by Ralph Waldo Emerson
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Don’t say things. What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary.
Solitude is impracticable, and society fatal. We must keep our head in the one, and our hands in the other. The conditions are met, if we keep our independence, yet do not lose our sympathy.
Few substances are found pure in nature. Those constitutions which can bear in open day the rough dealing of the world must be of that mean and average structure such as iron and salt, atmospheric air, and water. But there are metals, like potassium and sodium, which, to be kept pure, must be kept under naptha. Such are the talents determined on some specialty, which a culminating civilization fosters in the heart of great cities and in royal chambers.
Nature protects her own work. To the culture of the world an Archimedes, a Newton is indispensable; so she guards them by a certain aridity. If these had been good fellows, fond of dancing, port, and clubs, we should have had no “Theory of the Sphere” and no “Principia”. They had that necessity of isolation which genius feels. Each must stand on his glass tripod if he would keep his electricity.
We have known many fine geniuses with that imperfection that they cannot do anything useful, not so much as write one clean sentence. ‘Tis worse, and tragic, that no man is fit for society who has fine traits. At a distance he is admired, but bring him hand to hand, he is a cripple. One protects himself by solitude, and one by courtesy, and one by an acid, worldly manner, each concealing how he can the thinness of his skin and his incapacity for strict association.
We pray to be conventional. But the wary Heaven takes care you shall not be, if there is anything good in you.
But the necessity of solitude is deeper than we have said, and is organic. I have seen many a philosopher whose world is large enough for only one person. He affects to be a good companion; but we are still surprising his secret, that he means and needs to impose his system on all the rest. The determination of each is from all the others, like that of each tree up into free space.
Dear heart! take it sadly home to thee,– there is no cooperation. We begin with friendships, and all our youth is a reconnoitering and recruiting of the holy fraternity they shall combine for the salvation of men. But so the remoter stars seem a nebula of united light, yet there is no group which a telescope will not resolve; and the dearest friends are separated by impassable gulfs.
But [man’s] banishment to [a desert’s] rocks and echoes no metaphysics can make right or tolerable. This result is so against nature, such a half-view, that it must be corrected by a common sense and experience […] A man must be clothed with society, or we shall feel a certain bareness and poverty, as of a displaced and unfurnished member. He is to be dressed in arts and institutions, as well as in body garments. Now and then a man exquisitely made can live alone,and must; but coop up most men and you undo them.
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“An idea is something that won’t work unless you do.” - Thomas A. Edison
On the discrepancy between what we say and what we do, and between what we are under the skin and what we are out of it.
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