Essays, First Series
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Part 3 out of 5

falls to admire strokes of character, and the lovers
contemplate one another in their discourses and their
actions, then they pass to the true palace of beauty,
more and more inflame their love of it, and by this
love extinguishing the base affection, as the sun puts
out the fire by shining on the hearth, they become pure
and hallowed. By conversation with that which is in
itself excellent, magnanimous, lowly, and just, the
lover comes to a warmer love of these nobilities, and
a quicker apprehension of them. Then he passes from
loving them in one to loving them in all, and so is
the one beautiful soul only the door through which he
enters to the society of all true and pure souls. In
the particular society of his mate he attains a clearer
sight of any spot, any taint which her beauty has
contracted from this world, and is able to point it out,
and this with mutual joy that they are now able, without
offence, to indicate blemishes and hindrances in each
other, and give to each all help and comfort in curing
the same. And beholding in many souls the traits of the
divine beauty, and separating in each soul that which
is divine from the taint which it has contracted in the
world, the lover ascends to the highest beauty, to the
love and knowledge of the Divinity, by steps on this
ladder of created souls.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A RUDDY drop of manly blood
The surging sea outweighs;
The world uncertain comes and goes,
The lover rooted stays.
I fancied he was fled,
And, after many a year,
Glowed unexhausted kindliness
Like daily sunrise there.
My careful heart was free again,--
O friend, my bosom said,
Through thee alone the sky is arched,
Through thee the rose is red,
All things through thee take nobler form
And look beyond the earth,
The mill-round of our fate appears
A sun-path in thy worth.
Me too thy nobleness has taught
To master my despair;
The fountains of my hidden life
Are through thy friendship fair.


We have a great deal more kindness than is ever spoken.
Maugre all the selfishness that chills like east winds
the world, the whole human family is bathed with an
element of love like a fine ether. How many persons we
meet in houses, whom we scarcely speak to, whom yet we
honor, and who honor us! How many we see in the street,
or sit with in church, whom, though silently, we warmly
rejoice to be with! Read the language of these wandering
eye-beams. The heart knoweth.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He only is fit for this society who is magnanimous; who
is sure that greatness and goodness are always economy;
who is not swift to intermeddle with his fortunes. Let
him not intermeddle with this. Leave to the diamond its
ages to grow, nor expect to accelerate the births of the
eternal. Friendship demands a religious treatment. We
talk of choosing our friends, but friends are self-elected.
Reverence is a great part of it. Treat your friend as a
spectacle. Of course he has merits that are not yours, and
that you cannot honor if you must needs hold him close to
your person. Stand aside; give those merits room; let them
mount and expand. Are you the friend of your friend's
buttons, or of his thought? To a great heart he will still
be a stranger in a thousand particulars, that he may come
near in the holiest ground. Leave it to girls and boys to
regard a friend as property, and to suck a short and all-
confounding pleasure, instead of the noblest benefit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


THEME no poet gladly sung,
Fair to old and foul to young;
Scorn not thou the love of parts,
And the articles of arts.
Grandeur of the perfect sphere
Thanks the atoms that cohere.


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

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

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

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

The world is filled with the proverbs and acts and
winkings of a base prudence, which is a devotion to
matter, as if we possessed no other faculties than
the palate, the nose, the touch, the eye and ear; a
prudence which adores the Rule of Three, which never
subscribes, which never gives, which seldom lends,
and asks but one question of any project,--Will it
bake bread? This is a disease like a thickening of
the skin until the vital organs are destroyed. But
culture, revealing the high origin of the apparent
world and aiming at the perfection of the man as the
end, degrades every thing else, as health and bodily
life, into means. It sees prudence not to be a several
faculty, but a name for wisdom and virtue conversing
with the body and its wants. Cultivated men always feel
and speak so, as if a great fortune, the achievement of
a civil or social measure, great personal influence, a
graceful and commanding address, had their value as
proofs of the energy of the spirit. If a man lose his
balance and immerse himself in any trades or pleasures
for their own sake, he may be a good wheel or pin, but
he is not a cultivated man.

The spurious prudence, making the senses final, is the
god of sots and cowards, and is the subject of all
comedy. It is nature's joke, and therefore literature's.
The true prudence limits this sensualism by admitting
the knowledge of an internal and real world. This
recognition once made, the order of the world and the
distribution of affairs and times, being studied with
the co-perception of their subordinate place, will
reward any degree of attention. For our existence, thus
apparently attached in nature to the sun and the returning
moon and the periods which they mark,--so susceptible to
climate and to country, so alive to social good and evil,
so fond of splendor and so tender to hunger and cold and
debt,--reads all its primary lessons out of these books.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The scholar shames us by his bifold life. Whilst
something higher than prudence is active, he is
admirable; when common sense is wanted, he is an
encumbrance. Yesterday, Caesar was not so great;
to-day, the felon at the gallows' foot is not more
miserable. Yesterday, radiant with the light of an
ideal world in which he lives, the first of men; and
now oppressed by wants and by sickness, for which he
must thank himself. He resembles the pitiful drivellers
whom travellers describe as frequenting the bazaars of
Constantinople, who skulk about all day, yellow,
emaciated, ragged, sneaking; and at evening, when the
bazaars are open, slink to the opium-shop, swallow their
morsel and become tranquil and glorified seers. And who
has not seen the tragedy of imprudent genius struggling
for years with paltry pecuniary difficulties, at last
sinking, chilled, exhausted and fruitless, like a giant
slaughtered by pins?

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

Let him learn a prudence of a higher strain. Let him
learn that every thing in nature, even motes and
feathers, go by law and not by luck, and that what he
sows he reaps. By diligence and self-command let him
put the bread he eats at his own disposal, that he may
not stand in bitter and false relations to other men;
for the best good of wealth is freedom. Let him practise
the minor virtues. How much of human life is lost in
waiting! let him not make his fellow-creatures wait. How
many words and promises are promises of conversation!
Let his be words of fate. When he sees a folded and sealed
scrap of paper float round the globe in a pine ship and
come safe to the eye for which it was written, amidst a
swarming population, let him likewise feel the admonition
to integrate his being across all these distracting forces,
and keep a slender human word among the storms, distances
and accidents that drive us hither and thither, and, by
persistency, make the paltry force of one man reappear to
redeem its pledge after months and years in the most distant

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

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

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

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

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

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


"Paradise is under the shadow of swords."

RUBY wine is drunk by knaves,
Sugar spends to fatten slaves,
Rose and vine-leaf deck buffoons;
Thunderclouds are Jove's festoons,
Drooping oft in wreaths of dread
Lightning-knotted round his head;
The hero is not fed on sweets,
Daily his own heart he eats;
Chambers of the great are jails,
And head-winds right for royal sails.


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

Valerius. Bid thy wife farewell.

Soph_. No, I will take no leave. My Dorigen,
Yonder, above, 'bout Ariadne's crown,
My spirit shall hover for thee. Prithee, haste.

Dor. Stay, Sophocles,--with this tie up my sight;
Let not soft nature so transformed be,
And lose her gentler sexed humanity,
To make me see my lord bleed. So, 'tis well;
Never one object underneath the sun
Will I behold before my Sophocles:
Farewell; now teach the Romans how to die.

Mar. Dost know what 't is to die?

Soph. Thou dost not, Martius,
And, therefore, not what 'tis to live; to die
Is to begin to live. It is to end
An old, stale, weary work, and to commence
A newer and a better. 'Tis to leave
Deceitful knaves for the society
Of gods and goodness. Thou thyself must part
At last from all thy garlands, pleasures, triumphs,
And prove thy fortitude what then 't will do.

Val. But art not grieved nor vexed to leave thy life thus?

Soph. Why should I grieve or vex for being sent
To them I ever loved best? Now I'll kneel,
But with my back toward thee; 'tis the last duty
This trunk can do the gods.

Mar. Strike, strike, Valerius,
Or Martius' heart will leap out at his mouth.
This is a man, a woman. Kiss thy lord,
And live with all the freedom you were wont.
O love! thou doubly hast afflicted me
With virtue and with beauty. Treacherous heart,
My hand shall cast thee quick into my urn,
Ere thou transgress this knot of piety.

Val. What ails my brother?

Soph. Martius, O Martius,
Thou now hast found a way to conquer me.

Dor. O star of Rome! what gratitude can speak
Fit words to follow such a deed as this?

Mar. This admirable duke, Valerius,
With his disdain of fortune and of death,
Captived himself, has captivated me,
And though my arm hath ta'en his body here,
His soul hath subjugated Martius' soul.
By Romulus, he is all soul, I think;
He hath no flesh, and spirit cannot be gyved;
Then we have vanquished nothing; he is free,
And Martius walks now in captivity."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jul. Why, slaves, 'tis in our power to hang ye.
Master. Very likely,
'Tis in our powers, then, to be hanged, and scorn ye.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Let them rave:
Thou art quiet in thy grave."

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


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

Space is ample, east and west,
But two cannot go abreast,
Cannot travel in it two:
Yonder masterful cuckoo
Crowds every egg out of the nest,
Quick or dead, except its own;
A spell is laid on sod and stone,
Night and Day 've been tampered with,
Every quality and pith
Surcharged and sultry with a power
That works its will on age and hour.


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

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

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

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

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

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

"Can crowd eternity into an hour,
Or stretch an hour to eternity."

We are often made to feel that there is another youth
and age than that which is measured from the year of
our natural birth. Some thoughts always find us young,
and keep us so. Such a thought is the love of the
universal and eternal beauty. Every man parts from that
contemplation with the feeling that it rather belongs
to ages than to mortal life. The least activity of the
intellectual powers redeems us in a degree from the
conditions of time. In sickness, in languor, give us a
strain of poetry or a profound sentence, and we are
refreshed; or produce a volume of Plato or Shakspeare,
or remind us of their names, and instantly we come into
a feeling of longevity. See how the deep divine thought
reduces centuries and millenniums and makes itself
present through all ages. Is the teaching of Christ
less effective now than it was when first his mouth
was opened? The emphasis of facts and persons in my
thought has nothing to do with time. And so always the
soul's scale is one, the scale of the senses and the
understanding is another. Before the revelations of the
soul, Time, Space and Nature shrink away. In common
speech we refer all things to time, as we habitually
refer the immensely sundered stars to one concave sphere.
And so we say that the Judgment is distant or near, that
the Millennium approaches, that a day of certain political,
moral, social reforms is at hand, and the like, when we
mean that in the nature of things one of the facts we
contemplate is external and fugitive, and the other is
permanent and connate with the soul. The things we now
esteem fixed shall, one by one, detach themselves like
ripe fruit from our experience, and fall. The wind shall
blow them none knows whither. The landscape, the figures,
Boston, London, are facts as fugitive as any institution
past, or any whiff of mist or smoke, and so is society,
and so is the world. The soul looketh steadily forwards,
creating a world before her, leaving worlds behind her.


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