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Essays, Second Series by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Part 3 out of 4

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nature to their aid, can they reach the height of
magnificence. This is the meaning of their hanging-
gardens, villas, garden-houses, islands, parks and
preserves, to back their faulty personality with these
strong accessories. I do not wonder that the landed
interest should be invincible in the State with these
dangerous auxiliaries. These bribe and invite; not
kings, not palaces, not men, not women, but these
tender and poetic stars, eloquent of secret promises.
We heard what the rich man said, we knew of his villa,
his grove, his wine and his company, but the provocation
and point of the invitation came out of these beguiling
stars. In their soft glances I see what men strove to
realize in some Versailles, or Paphos, or Ctesiphon.
Indeed, it is the magical lights of the horizon and the
blue sky for the background which save all our works of
art, which were otherwise bawbles. When the rich tax the
poor with servility and obsequiousness, they should
consider the effect of men reputed to be the possessors
of nature, on imaginative minds. Ah! if the rich were
rich as the poor fancy riches! A boy hears a military
band play on the field at night, and he has kings and
queens and famous chivalry palpably before him. He hears
the echoes of a horn in a hill country, in the Notch
Mountains, for example, which converts the mountains
into an Aeolian harp,--and this supernatural tiralira
restores to him the Dorian mythology, Apollo, Diana,
and all divine hunters and huntresses. Can a musical
note be so lofty, so haughtily beautiful! To the poor
young poet, thus fabulous is his picture of society; he
is loyal; he respects the rich; they are rich for the
sake of his imagination; how poor his fancy would be,
if they were not rich! That they have some high-fenced
grove which they call a park; that they live in larger
and better-garnished saloons than he has visited, and
go in coaches, keeping only the society of the elegant,
to watering-places and to distant cities,--these make
the groundwork from which he has delineated estates of
romance, compared with which their actual possessions
are shanties and paddocks. The muse herself betrays
her son, and enhances the gifts of wealth and well-born
beauty by a radiation out of the air, and clouds, and
forests that skirt the road,--a certain haughty favor,
as if from patrician genii to patricians, a kind of
aristocracy in nature, a prince of the power of the air.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


SUNDAY, MARCH 3, 1844.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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