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Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882). 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. p. 70

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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. p. 70
  • 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. p. 70
  • Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. p. 71.
  • Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. p. 71.
  • Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. p. 71.
  • I shun father and mother and wife and brother, when my genius calls me. p. 71.
  • What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. p. 71.

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. 71. 

  • For non-conformity the world whips you with its displeasure. p. 71.
  • 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. p. 72.
  • 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. p. 72.
  • 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. p. 73

 …in the universal miracle petty and particular miracles disappear. p. 73

  • Man is timid and apologetic. He is no longer upright. He dares not say “I think,” “I am,” but quotes some saint or sage. p. 73.
  • …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…. p. 73.
  • 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…. p. 73.
  • He who has more soul than I, masters me, though he should not raise his finger. p. 73.
  • I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching. p. 74.
  • …you isolation must not be mechanical, but spiritual, that is, must be elevation. p. 74.

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. p. 74.

  • 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. p. 74.
  • The soul is no traveler: the wise man stays at home…. p. 75.
  • Insist on yourself; never imitate. p. 75.
  • Society never advances. It recedes as fast on one side as it gains on the other. p. 75.
  • The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet. p. 75.
  • 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. p. 75.
  • Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles. p. 75.

Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience (1848)

IT IS MAN’S DUTY TO WASH HIS HAND OF WRONG. It is not man’s duty, as a matter of course, to devote himself to the eradication of any…wrong; he may still properly have other concern to engage him; but it is his duty at least, to wash his hands of it, and, if he gives it no thought longer, not to give it practically his support. If I devote myself to other pursuits and contemplations, I must first see, at least, that I do not pursue them sitting upon another man’s shoulders. I must get off him fist, that he may pursue his contemplations too. (p. 51.)

DEMOCRACY SOMETIMES PREVENTS PEOPLE FROM DOING THE RIGHT THING. In a democracy, there are unjust laws, but people “think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them.” (p. 52.)


Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience (1848)

ANY MAN MORE RIGHT THAN HIS NEIGHBORS CONSTITUTES A MAJORITY BECAUSE HE HAS GOD ON HIS SIDE, AND HE SHOULD ACT IMMEDIATELY TO WASH HIS HAND OF WRONG. If a government is maintaining unjust laws, people should at once effectually withdraw their support, both in person and property, from the government. They should “not wait till they constitute a majority of one, before they suffer the right to prevail through them. I think that it is enough if they have God on their side, without waiting for that other one. Moreover, any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one already.” (p. 52)

ONE HONEST MAN CAN CHANGE THE STATE. For it matters not how small the beginning may seem to be: what is once well done is done forever. But we love better to talk about it: that we say is our mission. (p. 52)

“Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison…. Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence.” (p. 52)


Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience (1848)

“A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight.” (p. 52)

IT IS GOOD TO BE A MARTYR RATHER THAN A SINNER. Suppose blood should flow when standing up to the government or the majority in refusal to consent to unjust laws. “Is there not a sort of blood shed when the conscience is wounded? Through this wound a man’s real manhood and immortality flow out, and he bleeds to an everlasting death.” (p. 52)

THE STATE SHOULD HAVE TRUE RESPECT FOR THE INDIVIDUAL. The progress from an absolute to a limited monarchy, from a limited monarchy to a democracy, is a progress toward a true respect for the individual…. There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly. I please myself with imaging a State at least which can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor; which even would not think it inconsistent with its own repose if a few were to live aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by it, who fulfilled all the duties of neighbors and fellow-men.” (p. 52)