Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance (1841)



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  • Ralph Waldo Emerson,
  • Self-Reliance (1841)
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  • Main Points
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  •     I.      Independence of thought AND ACTION REGARDLESS OF SOCIETY’S REACTION.
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  •    II.      Existence of an inner divine force to give direction.
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  • III.      Divine force supplies revelation of truth and beauty.
  • Quotes from Emerson’s Self-Reliance:
  • …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.
  • 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 thought: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.
  • Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.
  • Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members.
  • Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.
  • I shun father and mother and wife and brother, when my genius calls me.
  • What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think.
  • Do your thing, and I shall know you. Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself. A man must consider what a blind-man-bluff is this game of conformity. If I know your sect, I anticipate your argument. p.  
  • For non-conformity the world whips you with its displeasure.
  • 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.
  • To be great is to be misunderstood.
  • The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks…. See the line from a sufficient distance, and it straightens itself to the average tendency.
  • The relations of the soul to the divine spirit are so pure that it is profane to seek to interpose helps. It must be that when God spaketh, he should communicate not one thing, but all things; should fill the world with his voice; should scatter forth light, nature, time, souls, from the centre of the present thought; and new date and new create the whole.
  •  …in the universal miracle petty and particular miracles disappear.
  • Man is timid and apologetic. He is no longer upright. He dares not say “I think,” “I am,” but quotes some saint or sage.
  • …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….
  • Life only avails, not the having lived. Power ceases in the instant of repose; it resides in the moment of transition from a past to a new state….
  • He who has more soul than I, masters me, though he should not raise his finger.
  • I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching.
  • …you isolation must not be mechanical, but spiritual, that is, must be elevation.
  • It is easy to see that a greater self-reliance must work a revolution in all the offices and relations of men; in their religion; in their education; in their pursuits; their modes of living; their association; in their property; in their speculative views.
  • Prayer is the contemplation of the facts of life from the highest point of view. It is the soliloquy of a beholding and jubilant soul. It is the spirit of God pronouncing his works good. But prayer as a means to effect a private end, is theft and meanness. It supposes dualism and not unity in nature and consciousness.
  • The soul is no traveler: the wise man stays at home….
  • Insist on yourself; never imitate.
  • Society never advances. It recedes as fast on one side as it gains on the other.
  • The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet.
  • Society is a wave. The wave moves onward, but the water of which it is composed does not.
  • And so the reliance on Property, including the reliance on governments which protect it, is the want of self-reliance.
  • Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Young American (1844)
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  • Main points:
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  • ·  Commerce is the most significant political issue for Americans because its revolutionary new developments combine us together as Americans.
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    • 1. “There is no American citizen who has not been stimulated to reflection by the facilities now in progress of construction for travel and the transportation of goods in the United States.”
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    • 2. The railroad creates American sentiment and connects people with resources.  It also unifies people together as a country.
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    • ·  “America is the country of the future.”
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          • 1. … “It is a country of beginnings, or projects, or designs, and expectations.  It has no past: all has an onward and prospective look.”
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          • 2. … “For remote generations. We should be mortified to learn that the little benefit we change in our own persons to receive was the utmost they would yield.”
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  • Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Young American (1844)
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  • Main points:
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  • · History of commerce provides a record of the development of America and the tremendous benefits trade has brought.
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    • 1.       “It is a new agent in the world and one of great functions; it is a very intellectual force.”
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    • 2.  “Trade is an instrument in the hands of the friendly Power which works for us in our own despite.”
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  • John L. O’Sullivan, Manifest Destiny
  • Westward Expansion:
  • “Our Manifest destiny is to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.”
    • “Texas is now ours.” Texas has no obligation to Mexico and the United States needs welcome the annexation of Texas.
    • “There is a great deal of Annexation yet to take place, within the life of the present generation, along the whole line of our northern border.”
  • Main Points
  • 1.) It is time now for opposition to the Annexation of Texas to cease…
  • 2.) It is our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.
  • 3. Nor is there any just foundation for the charge that Annexation is a great pro-slavery measure-calculated to increase and perpetuate that institution.
  • Manifest Destiny by John O’Sullivan


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