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….
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…
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 was
wont 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 the 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….
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
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 parlour. If this aversation 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. …
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….
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. — 'Ah,
so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.' — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood,
and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh.
To be great is to be misunderstood.