal, that it was not
suspected to be a grand and inimitable exploit. Yet there stands that
fact unrepeated, a high-water mark in military history. Many have
attempted it since, and not been equal to it. It is only on reality that
any power of action can be based. No institution will be better than the
institutor. I knew an amiable and accomplished person who undertook a
practical reform, yet I was never able to find in him the enterprise of
love he took in hand. He adopted it by ear and by the understanding from
the books he had been reading. All his action was tentative, a piece of
the city carried out into the fields, and was the city still, and no new
fact, and could not inspire enthusiasm. Had there been something latent
in the man, a terrible undemonstrated genius agitating and embarrassing
his demeanor, we had watched for its advent. It is not enough that the
intellect should see the evils and their remedy. We shall still postpone
our existence, nor take the ground to which we are entitled, whilst
it is only a thought and not a spirit that incites us. We have not yet
served up to it.

These are properties of life, and another trait is the notice of
incessant growth. Men should be intelligent and earnest. They must also
make us feel that they have a controlling happy future opening before
them, whose early twilights already kindle in the passing hour. The hero
is misconceived and misreported; he cannot therefore wait to unravel any
man's blunders; he is again on his road, adding new powers and honors to
his domain and new claims on your heart, which will bankrupt you if you
have loitered about the old things and have not kept your relation to
him by adding to your wealth. New actions are the only apologies
and explanations of old ones which the noble can bear to offer or to
receive. If your friend has displeased you, you shall not sit down to
consider it, for he has already lost all memory of the passage, and
has doubled his power to serve you, and ere you can rise up again will
burden you with blessings.

We have no pleasure in thinking of a benevolence that is only measured
by its works. Love is inexhaustible, and if its estate is wasted, its
granary emptied, still cheers and enriches, and the man, though he
sleep, seems to purify the air and his house to adorn the landscape and
strengthen the laws. People always recognize this difference. We know
who is benevolent, by quite other means than the amount of subscription
to soup-societies. It is only low merits that can be enumerated.
Fear, when your friends say to you what you have done well, and say it
through; but when they stand with uncertain timid looks of respect and
half-dislike, and must suspend their judgment for years to come, you may
begin to hope. Those who live to the future must always appear selfish
to those who live to the present. Therefore it was droll in the good
Riemer, who has written memoirs of Goethe, to make out a list of his
donations and good deeds, as, so many hundred thalers given to Stilling,
to Hegel, to Tischbein; a lucrative place found for Professor Voss,
a post under the Grand Duke for Herder, a pension for Meyer, two
professors recommended to foreign universities; &c., &c. The longest
list of specifications of benefit would look very short. A man is a
poor creature if he is to be measured so. For all these of course
are exceptions, and the rule and hodiernal life of a good man is
benefaction. The true charity of Goethe is to be inferred from the
account he gave Dr. Eckermann of the way in which he had spent his
fortune. "Each bon-mot of mine has cost a purse of gold. Half a million
of my own money, the fortune I inherited, my salary and the large income
derived from my writings for fifty years back, have been expended to
instruct me in what I now know. I have besides seen," &c.

I own it is but poor chat and gossip to go to enumerate traits of this
simple and rapid power, and we are painting the lightning with charcoal;
but in these long nights and vacations I like to console myself so.
Nothing but itself can copy it. A word warm from the heart enriches me.
I surrender at discretion. How death-cold is literary genius before this
fire of life! These are the touches that reanimate my heavy soul and
give it eyes to pierce the dark of nature. I find, where I thought
myself poor, there was I most rich. Thence comes a new intellectual
exaltation, to be again rebuked by some new exhibition of character.
Strange alternation of attraction and repulsion! Character repudiates
intellect, yet excites it; and character passes into thought, is
published so, and then is ashamed before new flashes of moral worth.

Character is nature in the highest form. It is of no use to ape it or to
contend with it. Somewhat is possible of resistance, and of persistence,
and of creation, to this power, which will foil all emulation.

This masterpiece is best where no hands but nature's have been laid on
it. Care is taken that the greatly-destined shall slip up into life in
the shade, with no thousand-eyed Athens to watch and blazon every new
thought, every blushing emotion of young genius. Two persons lately,
very young children of the most high God, have given me occasion for
thought. When I explored the source of their sanctity and charm for the
imagination, it seemed as if each answered, 'From my nonconformity; I
never listened to your people's law, or to what they call their gospel,
and wasted my time. I was content with the simple rural poverty of my
own; hence this sweetness; my work never reminds you of that;--is pure
of that.' And nature advertises me in such persons that in
democratic America she will not be democratized. How cloistered and
constitutionally sequestered from the market and from scandal! It was
only this morning that I sent away some wild flowers of these wood-gods.
They are a relief from literature,--these fresh draughts from the
sources of thought and sentiment; as we read, in an age of polish and
criticism, the first lines of written prose and verse of a nation.
How captivating is their devotion to their favorite books, whether
Aeschylus, Dante, Shakspeare, or Scott, as feeling that they have a
stake in that book; who touches that, touches them;--and especially
the total solitude of the critic, the Patmos of thought from which
he writes, in unconsciousness of any eyes that shall ever read
this writing. Could they dream on still, as angels, and not wake to
comparisons, and to be flattered! Yet some natures are too good to be
spoiled by praise, and wherever the vein of thought reaches down into
the profound, there is no danger from vanity. Solemn friends will
warn them of the danger of the head's being turned by the flourish of
trumpets, but they can afford to smile. I remember the indignation of an
eloquent Methodist at the kind admonitions of a Doctor of Divinity,--'My
friend, a man can neither be praised nor insulted.' But forgive the
counsels; they are very natural. I remember the thought which occurred
to me when some ingenious and spiritual foreigners came to America, was,
Have you been victimized in being brought hither?--or, prior to that,
answer me this, 'Are you victimizable?'

As I have said, Nature keeps these sovereignties in her own hands, and
however pertly our sermons and disciplines would divide some share of
credit, and teach that the laws fashion the citizen, she goes her own
gait and puts the wisest in the wrong. She makes very light of gospels
and prophets, as one who has a great many more to produce and no excess
of time to spare on any one. There is a class of men, individuals of
which appear at long intervals, so eminently endowed with insight and
virtue that they have been unanimously saluted as divine, and who seem
to be an accumulation of that power we consider. Divine persons are
character born, or, to borrow a phrase from Napoleon, they are victory
organized. They are usually received with ill-will, because they are new
and because they set a bound to the exaggeration that has been made
of the personality of the last divine person. Nature never rhymes her
children, nor makes two men alike. When we see a great man we fancy a
resemblance to some historical person, and predict the sequel of his
character and fortune; a result which he is sure to disappoint. None
will ever solve the problem of his character according to our prejudice,
but only in his own high unprecedented way. Character wants room; must
not be crowded on by persons nor be judged from glimpses got in the
press of affairs or on few occasions. It needs perspective, as a great
building. It may not, probably does not, form relations rapidly; and we
should not require rash explanation, either on the popular ethics, or on
our own, of its action.

I look on Sculpture as history. I do not think the Apollo and the Jove
impossible in flesh and blood. Every trait which the artist recorded in
stone he had seen in life, and better than his copy. We have seen many
counterfeits, but we are born believers in great men. How easily we
read in old books, when men were few, of the smallest action of the
patriarchs. We require that a man should be so large and columnar in
the landscape, that it should deserve to be recorded that he arose, and
girded up his loins, and departed to such a place. The most credible
pictures are those of majestic men who prevailed at their entrance, and
convinced the senses; as happened to the eastern magian who was sent to
test the merits of Zertusht or Zoroaster. When the Yunani sage arrived
at Balkh, the Persians tell us, Gushtasp appointed a day on which the
Mobeds of every country should assemble, and a golden chair was placed
for the Yunani sage. Then the beloved of Yezdam, the prophet Zertusht,
advanced into the midst of the assembly. The Yunani sage, on seeing that
chief, said, "This form and this gait cannot lie, and nothing but truth
can proceed from them." Plato said it was impossible not to believe in
the children of the gods, "though they should speak without probable
or necessary arguments." I should think myself very unhappy in my
associates if I could not credit the best things in history. "John
Bradshaw," says Milton, "appears like a consul, from whom the fasces
are not to depart with the year; so that not on the tribunal only, but
throughout his life, you would regard him as sitting in judgment upon
kings." I find it more credible, since it is anterior information, that
one man should know heaven, as the Chinese say, than that so many men
should know the world. "The virtuous prince confronts the gods, without
any misgiving. He waits a hundred ages till a sage comes, and does not
doubt. He who confronts the gods, without any misgiving, knows heaven;
he who waits a hundred ages until a sage comes, without doubting, knows
men. Hence the virtuous prince moves, and for ages shows empire the
way." But there is no need to seek remote examples. He is a dull
observer whose experience has not taught him the reality and force of
magic, as well as of chemistry. The coldest precisian cannot go abroad
without encountering inexplicable influences. One man fastens an eye on
him and the graves of the memory render up their dead; the secrets that
make him wretched either to keep or to betray must be yielded;--another,
and he cannot speak, and the bones of his body seem to lose their
cartilages; the entrance of a friend adds grace, boldness, and eloquence
to him; and there are persons he cannot choose but remember, who gave a
transcendent expansion to his thought, and kindled another life in his

What is so excellent as strict relations of amity, when they spring from
this deep root? The sufficient reply to the skeptic who doubts the power
and the furniture of man, is in that possibility of joyful intercourse
with persons, which makes the faith and practice of all reasonable men.
I know nothing which life has to offer so satisfying as the profound
good understanding which can subsist after much exchange of good
offices, between two virtuous men, each of whom is sure of himself
and sure of his friend. It is a happiness which postpones all other
gratifications, and makes politics, and commerce, and churches, cheap.
For when men shall meet as they ought, each a benefactor, a shower
of stars, clothed with thoughts, with deeds, with accomplishments, it
should be the festival of nature which all things announce. Of such
friendship, love in the sexes is the first symbol, as all other things
are symbols of love. Those relations to the best men, which, at one
time, we reckoned the romances of youth, become, in the progress of the
character, the most solid enjoyment.

If it were possible to live in right relations with men!--if we could
abstain from asking anything of them, from asking their praise, or help,
or pity, and content us with compelling them through the virtue of
the eldest laws! Could we not deal with a few persons,--with one
person,--after the unwritten statutes, and make an experiment of their
efficacy? Could we not pay our friend the compliment of truth, of
silence, of forbearing? Need we be so eager to seek him? If we are
related, we shall meet. It was a tradition of the ancient world that no
metamorphosis could hide a god from a god; and there is a Greek verse
which runs,--

     "The Gods are to each other not unknown."

Friends also follow the laws of divine necessity; they gravitate to each
other, and cannot otherwise:--

     When each the other shall avoid,
     Shall each by each be most enjoyed.

Their relation is not made, but allowed. The gods must seat themselves
without seneschal in our Olympus, and as they can instal themselves
by seniority divine. Society is spoiled if pains are taken, if the
associates are brought a mile to meet. And if it be not society, it is a
mischievous, low, degrading jangle, though made up of the best. All the
greatness of each is kept back and every foible in painful activity, as
if the Olympians should meet to exchange snuff-boxes.

Life goes headlong. We chase some flying scheme, or we are hunted by
some fear or command behind us. But if suddenly we encounter a friend,
we pause; our heat and hurry look foolish enough; now pause, now
possession is required, and the power to swell the moment from the
resources of the heart. The moment is all, in all noble relations.

A divine person is the prophecy of the mind; a friend is the hope of the
heart. Our beatitude waits for the fulfilment of these two in one. The
ages are opening this moral force. All force is the shadow or symbol of
that. Poetry is joyful and strong as it draws its inspiration thence.
Men write their names on the world as they are filled with this. History
has been mean; our nations have been mobs; we have never seen a man:
that divine form we do not yet know, but only the dream and prophecy
of such: we do not know the majestic manners which belong to him, which
appease and exalt the beholder. We shall one day see that the most
private is the most public energy, that quality atones for quantity, and
grandeur of character acts in the dark, and succors them who never saw
it. What greatness has yet appeared is beginnings and encouragements
to us in this direction. The history of those gods and saints which the
world has written and then worshipped, are documents of character. The
ages have exulted in the manners of a youth who owed nothing to fortune,
and who was hanged at the Tyburn of his nation, who, by the pure quality
of his nature, shed an epic splendor around the facts of his death which
has transfigured every particular into an universal symbol for the eyes
of mankind. This great defeat is hitherto our highest fact. But the
mind requires a victory to the senses; a force of character which will
convert judge, jury, soldier, and king; which will rule animal and
mineral virtues, and blend with the courses of sap, of rivers, of winds,
of stars, and of moral agents.

If we cannot attain at a bound to these grandeurs, at least let us do
them homage. In society, high advantages are set down to the possessor
as disadvantages. It requires the more wariness in our private
estimates. I do not forgive in my friends the failure to know a fine
character and to entertain it with thankful hospitality. When at last
that which we have always longed for is arrived and shines on us with
glad rays out of that far celestial land, then to be coarse, then to be
critical and treat such a visitant with the jabber and suspicion of the
streets, argues a vulgarity that seems to shut the doors of heaven. This
is confusion, this the right insanity, when the soul no longer knows
its own, nor where its allegiance, its religion, are due. Is there any
religion but this, to know that wherever in the wide desert of being the
holy sentiment we cherish has opened into a flower, it blooms for me? if
none sees it, I see it; I am aware, if I alone, of the greatness of the
fact. Whilst it blooms, I will keep sabbath or holy time, and suspend my
gloom and my folly and jokes. Nature is indulged by the presence of this
guest. There are many eyes that can detect and honor the prudent and
household virtues; there are many that can discern Genius on his
starry track, though the mob is incapable; but when that love which is
all-suffering, all-abstaining, all-aspiring, which has vowed to itself
that it will be a wretch and also a fool in this world sooner than
soil its white hands by any compliances, comes into our streets and
houses,--only the pure and aspiring can know its face, and the only
compliment they can pay it is to own it.



     "HOW near to good is what is fair!
     Which we no sooner see,
     But with the lines and outward air
     Our senses taken be.

     Again yourselves compose,
     And now put all the aptness on
     Of Figure, that Proportion
     Or Color can disclose;
     That if those silent arts were lost,
     Design and Picture, they might boast
     From you a newer ground,
     Instructed by the heightening sense
     Of dignity and reverence
     In their true motions found."
                        BEN JONSON


HALF the world, it is said, knows not how the other half live. Our
Exploring Expedition saw the Feejee islanders getting their dinner off
human bones; and they are said to eat their own wives and children. The
husbandry of the modern inhabitants of Gournou (west of old Thebes)
is philosophical to a fault. To set up their housekeeping nothing is
requisite but two or three earthen pots, a stone to grind meal, and a
mat which is the bed. The house, namely a tomb, is ready without rent
or taxes. No rain can pass through the roof, and there is no door, for
there is no want of one, as there is nothing to lose. If the house do
not please them, they walk out and enter another, as there are several
hundreds at their command. "It is somewhat singular," adds Belzoni, to
whom we owe this account, "to talk of happiness among people who live in
sepulchres, among the corpses and rags of an ancient nation which they
know nothing of." In the deserts of Borgoo the rock-Tibboos still dwell
in caves, like cliff-swallows, and the language of these negroes
is compared by their neighbors to the shrieking of bats and to the
whistling of birds. Again, the Bornoos have no proper names; individuals
are called after their height, thickness, or other accidental quality,
and have nicknames merely. But the salt, the dates, the ivory, and the
gold, for which these horrible regions are visited, find their way into
countries where the purchaser and consumer can hardly be ranked in one
race with these cannibals and man-stealers; countries where man serves
himself with metals, wood, stone, glass, gum, cotton, silk, and wool;
honors himself with architecture; writes laws, and contrives to execute
his will through the hands of many nations; and, especially, establishes
a select society, running through all the countries of intelligent
men, a self-constituted aristocracy, or fraternity of the best, which,
without written law or exact usage of any kind, perpetuates itself,
colonizes every new-planted island and adopts and makes its own whatever
personal beauty or extraordinary native endowment anywhere appears.

What fact more conspicuous in modern history than the creation of
the gentleman? Chivalry is that, and loyalty is that, and, in English
literature, half the drama, and all the novels, from Sir Philip Sidney
to Sir Walter Scott, paint this figure. The word gentleman, which, like
the word Christian, must hereafter characterize the present and the few
preceding centuries by the importance attached to it, is a homage
to personal and incommunicable properties. Frivolous and fantastic
additions have got associated with the name, but the steady interest
of mankind in it must be attributed to the valuable properties which
it designates. An element which unites all the most forcible persons of
every country; makes them intelligible and agreeable to each other, and
is somewhat so precise that it is at once felt if an individual lack
the masonic sign,--cannot be any casual product, but must be an average
result of the character and faculties universally found in men. It
seems a certain permanent average; as the atmosphere is a permanent
composition, whilst so many gases are combined only to be decompounded.
Comme il faut, is the Frenchman's description of good Society: as we
must be. It is a spontaneous fruit of talents and feelings of precisely
that class who have most vigor, who take the lead in the world of this
hour, and though far from pure, far from constituting the gladdest and
highest tone of human feeling, is as good as the whole society permits
it to be. It is made of the spirit, more than of the talent of men,
and is a compound result into which every great force enters as an
ingredient, namely virtue, wit, beauty, wealth, and power.

There is something equivocal in all the words in use to express the
excellence of manners and social cultivation, because the quantities are
fluxional, and the last effect is assumed by the senses as the cause.
The word gentleman has not any correlative abstract to express the
quality. Gentility is mean, and gentilesse is obsolete. But we must
keep alive in the vernacular the distinction between fashion, a word of
narrow and often sinister meaning, and the heroic character which the
gentleman imports. The usual words, however, must be respected;
they will be found to contain the root of the matter. The point of
distinction in all this class of names, as courtesy, chivalry, fashion,
and the like, is that the flower and fruit, not the grain of the tree,
are contemplated. It is beauty which is the aim this time, and not
worth. The result is now in question, although our words intimate well
enough the popular feeling that the appearance supposes a substance.
The gentleman is a man of truth, lord of his own actions, and expressing
that lordship in his behavior, not in any manner dependent and servile,
either on persons, or opinions, or possessions. Beyond this fact of
truth and real force, the word denotes good-nature or benevolence:
manhood first, and then gentleness. The popular notion certainly adds a
condition of ease and fortune; but that is a natural result of personal
force and love, that they should possess and dispense the goods of the
world. In times of violence, every eminent person must fall in with many
opportunities to approve his stoutness and worth; therefore every man's
name that emerged at all from the mass in the feudal ages, rattles in
our ear like a flourish of trumpets. But personal force never goes out
of fashion. That is still paramount to-day, and in the moving crowd of
good society the men of valor and reality are known and rise to their
natural place. The competition is transferred from war to politics
and trade, but the personal force appears readily enough in these new

Power first, or no leading class. In politics and in trade, bruisers and
pirates are of better promise than talkers and clerks. God knows
that all sorts of gentlemen knock at the door; but whenever used in
strictness and with any emphasis, the name will be found to point
at original energy. It describes a man standing in his own right and
working after untaught methods. In a good lord there must first be
a good animal, at least to the extent of yielding the incomparable
advantage of animal spirits. The ruling class must have more, but they
must have these, giving in every company the sense of power, which
makes things easy to be done which daunt the wise. The society of the
energetic class, in their friendly and festive meetings, is full of
courage and of attempts which intimidate the pale scholar. The courage
which girls exhibit is like a battle of Lundy's Lane, or a sea-fight.
The intellect relies on memory to make some supplies to face these
extemporaneous squadrons. But memory is a base mendicant with basket and
badge, in the presence of these sudden masters. The rulers of society
must be up to the work of the world, and equal to their versatile
office: men of the right Caesarian pattern, who have great range of
affinity. I am far from believing the timid maxim of Lord Falkland
("that for ceremony there must go two to it; since a bold fellow will go
through the cunningest forms"), and am of opinion that the gentleman is
the bold fellow whose forms are not to be broken through; and only that
plenteous nature is rightful master which is the complement of whatever
person it converses with. My gentleman gives the law where he is; he
will outpray saints in chapel, outgeneral veterans in the field, and
outshine all courtesy in the hall. He is good company for pirates
and good with academicians; so that it is useless to fortify yourself
against him; he has the private entrance to all minds, and I could as
easily exclude myself, as him. The famous gentlemen of Asia and Europe
have been of this strong type; Saladin, Sapor, the Cid, Julius Caesar,
Scipio, Alexander, Pericles, and the lordliest personages. They sat very
carelessly in their chairs, and were too excellent themselves, to value
any condition at a high rate.

A plentiful fortune is reckoned necessary, in the popular judgment, to
the completion of this man of the world; and it is a material deputy
which walks through the dance which the first has led. Money is not
essential, but this wide affinity is, which transcends the habits of
clique and caste and makes itself felt by men of all classes. If the
aristocrat is only valid in fashionable circles and not with truckmen,
he will never be a leader in fashion; and if the man of the people
cannot speak on equal terms with the gentleman, so that the gentleman
shall perceive that he is already really of his own order, he is not
to be feared. Diogenes, Socrates, and Epaminondas, are gentlemen of the
best blood who have chosen the condition of poverty when that of wealth
was equally open to them. I use these old names, but the men I speak of
are my contemporaries. Fortune will not supply to every generation one
of these well-appointed knights, but every collection of men furnishes
some example of the class; and the politics of this country, and the
trade of every town, are controlled by these hardy and irresponsible
doers, who have invention to take the lead, and a broad sympathy which
puts them in fellowship with crowds, and makes their action popular.

The manners of this class are observed and caught with devotion by men
of taste. The association of these masters with each other and with men
intelligent of their merits, is mutually agreeable and stimulating. The
good forms, the happiest expressions of each, are repeated and adopted.
By swift consent everything superfluous is dropped, everything graceful
is renewed. Fine manners show themselves formidable to the uncultivated
man. They are a subtler science of defence to parry and intimidate; but
once matched by the skill of the other party, they drop the point of the
sword,--points and fences disappear, and the youth finds himself in a
more transparent atmosphere, wherein life is a less troublesome game,
and not a misunderstanding rises between the players. Manners aim to
facilitate life, to get rid of impediments and bring the man pure
to energize. They aid our dealing and conversation as a railway aids
travelling, by getting rid of all avoidable obstructions of the road and
leaving nothing to be conquered but pure space. These forms very soon
become fixed, and a fine sense of propriety is cultivated with the more
heed that it becomes a badge of social and civil distinctions. Thus
grows up Fashion, an equivocal semblance, the most puissant, the most
fantastic and frivolous, the most feared and followed, and which morals
and violence assault in vain.

There exists a strict relation between the class of power and the
exclusive and polished circles. The last are always filled or filling
from the first. The strong men usually give some allowance even to the
petulances of fashion, for that affinity they find in it. Napoleon,
child of the revolution, destroyer of the old noblesse, never ceased to
court the Faubourg St. Germain; doubtless with the feeling that fashion
is a homage to men of his stamp. Fashion, though in a strange way,
represents all manly virtue. It is virtue gone to seed: it is a kind of
posthumous honor. It does not often caress the great, but the children
of the great: it is a hall of the Past. It usually sets its face against
the great of this hour. Great men are not commonly in its halls; they
are absent in the field: they are working, not triumphing. Fashion is
made up of their children; of those who through the value and virtue
of somebody, have acquired lustre to their name, marks of distinction,
means of cultivation and generosity, and, in their physical organization
a certain health and excellence which secures to them, if not the
highest power to work, yet high power to enjoy. The class of power, the
working heroes, the Cortez, the Nelson, the Napoleon, see that this is
the festivity and permanent celebration of such as they; that fashion is
funded talent; is Mexico, Marengo, and Trafalgar beaten out thin; that
the brilliant names of fashion run back to just such busy names as their
own, fifty or sixty years ago. They are the sowers, their sons shall
be the reapers, and their sons, in the ordinary course of things, must
yield the possession of the harvest to new competitors with keener eyes
and stronger frames. The city is recruited from the country. In the year
1805, it is said, every legitimate monarch in Europe was imbecile. The
city would have died out, rotted, and exploded, long ago, but that it
was reinforced from the fields. It is only country which came to town
day before yesterday that is city and court today.

Aristocracy and fashion are certain inevitable results. These mutual
selections are indestructible. If they provoke anger in the least
favored class, and the excluded majority revenge themselves on the
excluding minority by the strong hand and kill them, at once a new class
finds itself at the top, as certainly as cream rises in a bowl of milk:
and if the people should destroy class after class, until two men only
were left, one of these would be the leader and would be involuntarily
served and copied by the other. You may keep this minority out of sight
and out of mind, but it is tenacious of life, and is one of the estates
of the realm. I am the more struck with this tenacity, when I see its
work. It respects the administration of such unimportant matters, that
we should not look for any durability in its rule. We sometimes meet
men under some strong moral influence, as a patriotic, a literary, a
religious movement, and feel that the moral sentiment rules man and
nature. We think all other distinctions and ties will be slight and
fugitive, this of caste or fashion for example; yet come from year to
year and see how permanent that is, in this Boston or New York life
of man, where too it has not the least countenance from the law of the
land. Not in Egypt or in India a firmer or more impassable line. Here
are associations whose ties go over and under and through it, a
meeting of merchants, a military corps, a college class, a fire-club,
a professional association, a political, a religious convention;--the
persons seem to draw inseparably near; yet, that assembly once
dispersed, its members will not in the year meet again. Each returns to
his degree in the scale of good society, porcelain remains porcelain,
and earthen earthen. The objects of fashion may be frivolous, or fashion
may be objectless, but the nature of this union and selection can
be neither frivolous nor accidental. Each man's rank in that perfect
graduation depends on some symmetry in his structure or some
agreement in his structure to the symmetry of society. Its doors
unbar instantaneously to a natural claim of their own kind. A natural
gentleman finds his way in, and will keep the oldest patrician out who
has lost his intrinsic rank. Fashion understands itself; good-breeding
and personal superiority of whatever country readily fraternize with
those of every other. The chiefs of savage tribes have distinguished
themselves in London and Paris, by the purity of their tournure.

To say what good of fashion we can, it rests on reality, and hates
nothing so much as pretenders; to exclude and mystify pretenders and
send them into everlasting 'Coventry,' is its delight. We contemn in
turn every other gift of men of the world; but the habit even in little
and the least matters of not appealing to any but our own sense of
propriety, constitutes the foundation of all chivalry. There is almost
no kind of self-reliance, so it be sane and proportioned, which fashion
does not occasionally adopt and give it the freedom of its saloons. A
sainted soul is always elegant, and, if it will, passes unchallenged
into the most guarded ring. But so will Jock the teamster pass, in some
crisis that brings him thither, and find favor, as long as his head is
not giddy with the new circumstance, and the iron shoes do not wish to
dance in waltzes and cotillons. For there is nothing settled in manners,
but the laws of behavior yield to the energy of the individual. The
maiden at her first ball, the country-man at a city dinner, believes
that there is a ritual according to which every act and compliment must
be performed, or the failing party must be cast out of this presence.
Later they learn that good sense and character make their own forms
every moment, and speak or abstain, take wine or refuse it, stay or go,
sit in a chair or sprawl with children on the floor, or stand on their
head, or what else soever, in a new and aboriginal way; and that strong
will is always in fashion, let who will be unfashionable. All that
fashion demands is composure and self-content. A circle of men perfectly
well-bred would be a company of sensible persons in which every man's
native manners and character appeared. If the fashionist have not this
quality, he is nothing. We are such lovers of self-reliance that we
excuse in a man many sins if he will show us a complete satisfaction
in his position, which asks no leave to be, of mine, or any man's good
opinion. But any deference to some eminent man or woman of the world,
forfeits all privilege of nobility. He is an underling: I have nothing
to do with him; I will speak with his master. A man should not go where
he cannot carry his whole sphere or society with him,--not bodily, the
whole circle of his friends, but atmospherically. He should preserve in
a new company the same attitude of mind and reality of relation which
his daily associates draw him to, else he is shorn of his best beams,
and will be an orphan in the merriest club. "If you could see Vich
Ian Vohr with his tail on!--" But Vich Ian Vohr must always carry his
belongings in some fashion, if not added as honor, then severed as

There will always be in society certain persons who are mercuries of its
approbation, and whose glance will at any time determine for the curious
their standing in the world. These are the chamberlains of the lesser
gods. Accept their coldness as an omen of grace with the loftier
deities, and allow them all their privilege. They are clear in their
office, nor could they be thus formidable without their own merits.
But do not measure the importance of this class by their pretension, or
imagine that a fop can be the dispenser of honor and shame. They pass
also at their just rate; for how can they otherwise, in circles which
exist as a sort of herald's office for the sifting of character?

As the first thing man requires of man is reality, so that appears
in all the forms of society. We pointedly, and by name, introduce the
parties to each other. Know you before all heaven and earth, that this
is Andrew, and this is Gregory,--they look each other in the eye; they
grasp each other's hand, to identify and signalize each other. It is
a great satisfaction. A gentleman never dodges; his eyes look straight
forward, and he assures the other party, first of all, that he has been
met. For what is it that we seek, in so many visits and hospitalities?
Is it your draperies, pictures, and decorations? Or do we not insatiably
ask, Was a man in the house? I may easily go into a great household
where there is much substance, excellent provision for comfort,
luxury, and taste, and yet not encounter there any Amphitryon who shall
subordinate these appendages. I may go into a cottage, and find a
farmer who feels that he is the man I have come to see, and fronts
me accordingly. It was therefore a very natural point of old feudal
etiquette that a gentleman who received a visit, though it were of his
sovereign, should not leave his roof, but should wait his arrival at
the door of his house. No house, though it were the Tuileries or the
Escurial, is good for anything without a master. And yet we are not
often gratified by this hospitality. Every body we know surrounds
himself with a fine house, fine books, conservatory, gardens, equipage
and all manner of toys, as screens to interpose between himself and his
guest. Does it not seem as if man was of a very sly, elusive nature,
and dreaded nothing so much as a full rencontre front to front with his
fellow? It were unmerciful, I know, quite to abolish the use of these
screens, which are of eminent convenience, whether the guest is too
great or too little. We call together many friends who keep each other
in play, or by luxuries and ornaments we amuse the young people, and
guard our retirement. Or if perchance a searching realist comes to our
gate, before whose eye we have no care to stand, then again we run to
our curtain, and hide ourselves as Adam at the voice of the Lord God
in the garden. Cardinal Caprara, the Pope's legate at Paris, defended
himself from the glances of Napoleon by an immense pair of green
spectacles. Napoleon remarked them, and speedily managed to rally them
off: and yet Napoleon, in his turn, was not great enough with eight
hundred thousand troops at his back, to face a pair of freeborn eyes,
but fenced himself with etiquette and within triple barriers of reserve;
and, as all the world knows from Madame de Stael, was wont, when he
found himself observed, to discharge his face of all expression. But
emperors and rich men are by no means the most skilful masters of
good manners. No rentroll nor army-list can dignify skulking and
dissimulation; and the first point of courtesy must always be truth, as
really all the forms of good-breeding point that way.

I have just been reading, in Mr. Hazlitt's translation, Montaigne's
account of his journey into Italy, and am struck with nothing more
agreeably than the self-respecting fashions of the time. His arrival in
each place, the arrival of a gentleman of France, is an event of some
consequence. Wherever he goes he pays a visit to whatever prince or
gentleman of note resides upon his road, as a duty to himself and to
civilization. When he leaves any house in which he has lodged for a few
weeks, he causes his arms to be painted and hung up as a perpetual sign
to the house, as was the custom of gentlemen.

The complement of this graceful self-respect, and that of all the points
of good breeding I most require and insist upon, is deference. I
like that every chair should be a throne, and hold a king. I prefer
a tendency to stateliness to an excess of fellowship. Let the
incommunicable objects of nature and the metaphysical isolation of man
teach us independence. Let us not be too much acquainted. I would have
a man enter his house through a hall filled with heroic and sacred
sculptures, that he might not want the hint of tranquillity and
self-poise. We should meet each morning as from foreign countries,
and, spending the day together, should depart at night, as into foreign
countries. In all things I would have the island of a man inviolate. Let
us sit apart as the gods, talking from peak to peak all round Olympus.
No degree of affection need invade this religion. This is myrrh and
rosemary to keep the other sweet. Lovers Should guard their strangeness.
If they forgive too much, all slides into confusion and meanness. It
is easy to push this deference to a Chinese etiquette; but coolness and
absence of heat and haste indicate fine qualities. A gentleman makes no
noise; a lady is serene. Proportionate is our disgust at those invaders
who fill a studious house with blast and running, to secure some
paltry convenience. Not less I dislike a low sympathy of each with his
neighbor's needs. Must we have a good understanding with one another's
palates? as foolish people who have lived long together know when each
wants salt or sugar. I pray my companion, if he wishes for bread, to ask
me for bread, and if he wishes for sassafras or arsenic, to ask me for
them, and not to hold out his plate as if I knew already. Every natural
function can be dignified by deliberation and privacy. Let us leave
hurry to slaves. The compliments and ceremonies of our breeding should
signify, however remotely, the recollection of the grandeur of our

The flower of courtesy does not very well bide handling, but if we dare
to open another leaf and explore what parts go to its conformation,
we shall find also an intellectual quality. To the leaders of men, the
brain as well as the flesh and the heart must furnish a proportion.
Defect in manners is usually the defect of fine perceptions. Men are too
coarsely made for the delicacy of beautiful carriage and customs. It
is not quite sufficient to good-breeding, a union of kindness and
independence. We imperatively require a perception of, and a homage to
beauty in our companions. Other virtues are in request in the field and
workyard, but a certain degree of taste is not to be spared in those we
sit with. I could better eat with one who did not respect the truth or
the laws than with a sloven and unpresentable person. Moral qualities
rule the world, but at short distances the senses are despotic. The same
discrimination of fit and fair runs out, if with less rigor, into all
parts of life. The average spirit of the energetic class is good sense,
acting under certain limitations and to certain ends. It entertains
every natural gift. Social in its nature, it respects everything which
tends to unite men. It delights in measure. The love of beauty is mainly
the love of measure or proportion. The person who screams, or uses the
superlative degree, or converses with heat, puts whole drawing-rooms to
flight. If you wish to be loved, love measure. You must have genius or
a prodigious usefulness if you will hide the want of measure. This
perception comes in to polish and perfect the parts of the social
instrument. Society will pardon much to genius and special gifts, but,
being in its nature a convention, it loves what is conventional, or
what belongs to coming together. That makes the good and bad of manners,
namely what helps or hinders fellowship. For fashion is not good
sense absolute, but relative; not good sense private, but good sense
entertaining company. It hates corners and sharp points of character,
hates quarrelsome, egotistical, solitary, and gloomy people; hates
whatever can interfere with total blending of parties; whilst it values
all peculiarities as in the highest degree refreshing, which can
consist with good fellowship. And besides the general infusion of wit
to heighten civility, the direct splendor of intellectual power is ever
welcome in fine society as the costliest addition to its rule and its

The dry light must shine in to adorn our festival, but it must be
tempered and shaded, or that will also offend. Accuracy is essential
to beauty, and quick perceptions to politeness, but not too quick
perceptions. One may be too punctual and too precise. He must leave the
omniscience of business at the door, when he comes into the palace of
beauty. Society loves creole natures, and sleepy languishing manners, so
that they cover sense, grace and good-will: the air of drowsy strength,
which disarms criticism; perhaps because such a person seems to reserve
himself for the best of the game, and not spend himself on surfaces;
an ignoring eye, which does not see the annoyances, shifts, and
inconveniences that cloud the brow and smother the voice of the

Therefore besides personal force and so much perception as constitutes
unerring taste, society demands in its patrician class another element
already intimated, which it significantly terms good-nature,--expressing
all degrees of generosity, from the lowest willingness and faculty to
oblige, up to the heights of magnanimity and love. Insight we must have,
or we shall run against one another and miss the way to our food; but
intellect is selfish and barren. The secret of success in society is a
certain heartiness and sympathy. A man who is not happy in the company
cannot find any word in his memory that will fit the occasion. All his
information is a little impertinent. A man who is happy there, finds
in every turn of the conversation equally lucky occasions for the
introduction of that which he has to say. The favorites of society, and
what it calls whole souls, are able men and of more spirit than wit,
who have no uncomfortable egotism, but who exactly fill the hour and the
company; contented and contenting, at a marriage or a funeral, a ball
or a jury, a water-party or a shooting-match. England, which is rich in
gentlemen, furnished, in the beginning of the present century, a good
model of that genius which the world loves, in Mr. Fox, who added to
his great abilities the most social disposition and real love of men.
Parliamentary history has few better passages than the debate in which
Burke and Fox separated in the House of Commons; when Fox urged on his
old friend the claims of old friendship with such tenderness that the
house was moved to tears. Another anecdote is so close to my matter,
that I must hazard the story. A tradesman who had long dunned him for
a note of three hundred guineas, found him one day counting gold, and
demanded payment:--"No," said Fox, "I owe this money to Sheridan; it is
a debt of honor; if an accident should happen to me, he has nothing
to show." "Then," said the creditor, "I change my debt into a debt
of honor," and tore the note in pieces. Fox thanked the man for his
confidence and paid him, saying, "his debt was of older standing, and
Sheridan must wait." Lover of liberty, friend of the Hindoo, friend
of the African slave, he possessed a great personal popularity; and
Napoleon said of him on the occasion of his visit to Paris, in 1805,
"Mr. Fox will always hold the first place in an assembly at the

We may easily seem ridiculous in our eulogy of courtesy, whenever we
insist on benevolence as its foundation. The painted phantasm Fashion
rises to cast a species of derision on what we say. But I will neither
be driven from some allowance to Fashion as a symbolic institution, nor
from the belief that love is the basis of courtesy. We must obtain that,
if we can; but by all means we must affirm this. Life owes much of its
spirit to these sharp contrasts. Fashion, which affects to be honor, is
often, in all men's experience, only a ballroom-code. Yet so long as
it is the highest circle in the imagination of the best heads on the
planet, there is something necessary and excellent in it; for it is
not to be supposed that men have agreed to be the dupes of anything
preposterous; and the respect which these mysteries inspire in the most
rude and sylvan characters, and the curiosity with which details of
high life are read, betray the universality of the love of cultivated
manners. I know that a comic disparity would be felt, if we should enter
the acknowledged 'first circles' and apply these terrific standards of
justice, beauty, and benefit to the individuals actually found there.
Monarchs and heroes, sages and lovers, these gallants are not. Fashion
has many classes and many rules of probation and admission, and not
the best alone. There is not only the right of conquest, which genius
pretends,--the individual demonstrating his natural aristocracy best
of the best;--but less claims will pass for the time; for Fashion loves
lions, and points like Circe to her horned company. This gentleman is
this afternoon arrived from Denmark; and that is my Lord Ride, who came
yesterday from Bagdat; here is Captain Friese, from Cape Turnagain; and
Captain Symmes, from the interior of the earth; and Monsieur Jovaire,
who came down this morning in a balloon; Mr. Hobnail, the reformer; and
Reverend Jul Bat, who has converted the whole torrid zone in his Sunday
school; and Signor Torre del Greco, who extinguished Vesuvius by pouring
into it the Bay of Naples; Spahi, the Persian ambassador; and Tul Wil
Shan, the exiled nabob of Nepaul, whose saddle is the new moon.--But
these are monsters of one day, and to-morrow will be dismissed to
their holes and dens; for in these rooms every chair is waited for. The
artist, the scholar, and, in general, the clerisy, wins their way up
into these places and get represented here, somewhat on this footing of
conquest. Another mode is to pass through all the degrees, spending a
year and a day in St. Michael's Square, being steeped in Cologne water,
and perfumed, and dined, and introduced, and properly grounded in all
the biography and politics and anecdotes of the boudoirs.

Yet these fineries may have grace and wit. Let there be grotesque
sculpture about the gates and offices of temples. Let the creed
and commandments even have the saucy homage of parody. The forms of
politeness universally express benevolence in superlative degrees.
What if they are in the mouths of selfish men, and used as means of
selfishness? What if the false gentleman almost bows the true out Of the
world? What if the false gentleman contrives so to address his companion
as civilly to exclude all others from his discourse, and also to make
them feel excluded? Real service will not lose its nobleness. All
generosity is not merely French and sentimental; nor is it to be
concealed that living blood and a passion of kindness does at last
distinguish God's gentleman from Fashion's. The epitaph of Sir Jenkin
Grout is not wholly unintelligible to the present age: "Here lies Sir
Jenkin Grout, who loved his friend and persuaded his enemy: what his
mouth ate, his hand paid for: what his servants robbed, he restored: if
a woman gave him pleasure, he supported her in pain: he never forgot his
children; and whoso touched his finger, drew after it his whole body."
Even the line of heroes is not utterly extinct. There is still ever some
admirable person in plain clothes, standing on the wharf, who jumps
in to rescue a drowning man; there is still some absurd inventor of
charities; some guide and comforter of runaway slaves; some friend of
Poland; some Philhellene; some fanatic who plants shade-trees for the
second and third generation, and orchards when he is grown old; some
well-concealed piety; some just man happy in an ill fame; some youth
ashamed of the favors of fortune and impatiently casting them on other
shoulders. And these are the centres of society, on which it returns for
fresh impulses. These are the creators of Fashion, which is an attempt
to organize beauty of behavior. The beautiful and the generous are, in
the theory, the doctors and apostles of this church: Scipio, and the
Cid, and Sir Philip Sidney, and Washington, and every pure and valiant
heart who worshipped Beauty by word and by deed. The persons who
constitute the natural aristocracy are not found in the actual
aristocracy, or only on its edge; as the chemical energy of the spectrum
is found to be greatest just outside of the spectrum. Yet that is the
infirmity of the seneschals, who do not know their sovereign when he
appears. The theory of society supposes the existence and sovereignty of
these. It divines afar off their coming. It says with the elder gods,--

     "As Heaven and Earth are fairer far
      Than Chaos and blank Darkness, though once chiefs;
      And as we show beyond that Heaven and Earth,
      In form and shape compact and beautiful;
      So, on our heels a fresh perfection treads;
      A power, more strong in beauty, born of us,
      And fated to excel us, as we pass
      In glory that old Darkness:
      -------- for, 'tis the eternal law,
      That first in beauty shall be first in might."

Therefore, within the ethnical circle of good society there is a
narrower and higher circle, concentration of its light, and flower
of courtesy, to which there is always a tacit appeal of pride and
reference, as to its inner and imperial court; the parliament of love
and chivalry. And this is constituted of those persons in whom heroic
dispositions are native; with the love of beauty, the delight in
society, and the power to embellish the passing day. If the individuals
who compose the purest circles of aristocracy in Europe, the guarded
blood of centuries, should pass in review, in such manner as that we
could at leisure and critically inspect their behavior, we might find no
gentleman and no lady; for although excellent specimens of courtesy and
high-breeding would gratify us in the assemblage, in the particulars
we should detect offence. Because elegance comes of no breeding, but
of birth. There must be romance of character, or the most fastidious
exclusion of impertinencies will not avail. It must be genius which
takes that direction: it must be not courteous, but courtesy. High
behavior is as rare in fiction as it is in fact. Scott is praised for
the fidelity with which he painted the demeanor and conversation of the
superior classes. Certainly, kings and queens, nobles and great ladies,
had some right to complain of the absurdity that had been put in their
mouths before the days of Waverley; but neither does Scott's dialogue
bear criticism. His lords brave each other in smart epigramatic
speeches, but the dialogue is in costume, and does not please on the
second reading: it is not warm with life. In Shakspeare alone the
speakers do not strut and bridle, the dialogue is easily great, and he
adds to so many titles that of being the best-bred man in England and in
Christendom. Once or twice in a lifetime we are permitted to enjoy the
charm of noble manners, in the presence of a man or woman who have no
bar in their nature, but whose character emanates freely in their
word and gesture. A beautiful form is better than a beautiful face; a
beautiful behavior is better than a beautiful form: it gives a higher
pleasure than statues or pictures; it is the finest of the fine arts. A
man is but a little thing in the midst of the objects of nature, yet,
by the moral quality radiating from his countenance he may abolish all
considerations of magnitude, and in his manners equal the majesty of the
world. I have seen an individual whose manners, though wholly within
the conventions of elegant society, were never learned there, but were
original and commanding and held out protection and prosperity; one who
did not need the aid of a court-suit, but carried the holiday in his
eye; who exhilarated the fancy by flinging wide the doors of new modes
of existence; who shook off the captivity of etiquette, with happy,
spirited bearing, good-natured and free as Robin Hood; yet with the port
of an emperor, if need be,--calm, serious, and fit to stand the gaze of

The open air and the fields, the street and public chambers are the
places where Man executes his will; let him yield or divide the
sceptre at the door of the house. Woman, with her instinct of behavior,
instantly detects in man a love of trifles, any coldness or imbecility,
or, in short, any want of that large, flowing, and magnanimous
deportment which is indispensable as an exterior in the hall. Our
American institutions have been friendly to her, and at this moment I
esteem it a chief felicity of this country, that it excels in women. A
certain awkward consciousness of inferiority in the men may give rise
to the new chivalry in behalf of Woman's Rights. Certainly let her be as
much better placed in the laws and in social forms as the most zealous
reformer can ask, but I confide so entirely in her inspiring and musical
nature, that I believe only herself can show us how she shall be served.
The wonderful generosity of her sentiments raises her at times into
heroical and godlike regions, and verifies the pictures of Minerva,
Juno, or Polymnia; and by the firmness with which she treads her upward
path, she convinces the coarsest calculators that another road exists
than that which their feet know. But besides those who make good in
our imagination the place of muses and of Delphic Sibyls, are there not
women who fill our vase with wine and roses to the brim, so that the
wine runs over and fills the house with perfume; who inspire us with
courtesy; who unloose our tongues and we speak; who anoint our eyes and
we see? We say things we never thought to have said; for once, our walls
of habitual reserve vanished and left us at large; we were children
playing with children in a wide field of flowers. Steep us, we cried, in
these influences, for days, for weeks, and we shall be sunny poets and
will write out in many-colored words the romance that you are. Was it
Hafiz or Firdousi that said of his Persian Lilla, She was an elemental
force, and astonished me by her amount of life, when I saw her day after
day radiating, every instant, redundant joy and grace on all around her.
She was a solvent powerful to reconcile all heterogeneous persons into
one society: like air or water, an element of such a great range of
affinities that it combines readily with a thousand substances. Where
she is present all others will be more than they are wont. She was a
unit and whole, so that whatsoever she did, became her. She had too much
sympathy and desire to please, than that you could say her manners were
marked with dignity, yet no princess could surpass her clear and erect
demeanor on each occasion. She did not study the Persian grammar, nor
the books of the seven poets, but all the poems of the seven seemed
to be written upon her. For though the bias of her nature was not to
thought, but to sympathy, yet was she so perfect in her own nature as to
meet intellectual persons by the fulness of her heart, warming them by
her sentiments; believing, as she did, that by dealing nobly with all,
all would show themselves noble.

I know that this Byzantine pile of chivalry or Fashion, which seems so
fair and picturesque to those who look at the contemporary facts for
science or for entertainment, is not equally pleasant to all spectators.
The constitution of our society makes it a giant's castle to the
ambitious youth who have not found their names enrolled in its Golden
Book, and whom it has excluded from its coveted honors and privileges.
They have yet to learn that its seeming grandeur is shadowy and
relative: it is great by their allowance; its proudest gates will
fly open at the approach of their courage and virtue. For the present
distress, however, of those who are predisposed to suffer from the
tyrannies of this caprice, there are easy remedies. To remove your
residence a couple of miles, or at most four, will commonly relieve the
most extreme susceptibility. For the advantages which fashion values
are plants which thrive in very confined localities, in a few streets
namely. Out of this precinct they go for nothing; are of no use in the
farm, in the forest, in the market, in war, in the nuptial society, in
the literary or scientific circle, at sea, in friendship, in the heaven
of thought or virtue.

But we have lingered long enough in these painted courts. The worth of
the thing signified must vindicate our taste for the emblem. Everything
that is called fashion and courtesy humbles itself before the cause and
fountain of honor, creator of titles and dignities, namely the heart of
love. This is the royal blood, this the fire, which, in all countries
and contingencies, will work after its kind and conquer and expand
all that approaches it. This gives new meanings to every fact. This
impoverishes the rich, suffering no grandeur but its own. What is rich?
Are you rich enough to help anybody? to succor the unfashionable and the
eccentric? rich enough to make the Canadian in his wagon, the itinerant
with his consul's paper which commends him "To the charitable," the
swarthy Italian with his few broken words of English, the lame pauper
hunted by overseers from town to town, even the poor insane or besotted
wreck of man or woman, feel the noble exception of your presence and
your house from the general bleakness and stoniness; to make such feel
that they were greeted with a voice which made them both remember and
hope? What is vulgar but to refuse the claim on acute and conclusive
reasons? What is gentle, but to allow it, and give their heart and yours
one holiday from the national caution? Without the rich heart, wealth is
an ugly beggar. The king of Schiraz could not afford to be so bountiful
as the poor Osman who dwelt at his gate. Osman had a humanity so broad
and deep that although his speech was so bold and free with the Koran
as to disgust all the dervishes, yet was there never a poor outcast,
eccentric, or insane man, some fool who had cut off his beard, or who
had been mutilated under a vow, or had a pet madness in his brain, but
fled at once to him; that great heart lay there so sunny and hospitable
in the centre of the country, that it seemed as if the instinct of all
sufferers drew them to his side. And the madness which he harbored he
did not share. Is not this to be rich? this only to be rightly rich?

But I shall hear without pain that I play the courtier very ill, and
talk of that which I do not well understand. It is easy to see, that
what is called by distinction society and fashion has good laws as well
as bad, has much that is necessary, and much that is absurd. Too good
for banning, and too bad for blessing, it reminds us of a tradition
of the pagan mythology, in any attempt to settle its character. 'I
overheard Jove, one day,' said Silenus, 'talking of destroying the
earth; he said it had failed; they were all rogues and vixens, who went
from bad to worse, as fast as the days succeeded each other. Minerva
said she hoped not; they were only ridiculous little creatures, with
this odd circumstance, that they had a blur, or indeterminate aspect,
seen far or seen near; if you called them bad, they would appear so; if
you called them good, they would appear so; and there was no one person
or action among them, which would not puzzle her owl, much more all
Olympus, to know whether it was fundamentally bad or good.'



     Gifts of one who loved me,--
     'T was high time they came;
     When he ceased to love me,
     Time they stopped for shame.


IT is said that the world is in a state of bankruptcy; that the world
owes the world more than the world can pay, and ought to go into
chancery and be sold. I do not think this general insolvency, which
involves in some sort all the population, to be the reason of the
difficulty experienced at Christmas and New Year and other times, in
bestowing gifts; since it is always so pleasant to be generous, though
very vexatious to pay debts. But the impediment lies in the choosing.
If at any time it comes into my head that a present is due from me to
somebody, I am puzzled what to give, until the opportunity is gone.
Flowers and fruits are always fit presents; flowers, because they are a
proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues all the utilities of the
world. These gay natures contrast with the somewhat stern countenance of
ordinary nature: they are like music heard out of a work-house.
Nature does not cocker us; we are children, not pets; she is not fond;
everything is dealt to us without fear or favor, after severe universal
laws. Yet these delicate flowers look like the frolic and interference
of love and beauty. Men use to tell us that we love flattery even though
we are not deceived by it, because it shows that we are of importance
enough to be courted. Something like that pleasure, the flowers give us:
what am I to whom these sweet hints are addressed? Fruits are acceptable
gifts, because they are the flower of commodities, and admit of
fantastic values being attached to them. If a man should send to me to
come a hundred miles to visit him and should set before me a basket of
fine summer-fruit, I should think there was some proportion between the
labor and the reward.

For common gifts, necessity makes pertinences and beauty every day, and
one is glad when an imperative leaves him no option; since if the man
at the door have no shoes, you have not to consider whether you could
procure him a paint-box. And as it is always pleasing to see a man eat
bread, or drink water, in the house or out of doors, so it is always
a great satisfaction to supply these first wants. Necessity does
everything well. In our condition of universal dependence it seems
heroic to let the petitioner be the judge of his necessity, and to give
all that is asked, though at great inconvenience. If it be a fantastic
desire, it is better to leave to others the office of punishing him. I
can think of many parts I should prefer playing to that of the Furies.
Next to things of necessity, the rule for a gift, which one of my
friends prescribed, is that we might convey to some person that which
properly belonged to his character, and was easily associated with him
in thought. But our tokens of compliment and love are for the most
part barbarous. Rings and other jewels are not gifts, but apologies for
gifts. The only gift is a portion of thyself. Thou must bleed for me.
Therefore the poet brings his poem; the shepherd, his lamb; the farmer,
corn; the miner, a gem; the sailor, coral and shells; the painter, his
picture; the girl, a handkerchief of her own sewing. This is right and
pleasing, for it restores society in so far to its primary basis, when
a man's biography is conveyed in his gift, and every man's wealth is an
index of his merit. But it is a cold lifeless business when you go to
the shops to buy me something which does not represent your life and
talent, but a goldsmith's. This is fit for kings, and rich men who
represent kings, and a false state of property, to make presents of gold
and silver stuffs, as a kind of symbolical sin-offering, or payment of

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

     "Brother, if Jove to thee a present make,
      Take heed that from his hands thou nothing take."

We ask the whole. Nothing less will content us. We arraign society if
it do not give us, besides earth and fire and water, opportunity, love,
reverence, and objects of veneration.

He is a good man who can receive a gift well. We are either glad or
sorry at a gift, and both emotions are unbecoming. Some violence I think
is done, some degradation borne, when I rejoice or grieve at a gift. I
am sorry when my independence is invaded, or when a gift comes from such
as do not know my spirit, and so the act is not supported; and if the
gift pleases me overmuch, then I should be ashamed that the donor should
read my heart, and see that I love his commodity, and not him. The gift,
to be true, must be the flowing of the giver unto me, correspondent to
my flowing unto him. When the waters are at level, then my goods pass
to him, and his to me. All his are mine, all mine his. I say to him, How
can you give me this pot of oil or this flagon of wine when all your oil
and wine is mine, which belief of mine this gift seems to deny? Hence
the fitness of beautiful, not useful things, for gifts. This giving is
flat usurpation, and therefore when the beneficiary is ungrateful, as
all beneficiaries hate all Timons, not at all considering the value of
the gift but looking back to the greater store it was taken from,--I
rather sympathize with the beneficiary than with the anger of my lord
Timon. For the expectation of gratitude is mean, and is continually
punished by the total insensibility of the obliged person. It is a great
happiness to get off without injury and heart-burning from one who has
had the ill-luck to be served by you. It is a very onerous business,
this of being served, and the debtor naturally wishes to give you a
slap. A golden text for these gentlemen is that which I so admire in
the Buddhist, who never thanks, and who says, "Do not flatter your

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

I fear to breathe any treason against the majesty of love, which is the
genius and god of gifts, and to whom we must not affect to prescribe.
Let him give kingdoms or flower-leaves indifferently. There are persons
from whom we always expect fairy-tokens; let us not cease to expect
them. This is prerogative, and not to be limited by our municipal rules.
For the rest, I like to see that we cannot be bought and sold. The best
of hospitality and of generosity is also not in the will, but in fate. I
find that I am not much to you; you do not need me; you do not feel me;
then am I thrust out of doors, though you proffer me house and lands. No
services are of any value, but only likeness. When I have attempted to
join myself to others by services, it proved an intellectual trick,--no
more. They eat your service like apples, and leave you out. But love
them, and they feel you and delight in you all the time.



     The rounded world is fair to see,
     Nine times folded in mystery:
     Though baffled seers cannot impart
     The secret of its laboring heart,
     Throb thine with Nature's throbbing breast,
     And all is clear from east to west.
     Spirit that lurks each form within
     Beckons to spirit of its kin;
     Self-kindled every atom glows,
     And hints the future which it owes.


THERE are days which occur in this climate, at almost any season of
the year, wherein the world reaches its perfection; when the air,
the heavenly bodies and the earth, make a harmony, as if nature would
indulge her offspring; when, in these bleak upper sides of the planet,
nothing is to desire that we have heard of the happiest latitudes, and
we bask in the shining hours of Florida and Cuba; when everything that
has life gives sign of satisfaction, and the cattle that lie on the
ground seem to have great and tranquil thoughts. These halcyons may be
looked for with a little more assurance in that pure October weather
which we distinguish by the name of the Indian summer. The day,
immeasurably long, sleeps over the broad hills and warm wide fields.
To have lived through all its sunny hours, seems longevity enough. The
solitary places do not seem quite lonely. At the gates of the forest,
the surprised man of the world is forced to leave his city estimates of
great and small, wise and foolish. The knapsack of custom falls off his
back with the first step he makes into these precincts. Here is sanctity
which shames our religions, and reality which discredits our heroes.
Here we find Nature to be the circumstance which dwarfs every other
circumstance, and judges like a god all men that come to her. We have
crept out of our close and crowded houses into the night and morning,
and we see what majestic beauties daily wrap us in their bosom. How
willingly we would escape the barriers which render them comparatively
impotent, escape the sophistication and second thought, and suffer
nature to intrance us. The tempered light of the woods is like a
perpetual morning, and is stimulating and heroic. The anciently reported
spells of these places creep on us. The stems of pines, hemlocks, and
oaks almost gleam like iron on the excited eye. The incommunicable trees
begin to persuade us to live with them, and quit our life of solemn
trifles. Here no history, or church, or state, is interpolated on the
divine sky and the immortal year. How easily we might walk onward into
the opening landscape, absorbed by new pictures and by thoughts fast
succeeding each other, until by degrees the recollection of home was
crowded out of the mind, all memory obliterated by the tyranny of the
present, and we were led in triumph by nature.

These enchantments are medicinal, they sober and heal us. These are
plain pleasures, kindly and native to us. We come to our own, and make
friends with matter, which the ambitious chatter of the schools would
persuade us to despise. We never can part with it; the mind loves its
old home: as water to our thirst, so is the rock, the ground, to our
eyes and hands and feet. It is firm water; it is cold flame; what
health, what affinity! Ever an old friend, ever like a dear friend and
brother when we chat affectedly with strangers, comes in this honest
face, and takes a grave liberty with us, and shames us out of our
nonsense. Cities give not the human senses room enough. We go out daily
and nightly to feed the eyes on the horizon, and require so much scope,
just as we need water for our bath. There are all degrees of natural
influence, from these quarantine powers of nature, up to her dearest
and gravest ministrations to the imagination and the soul. There is the
bucket of cold water from the spring, the wood-fire to which the chilled
traveller rushes for safety,--and there is the sublime moral of autumn
and of noon. We nestle in nature, and draw our living as parasites from
her roots and grains, and we receive glances from the heavenly bodies,
which call us to solitude and foretell the remotest future. The blue
zenith is the point in which romance and reality meet. I think if
we should be rapt away into all that we dream of heaven, and should
converse with Gabriel and Uriel, the upper sky would be all that would
remain of our furniture.

It seems as if the day was not wholly profane in which we have given
heed to some natural object. The fall of snowflakes in a still air,
preserving to each crystal its perfect form; the blowing of sleet over
a wide sheet of water, and over plains; the waving ryefield; the mimic
waving of acres of houstonia, whose innumerable florets whiten and
ripple before the eye; the reflections of trees and flowers in glassy
lakes; the musical steaming odorous south wind, which converts all trees
to windharps; the crackling and spurting of hemlock in the flames, or
of pine logs, which yield glory to the walls and faces in the
sittingroom,--these are the music and pictures of the most ancient
religion. My house stands in low land, with limited outlook, and on the
skirt of the village. But I go with my friend to the shore of our little
river, and with one stroke of the paddle I leave the village politics
and personalities, yes, and the world of villages and personalities
behind, and pass into a delicate realm of sunset and moonlight, too
bright almost for spotted man to enter without novitiate and probation.
We penetrate bodily this incredible beauty; we dip our hands in this
painted element; our eyes are bathed in these lights and forms.
A holiday, a villeggiatura, a royal revel, the proudest, most
heart-rejoicing festival that valor and beauty, power and taste, ever
decked and enjoyed, establishes itself on the instant. These sunset
clouds, these delicately emerging stars, with their private and
ineffable glances, signify it and proffer it. I am taught the poorness
of our invention, the ugliness of towns and palaces. Art and luxury
have early learned that they must work as enhancement and sequel to this
original beauty. I am overinstructed for my return. Henceforth I shall
be hard to please. I cannot go back to toys. I am grown expensive and
sophisticated. I can no longer live without elegance, but a countryman
shall be my master of revels. He who knows the most; he who knows
what sweets and virtues are in the ground, the waters, the plants, the
heavens, and how to come at these enchantments,--is the rich and royal
man. Only as far as the masters of the world have called in nature
to their aid, can they reach the height of magnificence. This is the
meaning of their hanging-gardens, villas, garden-houses, islands,
parks and preserves, to back their faulty personality with these
strong accessories. I do not wonder that the landed interest should be
invincible in the State with these dangerous auxiliaries. These bribe
and invite; not kings, not palaces, not men, not women, but these tender
and poetic stars, eloquent of secret promises. We heard what the rich
man said, we knew of his villa, his grove, his wine and his company, but
the provocation and point of the invitation came out of these beguiling
stars. In their soft glances I see what men strove to realize in some
Versailles, or Paphos, or Ctesiphon. Indeed, it is the magical lights of
the horizon and the blue sky for the background which save all our works
of art, which were otherwise bawbles. When the rich tax the poor with
servility and obsequiousness, they should consider the effect of men
reputed to be the possessors of nature, on imaginative minds. Ah! if
the rich were rich as the poor fancy riches! A boy hears a military
band play on the field at night, and he has kings and queens and famous
chivalry palpably before him. He hears the echoes of a horn in a
hill country, in the Notch Mountains, for example, which converts the
mountains into an Aeolian harp,--and this supernatural tiralira restores
to him the Dorian mythology, Apollo, Diana, and all divine hunters and
huntresses. Can a musical note be so lofty, so haughtily beautiful!
To the poor young poet, thus fabulous is his picture of society; he
is loyal; he respects the rich; they are rich for the sake of his
imagination; how poor his fancy would be, if they were not rich! That
they have some high-fenced grove which they call a park; that they live
in larger and better-garnished saloons than he has visited, and go in
coaches, keeping only the society of the elegant, to watering-places
and to distant cities,--these make the groundwork from which he
has delineated estates of romance, compared with which their actual
possessions are shanties and paddocks. The muse herself betrays her son,
and enhances the gifts of wealth and well-born beauty by a radiation
out of the air, and clouds, and forests that skirt the road,--a certain
haughty favor, as if from patrician genii to patricians, a kind of
aristocracy in nature, a prince of the power of the air.

The moral sensibility which makes Edens and Tempes so easily, may not be
always found, but the material landscape is never far off. We can
find these enchantments without visiting the Como Lake, or the Madeira
Islands. We exaggerate the praises of local scenery. In every landscape
the point of astonishment is the meeting of the sky and the earth,
and that is seen from the first hillock as well as from the top of the
Alleghanies. The stars at night stoop down over the brownest, homeliest
common with all the spiritual magnificence which they shed on the
Campagna, or on the marble deserts of Egypt. The uprolled clouds and the
colors of morning and evening will transfigure maples and alders. The
difference between landscape and landscape is small, but there is
great difference in the beholders. There is nothing so wonderful in any
particular landscape as the necessity of being beautiful under which
every landscape lies. Nature cannot be surprised in undress. Beauty
breaks in everywhere.

But it is very easy to outrun the sympathy of readers on this topic,
which schoolmen called natura naturata, or nature passive. One can
hardly speak directly of it without excess. It is as easy to broach in
mixed companies what is called "the subject of religion." A susceptible
person does not like to indulge his tastes in this kind without the
apology of some trivial necessity: he goes to see a wood-lot, or to look
at the crops, or to fetch a plant or a mineral from a remote locality,
or he carries a fowling-piece or a fishing-rod. I suppose this shame
must have a good reason. A dilettantism in nature is barren and
unworthy. The fop of fields is no better than his brother of Broadway.
Men are naturally hunters and inquisitive of wood-craft, and I suppose
that such a gazetteer as wood-cutters and Indians should furnish facts
for, would take place in the most sumptuous drawing-rooms of all the
"Wreaths" and "Flora's chaplets" of the bookshops; yet ordinarily,
whether we are too clumsy for so subtle a topic, or from whatever
cause, as soon as men begin to write on nature, they fall into euphuism.
Frivolity is a most unfit tribute to Pan, who ought to be represented
in the mythology as the most continent of gods. I would not be frivolous
before the admirable reserve and prudence of time, yet I cannot renounce
the right of returning often to this old topic. The multitude of false
churches accredits the true religion. Literature, poetry, science are
the homage of man to this unfathomed secret, concerning which no sane
man can affect an indifference or incuriosity. Nature is loved by what
is best in us. It is loved as the city of God, although, or rather
because there is no citizen. The sunset is unlike anything that is
underneath it: it wants men. And the beauty of nature must always seem
unreal and mocking, until the landscape has human figures that are
as good as itself. If there were good men, there would never be this
rapture in nature. If the king is in the palace, nobody looks at the
walls. It is when he is gone, and the house is filled with grooms and
gazers, that we turn from the people to find relief in the majestic men
that are suggested by the pictures and the architecture. The critics who
complain of the sickly separation of the beauty of nature from the
thing to be done, must consider that our hunting of the picturesque
is inseparable from our protest against false society. Man is fallen;
nature is erect, and serves as a differential thermometer, detecting
the presence or absence of the divine sentiment in man. By fault of our
dulness and selfishness we are looking up to nature, but when we are
convalescent, nature will look up to us. We see the foaming brook with
compunction: if our own life flowed with the right energy, we should
shame the brook. The stream of zeal sparkles with real fire, and not
with reflex rays of sun and moon. Nature may be as selfishly studied as
trade. Astronomy to the selfish becomes astrology; psychology, mesmerism
(with intent to show where our spoons are gone); and anatomy and
physiology become phrenology and palmistry.

But taking timely warning, and leaving many things unsaid on this
topic, let us not longer omit our homage to the Efficient Nature, natura
naturans, the quick cause before which all forms flee as the driven
snows; itself secret, its works driven before it in flocks and
multitudes, (as the ancient represented nature by Proteus, a shepherd,)
and in undescribable variety. It publishes itself in creatures, reaching
from particles and spiculae through transformation on transformation to
the highest symmetries, arriving at consummate results without a
shock or a leap. A little heat, that is a little motion, is all that
differences the bald, dazzling white and deadly cold poles of the earth
from the prolific tropical climates. All changes pass without violence,
by reason of the two cardinal conditions of boundless space and
boundless time. Geology has initiated us into the secularity of nature,
and taught us to disuse our dame-school measures, and exchange our
Mosaic and Ptolemaic schemes for her large style. We knew nothing
rightly, for want of perspective. Now we learn what patient periods
must round themselves before the rock is formed; then before the rock
is broken, and the first lichen race has disintegrated the thinnest
external plate into soil, and opened the door for the remote Flora,
Fauna, Ceres, and Pomona to come in. How far off yet is the trilobite!
how far the quadruped! how inconceivably remote is man! All duly arrive,
and then race after race of men. It is a long way from granite to the
oyster; farther yet to Plato and the preaching of the immortality of the
soul. Yet all must come, as surely as the first atom has two sides.

Motion or change and identity or rest are the first and second secrets
of nature:--Motion and Rest. The whole code of her laws may be written
on the thumbnail, or the signet of a ring. The whirling bubble on the
surface of a brook admits us to the secret of the mechanics of the sky.
Every shell on the beach is a key to it. A little water made to rotate
in a cup explains the formation of the simpler shells; the addition of
matter from year to year, arrives at last at the most complex forms; and
yet so poor is nature with all her craft, that from the beginning to the
end of the universe she has but one stuff,--but one stuff with its two
ends, to serve up all her dream-like variety. Compound it how she will,
star, sand, fire, water, tree, man, it is still one stuff, and betrays
the same properties.

Nature is always consistent, though she feigns to contravene her own
laws. She keeps her laws, and seems to transcend them. She arms and
equips an animal to find its place and living in the earth, and at the
same time she arms and equips another animal to destroy it. Space exists
to divide creatures; but by clothing the sides of a bird with a few
feathers she gives him a petty omnipresence. The direction is forever
onward, but the artist still goes back for materials and begins again
with the first elements on the most advanced stage: otherwise all goes
to ruin. If we look at her work, we seem to catch a glance of a system
in transition. Plants are the young of the world, vessels of health and
vigor; but they grope ever upward towards consciousness; the trees are
imperfect men, and seem to bemoan their imprisonment, rooted in the
ground. The animal is the novice and probationer of a more advanced
order. The men, though young, having tasted the first drop from the
cup of thought, are already dissipated: the maples and ferns are still
uncorrupt; yet no doubt when they come to consciousness they too will
curse and swear. Flowers so strictly belong to youth that we adult men
soon come to feel that their beautiful generations concern not us: we
have had our day; now let the children have theirs. The flowers jilt us,
and we are old bachelors with our ridiculous tenderness.

Things are so strictly related, that according to the skill of the
eye, from any one object the parts and properties of any other may be
predicted. If we had eyes to see it, a bit of stone from the city wall
would certify us of the necessity that man must exist, as readily as
the city. That identity makes us all one, and reduces to nothing great
intervals on our customary scale. We talk of deviations from natural
life, as if artificial life were not also natural. The smoothest curled
courtier in the boudoirs of a palace has an animal nature, rude and
aboriginal as a white bear, omnipotent to its own ends, and is
directly related, there amid essences and billetsdoux, to Himmaleh
mountain-chains and the axis of the globe. If we consider how much
we are nature's, we need not be superstitious about towns, as if that
terrific or benefic force did not find us there also, and fashion
cities. Nature, who made the mason, made the house. We may easily hear
too much of rural influences. The cool disengaged air of natural objects
makes them enviable to us, chafed and irritable creatures with red
faces, and we think we shall be as grand as they if we camp out and eat
roots; but let us be men instead of woodchucks and the oak and the elm
shall gladly serve us, though we sit in chairs of ivory on carpets of

This guiding identity runs through all the surprises and contrasts of
the piece, and characterizes every law. Man carries the world in his
head, the whole astronomy and chemistry suspended in a thought. Because
the history of nature is charactered in his brain, therefore is he
the prophet and discoverer of her secrets. Every known fact in natural
science was divined by the presentiment of somebody, before it was
actually verified. A man does not tie his shoe without recognizing laws
which bind the farthest regions of nature: moon, plant, gas, crystal,
are concrete geometry and numbers. Common sense knows its own, and
recognizes the fact at first sight in chemical experiment. The common
sense of Franklin, Dalton, Davy and Black, is the same common sense
which made the arrangements which now it discovers.

If the identity expresses organized rest, the counter action runs also
into organization. The astronomers said, 'Give us matter and a little
motion and we will construct the universe. It is not enough that we
should have matter, we must also have a single impulse, one shove
to launch the mass and generate the harmony of the centrifugal and
centripetal forces. Once heave the ball from the hand, and we can show
how all this mighty order grew.'--'A very unreasonable postulate,' said
the metaphysicians, 'and a plain begging of the question. Could you not
prevail to know the genesis of projection, as well as the continuation
of it?' Nature, meanwhile, had not waited for the discussion, but, right
or wrong, bestowed the impulse, and the balls rolled. It was no great
affair, a mere push, but the astronomers were right in making much of
it, for there is no end to the consequences of the act. That famous
aboriginal push propagates itself through all the balls of the
system, and through every atom of every ball; through all the races of
creatures, and through the history and performances of every individual.
Exaggeration is in the course of things. Nature sends no creature, no
man into the world without adding a small excess of his proper quality.
Given the planet, it is still necessary to add the impulse; so to every
creature nature added a little violence of direction in its proper path,
a shove to put it on its way; in every instance a slight generosity, a
drop too much. Without electricity the air would rot, and without this
violence of direction which men and women have, without a spice of bigot
and fanatic, no excitement, no efficiency. We aim above the mark to hit
the mark. Every act hath some falsehood of exaggeration in it. And when
now and then comes along some sad, sharp-eyed man, who sees how paltry a
game is played, and refuses to play, but blabs the secret;--how then? Is
the bird flown? O no, the wary Nature sends a new troop of fairer forms,
of lordlier youths, with a little more excess of direction to hold
them fast to their several aim; makes them a little wrongheaded in that
direction in which they are rightest, and on goes the game again with
new whirl, for a generation or two more. The child with his sweet
pranks, the fool of his senses, commanded by every sight and sound,
without any power to compare and rank his sensations, abandoned to
a whistle or a painted chip, to a lead dragoon or a gingerbread-dog,
individualizing everything, generalizing nothing, delighted with every
new thing, lies down at night overpowered by the fatigue which this day
of continual pretty madness has incurred. But Nature has answered her
purpose with the curly, dimpled lunatic. She has tasked every faculty,
and has secured the symmetrical growth of the bodily frame by all these
attitudes and exertions,--an end of the first importance, which could
not be trusted to any care less perfect than her own. This glitter, this
opaline lustre plays round the top of every toy to his eye to insure
his fidelity, and he is deceived to his good. We are made alive and kept
alive by the same arts. Let the stoics say what they please, we do
not eat for the good of living, but because the meat is savory and
the appetite is keen. The vegetable life does not content itself with
casting from the flower or the tree a single seed, but it fills the
air and earth with a prodigality of seeds, that, if thousands perish,
thousands may plant themselves; that hundreds may come up, that tens may
live to maturity; that at least one may replace the parent. All things
betray the same calculated profusion. The excess of fear with which the
animal frame is hedged round, shrinking from cold, starting at sight
of a snake, or at a sudden noise, protects us, through a multitude of
groundless alarms, from some one real danger at last. The lover seeks in
marriage his private felicity and perfection, with no prospective end;
and nature hides in his happiness her own end, namely, progeny, or the
perpetuity of the race.

But the craft with which the world is made, runs also into the mind and
character of men. No man is quite sane; each has a vein of folly in his
composition, a slight determination of blood to the head, to make sure
of holding him hard to some one point which nature had taken to heart.
Great causes are never tried on their merits; but the cause is reduced
to particulars to suit the size of the partisans, and the contention is
ever hottest on minor matters. Not less remarkable is the overfaith of
each man in the importance of what he has to do or say. The poet, the
prophet, has a higher value for what he utters than any hearer, and
therefore it gets spoken. The strong, self-complacent Luther declares
with an emphasis not to be mistaken, that "God himself cannot do without
wise men." Jacob Behmen and George Fox betray their egotism in the
pertinacity of their controversial tracts, and James Naylor once
suffered himself to be worshipped as the Christ. Each prophet comes
presently to identify himself with his thought, and to esteem his hat
and shoes sacred. However this may discredit such persons with the
judicious, it helps them with the people, as it gives heat, pungency,
and publicity to their words. A similar experience is not infrequent
in private life. Each young and ardent person writes a diary, in which,
when the hours of prayer and penitence arrive, he inscribes his soul.
The pages thus written are to him burning and fragrant; he reads them
on his knees by midnight and by the morning star; he wets them with his
tears; they are sacred; too good for the world, and hardly yet to be
shown to the dearest friend. This is the man-child that is born to the
soul, and her life still circulates in the babe. The umbilical cord
has not yet been cut. After some time has elapsed, he begins to wish to
admit his friend to this hallowed experience, and with hesitation, yet
with firmness, exposes the pages to his eye. Will they not burn his
eyes? The friend coldly turns them over, and passes from the writing to
conversation, with easy transition, which strikes the other party with
astonishment and vexation. He cannot suspect the writing itself. Days
and nights of fervid life, of communion with angels of darkness and of
light have engraved their shadowy characters on that tear-stained book.
He suspects the intelligence or the heart of his friend. Is there then
no friend? He cannot yet credit that one may have impressive experience
and yet may not know how to put his private fact into literature; and
perhaps the discovery that wisdom has other tongues and ministers than
we, that though we should hold our peace the truth would not the less be
spoken, might check injuriously the flames of our zeal. A man can
only speak so long as he does not feel his speech to be partial and
inadequate. It is partial, but he does not see it to be so whilst he
utters it. As soon as he is released from the instinctive and particular
and sees its partiality, he shuts his mouth in disgust. For no man can
write anything who does not think that what he writes is for the time
the history of the world; or do anything well who does not esteem his
work to be of importance. My work may be of none, but I must not think
it of none, or I shall not do it with impunity.

In like manner, there is throughout nature something mocking, something
that leads us on and on, but arrives nowhere; keeps no faith with
us. All promise outruns the performance. We live in a system of
approximations. Every end is prospective of some other end, which is
also temporary; a round and final success nowhere. We are encamped in
nature, not domesticated. Hunger and thirst lead us on to eat and to
drink; but bread and wine, mix and cook them how you will, leave us
hungry and thirsty, after the stomach is full. It is the same with all
our arts and performances. Our music, our poetry, our language itself
are not satisfactions, but suggestions. The hunger for wealth, which
reduces the planet to a garden, fools the eager pursuer. What is the end
sought? Plainly to secure the ends of good sense and beauty, from the
intrusion of deformity or vulgarity of any kind. But what an operose
method! What a train of means to secure a little conversation! This
palace of brick and stone, these servants, this kitchen, these stables,
horses and equipage, this bank-stock and file of mortgages; trade to all
the world, country-house and cottage by the waterside, all for a little
conversation, high, clear, and spiritual! Could it not be had as well
by beggars on the highway? No, all these things came from successive
efforts of these beggars to remove friction from the wheels of life, and
give opportunity. Conversation, character, were the avowed ends; wealth
was good as it appeased the animal cravings, cured the smoky chimney,
silenced the creaking door, brought friends together in a warm and
quiet room, and kept the children and the dinner-table in a different
apartment. Thought, virtue, beauty, were the ends; but it was known that
men of thought and virtue sometimes had the headache, or wet feet, or
could lose good time whilst the room was getting warm in winter days.
Unluckily, in the exertions necessary to remove these inconveniences,
the main attention has been diverted to this object; the old aims have
been lost sight of, and to remove friction has come to be the end. That
is the ridicule of rich men, and Boston, London, Vienna, and now the
governments generally of the world are cities and governments of the
rich; and the masses are not men, but poor men, that is, men who would
be rich; this is the ridicule of the class, that they arrive with pains
and sweat and fury nowhere; when all is done, it is for nothing. They
are like one who has interrupted the conversation of a company to make
his speech, and now has forgotten what he went to say. The appearance
strikes the eye everywhere of an aimless society, of aimless nations.
Were the ends of nature so great and cogent as to exact this immense
sacrifice of men?

Quite analogous to the deceits in life, there is, as might be expected,
a similar effect on the eye from the face of external nature. There is
in woods and waters a certain enticement and flattery, together with a
failure to yield a present satisfaction. This disappointment is felt
in every landscape. I have seen the softness and beauty of the summer
clouds floating feathery overhead, enjoying, as it seemed, their height
and privilege of motion, whilst yet they appeared not so much the
drapery of this place and hour, as forelooking to some pavilions and
gardens of festivity beyond. It is an odd jealousy, but the poet finds
himself not near enough to his object. The pine-tree, the river, the
bank of flowers before him, does not seem to be nature. Nature is still
elsewhere. This or this is but outskirt and far-off reflection and echo
of the triumph that has passed by and is now at its glancing splendor
and heyday, perchance in the neighboring fields, or, if you stand in
the field, then in the adjacent woods. The present object shall give you
this sense of stillness that follows a pageant which has just gone by.
What splendid distance, what recesses of ineffable pomp and loveliness
in the sunset! But who can go where they are, or lay his hand or plant
his foot thereon? Off they fall from the round world forever and ever.
It is the same among the men and women as among the silent trees; always
a referred existence, an absence, never a presence and satisfaction.
Is it that beauty can never be grasped? in persons and in landscape
is equally inaccessible? The accepted and betrothed lover has lost the
wildest charm of his maiden in her acceptance of him. She was heaven
whilst he pursued her as a star: she cannot be heaven if she stoops to
such a one as he.

What shall we say of this omnipresent appearance of that first
projectile impulse, of this flattery and balking of so many well-meaning
creatures? Must we not suppose somewhere in the universe a slight
treachery and derision? Are we not engaged to a serious resentment of
this use that is made of us? Are we tickled trout, and fools of nature?
One look at the face of heaven and earth lays all petulance at rest,
and soothes us to wiser convictions. To the intelligent, nature converts
itself into a vast promise, and will not be rashly explained. Her secret
is untold. Many and many an Oedipus arrives; he has the whole mystery
teeming in his brain. Alas! the same sorcery has spoiled his skill;
no syllable can he shape on his lips. Her mighty orbit vaults like the
fresh rainbow into the deep, but no archangel's wing was yet strong
enough to follow it and report of the return of the curve. But it
also appears that our actions are seconded and disposed to greater
conclusions than we designed. We are escorted on every hand through life
by spiritual agents, and a beneficent purpose lies in wait for us.
We cannot bandy words with Nature, or deal with her as we deal with
persons. If we measure our individual forces against hers we may easily
feel as if we were the sport of an insuperable destiny. But if, instead
of identifying ourselves with the work, we feel that the soul of the
workman streams through us, we shall find the peace of the morning
dwelling first in our hearts, and the fathomless powers of gravity
and chemistry, and, over them, of life, preexisting within us in their
highest form.

The uneasiness which the thought of our helplessness in the chain of
causes occasions us, results from looking too much at one condition
of nature, namely, Motion. But the drag is never taken from the wheel.
Wherever the impulse exceeds, the Rest or Identity insinuates its
compensation. All over the wide fields of earth grows the prunella or
self-heal. After every foolish day we sleep off the fumes and furies of
its hours; and though we are always engaged with particulars, and
often enslaved to them, we bring with us to every experiment the innate
universal laws. These, while they exist in the mind as ideas, stand
around us in nature forever embodied, a present sanity to expose and
cure the insanity of men. Our servitude to particulars betrays into a
hundred foolish expectations. We anticipate a new era from the invention
of a locomotive, or a balloon; the new engine brings with it the old
checks. They say that by electro-magnetism your salad shall be grown
from the seed whilst your fowl is roasting for dinner; it is a symbol of
our modern aims and endeavors, of our condensation and acceleration of
objects;--but nothing is gained; nature cannot be cheated; man's life
is but seventy salads long, grow they swift or grow they slow. In these
checks and impossibilities however we find our advantage, not less than
in the impulses. Let the victory fall where it will, we are on that
side. And the knowledge that we traverse the whole scale of being,
from the centre to the poles of nature, and have some stake in every
possibility, lends that sublime lustre to death, which philosophy and
religion have too outwardly and literally striven to express in the
popular doctrine of the immortality of the soul. The reality is more
excellent than the report. Here is no ruin, no discontinuity, no spent
ball. The divine circulations never rest nor linger. Nature is the
incarnation of a thought, and turns to a thought again, as ice becomes
water and gas. The world is mind precipitated, and the volatile essence
is forever escaping again into the state of free thought. Hence the
virtue and pungency of the influence on the mind of natural objects,
whether inorganic or organized. Man imprisoned, man crystallized,
man vegetative, speaks to man impersonated. That power which does not
respect quantity, which makes the whole and the particle its equal
channel, delegates its smile to the morning, and distils its essence
into every drop of rain. Every moment instructs, and every object: for
wisdom is infused into every form. It has been poured into us as blood;
it convulsed us as pain; it slid into us as pleasure; it enveloped us
in dull, melancholy days, or in days of cheerful labor; we did not guess
its essence until after a long time.



     Gold and iron are good
     To buy iron and gold;
     All earth's fleece and food
     For their like are sold.
     Boded Merlin wise,
     Proved Napoleon great,--
     Nor kind nor coinage buys
     Aught above its rate.
     Fear, Craft, and Avarice
     Cannot rear a State.
     Out of dust to build
     What is more than dust,--
     Walls Amphion piled
     Phoebus stablish must.
     When the Muses nine
     With the Virtues meet,
     Find to their design
     An Atlantic seat,
     By green orchard boughs
     Fended from the heat,
     Where the statesman ploughs
     Furrow for the wheat;
     When the Church is social worth,
     When the state-house is the hearth,
     Then the perfect State is come,
     The republican at home.


In dealing with the State we ought to remember that its institution are
not aboriginal, though they existed before we were born; that they are
not superior to the citizen; that every one of them was once the act
of a single man; every law and usage was a man's expedient to meet a
particular case; that they all are imitable, all alterable; we may
make as good, we may make better. Society is an illusion to the young
citizen. It lies before him in rigid repose, with certain names, men
and institutions rooted like oak-trees to the centre, round which all
arrange themselves the best they can. But the old statesman knows that
society is fluid; there are no such roots and centres, but any particle
may suddenly become the centre of the movement and compel the system
to gyrate round it; as every man of strong will, like Pisistratus, or
Cromwell, does for a time, and every man of truth, like Plato or Paul,
does forever. But politics rest on necessary foundations, and cannot be
treated with levity. Republics abound in young civilians, who believe
that the laws make the city, that grave modifications of the policy
and modes of living and employments of the population, that commerce,
education, and religion, may be voted in or out; and that any measure,
though it were absurd, may be imposed on a people if only you can get
sufficient voices to make it a law. But the wise know that foolish
legislation is a rope of sand which perishes in the twisting; that
the State must follow and not lead the character and progress of the
citizen; the strongest usurper is quickly got rid of; and they only
who build on Ideas, build for eternity; and that the form of government
which prevails is the expression of what cultivation exists in the
population which permits it. The law is only a memorandum. We are
superstitious, and esteem the statute somewhat: so much life as it has
in the character of living men is its force. The statute stands there to
say, Yesterday we agreed so and so, but how feel ye this article to-day?
Our statute is a currency which we stamp with our own portrait: it soon
becomes unrecognizable, and in process of time will return to the mint.
Nature is not democratic, nor limited-monarchical, but despotic, and
will not be fooled or abated of any jot of her authority by the
pertest of her sons; and as fast as the public mind is opened to more
intelligence, the code is seen to be brute and stammering. It speaks not
articulately, and must be made to. Meantime the education of the general
mind never stops. The reveries of the true and simple are prophetic.
What the tender poetic youth dreams, and prays, and paints to-day, but
shuns the ridicule of saying aloud, shall presently be the resolutions
of public bodies; then shall be carried as grievance and bill of
rights through conflict and war, and then shall be triumphant law and
establishment for a hundred years, until it gives place in turn to
new prayers and pictures. The history of the State sketches in coarse
outline the progress of thought, and follows at a distance the delicacy
of culture and of aspiration.

The theory of politics which has possessed the mind of men, and which
they have expressed the best they could in their laws and in their
revolutions, considers persons and property as the two objects for whose
protection government exists. Of persons, all have equal rights, in
virtue of being identical in nature. This interest of course with its
whole power demands a democracy. Whilst the rights of all as persons are
equal, in virtue of their access to reason, their rights in property are
very unequal. One man owns his clothes, and another owns a county. This
accident, depending primarily on the skill and virtue of the parties,
of which there is every degree, and secondarily on patrimony, falls
unequally, and its rights of course are unequal. Personal rights,
universally the same, demand a government framed on the ratio of the
census; property demands a government framed on the ratio of owners and
of owning. Laban, who has flocks and herds, wishes them looked after by
an officer on the frontiers, lest the Midianites shall drive them off;
and pays a tax to that end. Jacob has no flocks or herds and no fear of
the Midianites, and pays no tax to the officer. It seemed fit that Laban
and Jacob should have equal rights to elect the officer who is to defend
their persons, but that Laban and not Jacob should elect the officer
who is to guard the sheep and cattle. And if question arise whether
additional officers or watch-towers should be provided, must not Laban
and Isaac, and those who must sell part of their herds to buy protection
for the rest, judge better of this, and with more right, than Jacob,
who, because he is a youth and a traveller, eats their bread and not his

In the earliest society the proprietors made their own wealth, and so
long as it comes to the owners in the direct way, no other opinion would
arise in any equitable community than that property should make the law
for property, and persons the law for persons.

But property passes through donation or inheritance to those who do not
create it. Gift, in one case, makes it as really the new owner's, as
labor made it the first owner's: in the other case, of patrimony, the
law makes an ownership which will be valid in each man's view according
to the estimate which he sets on the public tranquillity.

It was not however found easy to embody the readily admitted principle
that property should make law for property, and persons for persons;
since persons and property mixed themselves in every transaction.
At last it seemed settled that the rightful distinction was that the
proprietors should have more elective franchise than non-proprietors,
on the Spartan principle of "calling that which is just, equal; not that
which is equal, just."

That principle no longer looks so self-evident as it appeared in former
times, partly, because doubts have arisen whether too much weight had
not been allowed in the laws to property, and such a structure given to
our usages as allowed the rich to encroach on the poor, and to keep them
poor; but mainly because there is an instinctive sense, however obscure
and yet inarticulate, that the whole constitution of property, on
its present tenures, is injurious, and its influence on persons
deteriorating and degrading; that truly the only interest for the
consideration of the State is persons; that property will always follow
persons; that the highest end of government is the culture of men; and
if men can be educated, the institutions will share their improvement
and the moral sentiment will write the law of the land.

If it be not easy to settle the equity of this question, the peril is
less when we take note of our natural defences. We are kept by better
guards than the vigilance of such magistrates as we commonly elect.
Society always consists in greatest part of young and foolish persons.
The old, who have seen through the hypocrisy of courts and statesmen,
die and leave no wisdom to their sons. They believe their own newspaper,
as their fathers did at their age. With such an ignorant and deceivable
majority, States would soon run to ruin, but that there are limitations
beyond which the folly and ambition of governors cannot go. Things
have their laws, as well as men; and things refuse to be trifled with.
Property will be protected. Corn will not grow unless it is planted and
manured; but the farmer will not plant or hoe it unless the chances
are a hundred to one that he will cut and harvest it. Under any forms,
persons and property must and will have their just sway. They exert
their power, as steadily as matter its attraction. Cover up a pound of
earth never so cunningly, divide and subdivide it; melt it to liquid,
convert it to gas; it will always weigh a pound; it will always attract
and resist other matter by the full virtue of one pound weight:--and
the attributes of a person, his wit and his moral energy, will exercise,
under any law or extinguishing tyranny, their proper force,--if not
overtly, then covertly; if not for the law, then against it; if not
wholesomely, then poisonously; with right, or by might.

The boundaries of personal influence it is impossible to fix, as persons
are organs of moral or supernatural force. Under the dominion of an
idea which possesses the minds of multitudes, as civil freedom, or the
religious sentiment, the powers of persons are no longer subjects of
calculation. A nation of men unanimously bent on freedom or conquest
can easily confound the arithmetic of statists, and achieve extravagant
actions, out of all proportion to their means; as the Greeks, the
Saracens, the Swiss, the Americans, and the French have done.

In like manner to every particle of property belongs its own attraction.
A cent is the representative of a certain quantity of corn or other
commodity. Its value is in the necessities of the animal man. It is so
much warmth, so much bread, so much water, so much land. The law may
do what it will with the owner of property; its just power will still
attach to the cent. The law may in a mad freak say that all shall
have power except the owners of property; they shall have no vote.
Nevertheless, by a higher law, the property will, year after year, write
every statute that respects property. The non-proprietor will be the
scribe of the proprietor. What the owners wish to do, the whole power of
property will do, either through the law or else in defiance of it. Of
course I speak of all the property, not merely of the great estates.
When the rich are outvoted, as frequently happens, it is the joint
treasury of the poor which exceeds their accumulations. Every man owns
something, if it is only a cow, or a wheel-barrow, or his arms, and so
has that property to dispose of.

The same necessity which secures the rights of person and property
against the malignity or folly of the magistrate, determines the form
and methods of governing, which are proper to each nation and to its
habit of thought, and nowise transferable to other states of society. In
this country we are very vain of our political institutions, which are
singular in this, that they sprung, within the memory of living men,
from the character and condition of the people, which they still express
with sufficient fidelity,--and we ostentatiously prefer them to any
other in history. They are not better, but only fitter for us. We may be
wise in asserting the advantage in modern times of the democratic
form, but to other states of society, in which religion consecrated the
monarchical, that and not this was expedient. Democracy is better for
us, because the religious sentiment of the present time accords better
with it. Born democrats, we are nowise qualified to judge of monarchy,
which, to our fathers living in the monarchical idea, was also
relatively right. But our institutions, though in coincidence with the
spirit of the age, have not any exemption from the practical defects
which have discredited other forms. Every actual State is corrupt. Good
men must not obey the laws too well. What satire on government can equal
the severity of censure conveyed in the word politic, which now for ages
has signified cunning, intimating that the State is a trick?

The same benign necessity and the same practical abuse appear in
the parties, into which each State divides itself, of opponents and
defenders of the administration of the government. Parties are also
founded on instincts, and have better guides to their own humble aims
than the sagacity of their leaders. They have nothing perverse in their
origin, but rudely mark some real and lasting relation. We might as
wisely reprove the east wind or the frost, as a political party, whose
members, for the most part, could give no account of their position, but
stand for the defence of those interests in which they find themselves.
Our quarrel with them begins when they quit this deep natural ground at
the bidding of some leader, and obeying personal considerations, throw
themselves into the maintenance and defence of points nowise belonging
to their system. A party is perpetually corrupted by personality. Whilst
we absolve the association from dishonesty, we cannot extend the same
charity to their leaders. They reap the rewards of the docility and zeal
of the masses which they direct. Ordinarily our parties are parties of
circumstance, and not of principle; as the planting interest in conflict
with the commercial; the party of capitalists and that of operatives;
parties which are identical in their moral character, and which can
easily change ground with each other in the support of many of their
measures. Parties of principle, as, religious sects, or the party of
free-trade, of universal suffrage, of abolition of slavery, of abolition
of capital punishment,--degenerate into personalities, or would inspire
enthusiasm. The vice of our leading parties in this country (which may
be cited as a fair specimen of these societies of opinion) is that they
do not plant themselves on the deep and necessary grounds to which they
are respectively entitled, but lash themselves to fury in the carrying
of some local and momentary measure, nowise useful to the commonwealth.
Of the two great parties which at this hour almost share the nation
between them, I should say that one has the best cause, and the other
contains the best men. The philosopher, the poet, or the religious man
will of course wish to cast his vote with the democrat, for free-trade,
for wide suffrage, for the abolition of legal cruelties in the penal
code, and for facilitating in every manner the access of the young and
the poor to the sources of wealth and power. But he can rarely
accept the persons whom the so-called popular party propose to him as
representatives of these liberalities. They have not at heart the ends
which give to the name of democracy what hope and virtue are in it. The
spirit of our American radicalism is destructive and aimless: it is not
loving; it has no ulterior and divine ends, but is destructive only out
of hatred and selfishness. On the other side, the conservative party,
composed of the most moderate, able, and cultivated part of the
population, is timid, and merely defensive of property. It vindicates
no right, it aspires to no real good, it brands no crime, it proposes no
generous policy; it does not build, nor write, nor cherish the arts,
nor foster religion, nor establish schools, nor encourage science,
nor emancipate the slave, nor befriend the poor, or the Indian, or the
immigrant. From neither party, when in power, has the world any benefit
to expect in science, art, or humanity, at all commensurate with the
resources of the nation.

I do not for these defects despair of our republic. We are not at the
mercy of any waves of chance. In the strife of ferocious parties, human
nature always finds itself cherished; as the children of the convicts
at Botany Bay are found to have as healthy a moral sentiment as other
children. Citizens of feudal states are alarmed at our democratic
institutions lapsing into anarchy, and the older and more cautious among
ourselves are learning from Europeans to look with some terror at our
turbulent freedom. It is said that in our license of construing the
Constitution, and in the despotism of public opinion, we have no anchor;
and one foreign observer thinks he has found the safeguard in the
sanctity of Marriage among us; and another thinks he has found it in our
Calvinism. Fisher Ames expressed the popular security more wisely,
when he compared a monarchy and a republic, saying that a monarchy is a
merchantman, which sails well, but will sometimes strike on a rock and
go to the bottom; whilst a republic is a raft, which would never sink,
but then your feet are always in water. No forms can have any dangerous
importance whilst we are befriended by the laws of things. It makes no
difference how many tons weight of atmosphere presses on our heads, so
long as the same pressure resists it within the lungs. Augment the mass
a thousand fold, it cannot begin to crush us, as long as reaction is
equal to action. The fact of two poles, of two forces, centripetal and
centrifugal, is universal, and each force by its own activity develops
the other. Wild liberty develops iron conscience. Want of liberty,
by strengthening law and decorum, stupefies conscience. 'Lynch-law'
prevails only where there is greater hardihood and self-subsistency in
the leaders. A mob cannot be a permanency; everybody's interest requires
that it should not exist, and only justice satisfies all.

We must trust infinitely to the beneficent necessity which
shines through all laws. Human nature expresses itself in them as
characteristically as in statues, or songs, or railroads; and an
abstract of the codes of nations would be a transcript of the common
conscience. Governments have their origin in the moral identity of men.
Reason for one is seen to be reason for another, and for every other.
There is a middle measure which satisfies all parties, be they never so
many or so resolute for their own. Every man finds a sanction for his
simplest claims and deeds in decisions of his own mind, which he calls
Truth and Holiness. In these decisions all the citizens find a perfect
agreement, and only in these; not in what is good to eat, good to wear,
good use of time, or what amount of land or of public aid, each is
entitled to claim. This truth and justice men presently endeavor to make
application of to the measuring of land, the apportionment of service,
the protection of life and property. Their first endeavors, no doubt,
are very awkward. Yet absolute right is the first governor; or, every
government is an impure theocracy. The idea after which each community
is aiming to make and mend its law, is the will of the wise man. The
wise man it cannot find in nature, and it makes awkward but earnest
efforts to secure his government by contrivance; as by causing the
entire people to give their voices on every measure; or by a double
choice to get the representation of the whole; or, by a selection of the
best citizens; or to secure the advantages of efficiency and internal
peace by confiding the government to one, who may himself select his
agents. All forms of government symbolize an immortal government, common
to all dynasties and independent of numbers, perfect where two men
exist, perfect where there is only one man.

Every man's nature is a sufficient advertisement to him of the character
of his fellows. My right and my wrong is their right and their wrong.
Whilst I do what is fit for me, and abstain from what is unfit, my
neighbor and I shall often agree in our means, and work together for
a time to one end. But whenever I find my dominion over myself not
sufficient for me, and undertake the direction of him also, I overstep
the truth, and come into false relations to him. I may have so much more
skill or strength than he that he cannot express adequately his sense of
wrong, but it is a lie, and hurts like a lie both him and me. Love
and nature cannot maintain the assumption; it must be executed by a
practical lie, namely by force. This undertaking for another is the
blunder which stands in colossal ugliness in the governments of the
world. It is the same thing in numbers, as in a pair, only not quite
so intelligible. I can see well enough a great difference between my
setting myself down to a self-control, and my going to make somebody
else act after my views; but when a quarter of the human race assume to
tell me what I must do, I may be too much disturbed by the circumstances
to see so clearly the absurdity of their command. Therefore all public
ends look vague and quixotic beside private ones. For any laws but those
which men make for themselves, are laughable. If I put myself in the
place of my child, and we stand in one thought and see that things are
thus or thus, that perception is law for him and me. We are both there,
both act. But if, without carrying him into the thought, I look over
into his plot, and, guessing how it is with him, ordain this or that,
he will never obey me. This is the history of governments,--one man does
something which is to bind another. A man who cannot be acquainted with
me, taxes me; looking from afar at me ordains that a part of my labor
shall go to this or that whimsical end,--not as I, but as he happens to
fancy. Behold the consequence. Of all debts men are least willing to pay
the taxes. What a satire is this on government! Everywhere they think
they get their money's worth, except for these.

Hence the less government we have the better,--the fewer laws, and the
less confided power. The antidote to this abuse of formal Government is
the influence of private character, the growth of the Individual; the
appearance of the principal to supersede the proxy; the appearance of
the wise man; of whom the existing government is, it must be owned, but
a shabby imitation. That which all things tend to educe; which freedom,
cultivation, intercourse, revolutions, go to form and deliver, is
character; that is the end of Nature, to reach unto this coronation
of her king. To educate the wise man the State exists, and with
the appearance of the wise man the State expires. The appearance of
character makes the State unnecessary. The wise man is the State. He
needs no army, fort, or navy,--he loves men too well; no bribe,
or feast, or palace, to draw friends to him; no vantage ground, no
favorable circumstance. He needs no library, for he has not done
thinking; no church, for he is a prophet; no statute book, for he has
the lawgiver; no money, for he is value; no road, for he is at home
where he is; no experience, for the life of the creator shoots through
him, and looks from his eyes. He has no personal friends, for he who
has the spell to draw the prayer and piety of all men unto him needs not
husband and educate a few to share with him a select and poetic life.
His relation to men is angelic; his memory is myrrh to them; his
presence, frankincense and flowers.

We think our civilization near its meridian, but we are yet only at
the cock-crowing and the morning star. In our barbarous society the
influence of character is in its infancy. As a political power, as
the rightful lord who is to tumble all rulers from their chairs, its
presence is hardly yet suspected. Malthus and Ricardo quite omit it; the
Annual Register is silent; in the Conversations' Lexicon it is not set
down; the President's Message, the Queen's Speech, have not mentioned
it; and yet it is never nothing. Every thought which genius and piety
throw into the world, alters the world. The gladiators in the lists
of power feel, through all their frocks of force and simulation, the
presence of worth. I think the very strife of trade and ambition are
confession of this divinity; and successes in those fields are the poor
amends, the fig-leaf with which the shamed soul attempts to hide its
nakedness. I find the like unwilling homage in all quarters. It is
because we know how much is due from us that we are impatient to
show some petty talent as a substitute for worth. We are haunted by a
conscience of this right to grandeur of character, and are false to it.
But each of us has some talent, can do somewhat useful, or graceful,
or formidable, or amusing, or lucrative. That we do, as an apology to
others and to ourselves for not reaching the mark of a good and equal
life. But it does not satisfy us, whilst we thrust it on the notice of
our companions. It may throw dust in their eyes, but does not smooth our
own brow, or give us the tranquillity of the strong when we walk abroad.
We do penance as we go. Our talent is a sort of expiation, and we
are constrained to reflect on our splendid moment with a certain
humiliation, as somewhat too fine, and not as one act of many acts, a
fair expression of our permanent energy. Most persons of ability meet
in society with a kind of tacit appeal. Each seems to say, 'I am not all
here.' Senators and presidents have climbed so high with pain enough,
not because they think the place specially agreeable, but as an apology
for real worth, and to vindicate their manhood in our eyes. This
conspicuous chair is their compensation to themselves for being of a
poor, cold, hard nature. They must do what they can. Like one class
of forest animals, they have nothing but a prehensile tail; climb they
must, or crawl. If a man found himself so rich-natured that he could
enter into strict relations with the best persons and make life serene
around him by the dignity and sweetness of his behavior, could he afford
to circumvent the favor of the caucus and the press, and covet relations
so hollow and pompous as those of a politician? Surely nobody would be a
charlatan who could afford to be sincere.

The tendencies of the times favor the idea of self-government, and leave
the individual, for all code, to the rewards and penalties of his own
constitution; which work with more energy than we believe whilst we
depend on artificial restraints. The movement in this direction has been
very marked in modern history. Much has been blind and discreditable,
but the nature of the revolution is not affected by the vices of the
revolters; for this is a purely moral force. It was never adopted by any
party in history, neither can be. It separates the individual from
all party, and unites him at the same time to the race. It promises
a recognition of higher rights than those of personal freedom, or the
security of property. A man has a right to be employed, to be trusted,
to be loved, to be revered. The power of love, as the basis of a State,
has never been tried. We must not imagine that all things are lapsing
into confusion if every tender protestant be not compelled to bear his
part in certain social conventions; nor doubt that roads can be built,
letters carried, and the fruit of labor secured, when the government
of force is at an end. Are our methods now so excellent that all
competition is hopeless? could not a nation of friends even devise
better ways? On the other hand, let not the most conservative and timid
fear anything from a premature surrender of the bayonet and the system
of force. For, according to the order of nature, which is quite superior
to our will, it stands thus; there will always be a government of force
where men are selfish; and when they are pure enough to abjure the code
of force they will be wise enough to see how these public ends of the
post-office, of the highway, of commerce and the exchange of property,
of museums and libraries, of institutions of art and science can be

We live in a very low state of the world, and pay unwilling tribute to
governments founded on force. There is not, among the most religious and
instructed men of the most religious and civil nations, a reliance on
the moral sentiment and a sufficient belief in the unity of things,
to persuade them that society can be maintained without artificial
restraints, as well as the solar system; or that the private citizen
might be reasonable and a good neighbor, without the hint of a jail or a
confiscation. What is strange too, there never was in any man sufficient
faith in the power of rectitude to inspire him with the broad design of
renovating the State on the principle of right and love. All those
who have pretended this design have been partial reformers, and have
admitted in some manner the supremacy of the bad State. I do not call to
mind a single human being who has steadily denied the authority of the
laws, on the simple ground of his own moral nature. Such designs, full
of genius and full of fate as they are, are not entertained except
avowedly as air-pictures. If the individual who exhibits them dare to
think them practicable, he disgusts scholars and churchmen; and men of
talent and women of superior sentiments cannot hide their contempt.
Not the less does nature continue to fill the heart of youth with
suggestions of this enthusiasm, and there are now men,--if indeed I can
speak in the plural number,--more exactly, I will say, I have just been
conversing with one man, to whom no weight of adverse experience will
make it for a moment appear impossible that thousands of human beings
might exercise towards each other the grandest and simplest sentiments,
as well as a knot of friends, or a pair of lovers.



     In countless upward-striving waves
     The moon-drawn tide-wave strives:
     In thousand far-transplanted grafts
     The parent fruit survives;
     So, in the new-born millions,
     The perfect Adam lives.
     Not less are summer-mornings dear
     To every child they wake,
     And each with novel life his sphere
     Fills for his proper sake.


I CANNOT often enough say that a man is only a relative and
representative nature. Each is a hint of the truth, but far enough from
being that truth which yet he quite newly and inevitably suggests to us.
If I seek it in him I shall not find it. Could any man conduct into me
the pure stream of that which he pretends to be! Long afterwards I
find that quality elsewhere which he promised me. The genius of the
Platonists is intoxicating to the student, yet how few particulars of
it can I detach from all their books. The man momentarily stands for
the thought, but will not bear examination; and a society of men will
cursorily represent well enough a certain quality and culture, for
example, chivalry or beauty of manners; but separate them and there is
no gentleman and no lady in the group. The least hint sets us on the
pursuit of a character which no man realizes. We have such exorbitant
eyes that on seeing the smallest arc we complete the curve, and when the
curtain is lifted from the diagram which it seemed to veil, we are vexed
to find that no more was drawn than just that fragment of an arc which
we first beheld. We are greatly too liberal in our construction of each
other's faculty and promise. Exactly what the parties have already done
they shall do again; but that which we inferred from their nature and
inception, they will not do. That is in nature, but not in them. That
happens in the world, which we often witness in a public debate. Each
of the speakers expresses himself imperfectly; no one of them hears much
that another says, such is the preoccupation of mind of each; and the
audience, who have only to hear and not to speak, judge very wisely and
superiorly how wrongheaded and unskilful is each of the debaters to his
own affair. Great men or men of great gifts you shall easily find,
but symmetrical men never. When I meet a pure intellectual force or a
generosity of affection, I believe here then is man; and am presently
mortified by the discovery that this individual is no more available to
his own or to the general ends than his companions; because the power
which drew my respect is not supported by the total symphony of his
talents. All persons exist to society by some shining trait of beauty or
utility which they have. We borrow the proportions of the man from that
one fine feature, and finish the portrait symmetrically; which is false,
for the rest of his body is small or deformed. I observe a person who
makes a good public appearance, and conclude thence the perfection of
his private character, on which this is based; but he has no private
character. He is a graceful cloak or lay-figure for holidays. All our
poets, heroes, and saints, fail utterly in some one or in many parts to
satisfy our idea, fail to draw our spontaneous interest, and so leave us
without any hope of realization but in our own future. Our exaggeration
of all fine characters arises from the fact that we identify each in
turn with the soul. But there are no such men as we fable; no Jesus, nor
Pericles, nor Caesar, nor Angelo, nor Washington, such as we have made.
We consecrate a great deal of nonsense because it was allowed by great
men. There is none without his foible. I verily believe if an angel
should come to chant the chorus of the moral law, he would eat too much
gingerbread, or take liberties with private letters, or do some precious
atrocity. It is bad enough that our geniuses cannot do anything useful,
but it is worse that no man is fit for society who has fine traits. He
is admired at a distance, but he cannot come near without appearing a
cripple. The men of fine parts protect themselves by solitude, or by
courtesy, or by satire, or by an acid worldly manner, each concealing as
he best can his incapacity for useful association, but they want either
love or self-reliance.

Our native love of reality joins with this experience to teach us a
little reserve, and to dissuade a too sudden surrender to the brilliant
qualities of persons. Young people admire talents or particular
excellences; as we grow older we value total powers and effects, as the
impression, the quality, the spirit of men and things. The genius is
all. The man,--it is his system: we do not try a solitary word or act,
but his habit. The acts which you praise, I praise not, since they are
departures from his faith, and are mere compliances. The magnetism which
arranges tribes and races in one polarity is alone to be respected; the
men are steel-filings. Yet we unjustly select a particle, and say,
'O steel-filing number one! what heart-drawings I feel to thee! what
prodigious virtues are these of thine! how constitutional to thee, and
incommunicable.' Whilst we speak the loadstone is withdrawn; down falls
our filing in a heap with the rest, and we continue our mummery to the
wretched shaving. Let us go for universals; for the magnetism, not for
the needles. Human life and its persons are poor empirical pretensions.
A personal influence is an ignis fatuus. If they say it is great, it is
great; if they say it is small, it is small; you see it, and you see it
not, by turns; it borrows all its size from the momentary estimation of
the speakers: the Will-of-the-wisp vanishes if you go too near, vanishes
if you go too far, and only blazes at one angle. Who can tell if
Washington be a great man or no? Who can tell if Franklin be? Yes, or
any but the twelve, or six, or three great gods of fame? And they too
loom and fade before the eternal.

We are amphibious creatures, weaponed for two elements, having two sets
of faculties, the particular and the catholic. We adjust our instrument
for general observation, and sweep the heavens as easily as we pick out
a single figure in the terrestrial landscape. We are practically skilful
in detecting elements for which we have no place in our theory, and no
name. Thus we are very sensible of an atmospheric influence in men and
in bodies of men, not accounted for in an arithmetical addition of all
their measurable properties. There is a genius of a nation, which is
not to be found in the numerical citizens, but which characterizes the
society. England, strong, punctual, practical, well-spoken England
I should not find if I should go to the island to seek it. In the
parliament, in the play-house, at dinner-tables, I might see a great
number of rich, ignorant, book-read, conventional, proud men,--many
old women,--and not anywhere the Englishman who made the good speeches,
combined the accurate engines, and did the bold and nervous deeds. It
is even worse in America, where, from the intellectual quickness of the
race, the genius of the country is more splendid in its promise and more
slight in its performance. Webster cannot do the work of Webster. We
conceive distinctly enough the French, the Spanish, the German genius,
and it is not the less real that perhaps we should not meet in either
of those nations a single individual who corresponded with the type. We
infer the spirit of the nation in great measure from the language, which
is a sort of monument to which each forcible individual in a course of
many hundred years has contributed a stone. And, universally, a good
example of this social force is the veracity of language, which cannot
be debauched. In any controversy concerning morals, an appeal may be
made with safety to the sentiments which the language of the people
expresses. Proverbs, words, and grammar-inflections convey the public
sense with more purity and precision than the wisest individual.

In the famous dispute with the Nominalists, the Realists had a good deal
of reason. General ideas are essences. They are our gods: they round
and ennoble the most partial and sordid way of living. Our proclivity
to details cannot quite degrade our life and divest it of poetry. The
day-laborer is reckoned as standing at the foot of the social scale, yet
he is saturated with the laws of the world. His measures are the hours;
morning and night, solstice and equinox, geometry, astronomy and all
the lovely accidents of nature play through his mind. Money, which
represents the prose of life, and which is hardly spoken of in parlors
without an apology, is, in its effects and laws, as beautiful as roses.
Property keeps the accounts of the world, and is always moral. The
property will be found where the labor, the wisdom, and the virtue have
been in nations, in classes, and (the whole life-time considered, with
the compensations) in the individual also. How wise the world appears,
when the laws and usages of nations are largely detailed, and the
completeness of the municipal system is considered! Nothing is left
out. If you go into the markets and the custom-houses, the insurers' and
notaries' offices, the offices of sealers of weights and measures, of
inspection of provisions,--it will appear as if one man had made it
all. Wherever you go, a wit like your own has been before you, and
has realized its thought. The Eleusinian mysteries, the Egyptian
architecture, the Indian astronomy, the Greek sculpture, show that there
always were seeing and knowing men in the planet. The world is full of
masonic ties, of guilds, of secret and public legions of honor; that
of scholars, for example; and that of gentlemen, fraternizing with the
upper class of every country and every culture.

I am very much struck in literature by the appearance that one person
wrote all the books; as if the editor of a journal planted his body of
reporters in different parts of the field of action, and relieved some
by others from time to time; but there is such equality and identity
both of judgment and point of view in the narrative that it is plainly
the work of one all-seeing, all-hearing gentleman. I looked into Pope's
Odyssey yesterday: it is as correct and elegant after our canon of
to-day as if it were newly written. The modernness of all good books
seems to give me an existence as wide as man. What is well done I feel
as if I did; what is ill done I reck not of. Shakspeare's passages of
passion (for example, in Lear and Hamlet) are in the very dialect of the
present year. I am faithful again to the whole over the members in my
use of books. I find the most pleasure in reading a book in a manner
least flattering to the author. I read Proclus, and sometimes Plato, as
I might read a dictionary, for a mechanical help to the fancy and the
imagination. I read for the lustres, as if one should use a fine picture
in a chromatic experiment, for its rich colors. 'Tis not Proclus, but a
piece of nature and fate that I explore. It is a greater joy to see
the author's author, than himself. A higher pleasure of the same kind I
found lately at a concert, where I went to hear Handel's Messiah. As the
master overpowered the littleness and incapableness of the performers
and made them conductors of his electricity, so it was easy to observe
what efforts nature was making, through so many hoarse, wooden, and
imperfect persons, to produce beautiful voices, fluid and soul-guided
men and women. The genius of nature was paramount at the oratorio.

This preference of the genius to the parts is the secret of that
deification of art, which is found in all superior minds. Art, in the
artist, is proportion, or a habitual respect to the whole by an eye
loving beauty in details. And the wonder and charm of it is the sanity
in insanity which it denotes. Proportion is almost impossible to human
beings. There is no one who does not exaggerate. In conversation, men
are encumbered with personality, and talk too much. In modern sculpture,
picture, and poetry, the beauty is miscellaneous; the artist works here
and there and at all points, adding and adding, instead of unfolding the
unit of his thought. Beautiful details we must have, or no artist; but
they must be means and never other. The eye must not lose sight for a
moment of the purpose. Lively boys write to their ear and eye, and the
cool reader finds nothing but sweet jingles in it. When they grow older,
they respect the argument.

We obey the same intellectual integrity when we study in exceptions the
law of the world. Anomalous facts, as the never quite obsolete rumors
of magic and demonology, and the new allegations of phrenologists and
neurologists, are of ideal use. They are good indications. Homoeopathy
is insignificant as an art of healing, but of great value as criticism
on the hygeia or medical practice of the time. So with Mesmerism,
Swedenborgism, Fourierism, and the Millennial Church; they are poor
pretensions enough, but good criticism on the science, philosophy, and
preaching of the day. For these abnormal insights of the adepts ought to
be normal, and things of course.

All things show us that on every side we are very near to the best.
It seems not worth while to execute with too much pains some one
intellectual, or aesthetical, or civil feat, when presently the dream
will scatter, and we shall burst into universal power. The reason of
idleness and of crime is the deferring of our hopes. Whilst we are
waiting we beguile the time with jokes, with sleep, with eating, and
with crimes.

Thus we settle it in our cool libraries, that all the agents with which
we deal are subalterns, which we can well afford to let pass, and life
will be simpler when we live at the centre and flout the surfaces. I
wish to speak with all respect of persons, but sometimes I must pinch
myself to keep awake and preserve the due decorum. They melt so fast
into each other that they are like grass and trees, and it needs an
effort to treat them as individuals. Though the uninspired man certainly
finds persons a conveniency in household matters, the divine man does
not respect them; he sees them as a rack of clouds, or a fleet of
ripples which the wind drives over the surface of the water. But this is
flat rebellion. Nature will not be Buddhist: she resents generalizing,
and insults the philosopher in every moment with a million of fresh
particulars. It is all idle talking: as much as a man is a whole, so is
he also a part; and it were partial not to see it. What you say in your
pompous distribution only distributes you into your class and section.
You have not got rid of parts by denying them, but are the more partial.
You are one thing, but Nature is one thing and the other thing, in the
same moment. She will not remain orbed in a thought, but rushes into
persons; and when each person, inflamed to a fury of personality, would
conquer all things to his poor crotchet, she raises up against him
another person, and by many persons incarnates again a sort of whole.
She will have all. Nick Bottom cannot play all the parts, work it how
he may; there will be somebody else, and the world will be round.
Everything must have its flower or effort at the beautiful, coarser or
finer according to its stuff. They relieve and recommend each other,
and the sanity of society is a balance of a thousand insanities. She
punishes abstractionists, and will only forgive an induction which
is rare and casual. We like to come to a height of land and see the
landscape, just as we value a general remark in conversation. But it
is not the intention of Nature that we should live by general views. We
fetch fire and water, run about all day among the shops and markets, and
get our clothes and shoes made and mended, and are the victims of these
details; and once in a fortnight we arrive perhaps at a rational moment.
If we were not thus infatuated, if we saw the real from hour to hour, we
should not be here to write and to read, but should have been burned
or frozen long ago. She would never get anything done, if she suffered
admirable Crichtons and universal geniuses. She loves better a
wheelwright who dreams all night of wheels, and a groom who is part
of his horse; for she is full of work, and these are her hands. As the
frugal farmer takes care that his cattle shall eat down the rowen,
and swine shall eat the waste of his house, and poultry shall pick the
crumbs,--so our economical mother dispatches a new genius and habit
of mind into every district and condition of existence, plants an eye
wherever a new ray of light can fall, and gathering up into some man
every property in the universe, establishes thousandfold occult mutual
attractions among her offspring, that all this wash and waste of power
may be imparted and exchanged.

Great dangers undoubtedly accrue from this incarnation and distribution
of the godhead, and hence Nature has her maligners, as if she were
Circe; and Alphonso of Castille fancied he could have given useful
advice. But she does not go unprovided; she has hellebore at the bottom
of the cup. Solitude would ripen a plentiful crop of despots. The
recluse thinks of men as having his manner, or as not having his manner;
and as having degrees of it, more and less. But when he comes into a
public assembly he sees that men have very different manners from his
own, and in their way admirable. In his childhood and youth he has
had many checks and censures, and thinks modestly enough of his
own endowment. When afterwards he comes to unfold it in propitious
circumstance, it seems the only talent; he is delighted with his
success, and accounts himself already the fellow of the great. But he
goes into a mob, into a banking house, into a mechanic's shop, into a
mill, into a laboratory, into a ship, into a camp, and in each new place
he is no better than an idiot; other talents take place, and rule the
hour. The rotation which whirls every leaf and pebble to the meridian,
reaches to every gift of man, and we all take turns at the top.

For Nature, who abhors mannerism, has set her heart on breaking up all
styles and tricks, and it is so much easier to do what one has done
before than to do a new thing, that there is a perpetual tendency to a
set mode. In every conversation, even the highest, there is a certain
trick, which may be soon learned by an acute person and then that
particular style continued indefinitely. Each man too is a tyrant in
tendency, because he would impose his idea on others; and their trick is
their natural defence. Jesus would absorb the race; but Tom Paine or
the coarsest blasphemer helps humanity by resisting this exuberance of
power. Hence the immense benefit of party in politics, as it reveals
faults of character in a chief, which the intellectual force of the
persons, with ordinary opportunity and not hurled into aphelion by
hatred, could not have seen. Since we are all so stupid, what benefit
that there should be two stupidities! It is like that brute advantage so
essential to astronomy, of having the diameter of the earth's orbit for
a base of its triangles. Democracy is morose, and runs to anarchy,
but in the State and in the schools it is indispensable to resist the
consolidation of all men into a few men. If John was perfect, why are
you and I alive? As long as any man exists, there is some need of him;
let him fight for his own. A new poet has appeared; a new character
approached us; why should we refuse to eat bread until we have found his
regiment and section in our old army-files? Why not a new man? Here is
a new enterprise of Brook Farm, of Skeneateles, of Northampton: why so
impatient to baptize them Essenes, or Port-Royalists, or Shakers, or by
any known and effete name? Let it be a new way of living. Why have only
two or three ways of life, and not thousands? Every man is wanted, and
no man is wanted much. We came this time for condiments, not for
corn. We want the great genius only for joy; for one star more in our
constellation, for one tree more in our grove. But he thinks we wish
to belong to him, as he wishes to occupy us. He greatly mistakes us. I
think I have done well if I have acquired a new word from a good author;
and my business with him is to find my own, though it were only to melt
him down into an epithet or an image for daily use:--

     "Into paint will I grind thee, my bride!"

To embroil the confusion, and make it impossible to arrive at any
general statement,--when we have insisted on the imperfection of
individuals, our affections and our experience urge that every
individual is entitled to honor, and a very generous treatment is sure
to be repaid. A recluse sees only two or three persons, and allows them
all their room; they spread themselves at large. The statesman looks at
many, and compares the few habitually with others, and these look less.
Yet are they not entitled to this generosity of reception? and is not
munificence the means of insight? For though gamesters say that the
cards beat all the players, though they were never so skilful, yet in
the contest we are now considering, the players are also the game, and
share the power of the cards. If you criticise a fine genius, the odds
are that you are out of your reckoning, and instead of the poet, are
censuring your own caricature of him. For there is somewhat spheral and
infinite in every man, especially in every genius, which, if you can
come very near him, sports with all your limitations. For rightly every
man is a channel through which heaven floweth, and whilst I fancied I
was criticising him, I was censuring or rather terminating my own soul.
After taxing Goethe as a courtier, artificial, unbelieving, worldly,--I
took up this book of Helena, and found him an Indian of the wilderness,
a piece of pure nature like an apple or an oak, large as morning or
night, and virtuous as a brier-rose.

But care is taken that the whole tune shall be played. If we were not
kept among surfaces, every thing would be large and universal; now the
excluded attributes burst in on us with the more brightness that they
have been excluded. "Your turn now, my turn next," is the rule of the
game. The universality being hindered in its primary form, comes in
the secondary form of all sides; the points come in succession to the
meridian, and by the speed of rotation a new whole is formed. Nature
keeps herself whole and her representation complete in the experience
of each mind. She suffers no seat to be vacant in her college. It is
the secret of the world that all things subsist and do not die but only
retire a little from sight and afterwards return again. Whatever does
not concern us is concealed from us. As soon as a person is no longer
related to our present well-being, he is concealed, or dies, as we say.
Really, all things and persons are related to us, but according to our
nature they act on us not at once but in succession, and we are made
aware of their presence one at a time. All persons, all things which we
have known, are here present, and many more than we see; the world is
full. As the ancient said, the world is a plenum or solid; and if we saw
all things that really surround us we should be imprisoned and unable to
move. For though nothing is impassable to the soul, but all things are
pervious to it and like highways, yet this is only whilst the soul does
not see them. As soon as the soul sees any object, it stops before that
object. Therefore, the divine Providence which keeps the universe open
in every direction to the soul, conceals all the furniture and all the
persons that do not concern a particular soul, from the senses of that
individual. Through solidest eternal things the man finds his road as if
they did not subsist, and does not once suspect their being. As soon as
he needs a new object, suddenly he beholds it, and no longer attempts
to pass through it, but takes another way. When he has exhausted for
the time the nourishment to be drawn from any one person or thing,
that object is withdrawn from his observation, and though still in his
immediate neighborhood, he does not suspect its presence. Nothing is
dead: men feign themselves dead, and endure mock funerals and mournful
obituaries, and there they stand looking out of the window, sound and
well, in some new and strange disguise. Jesus is not dead; he is very
well alive: nor John, nor Paul, nor Mahomet, nor Aristotle; at times
we believe we have seen them all, and could easily tell the names under
which they go.

If we cannot make voluntary and conscious steps in the admirable science
of universals, let us see the parts wisely, and infer the genius of
nature from the best particulars with a becoming charity. What is best
in each kind is an index of what should be the average of that thing.
Love shows me the opulence of nature, by disclosing to me in my friend
a hidden wealth, and I infer an equal depth of good in every other
direction. It is commonly said by farmers that a good pear or apple
costs no more time or pains to rear than a poor one; so I would have no
work of art, no speech, or action, or thought, or friend, but the best.

The end and the means, the gamester and the game,--life is made up
of the intermixture and reaction of these two amicable powers, whose
marriage appears beforehand monstrous, as each denies and tends to
abolish the other. We must reconcile the contradictions as we can, but
their discord and their concord introduce wild absurdities into our
thinking and speech. No sentence will hold the whole truth, and the only
way in which we can be just, is by giving ourselves the lie; Speech is
better than silence; silence is better than speech;--All things are in
contact; every atom has a sphere of repulsion;--Things are, and are not,
at the same time;--and the like. All the universe over, there is but one
thing, this old Two-Face, creator-creature, mind-matter, right-wrong, of
which any proposition may be affirmed or denied. Very fitly therefore
I assert that every man is a partialist, that nature secures him as an
instrument by self-conceit, preventing the tendencies to religion and
science; and now further assert, that, each man's genius being nearly
and affectionately explored, he is justified in his individuality, as
his nature is found to be immense; and now I add that every man is a
universalist also, and, as our earth, whilst it spins on its own axis,
spins all the time around the sun through the celestial spaces, so
the least of its rational children, the most dedicated to his private
affair, works out, though as it were under a disguise, the universal
problem. We fancy men are individuals; so are pumpkins; but every
pumpkin in the field goes through every point of pumpkin history. The
rabid democrat, as soon as he is senator and rich man, has ripened
beyond possibility of sincere radicalism, and unless he can resist the
sun, he must be conservative the remainder of his days. Lord Eldon said
in his old age that "if he were to begin life again, he would be damned
but he would begin as agitator."

We hide this universality if we can, but it appears at all points. We
are as ungrateful as children. There is nothing we cherish and strive to
draw to us but in some hour we turn and rend it. We keep a running
fire of sarcasm at ignorance and the life of the senses; then goes by,
perchance, a fair girl, a piece of life, gay and happy, and making the
commonest offices beautiful by the energy and heart with which she does
them; and seeing this we admire and love her and them, and say, 'Lo! a
genuine creature of the fair earth, not dissipated or too early ripened
by books, philosophy, religion, society, or care!' insinuating a
treachery and contempt for all we had so long loved and wrought in
ourselves and others.

If we could have any security against moods! If the profoundest prophet
could be holden to his words, and the hearer who is ready to sell
all and join the crusade could have any certificate that tomorrow his
prophet shall not unsay his testimony! But the Truth sits veiled there
on the Bench, and never interposes an adamantine syllable; and the
most sincere and revolutionary doctrine, put as if the ark of God were
carried forward some furlongs, and planted there for the succor of the
world, shall in a few weeks be coldly set aside by the same speaker,
as morbid; "I thought I was right, but I was not,"--and the same
immeasurable credulity demanded for new audacities. If we were not of
all opinions! if we did not in any moment shift the platform on which
we stand, and look and speak from another! if there could be any
regulation, any 'one-hour-rule,' that a man should never leave his
point of view without sound of trumpet. I am always insincere, as always
knowing there are other moods.

How sincere and confidential we can be, saying all that lies in
the mind, and yet go away feeling that all is yet unsaid, from the
incapacity of the parties to know each other, although they use the same
words! My companion assumes to know my mood and habit of thought, and we
go on from explanation to explanation until all is said which words can,
and we leave matters just as they were at first, because of that vicious
assumption. Is it that every man believes every other to be an incurable
partialist, and himself a universalist? I talked yesterday with a pair
of philosophers; I endeavored to show my good men that I love everything
by turns and nothing long; that I loved the centre, but doated on the
superficies; that I loved man, if men seemed to me mice and rats; that
I revered saints, but woke up glad that the old pagan world stood its
ground and died hard; that I was glad of men of every gift and nobility,
but would not live in their arms. Could they but once understand that
I loved to know that they existed, and heartily wished them God-speed,
yet, out of my poverty of life and thought, had no word or welcome for
them when they came to see me, and could well consent to their living in
Oregon, for any claim I felt on them,--it would be a great satisfaction.



     In the suburb, in the town,
     On the railway, in the square,
     Came a beam of goodness down
     Doubling daylight everywhere:
     Peace now each for malice takes,
     Beauty for his sinful weeks,
     For the angel Hope aye makes
     Him an angel whom she leads.



WHOEVER has had opportunity of acquaintance with society in New England
during the last twenty-five years, with those middle and with those
leading sections that may constitute any just representation of the
character and aim of the community, will have been struck with the great
activity of thought and experimenting. His attention must be commanded
by the signs that the Church, or religious party, is falling from
the Church nominal, and is appearing in temperance and non-resistance
societies; in movements of abolitionists and of socialists; and in very
significant assemblies called Sabbath and Bible Conventions; composed of
ultraists, of seekers, of all the soul of the soldiery of dissent,
and meeting to call in question the authority of the Sabbath, of the
priesthood, and of the Church. In these movements nothing was more
remarkable than the discontent they begot in the movers. The spirit of
protest and of detachment drove the members of these Conventions to
bear testimony against the Church, and immediately afterward, to declare
their discontent with these Conventions, their independence of their
colleagues, and their impatience of the methods whereby they were
working. They defied each other, like a congress of kings, each of
whom had a realm to rule, and a way of his own that made concert
unprofitable. What a fertility of projects for the salvation of the
world! One apostle thought all men should go to farming, and another
that no man should buy or sell, that the use of money was the cardinal
evil; another that the mischief was in our diet, that we eat and drink
damnation. These made unleavened bread, and were foes to the death to
fermentation. It was in vain urged by the housewife that God made yeast,
as well as dough, and loves fermentation just as dearly as he loves
vegetation; that fermentation develops the saccharine element in the
grain, and makes it more palatable and more digestible. No; they wish
the pure wheat, and will die but it shall not ferment. Stop, dear
nature, these incessant advances of thine; let us scotch these
ever-rolling wheels! Others attacked the system of agriculture, the use
of animal manures in farming, and the tyranny of man over brute nature;
these abuses polluted his food. The ox must be taken from the plough and
the horse from the cart, the hundred acres of the farm must be spaded,
and the man must walk, wherever boats and locomotives will not carry
him. Even the insect world was to be defended,--that had been too long
neglected, and a society for the protection of ground-worms, slugs, and
mosquitos was to be incorporated without delay. With these appeared the
adepts of homoeopathy, of hydropathy, of mesmerism, of phrenology, and
their wonderful theories of the Christian miracles! Others assailed
particular vocations, as that of the lawyer, that of the merchant, of
the manufacturer, of the clergyman, of the scholar. Others attacked the
institution of marriage as the fountain of social evils. Others devoted
themselves to the worrying of churches and meetings for public worship;
and the fertile forms of antinomianism among the elder puritans seemed
to have their match in the plenty of the new harvest of reform.

With this din of opinion and debate there was a keener scrutiny of
institutions and domestic life than any we had known; there was sincere
protesting against existing evils, and there were changes of employment
dictated by conscience. No doubt there was plentiful vaporing, and cases
of backsliding might occur. But in each of these movements emerged
a good result, a tendency to the adoption of simpler methods, and an
assertion of the sufficiency of the private man. Thus it was directly in
the spirit and genius of the age, what happened in one instance when a
church censured and threatened to excommunicate one of its members on
account of the somewhat hostile part to the church which his conscience
led him to take in the anti-slavery business; the threatened individual
immediately excommunicated the church in a public and formal process.
This has been several times repeated: it was excellent when it was done
the first time, but of course loses all value when it is copied. Every
project in the history of reform, no matter how violent and surprising,
is good when it is the dictate of a man's genius and constitution, but
very dull and suspicious when adopted from another. It is right and
beautiful in any man to say, 'I will take this coat, or this book, or
this measure of corn of yours,'--in whom we see the act to be original,
and to flow from the whole spirit and faith of him; for then that taking
will have a giving as free and divine; but we are very easily disposed
to resist the same generosity of speech when we miss originality and
truth to character in it.

There was in all the practical activities of New England for the last
quarter of a century, a gradual withdrawal of tender consciences from
the social organizations. There is observable throughout, the contest
between mechanical and spiritual methods, but with a steady tendency of
the thoughtful and virtuous to a deeper belief and reliance on spiritual

In politics for example it is easy to see the progress of dissent. The
country is full of rebellion; the country is full of kings. Hands off!
let there be no control and no interference in the administration of the
affairs of this kingdom of me. Hence the growth of the doctrine and of
the party of Free Trade, and the willingness to try that experiment, in
the face of what appear incontestable facts. I confess, the motto of
the Globe newspaper is so attractive to me that I can seldom find much
appetite to read what is below it in its columns: "The world is governed
too much." So the country is frequently affording solitary examples of
resistance to the government, solitary nullifiers, who throw themselves
on their reserved rights; nay, who have reserved all their rights; who
reply to the assessor and to the clerk of court that they do not
know the State, and embarrass the courts of law by non-juring and the
commander-in-chief of the militia by non-resistance.

The same disposition to scrutiny and dissent appeared in civil, festive,
neighborly, and domestic society. A restless, prying, conscientious
criticism broke out in unexpected quarters. Who gave me the money with
which I bought my coat? Why should professional labor and that of the
counting-house be paid so disproportionately to the labor of the porter
and woodsawyer? This whole business of Trade gives me to pause and
think, as it constitutes false relations between men; inasmuch as I am
prone to count myself relieved of any responsibility to behave well and
nobly to that person whom I pay with money; whereas if I had not that
commodity, I should be put on my good behavior in all companies, and man
would be a benefactor to man, as being himself his only certificate that
he had a right to those aids and services which each asked of the other.
Am I not too protected a person? is there not a wide disparity between
the lot of me and the lot of thee, my poor brother, my poor sister? Am
I not defrauded of my best culture in the loss of those gymnastics which
manual labor and the emergencies of poverty constitute? I find nothing
healthful or exalting in the smooth conventions of society; I do
not like the close air of saloons. I begin to suspect myself to be a
prisoner, though treated with all this courtesy and luxury. I pay a
destructive tax in my conformity.

The same insatiable criticism may be traced in the efforts for the
reform of Education. The popular education has been taxed with a want of
truth and nature. It was complained that an education to things was
not given. We are students of words: we are shut up in schools, and
colleges, and recitation-rooms, for ten or fifteen years, and come out
at last with a bag of wind, a memory of words, and do not know a thing.
We cannot use our hands, or our legs, or our eyes, or our arms. We do
not know an edible root in the woods, we cannot tell our course by the
stars, nor the hour of the day by the sun. It is well if we can swim and
skate. We are afraid of a horse, of a cow, of a dog, of a snake, of
a spider. The Roman rule was to teach a boy nothing that he could not
learn standing. The old English rule was, 'All summer in the field,
and all winter in the study.' And it seems as if a man should learn to
plant, or to fish, or to hunt, that he might secure his subsistence
at all events, and not be painful to his friends and fellow-men. The
lessons of science should be experimental also. The sight of the planet
through a telescope is worth all the course on astronomy; the shock of
the electric spark in the elbow, outvalues all the theories; the taste
of the nitrous oxide, the firing of an artificial volcano, are better
than volumes of chemistry.

One of the traits of the new spirit is the inquisition it fixed on our
scholastic devotion to the dead languages. The ancient languages, with
great beauty of structure, contain wonderful remains of genius, which
draw, and always will draw, certain likeminded men,--Greek men, and
Roman men,--in all countries, to their study; but by a wonderful
drowsiness of usage they had exacted the study of all men. Once (say two
centuries ago), Latin and Greek had a strict relation to all the science
and culture there was in Europe, and the Mathematics had a momentary
importance at some era of activity in physical science. These things
became stereotyped as education, as the manner of men is. But the Good
Spirit never cared for the colleges, and though all men and boys were
now drilled in Latin, Greek, and Mathematics, it had quite left these
shells high and dry on the beach, and was now creating and feeding other
matters at other ends of the world. But in a hundred high schools and
colleges this warfare against common sense still goes on. Four, or six,
or ten years, the pupil is parsing Greek and Latin, and as soon as he
leaves the University, as it is ludicrously called, he shuts those books
for the last time. Some thousands of young men are graduated at our
colleges in this country every year, and the persons who, at forty
years, still read Greek, can all be counted on your hand. I never met
with ten. Four or five persons I have seen who read Plato.

But is not this absurd, that the whole liberal talent of this country
should be directed in its best years on studies which lead to nothing?
What was the consequence? Some intelligent persons said or thought,
'Is that Greek and Latin some spell to conjure with, and not words of
reason? If the physician, the lawyer, the divine, never use it to come
at their ends, I need never learn it to come at mine. Conjuring is gone
out of fashion, and I will omit this conjugating, and go straight to
affairs.' So they jumped the Greek and Latin, and read law, medicine, or
sermons, without it. To the astonishment of all, the self-made men took
even ground at once with the oldest of the regular graduates, and in
a few months the most conservative circles of Boston and New York had
quite forgotten who of their gownsmen was college-bred, and who was not.

One tendency appears alike in the philosophical speculation and in the
rudest democratical movements, through all the petulance and all the
puerility, the wish, namely, to cast aside the superfluous and arrive
at short methods; urged, as I suppose, by an intuition that the human
spirit is equal to all emergencies, alone, and that man is more often
injured than helped by the means he uses.

I conceive this gradual casting off of material aids, and the indication
of growing trust in the private self-supplied powers of the individual,
to be the affirmative principle of the recent philosophy, and that it is
feeling its own profound truth and is reaching forward at this very hour
to the happiest conclusions. I readily concede that in this, as in every
period of intellectual activity, there has been a noise of denial and
protest; much was to be resisted, much was to be got rid of by those
who were reared in the old, before they could begin to affirm and to
construct. Many a reformer perishes in his removal of rubbish; and that
makes the offensiveness of the class. They are partial; they are not
equal to the work they pretend. They lose their way; in the assault on
the kingdom of darkness they expend all their energy on some accidental
evil, and lose their sanity and power of benefit. It is of little moment
that one or two or twenty errors of our social system be corrected, but
of much that the man be in his senses.

The criticism and attack on institutions, which we have witnessed,
has made one thing plain, that society gains nothing whilst a man, not
himself renovated, attempts to renovate things around him: he has become
tediously good in some particular but negligent or narrow in the rest;
and hypocrisy and vanity are often the disgusting result.

It is handsomer to remain in the establishment better than the
establishment, and conduct that in the best manner, than to make a sally
against evil by some single improvement, without supporting it by a
total regeneration. Do not be so vain of your one objection. Do you
think there is only one? Alas! my good friend, there is no part of
society or of life better than any other part. All our things are right
and wrong together. The wave of evil washes all our institutions alike.
Do you complain of our Marriage? Our marriage is no worse than our
education, our diet, our trade, our social customs. Do you complain of
the laws of Property? It is a pedantry to give such importance to them.
Can we not play the game of life with these counters, as well as with
those? in the institution of property, as well as out of it? Let into
it the new and renewing principle of love, and property will be
universality. No one gives the impression of superiority to the
institution, which he must give who will reform it. It makes no
difference what you say, you must make me feel that you are aloof from
it; by your natural and supernatural advantages do easily see to the end
of it,--do see how man can do without it. Now all men are on one side.
No man deserves to be heard against property. Only Love, only an Idea,
is against property as we hold it.

I cannot afford to be irritable and captious, nor to waste all my
time in attacks. If I should go out of church whenever I hear a false
sentiment I could never stay there five minutes. But why come out? the
street is as false as the church, and when I get to my house, or to my
manners, or to my speech, I have not got away from the lie. When we see
an eager assailant of one of these wrongs, a special reformer, we feel
like asking him, What right have you, sir, to your one virtue? Is virtue
piecemeal? This is a jewel amidst the rags of a beggar.

In another way the right will be vindicated. In the midst of abuses, in
the heart of cities, in the aisles of false churches, alike in one place
and in another,--wherever, namely, a just and heroic soul finds itself,
there it will do what is next at hand, and by the new quality of
character it shall put forth it shall abrogate that old condition, law
or school in which it stands, before the law of its own mind.

If partiality was one fault of the movement party, the other defect was
their reliance on Association. Doubts such as those I have intimated
drove many good persons to agitate the questions of social reform. But
the revolt against the spirit of commerce, the spirit of aristocracy,
and the inveterate abuses of cities, did not appear possible to
individuals; and to do battle against numbers they armed themselves with
numbers, and against concert they relied on new concert.

Following or advancing beyond the ideas of St. Simon, of Fourier, and
of Owen, three communities have already been formed in Massachusetts on
kindred plans, and many more in the country at large. They aim to give
every member a share in the manual labor, to give an equal reward to
labor and to talent, and to unite a liberal culture with an education
to labor. The scheme offers, by the economies of associated labor and
expense, to make every member rich, on the same amount of property,
that, in separate families, would leave every member poor. These new
associations are composed of men and women of superior talents and
sentiments; yet it may easily be questioned whether such a community
will draw, except in its beginnings, the able and the good; whether
those who have energy will not prefer their chance of superiority
and power in the world, to the humble certainties of the association;
whether such a retreat does not promise to become an asylum to those who
have tried and failed, rather than a field to the strong; and whether
the members will not necessarily be fractions of men, because each
finds that he cannot enter it, without some compromise. Friendship and
association are very fine things, and a grand phalanx of the best of
the human race, banded for some catholic object; yes, excellent; but
remember that no society can ever be so large as one man. He, in his
friendship, in his natural and momentary associations, doubles or
multiplies himself; but in the hour in which he mortgages himself to two
or ten or twenty, he dwarfs himself below the stature of one.

But the men of less faith could not thus believe, and to such, concert
appears the sole specific of strength. I have failed, and you have
failed, but perhaps together we shall not fail. Our housekeeping is not
satisfactory to us, but perhaps a phalanx, a community, might be. Many
of us have differed in opinion, and we could find no man who could make
the truth plain, but possibly a college, or an ecclesiastical council
might. I have not been able either to persuade my brother or to prevail
on myself, to disuse the traffic or the potation of brandy, but
perhaps a pledge of total abstinence might effectually restrain us. The
candidate my party votes for is not to be trusted with a dollar, but he
will be honest in the Senate, for we can bring public opinion to bear on
him. Thus concert was the specific in all cases. But concert is neither
better nor worse, neither more nor less potent than individual force.
All the men in the world cannot make a statue walk and speak, cannot
make a drop of blood, or a blade of grass, any more than one man can.
But let there be one man, let there be truth in two men, in ten men,
then is concert for the first time possible; because the force which
moves the world is a new quality, and can never be furnished by adding
whatever quantities of a different kind. What is the use of the concert
of the false and the disunited? There can be no concert in two, where
there is no concert in one. When the individual is not individual, but
is dual; when his thoughts look one way and his actions another; when
his faith is traversed by his habits; when his will, enlightened by
reason, is warped by his sense; when with one hand he rows and with the
other backs water, what concert can be?

I do not wonder at the interest these projects inspire. The world is
awaking to the idea of union, and these experiments show what it is
thinking of. It is and will be magic. Men will live and communicate, and
plough, and reap, and govern, as by added ethereal power, when once they
are united; as in a celebrated experiment, by expiration and respiration
exactly together, four persons lift a heavy man from the ground by the
little finger only, and without sense of weight. But this union must be
inward, and not one of covenants, and is to be reached by a reverse of
the methods they use. The union is only perfect when all the uniters are
isolated. It is the union of friends who live in different streets or
towns. Each man, if he attempts to join himself to others, is on all
sides cramped and diminished of his proportion; and the stricter the
union the smaller and the more pitiful he is. But leave him alone, to
recognize in every hour and place the secret soul; he will go up and
down doing the works of a true member, and, to the astonishment of all,
the work will be done with concert, though no man spoke. Government will
be adamantine without any governor. The union must be ideal in actual

I pass to the indication in some particulars of that faith in man, which
the heart is preaching to us in these days, and which engages the more
regard, from the consideration that the speculations of one generation
are the history of the next following.

In alluding just now to our system of education, I spoke of the deadness
of its details. But it is open to graver criticism than the palsy of
its members: it is a system of despair. The disease with which the
human mind now labors is want of faith. Men do not believe in a power of
education. We do not think we can speak to divine sentiments in man, and
we do not try. We renounce all high aims. We believe that the defects of
so many perverse and so many frivolous people who make up society, are
organic, and society is a hospital of incurables. A man of good sense
but of little faith, whose compassion seemed to lead him to church as
often as he went there, said to me that "he liked to have concerts, and
fairs, and churches, and other public amusements go on." I am afraid the
remark is too honest, and comes from the same origin as the maxim of the
tyrant, "If you would rule the world quietly, you must keep it amused."
I notice too that the ground on which eminent public servants urge the
claims of popular education is fear; 'This country is filling up with
thousands and millions of voters, and you must educate them to keep them
from our throats.' We do not believe that any education, any system of
philosophy, any influence of genius, will ever give depth of insight to
a superficial mind. Having settled ourselves into this infidelity, our
skill is expended to procure alleviations, diversion, opiates. We adorn
the victim with manual skill, his tongue with languages, his body with
inoffensive and comely manners. So have we cunningly hid the tragedy of
limitation and inner death we cannot avert. Is it strange that society
should be devoured by a secret melancholy which breaks through all its
smiles and all its gayety and games?

But even one step farther our infidelity has gone. It appears that some
doubt is felt by good and wise men whether really the happiness
and probity of men is increased by the culture of the mind in those
disciplines to which we give the name of education. Unhappily too the
doubt comes from scholars, from persons who have tried these methods.
In their experience the scholar was not raised by the sacred thoughts
amongst which he dwelt, but used them to selfish ends. He was a profane
person, and became a showman, turning his gifts to a marketable use, and
not to his own sustenance and growth. It was found that the intellect
could be independently developed, that is, in separation from the man,
as any single organ can be invigorated, and the result was monstrous. A
canine appetite for knowledge was generated, which must still be fed but
was never satisfied, and this knowledge, not being directed on action,
never took the character of substantial, humane truth, blessing those
whom it entered. It gave the scholar certain powers of expression, the
power of speech, the power of poetry, of literary art, but it did not
bring him to peace or to beneficence.

When the literary class betray a destitution of faith, it is not strange
that society should be disheartened and sensualized by unbelief. What
remedy? Life must be lived on a higher plane. We must go up to a higher
platform, to which we are always invited to ascend; there, the whole
aspect of things changes. I resist the skepticism of our education and
of our educated men. I do not believe that the differences of opinion
and character in men are organic. I do not recognize, beside the class
of the good and the wise, a permanent class of skeptics, or a class of
conservatives, or of malignants, or of materialists. I do not believe
in two classes. You remember the story of the poor woman who importuned
King Philip of Macedon to grant her justice, which Philip refused: the
woman exclaimed, "I appeal:" the king, astonished, asked to whom she
appealed: the woman replied, "From Philip drunk to Philip sober." The
text will suit me very well. I believe not in two classes of men, but in
man in two moods, in Philip drunk and Philip sober. I think, according
to the good-hearted word of Plato, "Unwillingly the soul is deprived of
truth." Iron conservative, miser, or thief, no man is but by a supposed
necessity which he tolerates by shortness or torpidity of sight. The
soul lets no man go without some visitations and holydays of a diviner
presence. It would be easy to show, by a narrow scanning of any man's
biography, that we are not so wedded to our paltry performances of
every kind but that every man has at intervals the grace to scorn
his performances, in comparing them with his belief of what he should
do;--that he puts himself on the side of his enemies, listening gladly
to what they say of him, and accusing himself of the same things.

What is it men love in Genius, but its infinite hope, which degrades all
it has done? Genius counts all its miracles poor and short. Its own idea
it never executed. The Iliad, the Hamlet, the Doric column, the Roman
arch, the Gothic minster, the German anthem, when they are ended, the
master casts behind him. How sinks the song in the waves of melody which
the universe pours over his soul! Before that gracious Infinite out of
which he drew these few strokes, how mean they look, though the praises
of the world attend them. From the triumphs of his art he turns with
desire to this greater defeat. Let those admire who will. With silent
joy he sees himself to be capable of a beauty that eclipses all which
his hands have done; all which human hands have ever done.

Well, we are all the children of genius, the children of virtue,--and
feel their inspirations in our happier hours. Is not every man sometimes
a radical in politics? Men are conservatives when they are least
vigorous, or when they are most luxurious. They are conservatives after
dinner, or before taking their rest; when they are sick, or aged: in the
morning, or when their intellect or their conscience has been aroused;
when they hear music, or when they read poetry, they are radicals. In
the circle of the rankest tories that could be collected in England, Old
or New, let a powerful and stimulating intellect, a man of great heart
and mind, act on them, and very quickly these frozen conservators will
yield to the friendly influence, these hopeless will begin to hope,
these haters will begin to love, these immovable statues will begin to
spin and revolve. I cannot help recalling the fine anecdote which Warton
relates of Bishop Berkeley, when he was preparing to leave England
with his plan of planting the gospel among the American savages. "Lord
Bathurst told me that the members of the Scriblerus club being met at
his house at dinner, they agreed to rally Berkeley, who was also his
guest, on his scheme at Bermudas. Berkeley, having listened to the
many lively things they had to say, begged to be heard in his turn,
and displayed his plan with such an astonishing and animating force of
eloquence and enthusiasm, that they were struck dumb, and, after some
pause, rose up all together with earnestness, exclaiming, 'Let us set
out with him immediately.'" Men in all ways are better than they seem.
They like flattery for the moment, but they know the truth for their
own. It is a foolish cowardice which keeps us from trusting them and
speaking to them rude truth. They resent your honesty for an instant,
they will thank you for it always. What is it we heartily wish of each
other? Is it to be pleased and flattered? No, but to be convicted and
exposed, to be shamed out of our nonsense of all kinds, and made men
of, instead of ghosts and phantoms. We are weary of gliding ghostlike
through the world, which is itself so slight and unreal. We crave a
sense of reality, though it come in strokes of pain. I explain so,--by
this manlike love of truth,--those excesses and errors into which souls
of great vigor, but not equal insight, often fall. They feel the poverty
at the bottom of all the seeming affluence of the world. They know the
speed with which they come straight through the thin masquerade, and
conceive a disgust at the indigence of nature: Rousseau, Mirabeau,
Charles Fox, Napoleon, Byron,--and I could easily add names nearer home,
of raging riders, who drive their steeds so hard, in the violence of
living to forget its illusion: they would know the worst, and tread
the floors of hell. The heroes of ancient and modern fame, Cimon,
Themistocles, Alcibiades, Alexander, Caesar, have treated life and
fortune as a game to be well and skilfully played, but the stake not
to be so valued but that any time it could be held as a trifle light
as air, and thrown up. Caesar, just before the battle of Pharsalia,
discourses with the Egyptian priest concerning the fountains of the
Nile, and offers to quit the army, the empire, and Cleopatra, if he will
show him those mysterious sources.

The same magnanimity shows itself in our social relations, in the
preference, namely, which each man gives to the society of superiors
over that of his equals. All that a man has will he give for right
relations with his mates. All that he has will he give for an erect
demeanor in every company and on each occasion. He aims at such things
as his neighbors prize, and gives his days and nights, his talents and
his heart, to strike a good stroke, to acquit himself in all men's sight
as a man. The consideration of an eminent citizen, of a noted merchant,
of a man of mark in his profession; a naval and military honor, a
general's commission, a marshal's baton, a ducal coronet, the laurel of
poets, and, anyhow procured, the acknowledgment of eminent merit,--have
this lustre for each candidate that they enable him to walk erect and
unashamed in the presence of some persons before whom he felt himself
inferior. Having raised himself to this rank, having established his
equality with class after class of those with whom he would live well,
he still finds certain others before whom he cannot possess himself,
because they have somewhat fairer, somewhat grander, somewhat purer,
which extorts homage of him. Is his ambition pure? then will his laurels
and his possessions seem worthless: instead of avoiding these men who
make his fine gold dim, he will cast all behind him and seek their
society only, woo and embrace this his humiliation and mortification,
until he shall know why his eye sinks, his voice is husky, and his
brilliant talents are paralyzed in this presence. He is sure that the
soul which gives the lie to all things will tell none. His constitution
will not mislead him. If it cannot carry itself as it ought, high and
unmatchable in the presence of any man; if the secret oracles whose
whisper makes the sweetness and dignity of his life do here withdraw and
accompany him no longer,--it is time to undervalue what he has valued,
to dispossess himself of what he has acquired, and with Caesar to take
in his hand the army, the empire, and Cleopatra, and say, "All these
will I relinquish, if you will show me the fountains of the Nile." Dear
to us are those who love us; the swift moments we spend with them are
a compensation for a great deal of misery; they enlarge our life;--but
dearer are those who reject us as unworthy, for they add another life:
they build a heaven before us whereof we had not dreamed, and thereby
supply to us new powers out of the recesses of the spirit, and urge us
to new and unattempted performances.

As every man at heart wishes the best and not inferior society, wishes
to be convicted of his error and to come to himself,--so he wishes that
the same healing should not stop in his thought, but should penetrate
his will or active power. The selfish man suffers more from his
selfishness than he from whom that selfishness withholds some important
benefit. What he most wishes is to be lifted to some higher platform,
that he may see beyond his present fear the transalpine good, so that
his fear, his coldness, his custom may be broken up like fragments of
ice, melted and carried away in the great stream of good will. Do
you ask my aid? I also wish to be a benefactor. I wish more to be a
benefactor and servant than you wish to be served by me; and surely the
greatest good fortune that could befall me is precisely to be so moved
by you that I should say, 'Take me and all mine, and use me and mine
freely to your ends'! for I could not say it otherwise than because a
great enlargement had come to my heart and mind, which made me superior
to my fortunes. Here we are paralyzed with fear; we hold on to our
little properties, house and land, office and money, for the bread which
they have in our experience yielded us, although we confess that our
being does not flow through them. We desire to be made great; we desire
to be touched with that fire which shall command this ice to stream, and
make our existence a benefit. If therefore we start objections to your
project, O friend of the slave, or friend of the poor, or of the race,
understand well that it is because we wish to drive you to drive us into
your measures. We wish to hear ourselves confuted. We are haunted with
a belief that you have a secret which it would highliest advantage us to
learn, and we would force you to impart it to us, though it should bring
us to prison, or to worse extremity.

Nothing shall warp me from the belief that every man is a lover
of truth. There is no pure lie, no pure malignity in nature. The
entertainment of the proposition of depravity is the last profligacy and
profanation. There is no skepticism, no atheism but that. Could it be
received into common belief, suicide would unpeople the planet. It has
had a name to live in some dogmatic theology, but each man's innocence
and his real liking of his neighbor have kept it a dead letter. I
remember standing at the polls one day when the anger of the political
contest gave a certain grimness to the faces of the independent
electors, and a good man at my side, looking on the people, remarked, "I
am satisfied that the largest part of these men, on either side, mean to
vote right." I suppose considerate observers, looking at the masses of
men in their blameless and in their equivocal actions, will assent, that
in spite of selfishness and frivolity, the general purpose in the great
number of persons is fidelity. The reason why any one refuses his assent
to your opinion, or his aid to your benevolent design, is in you: he
refuses to accept you as a bringer of truth, because, though you think
you have it, he feels that you have it not. You have not given him the
authentic sign.

If it were worth while to run into details this general doctrine of
the latent but ever soliciting Spirit, it would be easy to adduce
illustration in particulars of a man's equality to the Church, of his
equality to the State, and of his equality to every other man. It is
yet in all men's memory that, a few years ago, the liberal churches
complained that the Calvinistic church denied to them the name of
Christian. I think the complaint was confession: a religious church
would not complain. A religious man like Behmen, Fox, or Swedenborg
is not irritated by wanting the sanction of the Church, but the Church
feels the accusation of his presence and belief.

It only needs that a just man should walk in our streets to make it
appear how pitiful and inartificial a contrivance is our legislation.
The man whose part is taken and who does not wait for society in
anything, has a power which society cannot choose but feel. The familiar
experiment called the hydrostatic paradox, in which a capillary column
of water balances the ocean, is a symbol of the relation of one man
to the whole family of men. The wise Dandamis, on hearing the lives of
Socrates, Pythagoras and Diogenes read, "judged them to be great men
every way, excepting, that they were too much subjected to the reverence
of the laws, which to second and authorize, true virtue must abate very
much of its original vigor."

And as a man is equal to the Church and equal to the State, so he
is equal to every other man. The disparities of power in men are
superficial; and all frank and searching conversation, in which a man
lays himself open to his brother, apprises each of their radical unity.
When two persons sit and converse in a thoroughly good understanding,
the remark is sure to be made, See how we have disputed about words! Let
a clear, apprehensive mind, such as every man knows among his friends,
converse with the most commanding poetic genius, I think it would appear
that there was no inequality such as men fancy, between them; that a
perfect understanding, a like receiving, a like perceiving, abolished
differences; and the poet would confess that his creative imagination
gave him no deep advantage, but only the superficial one that he could
express himself and the other could not; that his advantage was a knack,
which might impose on indolent men but could not impose on lovers of
truth; for they know the tax of talent, or what a price of greatness the
power of expression too often pays. I believe it is the conviction of
the purest men, that the net amount of man and man does not much vary.
Each is incomparably superior to his companion in some faculty. His want
of skill in other directions has added to his fitness for his own work.
Each seems to have some compensation yielded to him by his infirmity,
and every hindrance operates as a concentration of his force.

These and the like experiences intimate that man stands in strict
connection with a higher fact never yet manifested. There is power over
and behind us, and we are the channels of its communications. We seek
to say thus and so, and over our head some spirit sits which contradicts
what we say. We would persuade our fellow to this or that; another self
within our eyes dissuades him. That which we keep back, this reveals.
In vain we compose our faces and our words; it holds uncontrollable
communication with the enemy, and he answers civilly to us, but believes
the spirit. We exclaim, 'There's a traitor in the house!' but at last it
appears that he is the true man, and I am the traitor. This open channel
to the highest life is the first and last reality, so subtle, so quiet,
yet so tenacious, that although I have never expressed the truth, and
although I have never heard the expression of it from any other, I
know that the whole truth is here for me. What if I cannot answer your
questions? I am not pained that I cannot frame a reply to the question,
What is the operation we call Providence? There lies the unspoken thing,
present, omnipresent. Every time we converse we seek to translate it
into speech, but whether we hit or whether we miss, we have the fact.
Every discourse is an approximate answer: but it is of small consequence
that we do not get it into verbs and nouns, whilst it abides for
contemplation forever.

If the auguries of the prophesying heart shall make themselves good in
time, the man who shall be born, whose advent men and events prepare and
foreshow, is one who shall enjoy his connection with a higher life, with
the man within man; shall destroy distrust by his trust, shall use his
native but forgotten methods, shall not take counsel of flesh and blood,
but shall rely on the Law alive and beautiful which works over our heads
and under our feet. Pitiless, it avails itself of our success when
we obey it, and of our ruin when we contravene it. Men are all secret
believers in it, else the word justice would have no meaning: they
believe that the best is the true; that right is done at last; or chaos
would come. It rewards actions after their nature, and not after the
design of the agent. 'Work,' it saith to man, 'in every hour, paid or
unpaid, see only that thou work, and thou canst not escape the reward:
whether thy work be fine or coarse, planting corn or writing epics, so
only it be honest work, done to thine own approbation, it shall earn
a reward to the senses as well as to the thought: no matter how often
defeated, you are born to victory. The reward of a thing well done, is
to have done it.'

As soon as a man is wonted to look beyond surfaces, and to see how
this high will prevails without an exception or an interval, he settles
himself into serenity. He can already rely on the laws of gravity, that
every stone will fall where it is due; the good globe is faithful, and
carries us securely through the celestial spaces, anxious or resigned,
we need not interfere to help it on: and he will learn one day the mild
lesson they teach, that our own orbit is all our task, and we need not
assist the administration of the universe. Do not be so impatient to
set the town right concerning the unfounded pretensions and the false
reputation of certain men of standing. They are laboring harder to
set the town right concerning themselves, and will certainly succeed.
Suppress for a few days your criticism on the insufficiency of this
or that teacher or experimenter, and he will have demonstrated his
insufficiency to all men's eyes. In like manner, let a man fall into the
divine circuits, and he is enlarged. Obedience to his genius is the only
liberating influence. We wish to escape from subjection and a sense of
inferiority, and we make self-denying ordinances, we drink water, we
eat grass, we refuse the laws, we go to jail: it is all in vain; only
by obedience to his genius, only by the freest activity in the way
constitutional to him, does an angel seem to arise before a man and lead
him by the hand out of all the wards of the prison.

That which befits us, embosomed in beauty and wonder as we are, is
cheerfulness and courage, and the endeavor to realize our aspirations.
The life of man is the true romance, which when it is valiantly
conducted will yield the imagination a higher joy than any fiction.
All around us what powers are wrapped up under the coarse mattings of
custom, and all wonder prevented. It is so wonderful to our neurologists
that a man can see without his eyes, that it does not occur to them that
it is just as wonderful that he should see with them; and that is ever
the difference between the wise and the unwise: the latter wonders at
what is unusual, the wise man wonders at the usual. Shall not the heart
which has received so much, trust the Power by which it lives? May it
not quit other leadings, and listen to the Soul that has guided it so
gently and taught it so much, secure that the future will be worthy of
the past?

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Essays — Second Series" ***

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