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date: 27 October 2020


The Concise Oxford Companion to American Literature

James D. Hart

essay by Emerson, published in Essays, First Series (1841).“Trust thyself,” a central doctrine in the author’s ethical thought, is the theme developed here. “Envy is ignorance … imitation is suicide”; a man “must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion.” “Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. … Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.” The two terrors that discourage originality and creative living are fear of public opinion and undue reverence for one’s own consistency. The great figures of history have not cared for the opinions of their contemporaries; “to be great is to be misunderstood”; and if a man honestly expresses his nature he will be largely consistent. Deference to authority, to institutions, or to tradition is disobedience to the inner law that each of us must follow in order to do justice to himself and to society. We must speak the truth, and truth, revealed intuitively, cannot be achieved except through the development and expression of one’s individual nature. “Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.”... ...

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