Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1841
I read the other day some verses written by an eminent painter which were
original and not conventional. The soul always hears an admonition in
such lines, let the subject be what it may. The sentiment they instill is of
more value than any thought they may contain. To believe your own
thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true
for all men, —that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be
the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost,
— and our first thoughtis rendered back to us by the trumpets of the
Last Judgment. Familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest
merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato, and Milton is, that they set at naught
books and traditions, and spoke not what men but what they thought.
A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which
flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament
of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought,
because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected
thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great
works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach
us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good – humored
inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side.
Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely
what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take
with shame our own opinion from another. . . .
Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the
divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries,
the connection of events. Great men have always done so, and confided
themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception
that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through
their hands, predominating in all their being. And we are now men, and
must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not
minors and invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a
revolution, but guides, redeemers, and benefactors, obeying the Almighty
effort, and advancing on Chaos and the Dark.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. "Self-Reliance." Essays, First Series. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, 1903. N. pag. Print.
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