Self-Reliance and other essays, Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ci-dessous, retrouvez les citations et passages que j’ai trouvé le plus intéressant du livre Self-Reliance and other essays de Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Bonne lecture !

History

  • The student is to read history actively and not passively; to esteem his own life the text, and books the commentary.
  • « What is History », said Napoleon, « but a fable agreed upon? » This life of ours is stuck round with Egypt, Greece, Gaul, England, War, Colonization, Church, Court, and Commerce, as with so many flowers and wild ornaments grave and gray. I will not make more account of them. I believe in Eternity. I can find Greece, Asia, Italy, Spain, and the Islands, — the genius and creative principle of each and of all dread in my own mind.
  • Ferguson discovered many things in astronomy which had long been known. The better for him.
  • We must in ourselves see the necessary reason of every fact, — see how it could and must be.
  • All inquiry into antiquity, — all curiosity respecting the Pyramids, the excavated cities, Stonehenge, the Ohio Circles,Mexico, Memphis, — is the desire to do away this wild, savage, and preposterous There and Then, and introduce in its place the Here and the Now.
  • Nature is an endless combination and repetition of a very few laws. She hums the old well-known air through innumerable variations.
  • If any one will but take pains to observe the variety of actions to which he is equally inclined in certain moods of mind, and those to which he is averse, he will see how deep is the chain of affinity.
  • A painter told me that nobody could drawn a tree without in some sort becoming a tree; or draw a child by studying the outlines of its form merely, — but, by watching for a time his motions and plays, the painter enters into his nature, and can then draw him at will in every attitude. So Roos « entered into the inmost nature of a sheep. » I knew a draughtsman employed in a public survey, who found that he could not sketch the rocks until their geological structure was first explained to him. In a certain state of thought is the common origin of very diverse works. It is the spirit and not the fact that is identical. By a deeper apprehension, and not primarily by a painful acquisition of many manual skills, the artist attains the power of awakening other souls to a given activity.
  • By surrounding ourselves with the original circumstances, we invent anew the orders and the ornaments of architecture, as we see how each people merely decorated its primitive abodes. The Doric temple preserves the semblance of the wooden cabin in which the Dorian dwelt. The Chinese pagoda is plainly a Tartar tent. The Indian and Egyptian temples still betray the mounds and subterranean houses of their forefathers. « The customs of making houses and tombs in the living rocks, » says Heeren, in his Researches on the Ethiopians, « determined very naturally the principal character of the Nubian Egyptian architecture to the colossal firm which it assumed. In these caverns, already prepared by nature, the eye was accustomed to dwell, on huge shapes and masses, so that, when att came to the assistance of nature, it could not move on a small scale without degrading itself. What would statues of the usual size, or neat porches and wings, have been, associated with those gigantic halls before which only Colossi would sit as watchmen, or lean on the pillars of the interior? »
  • The preternatural prowess of the here, the gift of perpetual youth, and the like, are alike the endeavor of the human spirit « to bend the shows of things to the desires of the mind. »
  • History is to be read and written.
  • This in all ways does the soul concentrate and reproduce its treasures for each pupil. He, too, shall pass through the whole cycle of experience. He shall collect into a focus the rays of nature. History no longer shall be a bull book. It shall walk incarnate in every just and wise man. You shall not tell me by languages and titles a catalogue of the volumes you have read. You shall make me feel what periods you have lived. A man shall be the Temple of Fame. He shall walk, as the poets have described that goddess, in a robe painted all over with wonderful events and experiences; — his own form and features by their exalted intelligence shall be that variegated vest. I shall find in him the Foreworld; in his childhood the Age of Abraham; the buildings of the Temple; the Advent of Christ; Dark Ages; the Revival of Letters; the Reformation; the discovery of new lands; the opening of new sciences, and new regions in man. He shall be the priest of Pan, and bring with him into humble cottages the blessing of the morning stars and all the recorded benefits of heaven and earth.

Self-Reliance

  • « Man is his own star; and the soul that can

Render an honest and perfect man,

Commands all light, all influence, all fate;

Nothing to him falls early or too late.

Our acts our angels are, or good or ill,

Our fatal shadows that walk by us still. » Epilogue to Beaumont and Fletcher’s honest man’s fortune

  • The sentiment they instil 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.
  • Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt at the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.
  • There is a time in every man’s eduaction 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.
  • Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found you 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 guide, redeemers, and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort, and advancing on Chaos and the Dark.
  • 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. I remember an answer which when quite young I was prompted to make to a valued adviser, who wanted to importune me with the dear old doctrines of the church. On my saying, What have I to do with the sacredness of traditions, if I live wholly from within? my friend suggested, — “But these impulses may be from below, not from above.” I replied, “They do not seem to me to be such; but if I am a Devil’s child, I will live then from the Devil.” No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature.
  • Good and bad are but names very readily transferable to that or this; the only right is what is after my constitution, the only wrong what is against it. A man is to carry himself in the presence of all opposition, as if every thing were titular and ephemeral but he. I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and naùes, 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.
  • What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.
  • This conformity makes them not false in a few particulars, authors of a few lies, but false in all particulars. Their every truth is not quite true. Their two is not the real two, their four not the real four; so that word they say chagrins us, and we know not where to begin to set them right. Meantime nature is not slow to equip using the prison-uniform of the party to which we adhere. We come to wear one cut of face and figure, and acquire by degrees the gentlest asinine expression. There is a mortifying experience in particular, which does not fail to wreak itself also in the general history; I mean “the foolish face of praise,” the forced smile which we put on in company where we do not feel at ease in answer to conversation which does not interest us. The muscles, not spontaneously moved, but moved by a low usurping willfulness, grow tight about the outline of the face with the most disagreeable sensation.
  • The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word, because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loath to disappoint them.
  • If we live truly, we shall see truly. It is as easy for the strong man to be strong, as it is for the weak to be weak. When we have new perception, we shall gladly disburden the memory of its hoarded treasures as old rubbish.
  • 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; if not, attend your own work, and already the evil begins to be repaired. Our sympathy is just as base. We come to them who weep foolishly, and sit down and cry for company, instead of imparting to them truth and health in rough electric shocks, putting them once more in communication with their own reason.
  • They measure their esteem of each other by what each has, and not by what each is.
  • Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.

Spiritual Laws

  • Sydney’s maxim: “Look in thy heart, and write.” He that writes to himself writes to an eternal public.

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