“Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson TLDR

“The earth laughs in flowers.”

Emerson wrote this essay in 1841. He’s known as an “American transcendentalist philosopher & essayist” and conveys one of his most famous themes; “the need for each individual avoid conformity and false consistency, and follow their own instincts and ideas.”

there’s a times in every mans education when he arrives at the conviction that; envy is ignorance, that imitation is suicide, that he must take himself for better or worse as his portion.

that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him til the power of which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what it hey is which he can do, not does he know until he has tried.

the picture waits for my verdict, it’s not to command me but i am to settle its claims to praise. that popular fable of the sot who was picked up dead drunk in the street, carried to the dukes house, washed and dressed and laid in the dukes bed. on his wakening, treated with all obsequious ceremony like the duke and assured that he’d 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. our reading is mendicant and sycophantic.

when private men shall act with original views, the luster will be transferred from the actions of kings to those of gentlemen.

the world has been instructed by its kings. who have so magnetized the eyes of nations. it has been taught by this colossal symbol; the mutual reference that is due from man to man.

the joyful loyalty with which men have everywhere suffered the king, the noble, or the great proprietor to walk among them by a law of his own, make his own scale of men and things, and reverse theirs, pay for benefits not with money but with honor and represent the law in his person, was the hieroglyphic by which they obscurely signified their consciousness of their own right and comeliness, the right of every man.

the magnetism which all original action exerts is explained when we inquire the reason of self-trust. who is the trustee? what is the aboriginal self, on which a universal reliance may be grounded? what is nature and power of that science-baffling star, without parallax, without calculable elements, which shoots a ray of beauty even into trivial and impure actions, if the least mark of independence appear? the inquiry leads us to that source, at once; the essence of genius, of virtue and of life, which we call spontaneity and instinct.

he may err in the expression of them but he knows that these things are so, like day and night, not to be disputed. my willful actions and acquisitions are but roving, the idlest reverie, the faintest native emotion, command my curiosity and respect. thoughtless people contradict, as readily the statement of perceptions as of opinions, or rather much more readily. for they don’t distinguish between perception and notion, they fancy that i choose to see this or that thing. perception is not whimsical, but fatal. if i see a trait, my children will see it after me and i. course of time, all mankind— although it may chance that no one has seen it before me.

another sort of false prayers are our regrets. discontent is the want of self reliance: it is infirmity of will. regret calamities, if you can thereby help the sufferer.

he is at home still, and shall make men sensible by the expression of his countenance, that he goes the missionary of wisdom and virtue, and visits cities and men like a sovereign and not like an interloper or a valet.

i have no churlis objection to the circumnavigation of the globe, for the purposes of art, study and benevolence, also that the man is first domesticated or doesn’t go abroad with the hope of finding somewhat greater than he knows.

he who travels to be amused or to get somewhat which he does not carry, travels away from himself and grows old even in youth among old things.

traveling is a fools paradise. our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. at home i dream of 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 i wake up in naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that i fled from.

i seek the vatican and the palaces. i affect to be intoxicated with sighs and suggestions, but i am not intoxicated. my giant goes with me wherever i go.

the rage of traveling is a symptom of a deeper unsoundness, affecting the whole intellectual action.

the intellect is a vagabond, and our system of education fosters restlessness. our minds travel when our bodies are forced to stay at home. we imitate; and what is imitation but traveling of the mind? our houses are built with foreign taste, our shelves are garnished with foreign ornaments, our opinions, taste, faculties, lean and follow the past and distant.

the souls created the arts wherever they have flourished, it was in his own mind that the artist sought his model.

if the traveler tells us truly, strike the savage with a broad axe and in a day or two the flesh shall unite and heal as if you struck the blow into soft pitch and the same blow shall send the white to his grave.

the civilized man had built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet. he’s supported on crutches, but lacks so much support of muscle.

he has a fine geneva watch but he fails of the skill to tell the hour by the sun. a greenwich nautical almanac he has, and so being sure of the information when he wants it, the man in the street doesn’t know a star in the sky. the solstice he doesn’t observe, the equinox he knows little and the whole bright calendar of the year is without a dial in his mind.

ask nothing of me, and in the endless mutation, thou only firm column must presently appear the upholder of all that surrounds thee.

he who knows that power is inborn, that he’s weak because he has looked for good out of him and elsewhere, and so perceiving, throws himself unhesitatingly on his thought, instantly rights himself, stands in the erect position, commands his limbs, works miracles; just as a man who stands on his feet is stronger than a man who stands on his head.

so use that is called fortune. most men will gamble with her, gain it all and lose it again, as her wheel rolls.

a political victory, a rise of rents, the recovery of your sick, the return of your absent friend, or some other favorable event raises your spirits, and you think good days are preparing for you. do not believe it. nothing can bring you peace but yourself. nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.