Self Reliance


There is a time in every man\'s education when he arrives at
the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is
suicide; that he must take himself for better, for 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 to till. The power which resides in him is new
in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can
do, nor does he know until he has tried. Not for nothing
one face, one character, one fact, makes much impression on
him, and another none. This sculpture in the memory is not
without preestablished harmony. The eye was placed where
one ray should fall, that it might testify of that
particular ray. We but half express ourselves, and are
ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents. It
may be safely trusted as proportionate and of good issues,
so it be faithfully imparted, but God will not have his
work made manifest by cowards. A man is relieved and gay
when he has put his heart into his work and done his best;
but what he has said or done otherwise, shall give him no
peace. It is a deliverance which does not deliver. In the
attempt his genius deserts him; no muse befriends; no
invention, no hope.
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.
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.
So God has armed youth and puberty and manhood no less with
its own piquancy and charm, and made it enviable and
gracious and its claims not to be put by, if it will stand
by itself. Do not think the youth has no force, because he
cannot speak to you and me. Hark! in the next room his
voice is sufficiently clear and emphatic. It seems he knows
how to speak to his contemporaries. Bashful or bold, then,
he will know how to make us seniors very unnecessary.
The nonchalance of boys who are sure of a dinner, and would
disdain as much as a lord to do or say aught to conciliate
one, is the healthy attitude of human nature. A boy is in
the parlour what the pit is in the playhouse; independent,
irresponsible, looking out from his corner on such people
and facts as pass by, he tries and sentences them on their
merits, in the swift, summary way of boys, as good, bad,
interesting, silly, eloquent, troublesome. He cumbers
himself never about consequences, about interests: he gives
an independent, genuine verdict. You must court him: he
does not court you. But the man is, as it were, clapped
into jail by his consciousness. As soon as he has once
acted or spoken with eclat, he is a committed person,
watched by the sympathy or the hatred of hundreds, whose
affections must now enter into his account. There is no
Lethe for this. Ah, that he could pass again into his
neutrality! Who can thus avoid all pledges, and having
observed, observe again from the same unaffected, unbiased,
unbribable, unaffrighted innocence, must always be
formidable. He would utter opinions on all passing affairs,
which being seen to be not private, but necessary, would
sink like darts into the ear of men, and put them in fear.
These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they
grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world.
Society everywhere is