Essays, First Series
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Part 4 out of 5

She has no dates, nor rites, nor persons, nor specialties
nor men. The soul knows only the soul; the web of events
is the flowing robe in which she is clothed.

After its own law and not by arithmetic is the rate of
its progress to be computed. The soul's advances are not
made by gradation, such as can be represented by motion
in a straight line, but rather by ascension of state,
such as can be represented by metamorphosis,--from the
egg to the worm, from the worm to the fly. The growths
of genius are of a certain total character, that does
not advance the elect individual first over John, then
Adam, then Richard, and give to each the pain of
discovered inferiority,--but by every throe of growth
the man expands there where he works, passing, at each
pulsation, classes, populations, of men. With each divine
impulse the mind rends the thin rinds of the visible and
finite, and comes out into eternity, and inspires and
expires its air. It converses with truths that have always
been spoken in the world, and becomes conscious of a closer
sympathy with Zeno and Arrian than with persons in the house.

This is the law of moral and of mental gain. The simple
rise as by specific levity not into a particular virtue,
but into the region of all the virtues. They are in the
spirit which contains them all. The soul requires purity,
but purity is not it; requires justice, but justice is
not that; requires beneficence, but is somewhat better;
so that there is a kind of descent and accommodation felt
when we leave speaking of moral nature to urge a virtue
which it enjoins. To the well-born child all the virtues
are natural, and not painfully acquired. Speak to his
heart, and the man becomes suddenly virtuous.

Within the same sentiment is the germ of intellectual
growth, which obeys the same law. Those who are capable
of humility, of justice, of love, of aspiration, stand
already on a platform that commands the sciences and
arts, speech and poetry, action and grace. For whoso
dwells in this moral beatitude already anticipates those
special powers which men prize so highly. The lover has
no talent, no skill, which passes for quite nothing with
his enamoured maiden, however little she may possess of
related faculty; and the heart which abandons itself to
the Supreme Mind finds itself related to all its works,
and will travel a royal road to particular knowledges and
powers. In ascending to this primary and aboriginal
sentiment we have come from our remote station on the
circumference instantaneously to the centre of the world,
where, as in the closet of God, we see causes, and
anticipate the universe, which is but a slow effect.

One mode of the divine teaching is the incarnation of
the spirit in a form,--in forms, like my own. I live
in society, with persons who answer to thoughts in my
own mind, or express a certain obedience to the great
instincts to which I live. I see its presence to them.
I am certified of a common nature; and these other souls,
these separated selves, draw me as nothing else can.
They stir in me the new emotions we call passion; of love,
hatred, fear, admiration, pity; thence come conversation,
competition, persuasion, cities and war. Persons are
supplementary to the primary teaching of the soul. In
youth we are mad for persons. Childhood and youth see
all the world in them. But the larger experience of man
discovers the identical nature appearing through them all.
Persons themselves acquaint us with the impersonal. In all
conversation between two persons tacit reference is made,
as to a third party, to a common nature. That third party
or common nature is not social; it is impersonal; is God.
And so in groups where debate is earnest, and especially
on high questions, the company become aware that the
thought rises to an equal level in all bosoms, that all
have a spiritual property in what was said, as well as
the sayer. They all become wiser than they were. It arches
over them like a temple, this unity of thought in which
every heart beats with nobler sense of power and duty, and
thinks and acts with unusual solemnity. All are conscious
of attaining to a higher self-possession. It shines for
all. There is a certain wisdom of humanity which is common
to the greatest men with the lowest, and which our ordinary
education often labors to silence and obstruct. The mind is
one, and the best minds, who love truth for its own sake,
think much less of property in truth. They accept it
thankfully everywhere, and do not label or stamp it with
any man's name, for it is theirs long beforehand, and from
eternity. The learned and the studious of thought have no
monopoly of wisdom. Their violence of direction in some
degree disqualifies them to think truly. We owe many
valuable observations to people who are not very acute or
profound, and who say the thing without effort which we want
and have long been hunting in vain. The action of the soul
is oftener in that which is felt and left unsaid than in
that which is said in any conversation. It broods over every
society, and they unconsciously seek for it in each other.
We know better than we do. We do not yet possess ourselves,
and we know at the same time that we are much more. I feel
the same truth how often in my trivial conversation with my
neighbors, that somewhat higher in each of us overlooks this
by-play, and Jove nods to Jove from behind each of us.

Men descend to meet. In their habitual and mean service
to the world, for which they forsake their native
nobleness, they resemble those Arabian sheiks who dwell
in mean houses and affect an external poverty, to escape
the rapacity of the Pacha, and reserve all their display
of wealth for their interior and guarded retirements.

As it is present in all persons, so it is in every
period of life. It is adult already in the infant man.
In my dealing with my child, my Latin and Greek, my
accomplishments and my money stead me nothing; but as
much soul as I have avails. If I am wilful, he sets his
will against mine, one for one, and leaves me, if I
please, the degradation of beating him by my superiority
of strength. But if I renounce my will and act for the
soul, setting that up as umpire between us two, out of
his young eyes looks the same soul; he reveres and loves
with me.

The soul is the perceiver and revealer of truth. We know
truth when we see it, let skeptic and scoffer say what
they choose. Foolish people ask you, when you have spoken
what they do not wish to hear, 'How do you know it is
truth, and not an error of your own?' We know truth when
we see it, from opinion, as we know when we are awake that
we are awake. It was a grand sentence of Emanuel Swedenborg,
which would alone indicate the greatness of that man's
perception,--"It is no proof of a man's understanding to
be able to confirm whatever he pleases; but to be able to
discern that what is true is true, and that what is false
is false,--this is the mark and character of intelligence."
In the book I read, the good thought returns to me, as
every truth will, the image of the whole soul. To the bad
thought which I find in it, the same soul becomes a
discerning, separating sword, and lops it away. We are wiser
than we know. If we will not interfere with our thought, but
will act entirely, or see how the thing stands in God, we
know the particular thing, and every thing, and every man.
For the Maker of all things and all persons stands behind
us and casts his dread omniscience through us over things.

But beyond this recognition of its own in particular
passages of the individual's experience, it also reveals
truth. And here we should seek to reinforce ourselves by
its very presence, and to speak with a worthier, loftier
strain of that advent. For the soul's communication of
truth is the highest event in nature, since it then does
not give somewhat from itself, but it gives itself, or
passes into and becomes that man whom it enlightens; or,
in proportion to that truth he receives, it takes him to

We distinguish the announcements of the soul, its
manifestations of its own nature, by the term Revelation.
These are always attended by the emotion of the sublime.
For this communication is an influx of the Divine mind
into our mind. It is an ebb of the individual rivulet
before the flowing surges of the sea of life. Every distinct
apprehension of this central commandment agitates men with
awe and delight. A thrill passes through all men at the
reception of new truth, or at the performance of a great
action, which comes out of the heart of nature. In these
communications the power to see is not separated from the
will to do, but the insight proceeds from obedience, and
the obedience proceeds from a joyful perception. Every
moment when the individual feels himself invaded by it is
memorable. By the necessity of our constitution a certain
enthusiasm attends the individual's consciousness of that
divine presence. The character and duration of this
enthusiasm varies with the state of the individual, from an
ecstasy and trance and prophetic inspiration,--which is its
rarer appearance,--to the faintest glow of virtuous emotion,
in which form it warms, like our household fires, all the
families and associations of men, and makes society possible.
A certain tendency to insanity has always attended the opening
of the religious sense in men, as if they had been "blasted
with excess of light." The trances of Socrates, the "union"
of Plotinus, the vision of Porphyry, the conversion of Paul,
the aurora of Behmen, the convulsions of George Fox and his
Quakers, the illumination of Swedenborg, are of this kind.
What was in the case of these remarkable persons a ravishment,
has, in innumerable instances in common life, been exhibited
in less striking manner. Everywhere the history of religion
betrays a tendency to enthusiasm. The rapture of the Moravian
and Quietist; the opening of the internal sense of the Word,
in the language of the New Jerusalem Church; the revival of
the Calvinistic churches; the experiences of the Methodists,
are varying forms of that shudder of awe and delight with
which the individual soul always mingles with the universal

The nature of these revelations is the same; they are
perceptions of the absolute law. They are solutions
of the soul's own questions. They do not answer the
questions which the understanding asks. The soul
answers never by words, but by the thing itself that
is inquired after.

Revelation is the disclosure of the soul. The popular
notion of a revelation is that it is a telling of
fortunes. In past oracles of the soul the understanding
seeks to find answers to sensual questions, and undertakes
to tell from God how long men shall exist, what their
hands shall do and who shall be their company, adding
names and dates and places. But we must pick no locks.
We must check this low curiosity. An answer in words is
delusive; it is really no answer to the questions you ask.
Do not require a description of the countries towards
which you sail. The description does not describe them to
you, and to-morrow you arrive there and know them by
inhabiting them. Men ask concerning the immortality of
the soul, the employments of heaven, the state of the
sinner, and so forth. They even dream that Jesus has left
replies to precisely these interrogatories. Never a moment
did that sublime spirit speak in their patois. To truth,
justice, love, the attributes of the soul, the idea of
immutableness is essentially associated. Jesus, living in
these moral sentiments, heedless of sensual fortunes, heeding
only the manifestations of these, never made the separation
of the idea of duration from the essence of these attributes,
nor uttered a syllable concerning the duration of the soul.
It was left to his disciples to sever duration from the
moral elements, and to teach the immortality of the soul
as a doctrine, and maintain it by evidences. The moment the
doctrine of the immortality is separately taught, man is
already fallen. In the flowing of love, in the adoration of
humility, there is no question of continuance. No inspired
man ever asks this question or condescends to these evidences.
For the soul is true to itself, and the man in whom it is
shed abroad cannot wander from the present, which is infinite,
to a future which would be finite.

These questions which we lust to ask about the future
are a confession of sin. God has no answer for them. No
answer in words can reply to a question of things. It is
not in an arbitrary "decree of God," but in the nature
of man, that a veil shuts down on the facts of to-morrow;
for the soul will not have us read any other cipher than
that of cause and effect. By this veil which curtains
events it instructs the children of men to live in to-day.
The only mode of obtaining an answer to these questions
of the senses is to forego all low curiosity, and,
accepting the tide of being which floats us into the
secret of nature, work and live, work and live, and all
unawares the advancing soul has built and forged for
itself a new condition, and the question and the answer
are one.

By the same fire, vital, consecrating, celestial, which
burns until it shall dissolve all things into the waves
and surges of an ocean of light, we see and know each
other, and what spirit each is of. Who can tell the
grounds of his knowledge of the character of the several
individuals in his circle of friends? No man. Yet their
acts and words do not disappoint him. In that man, though
he knew no ill of him, he put no trust. In that other,
though they had seldom met, authentic signs had yet passed,
to signify that he might be trusted as one who had an
interest in his own character. We know each other very well,
--which of us has been just to himself and whether that
which we teach or behold is only an aspiration or is our
honest effort also.

We are all discerners of spirits. That diagnosis lies
aloft in our life or unconscious power. The intercourse
of society, its trade, its religion, its friendships,
its quarrels, is one wide, judicial investigation of
character. In full court, or in small committee, or
confronted face to face, accuser and accused, men offer
themselves to be judged. Against their will they exhibit
those decisive trifles by which character is read. But
who judges? and what? Not our understanding. We do not
read them by learning or craft. No; the wisdom of the
wise man consists herein, that he does not judge them;
he lets them judge themselves and merely reads and
records their own verdict.

By virtue of this inevitable nature, private will
is overpowered, and, maugre our efforts or our
imperfections, your genius will speak from you,
and mine from me. That which we are, we shall teach,
not voluntarily but involuntarily. Thoughts come into
our minds by avenues which we never left open, and
thoughts go out of our minds through avenues which we
never voluntarily opened. Character teaches over our
head. The infallible index of true progress is found
in the tone the man takes. Neither his age, nor his
breeding, nor company, nor books, nor actions, nor
talents, nor all together can hinder him from being
deferential to a higher spirit than his own. If he
have not found his home in God, his manners, his
forms of speech, the turn of his sentences, the build,
shall I say, of all his opinions will involuntarily
confess it, let him brave it out how he will. If he
have found his centre, the Deity will shine through
him, through all the disguises of ignorance, of
ungenial temperament, of unfavorable circumstance.
The tone of seeking is one, and the tone of having
is another.

The great distinction between teachers sacred or
literary,--between poets like Herbert, and poets
like Pope,--between philosophers like Spinoza, Kant
and Coleridge, and philosophers like Locke, Paley,
Mackintosh and Stewart,--between men of the world
who are reckoned accomplished talkers, and here and
there a fervent mystic, prophesying half insane under
the infinitude of his thought,--is that one class
speak from within, or from experience, as parties
and possessors of the fact; and the other class from
without, as spectators merely, or perhaps as acquainted
with the fact on the evidence of third persons. It is
of no use to preach to me from without. I can do that
too easily myself. Jesus speaks always from within,
and in a degree that transcends all others. In that is
the miracle. I believe beforehand that it ought so to
be. All men stand continually in the expectation of the
appearance of such a teacher. But if a man do not speak
from within the veil, where the word is one with that it
tells of, let him lowly confess it.

The same Omniscience flows into the intellect, and makes
what we call genius. Much of the wisdom of the world is
not wisdom, and the most illuminated class of men are no
doubt superior to literary fame, and are not writers.
Among the multitude of scholars and authors, we feel no
hallowing presence; we are sensible of a knack and skill
rather than of inspiration; they have a light and know
not whence it comes and call it their own; their talent
is some exaggerated faculty, some overgrown member, so
that their strength is a disease. In these instances the
intellectual gifts do not make the impression of virtue,
but almost of vice; and we feel that a man's talents stand
in the way of his advancement in truth. But genius is
religious. It is a larger imbibing of the common heart.
It is not anomalous, but more like and not less like other
men. There is in all great poets a wisdom of humanity
which is superior to any talents they exercise. The author,
the wit, the partisan, the fine gentleman, does not take
place of the man. Humanity shines in Homer, in Chaucer, in
Spenser, in Shakspeare, in Milton. They are content with
truth. They use the positive degree. They seem frigid and
phlegmatic to those who have been spiced with the frantic
passion and violent coloring of inferior but popular
writers. For they are poets by the free course which they
allow to the informing soul, which through their eyes
beholds again and blesses the things which it hath made.
The soul is superior to its knowledge, wiser than any of
its works. The great poet makes us feel our own wealth,
and then we think less of his compositions. His best
communication to our mind is to teach us to despise all
he has done. Shakspeare carries us to such a lofty strain
of intelligent activity as to suggest a wealth which
beggars his own; and we then feel that the splendid works
which he has created, and which in other hours we extol
as a sort of self-existent poetry, take no stronger hold
of real nature than the shadow of a passing traveller on
the rock. The inspiration which uttered itself in Hamlet
and Lear could utter things as good from day to day for
ever. Why then should I make account of Hamlet and Lear,
as if we had not the soul from which they fell as syllables
from the tongue?

This energy does not descend into individual life on
any other condition than entire possession. It comes
to the lowly and simple; it comes to whomsoever will
put off what is foreign and proud; it comes as insight;
it comes as serenity and grandeur. When we see those
whom it inhabits, we are apprised of new degrees of
greatness. From that inspiration the man comes back
with a changed tone. He does not talk with men with
an eye to their opinion. He tries them. It requires
of us to be plain and true. The vain traveller attempts
to embellish his life by quoting my lord and the prince
and the countess, who thus said or did to him. The
ambitious vulgar show you their spoons and brooches and
rings, and preserve their cards and compliments. The
more cultivated, in their account of their own experience,
cull out the pleasing, poetic circumstance,--the visit to
Rome, the man of genius they saw, the brilliant friend
They know; still further on perhaps the gorgeous landscape,
the mountain lights, the mountain thoughts they enjoyed
yesterday,--and so seek to throw a romantic color over
their life. But the soul that ascends to worship the
great God is plain and true; has no rose-color, no fine
friends, no chivalry, no adventures; does not want
admiration; dwells in the hour that now is, in the
earnest experience of the common day,--by reason of the
present moment and the mere trifle having become porous
to thought and bibulous of the sea of light.

Converse with a mind that is grandly simple, and
literature looks like word-catching. The simplest
utterances are worthiest to be written, yet are
they so cheap and so things of course, that in the
infinite riches of the soul it is like gathering a
few pebbles off the ground, or bottling a little
air in a phial, when the whole earth and the whole
atmosphere are ours. Nothing can pass there, or make
you one of the circle, but the casting aside your
trappings, and dealing man to man in naked truth,
plain confession, and omniscient affirmation.

Souls such as these treat you as gods would, walk as
gods in the earth, accepting without any admiration
your wit, your bounty, your virtue even,--say rather
your act of duty, for your virtue they own as their
proper blood, royal as themselves, and over-royal,
and the father of the gods. But what rebuke their
plain fraternal bearing casts on the mutual flattery
with which authors solace each other and wound
themselves! These flatter not. I do not wonder that
these men go to see Cromwell and Christina and Charles
the Second and James the First and the Grand Turk. For
they are, in their own elevation, the fellows of kings,
and must feel the servile tone of conversation in the
world. They must always be a godsend to princes, for
they confront them, a king to a king, without ducking
or concession, and give a high nature the refreshment
and satisfaction of resistance, of plain humanity, of
even companionship and of new ideas. They leave them
wiser and superior men. Souls like these make us feel
that sincerity is more excellent than flattery. Deal so
plainly with man and woman as to constrain the utmost
sincerity and destroy all hope of trifling with you. It
is the highest compliment you can pay. Their "highest
praising," said Milton, "is not flattery, and their
plainest advice is a kind of praising."

Ineffable is the union of man and God in every act
of the soul. The simplest person who in his integrity
worships God, becomes God; yet for ever and ever the
influx of this better and universal self is new and
unsearchable. It inspires awe and astonishment. How
dear, how soothing to man, arises the idea of God,
peopling the lonely place, effacing the scars of our
mistakes and disappointments! When we have broken our
god of tradition and ceased from our god of rhetoric,
then may God fire the heart with his presence. It is
the doubling of the heart itself, nay, the infinite
enlargement of the heart with a power of growth to a
new infinity on every side. It inspires in man an
infallible trust. He has not the conviction, but the
sight, that the best is the true, and may in that
thought easily dismiss all particular uncertainties
and fears, and adjourn to the sure revelation of time
the solution of his private riddles. He is sure that
his welfare is dear to the heart of being. In the
presence of law to his mind he is overflowed with a
reliance so universal that it sweeps away all cherished
hopes and the most stable projects of mortal condition
in its flood. He believes that he cannot escape from
his good. The things that are really for thee gravitate
to thee. You are running to seek your friend. Let your
feet run, but your mind need not. If you do not find
him, will you not acquiesce that it is best you should
not find him? for there is a power, which, as it is in
you, is in him also, and could therefore very well bring
you together, if it were for the best. You are preparing
with eagerness to go and render a service to which your
talent and your taste invite you, the love of men and
the hope of fame. Has it not occurred to you that you
have no right to go, unless you are equally willing to
be prevented from going? O, believe, as thou livest, that
every sound that is spoken over the round world, which
thou oughtest to hear, will vibrate on thine ear! Every
proverb, every book, every byword that belongs to thee
for aid or comfort, shall surely come home through open
or winding passages. Every friend whom not thy fantastic
will but the great and tender heart in thee craveth,
shall lock thee in his embrace. And this because the
heart in thee is the heart of all; not a valve, not a
wall, not an intersection is there anywhere in nature,
but one blood rolls uninterruptedly an endless circulation
through all men, as the water of the globe is all one sea,
and, truly seen, its tide is one.

Let man then learn the revelation of all nature and
all thought to his heart; this, namely; that the
Highest dwells with him; that the sources of nature
are in his own mind, if the sentiment of duty is
there. But if he would know what the great God
speaketh, he must 'go into his closet and shut the
door,' as Jesus said. God will not make himself
manifest to cowards. He must greatly listen to himself,
withdrawing himself from all the accents of other men's
devotion. Even their prayers are hurtful to him, until
he have made his own. Our religion vulgarly stands on
numbers of believers. Whenever the appeal is made,--no
matter how indirectly,--to numbers, proclamation is then
and there made that religion is not. He that finds God a
sweet enveloping thought to him never counts his company.
When I sit in that presence, who shall dare to come in?
When I rest in perfect humility, when I burn with pure
love, what can Calvin or Swedenborg say?

It makes no difference whether the appeal is to
numbers or to one. The faith that stands on authority
is not faith. The reliance on authority measures the
decline of religion, the withdrawal of the soul. The
position men have given to Jesus, now for many centuries
of history, is a position of authority. It characterizes
themselves. It cannot alter the eternal facts. Great is
the soul, and plain. It is no flatterer, it is no
follower; it never appeals from itself. It believes in
itself. Before the immense possibilities of man all mere
experience, all past biography, however spotless and
sainted, shrinks away. Before that heaven which our
presentiments foreshow us, we cannot easily praise any
form of life we have seen or read of. We not only affirm
that we have few great men, but, absolutely speaking,
that we have none; that we have no history, no record of
any character or mode of living that entirely contents
us. The saints and demigods whom history worships we are
constrained to accept with a grain of allowance. Though
in our lonely hours we draw a new strength out of their
memory, yet, pressed on our attention, as they are by
the thoughtless and customary, they fatigue and invade.
The soul gives itself, alone, original and pure, to the
Lonely, Original and Pure, who, on that condition, gladly
inhabits, leads and speaks through it. Then is it glad,
young and nimble. It is not wise, but it sees through all
things. It is not called religious, but it is innocent.
It calls the light its own, and feels that the grass grows
and the stone falls by a law inferior to, and dependent
on, its nature. Behold, it saith, I am born into the great,
the universal mind. I, the imperfect, adore my own Perfect.
I am somehow receptive of the great soul, and thereby I do
Overlook the sun and the stars and feel them to be the fair
accidents and effects which change and pass. More and more
the surges of everlasting nature enter into me, and I
become public and human in my regards and actions. So come
I to live in thoughts and act with energies which are
immortal. Thus revering the soul, and learning, as the
ancient said, that "its beauty is immense," man will come
to see that the world is the perennial miracle which the
soul worketh, and be less astonished at particular wonders;
he will learn that there is no profane history; that all
history is sacred; that the universe is represented in an
atom, in a moment of time. He will weave no longer a spotted
life of shreds and patches, but he will live with a divine
unity. He will cease from what is base and frivolous in his
life and be content with all places and with any service he
can render. He will calmly front the morrow in the negligency
of that trust which carries God with it and so hath already
the whole future in the bottom of the heart.


NATURE centres into balls,
And her proud ephemerals,
Fast to surface and outside,
Scan the profile of the sphere;
Knew they what that signified,
A new genesis were here.


The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it
forms is the second; and throughout nature this
primary figure is repeated without end. It is the
highest emblem in the cipher of the world. St.
Augustine described the nature of God as a circle
whose centre was everywhere and its circumference
nowhere. We are all our lifetime reading the copious
sense of this first of forms. One moral we have already
deduced, in considering the circular or compensatory
character of every human action. Another analogy we
shall now trace, that every action admits of being
outdone. Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth
that around every circle another can be drawn; that
there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning;
that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon,
and under every deep a lower deep opens.

This fact, as far as it symbolizes the moral fact of
the Unattainable, the flying Perfect, around which the
hands of man can never meet, at once the inspirer and
the condemner of every success, may conveniently serve
us to connect many illustrations of human power in
every department.

There are no fixtures in nature. The universe is
fluid and volatile. Permanence is but a word of
degrees. Our globe seen by God is a transparent
law, not a mass of facts. The law dissolves the
fact and holds it fluid. Our culture is the
predominance of an idea which draws after it this
train of cities and institutions. Let us rise into
another idea: they will disappear. The Greek
sculpture is all melted away, as if it had been
statues of ice; here and there a solitary figure or
fragment remaining, as we see flecks and scraps of
snow left in cold dells and mountain clefts in June
and July. For the genius that created it creates now
somewhat else. The Greek letters last a little longer,
but are already passing under the same sentence and
tumbling into the inevitable pit which the creation
of new thought opens for all that is old. The new
continents are built out of the ruins of an old planet;
the new races fed out of the decomposition of the
foregoing. New arts destroy the old. See the investment
of capital in aqueducts made useless by hydraulics;
fortifications, by gunpowder; roads and canals, by
railways; sails, by steam; steam by electricity.

You admire this tower of granite, weathering the
hurts of so many ages. Yet a little waving hand
built this huge wall, and that which builds is
better than that which is built. The hand that
built can topple it down much faster. Better than
the hand and nimbler was the invisible thought
which wrought through it; and thus ever, behind
the coarse effect, is a fine cause, which, being
narrowly seen, is itself the effect of a finer
cause. Every thing looks permanent until its secret
is known. A rich estate appears to women a firm and
lasting fact; to a merchant, one easily created out
of any materials, and easily lost. An orchard, good
tillage, good grounds, seem a fixture, like a gold
mine, or a river, to a citizen; but to a large farmer,
not much more fixed than the state of the crop. Nature
looks provokingly stable and secular, but it has a
cause like all the rest; and when once I comprehend
that, will these fields stretch so immovably wide,
these leaves hang so individually considerable?
Permanence is a word of degrees. Every thing is medial.
Moons are no more bounds to spiritual power than bat-balls.

The key to every man is his thought. Sturdy and defying
though he look, he has a helm which he obeys, which is
the idea after which all his facts are classified. He
can only be reformed by showing him a new idea which
commands his own. The life of man is a self-evolving
circle, which, from a ring imperceptibly small, rushes
on all sides outwards to new and larger circles, and
that without end. The extent to which this generation
of circles, wheel without wheel, will go, depends on
the force or truth of the individual soul. For it is
the inert effort of each thought, having formed itself
into a circular wave of circumstance,--as for instance
an empire, rules of an art, a local usage, a religious
rite,--to heap itself on that ridge and to solidify and
hem in the life. But if the soul is quick and strong it
bursts over that boundary on all sides and expands
another orbit on the great deep, which also runs up into
a high wave, with attempt again to stop and to bind. But
the heart refuses to be imprisoned; in its first and
narrowest pulses, it already tends outward with a vast
force and to immense and innumerable expansions.

Every ultimate fact is only the first of a new series.
Every general law only a particular fact of some more
general law presently to disclose itself. There is no
outside, no inclosing wall, no circumference to us. The
man finishes his story,--how good! how final! how it
puts a new face on all things! He fills the sky. Lo!
on the other side rises also a man and draws a circle
around the circle we had just pronounced the outline of
the sphere. Then already is our first speaker not man,
but only a first speaker. His only redress is forthwith
to draw a circle outside of his antagonist. And so men
do by themselves. The result of to-day, which haunts the
mind and cannot be escaped, will presently be abridged
into a word, and the principle that seemed to explain
nature will itself be included as one example of a bolder
generalization. In the thought of to-morrow there is a
power to upheave all thy creed, all the creeds, all the
literatures of the nations, and marshal thee to a heaven
which no epic dream has yet depicted. Every man is not
so much a workman in the world as he is a suggestion of
that he should be. Men walk as prophecies of the next age.

Step by step we scale this mysterious ladder: the
steps are actions; the new prospect is power. Every
several result is threatened and judged by that which
follows. Every one seems to be contradicted by the
new; it is only limited by the new. The new statement
is always hated by the old, and, to those dwelling in
the old, comes like an abyss of scepticism. But the
eye soon gets wonted to it, for the eye and it are
effects of one cause; then its innocency and benefit
appear, and presently, all its energy spent, it pales
and dwindles before the revelation of the new hour.

Fear not the new generalization. Does the fact look
crass and material, threatening to degrade thy theory
of spirit? Resist it not; it goes to refine and raise
thy theory of matter just as much.

There are no fixtures to men, if we appeal to consciousness.
Every man supposes himself not to be fully understood; and
if there is any truth in him, if he rests at last on the
divine soul, I see not how it can be otherwise. The last
chamber, the last closet, he must feel was never opened;
there is always a residuum unknown, unanalyzable. That is,
every man believes that he has a greater possibility.

Our moods do not believe in each other. To-day I am
full of thoughts and can write what I please. I see
no reason why I should not have the same thought,
the same power of expression, to-morrow. What I write,
whilst I write it, seems the most natural thing in the
world; but yesterday I saw a dreary vacuity in this
direction in which now I see so much; and a month hence,
I doubt not, I shall wonder who he was that wrote so
many continuous pages. Alas for this infirm faith, this
will not strenuous, this vast ebb of a vast flow! I am
God in nature; I am a weed by the wall.

The continual effort to raise himself above himself,
to work a pitch above his last height, betrays itself
in a man's relations. We thirst for approbation, yet
cannot forgive the approver. The sweet of nature is
love; yet, if I have a friend I am tormented by my
imperfections. The love of me accuses the other party.
If he were high enough to slight me, then could I love
him, and rise by my affection to new heights. A man's
growth is seen in the successive choirs of his friends.
For every friend whom he loses for truth, he gains a
better. I thought as I walked in the woods and mused
on my friends, why should I play with them this game of
idolatry? I know and see too well, when not voluntarily
blind, the speedy limits of persons called high and
worthy. Rich, noble and great they are by the liberality
of our speech, but truth is sad. O blessed Spirit, whom
I forsake for these, they are not thou! Every personal
consideration that we allow costs us heavenly state. We
sell the thrones of angels for a short and turbulent

How often must we learn this lesson? Men cease to
interest us when we find their limitations. The only
sin is limitation. As soon as you once come up with a
man's limitations, it is all over with him. Has he
talents? has he enterprise? has he knowledge? It boots
not. Infinitely alluring and attractive was he to you
yesterday, a great hope, a sea to swim in; now, you
have found his shores, found it a pond, and you care
not if you never see it again.

Each new step we take in thought reconciles twenty
seemingly discordant facts, as expressions of one
law. Aristotle and Plato are reckoned the respective
heads of two schools. A wise man will see that
Aristotle platonizes. By going one step farther back
in thought, discordant opinions are reconciled by
being seen to be two extremes of one principle, and
we can never go so far back as to preclude a still
higher vision.

Beware when the great God lets loose a thinker on this
planet. Then all things are at risk. It is as when a
conflagration has broken out in a great city, and no
man knows what is safe, or where it will end. There
is not a piece of science but its flank may be turned
to-morrow; there is not any literary reputation, not
the so-called eternal names of fame, that may not be
revised and condemned. The very hopes of man, the
thoughts of his heart, the religion of nations, the
manners and morals of mankind are all at the mercy of
a new generalization. Generalization is always a new
influx of the divinity into the mind. Hence the thrill
that attends it.

Valor consists in the power of self-recovery, so
that a man cannot have his flank turned, cannot be
out-generalled, but put him where you will, he stands.
This can only be by his preferring truth to his past
apprehension of truth, and his alert acceptance of it
from whatever quarter; the intrepid conviction that
his laws, his relations to society, his Christianity,
his world, may at any time be superseded and decease.

There are degrees in idealism. We learn first to play
with it academically, as the magnet was once a toy.
Then we see in the heyday of youth and poetry that it
may be true, that it is true in gleams and fragments.
Then its countenance waxes stern and grand, and we see
that it must be true. It now shows itself ethical and
practical. We learn that God is; that he is in me; and
that all things are shadows of him. The idealism of
Berkeley is only a crude statement of the idealism of
Jesus, and that again is a crude statement of the fact
that all nature is the rapid efflux of goodness executing
and organizing itself. Much more obviously is history and
the state of the world at any one time directly dependent
on the intellectual classification then existing in the
minds of men. The things which are dear to men at this
hour are so on account of the ideas which have emerged
on their mental horizon, and which cause the present order
of things, as a tree bears its apples. A new degree of
culture would instantly revolutionize the entire system
of human pursuits.

Conversation is a game of circles. In conversation
we pluck up the termini which bound the common of
silence on every side. The parties are not to be
judged by the spirit they partake and even express
under this Pentecost. To-morrow they will have receded
from this high-water mark. To-morrow you shall find
them stooping under the old pack-saddles. Yet let us
enjoy the cloven flame whilst it glows on our walls.
When each new speaker strikes a new light, emancipates
us from the oppression of the last speaker, to oppress
us with the greatness and exclusiveness of his own
thought, then yields us to another redeemer, we seem
to recover our rights, to become men. O, what truths
profound and executable only in ages and orbs, are
supposed in the announcement of every truth! In common
hours, society sits cold and statuesque. We all stand
waiting, empty,--knowing, possibly, that we can be full,
surrounded by mighty symbols which are not symbols to
us, but prose and trivial toys. Then cometh the god and
converts the statues into fiery men, and by a flash of
his eye burns up the veil which shrouded all things,
and the meaning of the very furniture, of cup and saucer,
of chair and clock and tester, is manifest. The facts
which loomed so large in the fogs of yesterday,--property,
climate, breeding, personal beauty and the like, have
strangely changed their proportions. All that we reckoned
settled shakes and rattles; and literatures, cities,
climates, religions, leave their foundations and dance
before our eyes. And yet here again see the swift
circumspection! Good as is discourse, silence is better,
and shames it. The length of the discourse indicates the
distance of thought betwixt the speaker and the hearer.
If they were at a perfect understanding in any part, no
words would be necessary thereon. If at one in all parts,
no words would be suffered.

Literature is a point outside of our hodiernal circle
through which a new one may be described. The use of
literature is to afford us a platform whence we may
command a view of our present life, a purchase by
which we may move it. We fill ourselves with ancient
learning, install ourselves the best we can in Greek,
in Punic, in Roman houses, only that we may wiselier
see French, English and American houses and modes of
living. In like manner we see literature best from the
midst of wild nature, or from the din of affairs, or
from a high religion. The field cannot be well seen
from within the field. The astronomer must have his
diameter of the earth's orbit as a base to find the
parallax of any star.

Therefore we value the poet. All the argument and all
the wisdom is not in the encyclopaedia, or the treatise
on metaphysics, or the Body of Divinity, but in the
sonnet or the play. In my daily work I incline to repeat
my old steps, and do not believe in remedial force, in
the power of change and reform. But some Petrarch or
Ariosto, filled with the new wine of his imagination,
writes me an ode or a brisk romance, full of daring
thought and action. He smites and arouses me with his
shrill tones, breaks up my whole chain of habits, and
I open my eye on my own possibilities. He claps wings
to the sides of all the solid old lumber of the world,
and I am capable once more of choosing a straight path
in theory and practice.

We have the same need to command a view of the religion
of the world. We can never see Christianity from the
catechism:--from the pastures, from a boat in the pond,
from amidst the songs of wood-birds we possibly may.
Cleansed by the elemental light and wind, steeped in the
sea of beautiful forms which the field offers us, we may
chance to cast a right glance back upon biography.
Christianity is rightly dear to the best of mankind; yet
was there never a young philosopher whose breeding had
fallen into the Christian church by whom that brave text
of Paul's was not specially prized:--"Then shall also the
Son be subject unto Him who put all things under him, that
God may be all in all." Let the claims and virtues of
persons be never so great and welcome, the instinct of man
presses eagerly onward to the impersonal and illimitable,
and gladly arms itself against the dogmatism of bigots with
this generous word out of the book itself.

The natural world may be conceived of as a system of
concentric circles, and we now and then detect in
nature slight dislocations which apprise us that this
surface on which we now stand is not fixed, but sliding.
These manifold tenacious qualities, this chemistry and
vegetation, these metals and animals, which seem to
stand there for their own sake, are means and methods
only,--are words of God, and as fugitive as other words.
Has the naturalist or chemist learned his craft, who
has explored the gravity of atoms and the elective
affinities, who has not yet discerned the deeper law
whereof this is only a partial or approximate statement,
namely that like draws to like, and that the goods which
belong to you gravitate to you and need not be pursued
with pains and cost? Yet is that statement approximate
also, and not final. Omnipresence is a higher fact. Not
through subtle subterranean channels need friend and fact
be drawn to their counterpart, but, rightly considered,
these things proceed from the eternal generation of the
soul. Cause and effect are two sides of one fact.

The same law of eternal procession ranges all that
we call the virtues, and extinguishes each in the
light of a better. The great man will not be prudent
in the popular sense; all his prudence will be so much
deduction from his grandeur. But it behooves each to
see, when he sacrifices prudence, to what god he
devotes it; if to ease and pleasure, he had better
be prudent still; if to a great trust, he can well
spare his mule and panniers who has a winged chariot
instead. Geoffrey draws on his boots to go through
the woods, that his feet may be safer from the bite
of snakes; Aaron never thinks of such a peril. In many
years neither is harmed by such an accident. Yet it
seems to me that with every precaution you take against
such an evil you put yourself into the power of the evil.
I suppose that the highest prudence is the lowest prudence.
Is this too sudden a rushing from the centre to the verge
of our orbit? Think how many times we shall fall back into
pitiful calculations before we take up our rest in the
great sentiment, or make the verge of to-day the new
centre. Besides, your bravest sentiment is familiar to
the humblest men. The poor and the low have their way of
expressing the last facts of philosophy as well as you.
"Blessed be nothing" and "The worse things are, the better
they are" are proverbs which express the transcendentalism
of common life.

One man's justice is another's injustice; one man's
beauty another's ugliness; one man's wisdom another's
folly; as one beholds the same objects from a higher
point. One man thinks justice consists in paying debts,
and has no measure in his abhorrence of another who is
very remiss in this duty and makes the creditor wait
tediously. But that second man has his own way of
looking at things; asks himself Which debt must I pay
first, the debt to the rich, or the debt to the poor?
the debt of money, or the debt of thought to mankind,
of genius to nature? For you, O broker, there is no
other principle but arithmetic. For me, commerce is of
trivial import; love, faith, truth of character, the
aspiration of man, these are sacred; nor can I detach
one duty, like you, from all other duties, and concentrate
my forces mechanically on the payment of moneys. Let me
live onward; you shall find that, though slower, the
progress of my character will liquidate all these debts
without injustice to higher claims. If a man should
dedicate himself to the payment of notes, would not this
be injustice? Does he owe no debt but money? And are all
claims on him to be postponed to a landlord's or a banker's?

There is no virtue which is final; all are initial.
The virtues of society are vices of the saint. The
terror of reform is the discovery that we must cast
away our virtues, or what we have always esteemed
such, into the same pit that has consumed our grosser

"Forgive his crimes, forgive his virtues too,
Those smaller faults, half converts to the right."

It is the highest power of divine moments that they
abolish our contritions also. I accuse myself of sloth
and unprofitableness day by day; but when these waves
of God flow into me I no longer reckon lost time. I no
longer poorly compute my possible achievement by what
remains to me of the month or the year; for these moments
confer a sort of omnipresence and omnipotence which asks
nothing of duration, but sees that the energy of the mind
is commensurate with the work to be done, without time.

And thus, O circular philosopher, I hear some reader
exclaim, you have arrived at a fine Pyrrhonism, at an
equivalence and indifferency of all actions, and would
fain teach us that if we are true, forsooth, our crimes
may be lively stones out of which we shall construct the
temple of the true God!

I am not careful to justify myself. I own I am
gladdened by seeing the predominance of the saccharine
principle throughout vegetable nature, and not less by
beholding in morals that unrestrained inundation of
the principle of good into every chink and hole that
selfishness has left open, yea into selfishness and sin
itself; so that no evil is pure, nor hell itself without
its extreme satisfactions. But lest I should mislead any
when I have my own head and obey my whims, let me remind
the reader that I am only an experimenter. Do not set
the least value on what I do, or the least discredit on
what I do not, as if I pretended to settle any thing as
true or false. I unsettle all things. No facts are to me
sacred; none are profane; I simply experiment, an endless
seeker with no Past at my back.

Yet this incessant movement and progression which all
things partake could never become sensible to us but
by contrast to some principle of fixture or stability
in the soul. Whilst the eternal generation of circles
proceeds, the eternal generator abides. That central
life is somewhat superior to creation, superior to
knowledge and thought, and contains all its circles.
For ever it labors to create a life and thought as
Large and excellent as itself, but in vain, for that
which is made instructs how to make a better.

Thus there is no sleep, no pause, no preservation,
but all things renew, germinate and spring. Why
should we import rags and relics into the new hour?
Nature abhors the old, and old age seems the only
disease; all others run into this one. We call it by
many names,--fever, intemperance, insanity, stupidity
and crime; they are all forms of old age; they are
rest, conservatism, appropriation, inertia; not newness,
not the way onward. We grizzle every day. I see no need
of it. Whilst we converse with what is above us, we do
not grow old, but grow young. Infancy, youth, receptive,
aspiring, with religious eye looking upward, counts
itself nothing and abandons itself to the instruction
flowing from all sides. But the man and woman of seventy
assume to know all, they have outlived their hope, they
renounce aspiration, accept the actual for the necessary
and talk down to the young. Let them, then, become organs
of the Holy Ghost; let them be lovers; let them behold
truth; and their eyes are uplifted, their wrinkles smoothed,
they are perfumed again with hope and power. This old age
ought not to creep on a human mind. In nature every moment
is new; the past is always swallowed and forgotten; the
coming only is sacred. Nothing is secure but life,
transition, the energizing spirit. No love can be bound
by oath or covenant to secure it against a higher love.
No truth so sublime but it may be trivial to-morrow in
the light of new thoughts. People wish to be settled; only
as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them.

Life is a series of surprises. We do not guess to-day
the mood, the pleasure, the power of to-morrow, when we
are building up our being. Of lower states, of acts of
routine and sense, we can tell somewhat; but the
masterpieces of God, the total growths and universal
movements of the soul, he hideth; they are incalculable.
I can know that truth is divine and helpful; but how it
shall help me I can have no guess, for so to be is the
sole inlet of so to know. The new position of the
advancing man has all the powers of the old, yet has
them all new. It carries in its bosom all the energies
of the past, yet is itself an exhalation of the morning.
I cast away in this new moment all my once hoarded
knowledge, as vacant and vain. Now, for the first time
seem I to know any thing rightly. The simplest words,--we
do not know what they mean except when we love and aspire.

The difference between talents and character is
adroitness to keep the old and trodden round, and
power and courage to make a new road to new and
better goals. Character makes an overpowering present;
a cheerful, determined hour, which fortifies all the
company by making them see that much is possible and
excellent that was not thought of. Character dulls
the impression of particular events. When we see the
conqueror we do not think much of any one battle or
success. We see that we had exaggerated the difficulty.
It was easy to him. The great man is not convulsible or
tormentable; events pass over him without much impression.
People say sometimes, 'See what I have overcome; see how
cheerful I am; see how completely I have triumphed over
these black events.' Not if they still remind me of the
black event. True conquest is the causing the calamity
to fade and disappear as an early cloud of insignificant
result in a history so large and advancing.

The one thing which we seek with insatiable desire is to
forget ourselves, to be surprised out of our propriety,
to lose our sempiternal memory and to do something without
knowing how or why; in short to draw a new circle. Nothing
great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. The way of life
is wonderful; it is by abandonment. The great moments of
history are the facilities of performance through the
strength of ideas, as the works of genius and religion.
"A man" said Oliver Cromwell "never rises so high as when
he knows not whither he is going." Dreams and drunkenness,
the use of opium and alcohol are the semblance and counterfeit
of this oracular genius, and hence their dangerous attraction
for men. For the like reason they ask the aid of wild passions,
as in gaming and war, to ape in some manner these flames and
generosities of the heart.


GO, speed the stars of Thought
On to their shining goals;--
The sower scatters broad his seed,
The wheat thou strew'st be souls.


Every substance is negatively electric to that which
stands above it in the chemical tables, positively to
that which stands below it. Water dissolves wood and
iron and salt; air dissolves water; electric fire
dissolves air, but the intellect dissolves fire,
gravity, laws, method, and the subtlest unnamed relations
of nature in its resistless menstruum. Intellect lies
behind genius, which is intellect constructive. Intellect
is the simple power anterior to all action or construction.
Gladly would I unfold in calm degrees a natural history of
the intellect, but what man has yet been able to mark the
steps and boundaries of that transparent essence? The first
questions are always to be asked, and the wisest doctor is
gravelled by the inquisitiveness of a child. How can we
speak of the action of the mind under any divisions, as of
its knowledge, of its ethics, of its works, and so forth,
since it melts will into perception, knowledge into act?
Each becomes the other. Itself alone is. Its vision is not
like the vision of the eye, but is union with the things

Intellect and intellection signify to the common ear
consideration of abstract truth. The considerations of
time and place, of you and me, of profit and hurt
tyrannize over most men's minds. Intellect separates
the fact considered, from you, from all local and
personal reference, and discerns it as if it existed
for its own sake. Heraclitus looked upon the affections
as dense and colored mists. In the fog of good and
evil affections it is hard for man to walk forward in
a straight line. Intellect is void of affection and
sees an object as it stands in the light of science,
cool and disengaged. The intellect goes out of the
individual, floats over its own personality, and
regards it as a fact, and not as I and mine. He who
is immersed in what concerns person or place cannot
see the problem of existence. This the intellect always
ponders. Nature shows all things formed and bound. The
intellect pierces the form, overleaps the wall, detects
intrinsic likeness between remote things and reduces all
things into a few principles.

The making a fact the subject of thought raises it. All
that mass of mental and moral phenomena which we do not
make objects of voluntary thought, come within the power
of fortune; they constitute the circumstance of daily
life; they are subject to change, to fear, and hope.
Every man beholds his human condition with a degree of
melancholy. As a ship aground is battered by the waves,
so man, imprisoned in mortal life, lies open to the mercy
of coming events. But a truth, separated by the intellect,
is no longer a subject of destiny. We behold it as a god
upraised above care and fear. And so any fact in our life,
or any record of our fancies or reflections, disentangled
from the web of our unconsciousness, becomes an object
impersonal and immortal. It is the past restored, but
embalmed. A better art than that of Egypt has taken fear
and corruption out of it. It is eviscerated of care. It
is offered for science. What is addressed to us for
contemplation does not threaten us but makes us intellectual

The growth of the intellect is spontaneous in every
expansion. The mind that grows could not predict the
times, the means, the mode of that spontaneity. God
enters by a private door into every individual. Long
prior to the age of reflection is the thinking of the
mind. Out of darkness it came insensibly into the
marvellous light of to-day. In the period of infancy it
accepted and disposed of all impressions from the
surrounding creation after its own way. Whatever any mind
doth or saith is after a law; and this native law remains
over it after it has come to reflection or conscious thought.
In the most worn, pedantic, introverted self-tormenter's
life, the greatest part is incalculable by him, unforeseen,
unimaginable, and must be, until he can take himself up by
his own ears. What am I? What has my will done to make me
that I am? Nothing. I have been floated into this thought,
this hour, this connection of events, by secret currents of
might and mind, and my ingenuity and wilfulness have not
thwarted, have not aided to an appreciable degree.

Our spontaneous action is always the best. You
cannot with your best deliberation and heed come
so close to any question as your spontaneous glance
shall bring you, whilst you rise from your bed, or
walk abroad in the morning after meditating the
matter before sleep on the previous night. Our
thinking is a pious reception. Our truth of thought
is therefore vitiated as much by too violent direction
given by our will, as by too great negligence. We do
not determine what we will think. We only open our
senses, clear away as we can all obstruction from the
fact, and suffer the intellect to see. We have little
control over our thoughts. We are the prisoners of
ideas. They catch us up for moments into their heaven
and so fully engage us that we take no thought for the
morrow, gaze like children, without an effort to make
them our own. By and by we fall out of that rapture,
bethink us where we have been, what we have seen, and
repeat as truly as we can what we have beheld. As far
as we can recall these ecstasies we carry away in the
ineffaceable memory the result, and all men and all the
ages confirm it. It is called Truth. But the moment we
cease to report and attempt to correct and contrive, it
is not truth.

If we consider what persons have stimulated and
profited us, we shall perceive the superiority of
the spontaneous or intuitive principle over the
arithmetical or logical. The first contains the
second, but virtual and latent. We want in every man
a long logic; we cannot pardon the absence of it, but
it must not be spoken. Logic is the procession or
proportionate unfolding of the intuition; but its
virtue is as silent method; the moment it would appear
as propositions and have a separate value it is worthless.

In every man's mind, some images, words and facts
remain, without effort on his part to imprint them,
which others forget, and afterwards these illustrate
to him important laws. All our progress is an unfolding,
like the vegetable bud. You have first an instinct, then
an opinion, then a knowledge, as the plant has root, bud
and fruit. Trust the instinct to the end, though you can
render no reason. It is vain to hurry it. By trusting it
to the end, it shall ripen into truth and you shall know
why you believe.

Each mind has its own method. A true man never
acquires after college rules. What you have aggregated
in a natural manner surprises and delights when it is
produced. For we cannot oversee each other's secret.
And hence the differences between men in natural endowment
are insignificant in comparison with their common wealth.
Do you think the porter and the cook have no anecdotes,
no experiences, no wonders for you? Every body knows as
much as the savant. The walls of rude minds are scrawled
all over with facts, with thoughts. They shall one day
bring a lantern and read the inscriptions. Every man, in
the degree in which he has wit and culture, finds his
curiosity inflamed concerning the modes of living and
thinking of other men, and especially of those classes
whose minds have not been subdued by the drill of school

This instinctive action never ceases in a healthy mind,
but becomes richer and more frequent in its informations
through all states of culture. At last comes the era of
reflection, when we not only observe, but take pains to
observe; when we of set purpose sit down to consider an
abstract truth; when we keep the mind's eye open whilst
we converse, whilst we read, whilst we act, intent to
learn the secret law of some class of facts.

What is the hardest task in the world? To think. I would
put myself in the attitude to look in the eye an abstract
truth, and I cannot. I blench and withdraw on this side
and on that. I seem to know what he meant who said, No man
can see God face to face and live. For example, a man
explores the basis of civil government. Let him intend his
mind without respite, without rest, in one direction. His
best heed long time avails him nothing. Yet thoughts are
flitting before him. We all but apprehend, we dimly forebode
the truth. We say I will walk abroad, and the truth will
take form and clearness to me. We go forth, but cannot find
it. It seems as if we needed only the stillness and composed
attitude of the library to seize the thought. But we come in,
and are as far from it as at first. Then, in a moment, and
unannounced, the truth appears. A certain wandering light
appears, and is the distinction, the principle, we wanted.
But the oracle comes because we had previously laid siege
to the shrine. It seems as if the law of the intellect
resembled that law of nature by which we now inspire, now
expire the breath; by which the heart now draws in, then
hurls out the blood,--the law of undulation. So now you must
labor with your brains, and now you must forbear your
activity and see what the great Soul showeth.

The immortality of man is as legitimately preached
from the intellections as from the moral volitions.
Every intellection is mainly prospective. Its present
value is its least. Inspect what delights you in
Plutarch, in Shakspeare, in Cervantes. Each truth that
a writer acquires is a lantern, which he turns full
on what facts and thoughts lay already in his mind,
and behold, all the mats and rubbish which had littered
his garret become precious. Every trivial fact in his
private biography becomes an illustration of this new
principle, revisits the day, and delights all men by
its piquancy and new charm. Men say, Where did he get
this? and think there was something divine in his life.
But no; they have myriads of facts just as good, would
they only get a lamp to ransack their attics withal.

We are all wise. The difference between persons is
not in wisdom but in art. I knew, in an academical
club, a person who always deferred to me; who, seeing
my whim for writing, fancied that my experiences had
somewhat superior; whilst I saw that his experiences
were as good as mine. Give them to me and I would make
the same use of them. He held the old; he holds the
new; I had the habit of tacking together the old and
the new which he did not use to exercise. This may
hold in the great examples. Perhaps if we should meet
Shakspeare we should not be conscious of any steep
inferiority; no, but of a great equality,--only that
he possessed a strange skill of using, of classifying,
his facts, which we lacked. For notwithstanding our
utter incapacity to produce anything like Hamlet and
Othello, see the perfect reception this wit and immense
knowledge of life and liquid eloquence find in us all.

If you gather apples in the sunshine, or make hay, or
hoe corn, and then retire within doors and shut your
eyes and press them with your hand, you shall still see
apples hanging in the bright light with boughs and leaves
thereto, or the tasselled grass, or the corn-flags, and
this for five or six hours afterwards. There lie the
impressions on the retentive organ, though you knew it
not. So lies the whole series of natural images with which
your life has made you acquainted, in your memory, though
you know it not; and a thrill of passion flashes light on
their dark chamber, and the active power seizes instantly
the fit image, as the word of its momentary thought.

It is long ere we discover how rich we are. Our
history, we are sure, is quite tame: we have nothing
to write, nothing to infer. But our wiser years still
run back to the despised recollections of childhood,
and always we are fishing up some wonderful article
out of that pond; until by and by we begin to suspect
that the biography of the one foolish person we know is,
in reality, nothing less than the miniature paraphrase
of the hundred volumes of the Universal History.

In the intellect constructive, which we popularly
designate by the word Genius, we observe the same
balance of two elements as in intellect receptive.
The constructive intellect produces thoughts, sentences,
poems, plans, designs, systems. It is the generation of
the mind, the marriage of thought with nature. To genius
must always go two gifts, the thought and the publication.
The first is revelation, always a miracle, which no
frequency of occurrence or incessant study can ever
familiarize, but which must always leave the inquirer
stupid with wonder. It is the advent of truth into the
world, a form of thought now for the first time bursting
into the universe, a child of the old eternal soul, a
piece of genuine and immeasurable greatness. It seems,
for the time, to inherit all that has yet existed and
to dictate to the unborn. It affects every thought of
man and goes to fashion every institution. But to make
it available it needs a vehicle or art by which it is
conveyed to men. To be communicable it must become
picture or sensible object. We must learn the language
of facts. The most wonderful inspirations die with their
subject if he has no hand to paint them to the senses.
The ray of light passes invisible through space and
only when it falls on an object is it seen. When the
spiritual energy is directed on something outward, then
it is a thought. The relation between it and you first
makes you, the value of you, apparent to me. The rich
inventive genius of the painter must be smothered and
lost for want of the power of drawing, and in our happy
hours we should be inexhaustible poets if once we could
break through the silence into adequate rhyme. As all
men have some access to primary truth, so all have some
art or power of communication in their head, but only in
the artist does it descend into the hand. There is an
inequality, whose laws we do not yet know, between two
men and between two moments of the same man, in respect
to this faculty. In common hours we have the same facts
as in the uncommon or inspired, but they do not sit for
their portraits; they are not detached, but lie in a web.
The thought of genius is spontaneous; but the power of
picture or expression, in the most enriched and flowing
nature, implies a mixture of will, a certain control over
the spontaneous states, without which no production is
possible. It is a conversion of all nature into the
rhetoric of thought, under the eye of judgment, with a
strenuous exercise of choice. And yet the imaginative
vocabulary seems to be spontaneous also. It does not flow
from experience only or mainly, but from a richer source.
Not by any conscious imitation of particular forms are the
grand strokes of the painter executed, but by repairing to
the fountain-head of all forms in his mind. Who is the first
drawing-master? Without instruction we know very well the
ideal of the human form. A child knows if an arm or a leg
be distorted in a picture; if the attitude be natural or
grand or mean; though he has never received any instruction
in drawing or heard any conversation on the subject, nor
can himself draw with correctness a single feature. A good
form strikes all eyes pleasantly, long before they have any
science on the subject, and a beautiful face sets twenty
hearts in palpitation, prior to all consideration of the
mechanical proportions of the features and head. We may owe
to dreams some light on the fountain of this skill; for as
soon as we let our will go and let the unconscious states
ensue, see what cunning draughtsmen we are! We entertain
ourselves with wonderful forms of men, of women, of animals,
of gardens, of woods and of monsters, and the mystic pencil
wherewith we then draw has no awkwardness or inexperience,
no meagreness or poverty; it can design well and group well;
its composition is full of art, its colors are well laid on
and the whole canvas which it paints is lifelike and apt to
touch us with terror, with tenderness, with desire and with
grief. Neither are the artist's copies from experience ever
mere copies, but always touched and softened by tints from
this ideal domain.

The conditions essential to a constructive mind do
not appear to be so often combined but that a good
sentence or verse remains fresh and memorable for a
long time. Yet when we write with ease and come out
into the free air of thought, we seem to be assured
that nothing is easier than to continue this
communication at pleasure. Up, down, around, the
kingdom of thought has no inclosures, but the Muse
makes us free of her city. Well, the world has a
million writers. One would think then that good thought
would be as familiar as air and water, and the gifts of
each new hour would exclude the last. Yet we can count
all our good books; nay, I remember any beautiful verse
for twenty years. It is true that the discerning intellect
of the world is always much in advance of the creative,
so that there are many competent judges of the best book,
and few writers of the best books. But some of the
conditions of intellectual construction are of rare
occurrence. The intellect is a whole and demands integrity
in every work. This is resisted equally by a man's devotion
to a single thought and by his ambition to combine too many.

Truth is our element of life, yet if a man fasten his
attention on a single aspect of truth and apply himself
to that alone for a long time, the truth becomes distorted
and not itself but falsehood; herein resembling the air,
which is our natural element, and the breath of our
nostrils, but if a stream of the same be directed on the
body for a time, it causes cold, fever, and even death.
How wearisome the grammarian, the phrenologist, the
political or religious fanatic, or indeed any possessed
mortal whose balance is lost by the exaggeration of a
single topic. It is incipient insanity. Every thought is
a prison also. I cannot see what you see, because I am
caught up by a strong wind and blown so far in one direction
that I am out of the hoop of your horizon.

Is it any better if the student, to avoid this offence,
and to liberalize himself, aims to make a mechanical
whole of history, or science, or philosophy, by a
numerical addition of all the facts that fall within
his vision? The world refuses to be analyzed by addition
and subtraction. When we are young we spend much time
and pains in filling our note-books with all definitions
of Religion, Love, Poetry, Politics, Art, in the hope
that in the course of a few years we shall have condensed
into our encyclopaedia the net value of all the theories
at which the world has yet arrived. But year after year
our tables get no completeness, and at last we discover
that our curve is a parabola, whose arcs will never meet.

Neither by detachment neither by aggregation is the
integrity of the intellect transmitted to its works,
but by a vigilance which brings the intellect in its
greatness and best state to operate every moment. It
must have the same wholeness which nature has. Although
no diligence can rebuild the universe in a model by
the best accumulation or disposition of details, yet
does the world reappear in miniature in every event, so
that all the laws of nature may be read in the smallest
fact. The intellect must have the like perfection in its
apprehension and in its works. For this reason, an index
or mercury of intellectual proficiency is the perception
of identity. We talk with accomplished persons who appear
to be strangers in nature. The cloud, the tree, the turf,
the bird are not theirs, have nothing of them; the world
is only their lodging and table. But the poet, whose verses
are to be spheral and complete, is one whom Nature cannot
deceive, whatsoever face of strangeness she may put on.
He feels a strict consanguinity, and detects more likeness
than variety in all her changes. We are stung by the desire
for new thought; but when we receive a new thought it is
only the old thought with a new face, and though we make
it our own we instantly crave another; we are not really
enriched. For the truth was in us before it was reflected
to us from natural objects; and the profound genius will
cast the likeness of all creatures into every product of
his wit.

But if the constructive powers are rare and it is
given to few men to be poets, yet every man is a
receiver of this descending holy ghost, and may
well study the laws of its influx. Exactly parallel
is the whole rule of intellectual duty to the rule
of moral duty. A self-denial no less austere than
the saint's is demanded of the scholar. He must
worship truth, and forego all things for that, and
choose defeat and pain, so that his treasure in
thought is thereby augmented.

God offers to every mind its choice between truth and
repose. Take which you please,--you can never have both.
Between these, as a pendulum, man oscillates. He in whom
the love of repose predominates will accept the first
creed, the first philosophy, the first political party
he meets,--most likely his father's. He gets rest,
commodity, and reputation; but he shuts the door of
truth. He in whom the love of truth predominates will
keep himself aloof from all moorings, and afloat. He
will abstain from dogmatism, and recognize all the
opposite negations between which, as walls, his being
is swung. He submits to the inconvenience of suspense
and imperfect opinion, but he is a candidate for truth,
as the other is not, and respects the highest law of
his being.

The circle of the green earth he must measure with
his shoes to find the man who can yield him truth.
He shall then know that there is somewhat more blessed
and great in hearing than in speaking. Happy is the
hearing man; unhappy the speaking man. As long as I
hear truth I am bathed by a beautiful element and am
not conscious of any limits to my nature. The suggestions
are thousandfold that I hear and see. The waters of the
great deep have ingress and egress to the soul. But if I
speak, I define, I confine and am less. When Socrates
speaks, Lysis and Menexenus are afflicted by no shame
that they do not speak. They also are good. He likewise
defers to them, loves them, whilst he speaks. Because a
true and natural man contains and is the same truth which
an eloquent man articulates; but in the eloquent man,
because he can articulate it, it seems something the less
to reside, and he turns to these silent beautiful with the
more inclination and respect. The ancient sentence said,
Let us be silent, for so are the gods. Silence is a solvent
that destroys personality, and gives us leave to be great
and universal. Every man's progress is through a succession
of teachers, each of whom seems at the time to have a
superlative influence, but it at last gives place to a new.
Frankly let him accept it all. Jesus says, Leave father,
mother, house and lands, and follow me. Who leaves all,
receives more. This is as true intellectually as morally.
Each new mind we approach seems to require an abdication of
all our past and present possessions. A new doctrine seems
at first a subversion of all our opinions, tastes, and
manner of living. Such has Swedenborg, such has Kant, such
has Coleridge, such has Hegel or his interpreter Cousin
seemed to many young men in this country. Take thankfully
and heartily all they can give. Exhaust them, wrestle with
them, let them not go until their blessing be won, and after
a short season the dismay will be overpast, the excess of
influence withdrawn, and they will be no longer an alarming
meteor, but one more bright star shining serenely in your
heaven and blending its light with all your day.

But whilst he gives himself up unreservedly to that
which draws him, because that is his own, he is to
refuse himself to that which draws him not, whatsoever
fame and authority may attend it, because it is not
his own. Entire self-reliance belongs to the intellect.
One soul is a counterpoise of all souls, as a capillary
column of water is a balance for the sea. It must treat
things and books and sovereign genius as itself also a
sovereign. If Aeschylus be that man he is taken for, he
has not yet done his office when he has educated the
learned of Europe for a thousand years. He is now to
approve himself a master of delight to me also. If he
cannot do that, all his fame shall avail him nothing
with me. I were a fool not to sacrifice a thousand
Aeschyluses to my intellectual integrity. Especially
take the same ground in regard to abstract truth, the
science of the mind. The Bacon, the Spinoza, the Hume,
Schelling, Kant, or whosoever propounds to you a philosophy
of the mind, is only a more or less awkward translator of
things in your consciousness which you have also your way
of seeing, perhaps of denominating. Say then, instead of
too timidly poring into his obscure sense, that he has not
succeeded in rendering back to you your consciousness. He
has not succeeded; now let another try. If Plato cannot,
perhaps Spinoza will. If Spinoza cannot, then perhaps Kant.
Anyhow, when at last it is done, you will find it is no
recondite, but a simple, natural, common state which the
writer restores to you.

But let us end these didactics. I will not, though
the subject might provoke it, speak to the open
question between Truth and Love. I shall not presume
to interfere in the old politics of the skies;--"The
cherubim know most; the seraphim love most." The gods
shall settle their own quarrels. But I cannot recite,
even thus rudely, laws of the intellect, without
remembering that lofty and sequestered class of men
who have been its prophets and oracles, the high-
priesthood of the pure reason, the Trismegisti, the
expounders of the principles of thought from age to
age. When at long intervals we turn over their abstruse
pages, wonderful seems the calm and grand air of these
few, these great spiritual lords who have walked in the
world,--these of the old religion,--dwelling in a worship
which makes the sanctities of Christianity look parvenues
and popular; for "persuasion is in soul, but necessity is
in intellect." This band of grandees, Hermes, Heraclitus,
Empedocles, Plato, Plotinus, Olympiodorus, Proclus,
Synesius and the rest, have somewhat so vast in their
logic, so primary in their thinking, that it seems
antecedent to all the ordinary distinctions of rhetoric
and literature, and to be at once poetry and music and
dancing and astronomy and mathematics. I am present at
the sowing of the seed of the world. With a geometry of
sunbeams the soul lays the foundations of nature. The
truth and grandeur of their thought is proved by its scope
and applicability, for it commands the entire schedule and
inventory of things for its illustration. But what marks
its elevation and has even a comic look to us, is the
innocent serenity with which these babe-like Jupiters sit
in their clouds, and from age to age prattle to each other
and to no contemporary. Well assured that their speech is
intelligible and the most natural thing in the world, they
add thesis to thesis, without a moment's heed of the
universal astonishment of the human race below, who do not
comprehend their plainest argument; nor do they ever relent
so much as to insert a popular or explaining sentence, nor
testify the least displeasure or petulance at the dulness
of their amazed auditory. The angels are so enamored of
the language that is spoken in heaven that they will not
distort their lips with the hissing and unmusical dialects
of men, but speak their own, whether there be any who
understand it or not.


GIVE to barrows trays and pans
Grace and glimmer of romance,
Bring the moonlight into noon
Hid in gleaming piles of stone;
On the city's paved street
Plant gardens lined with lilac sweet,
Let spouting fountains cool the air,
Singing in the sun-baked square.
Let statue, picture, park and hall,
Ballad, flag and festival,
The past restore, the day adorn
And make each morrow a new morn
So shall the drudge in dusty frock
Spy behind the city clock
Retinues of airy kings,
Skirts of angels, starry wings,
His fathers shining in bright fables,
His children fed at heavenly tables.
'Tis the privilege of Art
Thus to play its cheerful part,
Man in Earth to acclimate
And bend the exile to his fate,
And, moulded of one element
With the days and firmament,
Teach him on these as stairs to climb
And live on even terms with Time;
Whilst upper life the slender rill
Of human sense doth overfill.


Because the soul is progressive, it never quite
repeats itself, but in every act attempts the
production of a new and fairer whole. This appears
in works both of the useful and the fine arts, if
we employ the popular distinction of works according
to their aim either at use or beauty. Thus in our
fine arts, not imitation but creation is the aim. In
landscapes the painter should give the suggestion of
a fairer creation than we know. The details, the prose
of nature he should omit and give us only the spirit
and splendor. He should know that the landscape has
beauty for his eye because it expresses a thought
which is to him good; and this because the same power
which sees through his eyes is seen in that spectacle;
and he will come to value the expression of nature and
not nature itself, and so exalt in his copy the features
that please him. He will give the gloom of gloom and the
sunshine of sunshine. In a portrait he must inscribe the
character and not the features, and must esteem the man
who sits to him as himself only an imperfect picture or
likeness of the aspiring original within.

What is that abridgment and selection we observe
in all spiritual activity, but itself the creative
impulse? for it is the inlet of that higher
illumination which teaches to convey a larger sense
by simpler symbols. What is a man but nature's finer
success in self-explication? What is a man but a finer
and compacter landscape than the horizon figures,--
nature's eclecticism? and what is his speech, his love
of painting, love of nature, but a still finer success,
--all the weary miles and tons of space and bulk left
out, and the spirit or moral of it contracted into a
musical word, or the most cunning stroke of the pencil?

But the artist must employ the symbols in use in
his day and nation to convey his enlarged sense to
his fellow-men. Thus the new in art is always formed
out of the old. The Genius of the Hour sets his
ineffaceable seal on the work and gives it an
inexpressible charm for the imagination. As far as
the spiritual character of the period overpowers the
artist and finds expression in his work, so far it
will retain a certain grandeur, and will represent
to future beholders the Unknown, the Inevitable, the
Divine. No man can quite exclude this element of
Necessity from his labor. No man can quite emancipate
himself from his age and country, or produce a model
in which the education, the religion, the politics,
usages and arts of his times shall have no share.
Though he were never so original, never so wilful
and fantastic, he cannot wipe out of his work every
trace of the thoughts amidst which it grew. The very
avoidance betrays the usage he avoids. Above his will
and out of his sight he is necessitated by the air he
breathes and the idea on which he and his contemporaries
live and toil, to share the manner of his times, without
knowing what that manner is. Now that which is inevitable
in the work has a higher charm than individual talent can
ever give, inasmuch as the artist's pen or chisel seems
to have been held and guided by a gigantic hand to inscribe
a line in the history of the human race. This circumstance
gives a value to the Egyptian hieroglyphics, to the Indian,
Chinese and Mexican idols, however gross and shapeless.
They denote the height of the human soul in that hour,
and were not fantastic, but sprung from a necessity as
deep as the world. Shall I now add that the whole extant
product of the plastic arts has herein its highest value,
as history; as a stroke drawn in the portrait of that fate,
perfect and beautiful, according to whose ordinations all
beings advance to their beatitude?

Thus, historically viewed, it has been the office
of art to educate the perception of beauty. We are
immersed in beauty, but our eyes have no clear vision.
It needs, by the exhibition of single traits, to assist
and lead the dormant taste. We carve and paint, or we
behold what is carved and painted, as students of the
mystery of Form. The virtue of art lies in detachment,
in sequestering one object from the embarrassing variety.
Until one thing comes out from the connection of things,
there can be enjoyment, contemplation, but no thought.
Our happiness and unhappiness are unproductive. The
infant lies in a pleasing trance, but his individual
character and his practical power depend on his daily
progress in the separation of things, and dealing with
one at a time. Love and all the passions concentrate
all existence around a single form. It is the habit of
certain minds to give an all-excluding fulness to the
object, the thought, the word, they alight upon, and
to make that for the time the deputy of the world.
These are the artists, the orators, the leaders of
society. The power to detach and to magnify by detaching
is the essence of rhetoric in the hands of the orator and
the poet. This rhetoric, or power to fix the momentary
eminency of an object,--so remarkable in Burke, in Byron,
in Carlyle,--the painter and sculptor exhibit in color
and in stone. The power depends on the depth of the
artist's insight of that object he contemplates. For
every object has its roots in central nature, and may of
course be so exhibited to us as to represent the world.
Therefore each work of genius is the tyrant of the hour
And concentrates attention on itself. For the time, it
is the only thing worth naming to do that,--be it a
sonnet, an opera, a landscape, a statue, an oration,
the plan of a temple, of a campaign, or of a voyage of
discovery. Presently we pass to some other object, which
rounds itself into a whole as did the first; for example
a well-laid garden; and nothing seems worth doing but the
laying out of gardens. I should think fire the best thing
in the world, if I were not acquainted with air, and water,
and earth. For it is the right and property of all natural
objects, of all genuine talents, of all native properties
whatsoever, to be for their moment the top of the world.
A squirrel leaping from bough to bough and making the
Wood but one wide tree for his pleasure, fills the eye
not less than a lion,--is beautiful, self-sufficing, and
stands then and there for nature. A good ballad draws my
ear and heart whilst I listen, as much as an epic has
done before. A dog, drawn by a master, or a litter of
pigs, satisfies and is a reality not less than the
frescoes of Angelo. From this succession of excellent
objects we learn at last the immensity of the world,
the opulence of human nature, which can run out to
infinitude in any direction. But I also learn that what
astonished and fascinated me in the first work astonished
me in the second work also; that excellence of all things
is one.

The office of painting and sculpture seems to be
merely initial. The best pictures can easily tell
us their last secret. The best pictures are rude
draughts of a few of the miraculous dots and lines
and dyes which make up the ever-changing "landscape
with figures" amidst which we dwell. Painting seems
to be to the eye what dancing is to the limbs. When
that has educated the frame to self-possession, to
nimbleness, to grace, the steps of the dancing-master
are better forgotten; so painting teaches me the
splendor of color and the expression of form, and as
I see many pictures and higher genius in the art, I
see the boundless opulence of the pencil, the
indifferency in which the artist stands free to choose
out of the possible forms. If he can draw every thing,
why draw any thing? and then is my eye opened to the
eternal picture which nature paints in the street, with
moving men and children, beggars and fine ladies, draped
in red and green and blue and gray; long-haired, grizzled,
white-faced, black-faced, wrinkled, giant, dwarf, expanded,
elfish,--capped and based by heaven, earth and sea.

A gallery of sculpture teaches more austerely the
same lesson. As picture teaches the coloring, so
sculpture the anatomy of form. When I have seen
fine statues and afterwards enter a public assembly,
I understand well what he meant who said, "When I
have been reading Homer, all men look like giants."
I too see that painting and sculpture are gymnastics
of the eye, its training to the niceties and curiosities
of its function. There is no statue like this living
man, with his infinite advantage over all ideal sculpture,
of perpetual variety. What a gallery of art have I here!
No mannerist made these varied groups and diverse original
single figures. Here is the artist himself improvising,
grim and glad, at his block. Now one thought strikes him,
now another, and with each moment he alters the whole air,
attitude and expression of his clay. Away with your
nonsense of oil and easels, of marble and chisels; except
to open your eyes to the masteries of eternal art, they
are hypocritical rubbish.

The reference of all production at last to an
aboriginal Power explains the traits common to all
works of the highest art,--that they are universally
intelligible; that they restore to us the simplest
states of mind, and are religious. Since what skill
is therein shown is the reappearance of the original
soul, a jet of pure light, it should produce a similar
impression to that made by natural objects. In happy
hours, nature appears to us one with art; art perfected,
--the work of genius. And the individual, in whom simple
tastes and susceptibility to all the great human
influences overpower the accidents of a local and special
culture, is the best critic of art. Though we travel the
world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with
us, or we find it not. The best of beauty is a finer
charm than skill in surfaces, in outlines, or rules of
art can ever teach, namely a radiation from the work of
art of human character,--a wonderful expression through
stone, or canvas, or musical sound, of the deepest and
simplest attributes of our nature, and therefore most
intelligible at last to those souls which have these
attributes. In the sculptures of the Greeks, in the
masonry of the Romans, and in the pictures of the Tuscan
and Venetian masters, the highest charm is the universal
language they speak. A confession of moral nature, of
purity, love, and hope, breathes from them all. That
which we carry to them, the same we bring back more
fairly illustrated in the memory. The traveller who
visits the Vatican, and passes from chamber to chamber
through galleries of statues, vases, sarcophagi and
candelabra, through all forms of beauty cut in the
richest materials, is in danger of forgetting the
simplicity of the principles out of which they all
sprung, and that they had their origin from thoughts
and laws in his own breast. He studies the technical
rules on these wonderful remains, but forgets that
these works were not always thus constellated; that
they are the contributions of many ages and many
countries; that each came out of the solitary workshop
of one artist, who toiled perhaps in ignorance of the
existence of other sculpture, created his work without
other model save life, household life, and the sweet
and smart of personal relations, of beating hearts, and
meeting eyes; of poverty and necessity and hope and fear.
These were his inspirations, and these are the effects
he carries home to your heart and mind. In proportion to
his force, the artist will find in his work an outlet for
his proper character. He must not be in any manner pinched
or hindered by his material, but through his necessity
of imparting himself the adamant will be wax in his hands,
and will allow an adequate communication of himself, in
his full stature and proportion. He need not cumber himself
with a conventional nature and culture, nor ask what is the
mode in Rome or in Paris, but that house and weather and
manner of living which poverty and the fate of birth have
made at once so odious and so dear, in the gray unpainted
wood cabin, on the corner of a New Hampshire farm, or in
the log-hut of the backwoods, or in the narrow lodging
where he has endured the constraints and seeming of a city
poverty, will serve as well as any other condition as the
symbol of a thought which pours itself indifferently
through all.

I remember when in my younger days I had heard of
the wonders of Italian painting, I fancied the great
pictures would be great strangers; some surprising
combination of color and form; a foreign wonder,
barbaric pearl and gold, like the spontoons and
standards of the militia, which play such pranks in
the eyes and imaginations of school-boys. I was to
see and acquire I knew not what. When I came at last
to Rome and saw with eyes the pictures, I found that
genius left to novices the gay and fantastic and
ostentatious, and itself pierced directly to the
simple and true; that it was familiar and sincere;
that it was the old, eternal fact I had met already
in so many forms,--unto which I lived; that it was
the plain you and me I knew so well,--had left at home
in so many conversations. I had the same experience
already in a church at Naples. There I saw that nothing
was changed with me but the place, and said to myself--
'Thou foolish child, hast thou come out hither, over
four thousand miles of salt water, to find that which
was perfect to thee there at home?' That fact I saw
again in the Academmia at Naples, in the chambers of
sculpture, and yet again when I came to Rome and to
the paintings of Raphael, Angelo, Sacchi, Titian, and
Leonardo da Vinci. "What, old mole! workest thou in
the earth so fast?" It had travelled by my side; that
which I fancied I had left in Boston was here in the
Vatican, and again at Milan and at Paris, and made all
travelling ridiculous as a treadmill. I now require
this of all pictures, that they domesticate me, not
that they dazzle me. Pictures must not be too picturesque.
Nothing astonishes men so much as common-sense and
plain dealing. All great actions have been simple, and
all great pictures are.

The Transfiguration, by Raphael, is an eminent
example of this peculiar merit. A calm benignant
beauty shines over all this picture, and goes
directly to the heart. It seems almost to call
you by name. The sweet and sublime face of Jesus
is beyond praise, yet how it disappoints all florid
expectations! This familiar, simple, home-speaking
countenance is as if one should meet a friend. The
knowledge of picture-dealers has its value, but
listen not to their criticism when your heart is
touched by genius. It was not painted for them, it
was painted for you; for such as had eyes capable
of being touched by simplicity and lofty emotions.

Yet when we have said all our fine things about
the arts, we must end with a frank confession, that
the arts, as we know them, are but initial. Our best
praise is given to what they aimed and promised, not
to the actual result. He has conceived meanly of the
resources of man, who believes that the best age of
production is past. The real value of the Iliad or
the Transfiguration is as signs of power; billows or
ripples they are of the stream of tendency; tokens of
the everlasting effort to produce, which even in its
worst estate the soul betrays. Art has not yet come
to its maturity if it do not put itself abreast with
the most potent influences of the world, if it is not
practical and moral, if it do not stand in connection
with the conscience, if it do not make the poor and
uncultivated feel that it addresses them with a voice
of lofty cheer. There is higher work for Art than the
arts. They are abortive births of an imperfect or
vitiated instinct. Art is the need to create; but in
its essence, immense and universal, it is impatient of
working with lame or tied hands, and of making cripples
and monsters, such as all pictures and statues are.
Nothing less than the creation of man and nature is its
end. A man should find in it an outlet for his whole
energy. He may paint and carve only as long as he can
do that. Art should exhilarate, and throw down the
walls of circumstance on every side, awakening in the
beholder the same sense of universal relation and power
which the work evinced in the artist, and its highest
effect is to make new artists.

Already History is old enough to witness the old
age and disappearance of particular arts. The art
of sculpture is long ago perished to any real effect.
It was originally a useful art, a mode of writing, a
savage's record of gratitude or devotion, and among
a people possessed of a wonderful perception of form
this childish carving was refined to the utmost
splendor of effect. But it is the game of a rude and
youthful people, and not the manly labor of a wise
and spiritual nation. Under an oak-tree loaded with
leaves and nuts, under a sky full of eternal eyes, I
stand in a thoroughfare; but in the works of our
plastic arts and especially of sculpture, creation
is driven into a corner. I cannot hide from myself
that there is a certain appearance of paltriness, as
of toys and the trumpery of a theatre, in sculpture.


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