The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson - by R.W. Emerson Institute, Jim Manley, Director -

In view of the significance of nature, we arrive at once at a new This use of
the world includes the preceding uses, as parts of itself.

Space, time, society, labor, climate, food, locomotion, the animals, the
mechanical forces, give us sincerest lessons, day by day, whose meaning is
unlimited. They educate both the Understanding and the Reason. Every property of
matter is a school for the understanding, — its solidity or resistance, its
inertia, its extension, its figure, its divisibility. The understanding adds,
divides, combines, measures, and finds nutriment and room for its activity in
this worthy scene. Meantime, Reason transfers all these lessons into its own
world of thought, by perceiving the analogy that marries Matter and Mind.

1. Nature is a discipline of the understanding in intellectual truths. Our
dealing with sensible objects is a constant exercise in the necessary lessons of
difference, of likeness, of order, of being and seeming, of progressive
arrangement; of ascent from particular to general; of combination to one end of
manifold forces. Proportioned to the importance of the organ to be formed, is
the extreme care with which its tuition is provided, — a care pretermitted in
no single case. What tedious training, day after day, year after year, never
ending, to form the common sense; what continual reproduction of annoyances,
inconveniences, dilemmas; what rejoicing over us of little men; what disputing
of prices, what reckonings of interest, — and all to form the Hand of the mind;
— to instruct us that “good thoughts are no better than good dreams, unless
they be executed!”

The same good office is performed by Property and its filial systems of debt
and credit. Debt, grinding debt, whose iron face the widow, the orphan, and the
sons of genius fear and hate; — debt, which consumes so much time, which so
cripples and disheartens a great spirit with cares that seem so base, is a
preceptor whose lessons cannot be forgone, and is needed most by those who
suffer from it most. Moreover, property, which has been well compared to snow,
— “if it fall level to-day, it will be blown into drifts to-morrow,” — is the
surface action of internal machinery, like the index on the face of a clock.
Whilst now it is the gymnastics of the understanding, it is hiving in the
foresight of the spirit, experience in profounder laws.

The whole character and fortune of the individual are affected by the least
inequalities in the culture of the understanding; for example, in the perception
of differences. Therefore is Space, and therefore Time, that man may know that
things are not huddled and lumped, but sundered and individual. A bell and a
plough have each their use, and neither can do the office of the other. Water is
good to drink, coal to burn, wool to wear; but wool cannot be drunk, nor water
spun, nor coal eaten. The wise man shows his wisdom in separation, in gradation,
and his scale of creatures and of merits is as wide as nature. The foolish have
no range in their scale, but suppose every man is as every other man. What is
not good they call the worst, and what is not hateful, they call the best.

In like manner, what good heed, nature forms in us! She pardons no mistakes.
Her yea is yea, and her nay, nay.

The first steps in Agriculture, Astronomy, Zoology, (those first steps which
the farmer, the hunter, and the sailor take,) teach that nature’s dice are
always loaded; that in her heaps and rubbish are concealed sure and useful

How calmly and genially the mind apprehends one after another the laws of
physics! What noble emotions dilate the mortal as he enters into the counsels of
the creation, and feels by knowledge the privilege to BE! His insight refines
him. The beauty of nature shines in his own breast. Man is greater that he can
see this, and the universe less, because Time and Space relations vanish as laws
are known.

Here again we are impressed and even daunted by the immense Universe to be
explored. “What we know, is a point to what we do not know.” Open any recent
journal of science, and weigh the problems suggested concerning Light, Heat,
Electricity, Magnetism, Physiology, Geology, and judge whether the interest of
natural science is likely to be soon exhausted.

Passing by many particulars of the discipline of nature, we must not omit to
specify two.

The exercise of the Will or the lesson of power is taught in every event.
From the child’s successive possession of his several senses up to the hour when
he saith, “Thy will be done!” he is learning the secret, that he can reduce
under his will, not only particular events, but great classes, nay the whole
series of events, and so conform all facts to his character. Nature is
thoroughly mediate. It is made to serve. It receives the dominion of man as
meekly as the ass on which the Saviour rode. It offers all its kingdoms to man
as the raw material which he may mould into what is useful. Man is never weary
of working it up. He forges the subtile and delicate air into wise and melodious
words, and gives them wing as angels of persuasion and command. One after
another, his victorious thought comes up with and reduces all things, until the
world becomes, at last, only a realized will, — the double of the man.

2. Sensible objects conform to the premonitions of Reason and reflect the
conscience. All things are moral; and in their boundless changes have an
unceasing reference to spiritual nature. Therefore is nature glorious with form,
color, and motion, that every globe in the remotest heaven; every chemical
change from the rudest crystal up to the laws of life; every change of
vegetation from the first principle of growth in the eye of a leaf, to the
tropical forest and antediluvian coal-mine; every animal function from the
sponge up to Hercules, shall hint or thunder to man the laws of right and wrong,
and echo the Ten Commandments. Therefore is nature ever the ally of Religion:
lends all her pomp and riches to the religious sentiment. Prophet and priest,
David, Isaiah, Jesus, have drawn deeply from this source. This ethical character
so penetrates the bone and marrow of nature, as to seem the end for which it was
made. Whatever private purpose is answered by any member or part, this is its
public and universal function, and is never omitted. Nothing in nature is
exhausted in its first use. When a thing has served an end to the uttermost, it
is wholly new for an ulterior service. In God, every end is converted into a new
means. Thus the use of commodity, regarded by itself, is mean and squalid. But
it is to the mind an education in the doctrine of Use, namely, that a thing is
good only so far as it serves; that a conspiring of parts and efforts to the
production of an end, is essential to any being. The first and gross
manifestation of this truth, is our inevitable and hated training in values and
wants, in corn and meat.

It has already been illustrated, that every natural process is a version of a
moral sentence. The moral law lies at the centre of nature and radiates to the
circumference. It is the pith and marrow of every substance, every relation, and
every process. All things with which we deal, preach to us. What is a farm but a
mute gospel? The chaff and the wheat, weeds and plants, blight, rain, insects,
sun, — it is a sacred emblem from the first furrow of spring to the last stack
which the snow of winter overtakes in the fields. But the sailor, the shepherd,
the miner, the merchant, in their several resorts, have each an experience
precisely parallel, and leading to the same conclusion: because all
organizations are radically alike. Nor can it be doubted that this moral
sentiment which thus scents the air, grows in the grain, and impregnates the
waters of the world, is caught by man and sinks into his soul. The moral
influence of nature upon every individual is that amount of truth which it
illustrates to him. Who can estimate this? Who can guess how much firmness the
sea-beaten rock has taught the fisherman? how much tranquillity has been
reflected to man from the azure sky, over whose unspotted deeps the winds
forevermore drive flocks of stormy clouds, and leave no wrinkle or stain? how
much industry and providence and affection we have caught from the pantomime of
brutes? What a searching preacher of self-command is the varying phenomenon of

Herein is especially apprehended the unity of Nature, — the unity in
variety, — which meets us everywhere. All the endless variety of things make an
identical impression. Xenophanes complained in his old age, that, look where he
would, all things hastened back to Unity. He was weary of seeing the same entity
in the tedious variety of forms. The fable of Proteus has a cordial truth. A
leaf, a drop, a crystal, a moment of time is related to the whole, and partakes
of the perfection of the whole. Each particle is a microcosm, and faithfully
renders the likeness of the world.

Not only resemblances exist in things whose analogy is obvious, as when we
detect the type of the human hand in the flipper of the fossil saurus, but also
in objects wherein there is great superficial unlikeness. Thus architecture is
called “frozen music,” by De Stael and Goethe. Vitruvius thought an architect
should be a musician. “A Gothic church,” said Coleridge, “is a petrified
religion.” Michael Angelo maintained, that, to an architect, a knowledge of
anatomy is essential. In Haydn’s oratorios, the notes present to the imagination
not only motions, as, of the snake, the stag, and the elephant, but colors also;
as the green grass. The law of harmonic sounds reappears in the harmonic colors.
The granite is differenced in its laws only by the more or less of heat, from
the river that wears it away. The river, as it flows, resembles the air that
flows over it; the air resembles the light which traverses it with more subtile
currents; the light resembles the heat which rides with it through Space. Each
creature is only a modification of the other; the likeness in them is more than
the difference, and their radical law is one and the same. A rule of one art, or
a law of one organization, holds true throughout nature. So intimate is this
Unity, that, it is easily seen, it lies under the undermost garment of nature,
and betrays its source in Universal Spirit. For, it pervades Thought also. Every
universal truth which we express in words, implies or supposes every other
truth. Omne verum vero consonat. It is like a great circle on a sphere,
comprising all possible circles; which, however, may be drawn, and comprise it,
in like manner. Every such truth is the absolute Ens seen from one side. But it
has innumerable sides.

The central Unity is still more conspicuous in actions. Words are finite
organs of the infinite mind. They cannot cover the dimensions of what is in
truth. They break, chop, and impoverish it. An action is the perfection and
publication of thought. A right action seems to fill the eye, and to be related
to all nature. “The wise man, in doing one thing, does all; or, in the one thing
he does rightly, he sees the likeness of all which is done rightly.”

Words and actions are not the attributes of brute nature. They introduce us
to the human form, of which all other organizations appear to be degradations.
When this appears among so many that surround it, the spirit prefers it to all
others. It says, `From such as this, have I drawn joy and knowledge; in such as
this, have I found and beheld myself; I will speak to it; it can speak again; it
can yield me thought already formed and alive.’ In fact, the eye, — the mind,
— is always accompanied by these forms, male and female; and these are
incomparably the richest informations of the power and order that lie at the
heart of things. Unfortunately, every one of them bears the marks as of some
injury; is marred and superficially defective. Nevertheless, far different from
the deaf and dumb nature around them, these all rest like fountain-pipes on the
unfathomed sea of thought and virtue whereto they alone, of all organizations,
are the entrances.

It were a pleasant inquiry to follow into detail their ministry to our
education, but where would it stop? We are associated in adolescent and adult
life with some friends, who, like skies and waters, are coextensive with our
idea; who, answering each to a certain affection of the soul, satisfy our desire
on that side; whom we lack power to put at such focal distance from us, that we
can mend or even analyze them. We cannot choose but love them. When much
intercourse with a friend has supplied us with a standard of excellence, and has
increased our respect for the resources of God who thus sends a real person to
outgo our ideal; when he has, moreover, become an object of thought, and, whilst
his character retains all its unconscious effect, is converted in the mind into
solid and sweet wisdom, — it is a sign to us that his office is closing, and he
is commonly withdrawn from our sight in a short time.

The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson