Self Reliance

Book notes for "Self Reliance"


loc 49

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 thought is rendered back
to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment. loc 273

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. loc 277

What pretty oracles nature yields us on this text, in the face and
behaviour of children, babes, and even brutes! That divided and rebel
mind, that distrust of a sentiment because our arithmetic has computed
the strength and means opposed to our purpose, these have not. Their
mind being whole, their eye is as yet unconquered, and when we look in
their faces, we are disconcerted. Infancy conforms to nobody: all
conform to it, so that one babe commonly makes four or five out of the
adults who prattle and play to it. loc 295

Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather
immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must
explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity
of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the
suffrage of the world. loc 313

I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to
large societies and dead institutions. Every decent and well-spoken
individual affects and sways me more than is right. I ought to go
upright and vital, and speak the rude truth in all ways. loc 320

But do your work, and I shall know you. Do your work, and you shall
reinforce yourself. A man must consider what a blind-man's-buff is this
game of conformity. If I know your sect I anticipate your argument. I
hear a preacher announce for his text and topic the expediency of one of
the institutions of his church. Do I not know beforehand that not
possibly can he say a new spontaneous word? Do I not know that with all
this ostentation of examining the grounds of the institution he will do
no such thing? Do I not know that he is pledged to himself not to look
but at one side, the permitted side, not as a man, but as a parish
minister? He is a retained attorney, and these airs of the bench are the
emptiest affectation. loc 348

For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure. And
therefore a man must know how to estimate a sour face. The by-standers
look askance on him in the public street or in the friend's parlor. If
this aversion had its origin in contempt and resistance like his own he
might well go home with a sad countenance; but the sour faces of the
multitude, like their sweet faces, have no deep cause, but are put on
and off as the wind blows and a newspaper directs. loc 361

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little
statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul
has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow
on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak
what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every
thing you said to-day.- loc 374

That popular fable of the sot who was picked up dead drunk in the
street, carried to the duke's house, washed and dressed and laid in the
duke's bed, and, on his waking, treated with all obsequious ceremony
like the duke, and assured that he had been insane, owes its popularity
to the fact, that it symbolizes so well the state of man, who is in the
world a sort of sot, but now and then wakes up, exercises his reason,
and finds himself a true prince. loc 414

Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say
`I think,' `{.highlighter-rouge}I am,' but quotes some saint or sage. He
is ashamed before the blade of grass or the blowing rose. These roses
under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones;
they are for what they are; they exist with God to-day. There is no time
to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its
existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the
full-blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root there is no
less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments
alike. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present,
but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that
surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy
and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.
loc 452

All men have my blood, and I have all men's. Not for that will I adopt
their petulance or folly, even to the extent of being ashamed of it. loc

Live no longer to the expectation of these deceived and deceiving people
with whom we converse. Say to them, O father, O mother, O wife, O
brother, O friend, I have lived with you after appearances hitherto.
Henceforward I am the truth's. Be it known unto you that henceforward I
obey no law less than the eternal law. I will have no covenants but
proximities. I shall endeavour to nourish my parents, to support my
family, to be the chaste husband of one wife, -but these relations I
must fill after a new and unprecedented way. I appeal from your customs.
I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you. If
you can love me for what I am, we shall be the happier. If you cannot, I
will still seek to deserve that you should. I will not hide my tastes or
aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do
strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly rejoices me, and the
heart appoints. If you are noble, I will love you; if you are not, I
will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions. If you are
true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I
will seek my own. I do this not selfishly, but humbly and truly. It is
alike your interest, and mine, and all men's, however long we have dwelt
in lies, to live in truth. Does this sound harsh to-day? You will soon
love what is dictated by your nature as well as mine, and, if we follow
the truth, it will bring us out safe at last. loc 501

The sinew and heart of man seem to be drawn out, and we are become
timorous, desponding whimperers. We are afraid of truth, afraid of
fortune, afraid of death, and afraid of each other. Our age yields no
great and perfect persons. loc 521

A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all the
professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches,
edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in
successive years, and always, like a cat, falls on his feet, is worth a
hundred of these city dolls. He walks abreast with his days, and feels
no shame in not 'studying a profession,' for he does not postpone his
life, but lives already. He has not one chance, but a hundred chances.
loc 529

1.  It is for want of self-culture that the superstition of Travelling,
    whose idols are Italy, England, Egypt, retains its fascination for
    all educated Americans. loc 567

Travelling is a fool's paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the
indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can
be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk,
embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples,
and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting,
identical, that I fled from. loc 575

Where is the master who could have taught Shakspeare? Where is the
master who could have instructed Franklin, or Washington, or Bacon, or
Newton? Every great man is a unique. The Scipionism of Scipio is
precisely that part he could not borrow. Shakspeare will never be made
by the study of Shakspeare. loc 589