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Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Self-Reliance , essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson , published in the first volume of his collected Essays We welcome suggested improvements to any of our articles. You can make it easier for us to review and, hopefully, publish your contribution by keeping a few points in mind.

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Please note that our editors may make some formatting changes or correct spelling or grammatical errors, and may also contact you if any clarifications are needed. Self-Reliance essay by Emerson. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Learn More in these related Britannica articles: Let a man then know his worth, and keep things under his feet.

Let him not peep or steal, or skulk up and down with the air of a charity boy, a bastard, or an interloper in the world which exists for him. But the man in the street, finding no worth in himself which corresponds to the force which built a tower or sculptured a marble god, feels poor when he looks on these. To him a palace, a statue, or a costly book have an alien and forbidding air, much like a gay equipage, and seem to say like that, "Who are you, sir?

The picture waits for my verdict; it is not to command me, but I am to settle its claims to praise. Our reading is mendicant and sycophantic.

In history our imagination makes fools of us, plays us false. Kingdom and lordship, power and estate, are a gaudier vocabulary than private John and Edward in a small house and common day's work: Why all this deference to Alfred and Scanderbeg and Gustavus?

Suppose they were virtuous, did they wear out virtue? As great a stake depends on your private act today as followed their public and renowned steps.

When private men shall act with original views, the luster will be transferred from the actions of kings to those of gentlemen. The world has indeed been instructed by its kings, who have so magnetized the eyes of nations. It has been taught by this colossal symbol the mutual reverence that is due from man to man.

The joyful loyalty with which men have everywhere suffered the king, the noble, or the great proprietor to walk among them by a law of his own, make his own scale of men and things, and reverse theirs, pay for benefits not with money but with honor, and represent the Law in his person, was the hieroglyphic by which they obscurely signified their consciousness of their own right and comeliness, the right of every man.

The magnetism which all original action exerts is explained when we inquire the reason of self-trust. Who is the Trustee? What is the aboriginal Self, on which a universal reliance may be grounded? What is the nature and power of that science-baffling star, without parallax , without calculable elements, which shoots a ray of beauty even into trivial and impure actions, if the least mark of independence appear?

The inquiry leads us to that source, at once the essence of genius, the essence of virtue, and the essence of life, which we call Spontaneity or Instinct. We denote this primary wisdom as Intuition, whilst all later teachings are tuitions. In that deep force, the last fact behind which analysis cannot go, all things find their common origin. For the sense of being which in calm hours rises, we know not how, in the soul, is not diverse from things, from space, from light, from time, from man, but one with them and preceedeth obviously from the same source whence their life and being also preceedeth.

We at first share the life by which things exist and afterwards see them as appearances in nature and forget that we have shared their cause. Here is the fountain of action and the fountain of thought. Here are the lungs of that inspiration which giveth man wisdom, of that inspiration of man which cannot be denied without impiety and atheism.

We lie in the lap of immense intelligence, which makes us organs of its activity and receivers of its truth. When we discern justice, when we discern truth, we do nothing of ourselves, but allow a passage to its beams.

Its presence or absence is all we can affirm. Every man discerns between the voluntary acts of his mind and his involuntary perceptions. And to his involuntary perceptions he knows a perfect respect is due. He may err in the expression of them, but he knows that these things are so, like day and night, not to be disputed.

Thoughtless people contradict as readily the statement of perceptions as of opinions, or rather much more readily; for they do not distinguish between perception and notion. They fancy that I choose to see this or that thing.

But perception is not whimsical, but fatal. For my perception of it is as much a fact as the sun. The relations of the soul to the divine spirit are so pure that it is profane to seek to interpose helps. It must be that when God speaketh he should communicate, not one thing, but all things; should fill the world with his voice; should scatter forth light, nature, time, souls, from the center of the present thought; and new date and new create the whole.

All things are dissolved to their center by their cause, and in the universal miracle petty and particular miracles disappear. This is and must be. If therefore a man claims to know and speak of God and carries you backward to the phraseology of some old mouldered nation in another country, in another world, believe him not. Is the acorn better than the oak which is its fullness and completion?

Is the parent better than the child into whom he has cast his ripened being? Whence then is this worship of the past? The centuries are conspirators against the sanity and majesty of the soul. Time and space are but physiological colors which the eye maketh, but the soul is light; where it is, is day; where it was, is night; and history is an impertinence and an injury if it be any thing more than a cheerful apologue or parable of my being and becoming.

Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dare not say 'I think,' 'I am,' but quotes some saint or sage. He is ashamed before the blade of grass or the blowing rose.

These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God today. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence.

Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts: Its nature is satisfied and it satisfies nature in all moments alike. There is not time to it. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future.

He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time. This should be plain enough. Yet see what strong intellects dare not yet hear God himself unless he speak the phraseology of I know not what David, or Jeremiah, or Paul. We shall not always set so great a price on a few texts, on a few lives. So was it with us, so will it be if we proceed. If we live truly, we shall see truly.

It is as easy for the strong man to be strong, as it is for the weak to be weak. When we have new perception, we shall gladly disburden the memory of its hoarded treasures as old rubbish. When a man lives with God, his voice shall be as sweet as the murmur of the brook and the rustle of the corn. And now at last the highest truth on this subject remains unsaid; probably cannot be said; for all that we say is the far off remembering of the intuition.

That thought, by what I can now nearest approach to say it, is this. It shall exclude all other being. You take the way from man, not to man. All persons that ever existed are its fugitive ministers.

There shall be no fear in it. Fear and hope are alike beneath it. There is somewhat low even in hope. We are then in vision.

There is nothing that can be called gratitude, nor properly joy. The soul is raised over passion. It seeth identity and eternal causation. It is a perceiving that Truth and Right are. Hence it becomes a Tranquillity out of the knowing that all things go well. Vast spaces of nature; the Atlantic Ocean, the South Sea; vast intervals of time, years, centuries, are of no account.

This which I think and feel underlay that former state of life and circumstances, as it does underlie my present and will always all circumstances, and what is called life and what is called death. Life only avails , not the having lived. Power ceases in the instant of repose ; it resides in the moment of transition from a past to a new state, in the shooting of a gulf, in the darting to an aim.

This one fact the world hates, that the soul becomes; for that forever degrades the past; turns all riches to poverty, all reputation to a shame; confounds the saint with the rogue; shoves Jesus and Judas equally aside.

Why then do we prate of self-reliance? Inasmuch as the soul is present there will be power not confident but agent. To talk of reliance is a poor external way of speaking.

Speak rather of that which relies because it works and is. Who has more soul than I masters me, though he should not raise his finger. Round him I must revolve by the gravitation of spirits. Who has less I rule with like facility. We fancy it rhetoric when we speak of eminent virtue. We do not yet see that virtue is Height, and that a man or a company of men, plastic and permeable to principles, by the law of nature must overpower and ride all cities, nations, kings, rich men, poets, who are not.

This is the ultimate fact which we so quickly reach on this, as on every topic, the resolution of all into the ever-blessed ONE. Virtue is the governor, the creator, the reality. All things real are so by so much virtue as they contain. Hardship, husbandry, hunting, whaling, war, eloquence, personal weight, are somewhat, and engage my respect as examples of the soul's presence and impure action.

I see the same law working in nature for conservation and growth. The poise of a planet, the bended tree recovering itself from the strong wind, the vital resources of every animal and vegetable, are also demonstrations of the self-sufficing and therefore self-relying soul. All history, from its brightest to its trivial passage is the various record of this power.

Thus all concentrates; let us not rove; let us sit at home with the cause. Let us stun and astonish the intruding rabble of men and books and institutions by a simple declaration of the divine fact. Bid them take the shoes from off their feet, for God is here within. Let our simplicity judge them. But now we are a mob. Man does not stand in awe of men, nor is the soul admonished to stay at home, to put itself in communication with the internal ocean, but it goes abroad to beg a cup of water of the urns of men.

We must go alone. Isolation must precede true society. I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching. How far off, how cool, how chaste the persons look, begirt each one with a precinct or sanctuary. So let us always sit. Why should we assume the faults of our friend, or wife, or father, or child, because they sit around our hearth, or are said to have the same blood? All men have my blood and I have all men's.

Not for that will I adopt their petulance or folly, even to the extent of being ashamed of it. But your isolation must not be mechanical, but spiritual, that is, must be elevation.

At times the whole world seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with emphatic trifles. The power men possess to annoy me I give them by weak curiosity. No man can come near me but through my act. If we cannot at once rise to the sanctities of obedience and faith, let us at least resist our temptations, let us enter into a state of war and wake Thor and Woden , courage and constancy, in our Saxon breasts.

This is to be done in our smooth times by speaking the truth. Check this lying hospitality and lying affection. Live no longer to the expectation of these deceived and deceiving people with whom we converse. Henceforward I am the truth's. Be it known unto you that henceforward I obey no law less than the eternal law. I will have no covenants but proximities. I appeal from your customs. I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you. If you can love me for what I am, we shall be the happier.

If you cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should. I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly rejoices me and the heart appoints.

If you are noble, I will love you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions. If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I will seek my own. I do this not selfishly but humbly and truly. It is alike your interest, and mine, and all men's, however long we have dwelt in lies, to live in truth. Does this sound harsh today? You will soon love what is dictated by your nature as well as mine, and if we follow the truth it will bring us out safe at last.

Yes, but I cannot sell my liberty and my power, to save their sensibility. Besides, all persons have their moments of reason, when they look out into the region of absolute truth; then will they justify me and do the same thing.

The populace think that your rejection of popular standards is a rejection of all standard, and mere antinomianism ; and the bold sensualist will use the name of philosophy to gild his crimes. But the law of consciousness abides.

There are two confessionals, in one or the other of which we must be shriven. You may fulfill your round of duties by clearing yourself in the direct, or in the reflex way. Consider whether you have satisfied your relations to father, mother, cousin, neighbor, town, cat, and dog; whether any of these can upbraid you. But I may also neglect this reflex standard and absolve me to myself. I have my own stern claims and perfect circle. It denies the name of duty to many offices that are called duties.

But if I can discharge its debts it enables me to dispense with the popular code. If any one imagines that this law is lax, let him keep its commandment one day. And truly it demands something godlike in him who has cast off the common motives of humanity and has ventured to trust himself for a task-master.

High be his heart, faithful his will, clear his sight, that he may in good earnest be doctrine, society, law, to himself, that a simple purpose may be to him as strong as iron necessity is to others. If any man consider the present aspects of what is called by distinction society, he will see the need of these ethics. The sinew and heart of man seem to be drawn out, and we are become timorous desponding whimperers.

We are afraid of truth, afraid of fortune, afraid of death, and afraid of each other. Our age yields no great and perfect persons. We want men and women who shall renovate life and our social state, but we see that most natures are insolvent ; cannot satisfy their own wants, have an ambition out of all proportion to their practical force, and so do lean and beg day and night continually.

Our housekeeping is mendicant , our arts, our occupation, our marriages, our religion we have not chosen, but society has chosen for us. We are parlor soldiers. The rugged battle of fate, where strength is born, we shun. If our young men miscarry in their first enterprises they lose all heart. If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges and is not installed in an office within one year afterwards in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New York, it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened and in complaining the rest of his life.

A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all the professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always like a cat falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls. He walks abreast with his days and feels no shame in not "studying a profession," for he does not postpone his life, but lives already.

He has not one chance, but a hundred chances. In what prayers do men allow themselves! That which they call a holy office is not so much as brave and manly. Prayer looks abroad and asks for some foreign addition to come through some foreign virtue, and loses itself in endless mazes of natural and supernatural, and mediatorial and miraculous. Prayer is the contemplation of the facts of life from the highest point of view.

It pushes the reader to derive possible meanings, or to expand on the meanings that are present. That is a much more accurate depiction of the truth than most philosophers write, with their stupid, boring, flat, theoreticaly sound arguments.

I will die with fire in my heart for Emerson. He uplifts and expands my consciousness with every sentence. Jan 20, Shelly rated it really liked it. View all 4 comments. Jul 10, Desiree Finkbeiner rated it it was amazing Shelves: I had a natural disposition from an early age to stand on my own ground apart from the crowd. I've embraced my own personal truth without the need to force my values and opinions upon others.

This philosophy has awarded me popularity and in some cases, intense enemies throughout my life. There is no happiness quite like self-acceptance and the ability to be comfortable with one's own personality and conviction of beliefs. Ralph Waldo Emerson illuminates these truths with great vigor Fantastic!

Ralph Waldo Emerson illuminates these truths with great vigor and testimony; that no outside source can make one happy, but that which emanates from within. Happiness is a choice Anyone who applies the courage to BE who they are without fear of rejection or ridicule, finds the key to happiness in this life. View all 3 comments. L'auteur s'insurge contre cette dette morale, reprenant une maxime bouddhiste selon laquelle il ne convient pas de flatter les bienfaiteurs, et donc il ne faut jamais remercier!

Connaissant mal ce philosophe allemand, je n'ai pu en tirer tout le profit possible. Feb 17, Hana rated it it was amazing Shelves: Do I always agree with him? In particular, his emphasis on 'self-reliance' rather than wisdom handed down and tested through time has always struck me as fool-hardy. But his thinking is so central to American identity and is so beautifully argued that it is worthwhile studying no matter what your perspective.

Jun 04, Katerina rated it it was ok Shelves: Emerson calls on each person to listen to his own intuition rather than society, membership organizations, or religious traditions. He believes that each person can achieve his greatest genius by listening to himself. In the middle section of the essay, Emerson presents his arguments for his belief. The support seems to largely be based on a faulty understanding of G "Self-Reliance" is an essay that captures the independent spirit behind many Americans, but it overlooks the sinfulness of people.

The support seems to largely be based on a faulty understanding of God. He believes that God speaks directly to people's souls, disclosing all truth. If people would tune their intuition, they would touch the divine.

He goes on to claim that praying for help is false prayer. He also dismisses the Bible as a source of God's revelation. These ideas ignore the Bible's teachings on the sinfulness of man and holiness of God. They also ignore the Bible's teachings on prayer and warnings about false teachers. At first this essay appeals because it rings true to the ideas taught in America.

However closer evaluation shows the ideas are not true to Scripture. The essay is worth reading for the perspective it offers on American self-reliance, but it should be read with caution and not blindly accepted. Oct 07, Caroline rated it it was ok. He says, "He [i. Giant Transcendentalism] shouted after us, but in so strange a phraseology that we knew not what he meant, nor whether to be encouraged or affrighted. The essence of Emerson's essays is merely nebulous claims to self-importance and a direct undermining of Christianity and traditional values.

To me, it seems as if Emerson was just trying to create a philosophy he could use to excuse himself from moral absolutes. He claims that if each individual believes himself to be a manifestation of God then perfection and peace can be established on earth.

Clearly, his neglect of history blinds him to the logical outcome of his theory: Feb 13, Lindsey rated it it was amazing. Whoso would be a man, must be a non-conformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, a Whoso would be a man, must be a non-conformist. A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall.

Out upon your guarded lips! Sew them up with pockthread, do. Else if you would be a man speak what you think today in words as hard as cannon balls, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today. Ah, then, exclaim the aged ladies, you shall be sure to be misunderstood! It is a right fool's word. Is it so bad then to be misunderstood?

Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood. I see the different connections between the two authors as Dickinson admired Emerson. Nov 18, Brad Lyerla rated it really liked it. Emerson's Essay on Self-Reliance is the classic argument for non-conformity. Everyone should read it if only for the quotes.

Nov 27, Sahar Pirmoradian rated it liked it. This book is a collection of several essays by Emerson. The "Self-reliance" essay helped me better digest the mentality of Americans - why they do not have many charities or their social insurance is so poor, compared to Europeans.

I also enjoyed his essay on "Friendship", where he defines friendship ingredients: Aug 26, Lex rated it really liked it Shelves: I reread Self-Reliance shortly after quitting Facebook, and then re-read it again twice more, in disbelief that apparently the issues I have with FB are not so removed from Emerson's times Oct 16, Andrea rated it it was amazing.

I love Ralph Waldo! I can only understand 1 out of every 5 things he says, but the parts I am getting are brilliant.

I hear the American Scholar essay is fantastic. Can't wait to read it. Oct 10, Dominic Robin rated it did not like it Shelves: Dear Lord, please no -never again- if it can be helped, and if I must be tortured for some wrong and made to read a terrible book, give me Twilight or a bad fan fiction but not this.

Oct 25, David Calhoun rated it it was amazing. This is one of those rare things you hear about your whole life but put off because it sounds boring. Something hailed as a classic but something you are skeptical of being relevant for the current age. But when it finally comes to you, and when you finally get the discipline to read it, it resonates and turns out to be just the thing you needed to read, right at that stage in your life. This is an essay about self-reliance, not in the Thoreau sense, but being self-oriented even when Holy smokes.

This is an essay about self-reliance, not in the Thoreau sense, but being self-oriented even when in the crowd. Very existential at times since it has this "self vs crowd" aspect. I was not sure I totally agreed with the essay.

The part against travelling for amusement rubbed me the wrong way, maybe because I've been travelling a lot this year. But it challenged me, which is good. Oct 01, Ben Lind rated it really liked it Shelves: Reading Books Emerson thinks that you should only read as a last resort.

When he can read God directly, the hour is too precious to be waster in other men's transcripts of their readings. But when the intervals of darkness come, as come they must,—when the soul seeth not, when the sun is hid and the stars withdraw their shining,—we repair to the lamps which were kindled by their ray, to guide our steps to the East again, where the dawn is.

We hear, that we Reading Books Emerson thinks that you should only read as a last resort. We hear, that we may speak" Books do still have extraordinary power, however. On the same hand, "[o]nly so much do I know, as I have lived. Instantly we know whose words are loaded with life, and whose not" The use of literature is to afford us a platform whence we may command a view of our present life, a purchase by which we may move it" Self-Reliance I found Emerson's writing to be at times distastefully arrogant.

He places such importance on self-reliance that any man who is not completely self-reliant is treated as lesser. Emerson says of the self-reliant man that "[h]e and he only knows the world" That, besides being almost the definition of pride, goes completely against my firm Christian beliefs.

Despite this distaste, I still appreciated Emerson's wisdom on many topics. He must be taken with a helping of salt. Whilst he sits on the cushion of advantages, he goes to sleep. When he is punished, tormented, defeated, he has a chance to learn something; he has been put on his wits, on his manhood; he has gained facts; learns his ignorance; is cured of the insanity of conceit; has got moderation and real skill.

The wise man throws himself on the side of his assailants. It is more his interest than it is theirs to find his weak point. The wound cicatrizes and falls off from him like a dead skin, and when they would triumph, lo!

Blame is safer than praise" Choose your companions carefully. If you are noble, I will love you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions.

If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I will seek my own" We have lost the art of resilience. If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges, and is not installed in an office within one year afterwards in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New York, it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened, and in complaining the rest of his life.

A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all the professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always, like a cat, falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls.

He walks abreast with his days, and feels no shame in not "studying a profession," for he does not postpone his life, but lives already. He has not one chance, but a hundred chances. Let a Stoic open the resources of man, and tell men they are not leaning willows, but can and must detach themselves; that with the exercise of self-trust, new powers shall appear; that a man is the word made flesh, born to shed healing to the nations, that he should be ashamed of our compassion, and that the moment he acts from himself, tossing the laws, the books, idolatries and customs out of the window, we pity him no more, but thank and revere him,—and that teacher shall restore the life of man to splendor, and make his name dear to all history"

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And so the reliance on Property, including the reliance on governments which protect it, is the want of self-reliance. Men have looked away from themselves and at things so long, that they have come to esteem the religious, learned, and civil institutions as guards of property, and they deprecate assaults on these, because they feel them to be.

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Published first in in Essays and then in the revised edition of Essays, "Self-Reliance" took shape over a long period of b2bproxy.cfhout his life, Emerson kept detailed journals of his thoughts and actions, and he returned to them as a source for many of his essays.

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Self Reliance and Other Essays study guide contains a biography of Ralph Emerson, literature essays, a complete e-text, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis. About Self Reliance and Other Essays. Emerson's Essay on Self-Reliance is the classic argument for non-conformity. Everyone should read it if only for the quotes. Check it out: "Whosoever would be /5.

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Self-Reliance: Self-Reliance, essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson, published in the first volume of his collected Essays (). Developed from his journals and from a series of lectures he gave in the winter of –37, it exhorts the reader to consistently obey “the aboriginal self,” or inner law, regardless of. The essay “Self-Reliance”, by Ralph Waldo Emerson, is a persuasive essay promoting the ways of transcendentalism. He uses this paper to advance a major point using a structure that helps his argument.