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


With the key of the secret he marches faster
From strength to strength, and for night brings day,
While classes or tribes too weak to master
The flowing conditions of life, give way.
NEW degree of intellectual power seems cheap at any price. The use of
the world is that man may learn its laws. And the human race have
wisely signified their sense of this, by calling wealth, means, – Man
being the end. Language is always wise.

Therefore I praise New
England because it is the country in the world where is the freest
expenditure for education. We have already taken, at the planting of
the Colonies, (for aught I know for the first time in the world,) the
initial step, which for its importance might have been resisted as the
most radical of revolutions, thus deciding at the start the destiny of
this country,- this, namely, that the poor man, whom the law does not
allow to take an ear of corn when starving, nor a pair of shoes for his
freezing feet, is allowed to put his hand into the pocket of the rich,
and say, You shall educate me, not as you will, but as I will : not
alone in the elements, but, by further provision, in the languages, in
sciences, in the useful and in elegant arts. The child shall be taken
up by the State, and taught, at the public cost, the rudiments of
knowledge, and, at last, the ripest results of art and science.

speaking, the school, the college, society, make the difference between
men. All the fairy tales of Aladdin or the invisible Gyges or the
talisman that opens kings' palaces or the en-chanted halls under-ground
or in the sea, are only fictions to indicate the one miracle of
intellectual enlargement. When a man stupid becomes a man inspired,
when one and the same man passes out of the torpid into the perceiving
state, leaves the din of trifles, the stupor of the senses, to enter
into the quasi-omniscience of high thought, – up and down, around, all
limits disappear. No horizon shuts down. He sees things in their
causes, all facts in their connection.

One of the problems of
history is the beginning of civilization. The animals that accompany
and serve man make no progress as races. Those called domestic are
capable of learning of man a few tricks of utility or amusement, but
they cannot communicate the skill to their race. Each individual must
be taught anew. The trained dog cannot train another dog. And Man
himself in many races retains almost the unteachableness of the beast.
For a thousand years the islands and forests of a great part of the
world have been filledwith savages who made no steps of advance in art
or skill beyond the necessity of being fed and warmed. Certain nations
with a better brain and usually in more temperate climates, have made
such progress as to compare with these as these compare with the bear
and the wolf.

Victory over things is the office of man. Of
course, until it is accomplished, it is the war and insult of things
over him. His continual tendency, his great danger, is to overlook the
fact that the world is only his teacher, and the nature of sun and
moon, plant and animal only means of arousing his interior activity.
Enamored of their beauty, comforted by their convenience, he seeks them
as ends, and fast loses sight of the fact that they have worse than no
values, that they become noxious, when he becomes their slave.

apparatus of wants and faculties, this craving body, whose organs ask
all the elements and all the functions of Nature for their
satisfaction, educate the wondrous creature which they satisfy with
light, with heat, with water, with wood, with bread, with wool. The
necessities imposed by this most irritable and all-related texture have
taught Man hunting, pasturage, agriculture, commerce, weaving, joining,
masonry, geometry, astronomy. Here is a world pierced and belted with
natural laws, and fenced and planted with civil partitions and
properties, which all put new restraints on the young inhabitant. He
too must come into this magic circle of relations, and know health and
sickness, the fear of injury, the desire of external good, the charm of
riches, the charm of power. The house-hold is a school of power. There,
within the door, learn the tragi-comedy of human life. Here is the
sincere thing, the wondrous composition for which day and night go
round. In that routine are the sacred relations, the passions that bind
and sever. Here is poverty and all the wisdom its hated necessities can
teach, here labor drudges, here affections glow, here the secrets of
character are told, the guards of man, the guards of woman, the
compensations which, like angels of justice, pay every debt the opium
of custom, whereof all drink and many go mad. Here is Economy, and
Glee, and Hospitality, and Ceremony, and Frankness, and Calamity, and
Death, and Hope.

Every one has a trust of power, – every man,
every boy a jurisdiction, whether it be over a cow or a rood of a
potato-field, or a fleet of ships, or the laws of a state. And what
activity the desire of power inspires! What toils it sustains! How it
sharpens the perceptions and stores the memory with facts. Thus a man
may well spend many years of life in trade. It is a constant teaching
of the laws of matter and of mind. No dollar of property can be created
without some direct communication with nature, and of course some
acquisition of knowledge and practical force. It is it constant contest
with the active faculties of men, a study of the issues of one and
another course of action, an accumulation of power, and, if the higher
faculties of the individual be from time to time quickened, he will
gain wisdom and virtue from his business.

As every wind draws
music out of the Aeolian harp, so doth every object in Nature draw music
out of his mind. Is it not true that every landscape I behold, every
friend I meet, every act I perform, every pain I suffer, leaves me a
different being from that they found me ? That poverty, love,
authority, anger, sickness, sorrow, success, all work: actively upon
our being and unlock for us the concealed faculties of the mind ?
Whatever private or petty ends are frustrated, this end is always
answered. Whatever the man does, or whatever befalls him, opens another
chamber in his soul, – that is, he has got a new feeling, a new
thought, a new organ. Do we not see how amazingly for this end man is
fitted to the world ?

What leads him to science? Why does he
track in the midnight heaven a pure spark, a luminous patch wandering
from age to age, but because he acquires thereby a majestic sense of
power ; learning that in his own constitution he can set the shining
maze in order, and finding and carrying their law in his mind, can, as
*it were, see his simple idea realized up yonder in giddy distances and
frightful periods of duration. If Newton come and first of men perceive
that not alone certain bodies fall to the ground at a certain rate, but
that all bodies in the Universe, the universe of bodies, fall always,
and at one rate ; that every atom in nature draws to every other atom,
– he extends the power of his mind not only over every cubic atom of
his native planet, but he reports the condition of millions of worlds
which his eye never saw. And what is the charm which every ore, every
new plant, every new fact touching winds, clouds, ocean currents, the
secrets of chemical composition and decomposition possess for Humboldt
? What but that much revolving of similar facts in his mind has shown
him that always the mind contains in its transparent chambers the means
of classifying the most refractory phenomena, of depriving them of all
casual and chaotic aspect, and subordinating them to a bright reason of
its own, and so giving to man a sort of property, – yea, the very
highest property in every district and particle of the globe.

the permanence of Nature, minds are trained alike, and made
intelligible to each other. In our condition are the roots of language
and communication, and these instructions we never exhaust.

some sort the end of life is that the man should take up the universe
into himself, or out of that quarry leave nothing unrepresented. Yonder
mountain must migrate into his mind. Yonder magnificent astronomy he is
at last to import, fetching away moon, and planet, solstice, period,
comet and binal star, by comprehending their relation and law. Instead
of the timid stripling he was, he is to be the stalwart Archimedes,
Pythagoras, Columbus, Newton, of the physic, metaphysic and ethics of
the design of the world.

For truly the population of the globe
has its origin in the aims which their existence is to serve; and so
with every portion of them. The truth takes flesh in forms that can
express it ; and thus in history an idea always overhangs, like the
moon, and rules the tide which rises simultaneously in all the souls of
a generation.

Whilst thus the world exists for the mind ; whilst
thus the man is ever invited inward into shining realms of knowledge
and power by the shows of the world, which interpret to him the
infinitude of his own consciousness, – it becomes the office of a just
education to awaken him to the knowledge of this fact.

We learn
nothing rightly until we learn the symbolical character of life. Day
creeps after day, each full of facts, dull, strange, despised things,
that we cannot enough despise, -call heavy, prosaic, and desert. The
time we seek to kill: the attention it is elegant to divert from things
around us. And presently the aroused intellect find, gold and gems in
one of these scorned facts, – then finds that the day of facts is a
rock of diamonds ; that a fact is an Epiphany of God.

We have
our theory of life, our religion, our philosophy; and the event of each
moment, the shower, the steamboat disaster, the passing of a beautiful
face, the apoplexy of our neighbor, are all tests to try our theory,
the approximate result we call truth, and reveal its defects. If I have
renounced the search of truth, if I have come into the port of some
pretending dogmatism, solve new church or old church, some Schelling or
Cousin, I have died to all use of these new events that are born out of
prolific time into multitude of life every hour. I am as a bankrupt to
whom brilliant opportunities offer in vain. He has just foreclosed his
freedom, tied his hands, locked himself up and given the key to another
to keep.

When I see the doors by which God enters into the
mind ; that there is no sot or fop, ruffian or pedant into whom
thoughts do not enter by passages which the individual never left open,
I can expect any revolution in character. I have hope," said the great
Leibnitz, " that society may be reformed, when I see how much education
may be reformed."

It is ominous, a presumption of crime, that
this word Education has so cold, so hopeless a sound. A treatise on
education, a convention for education, a lecture, a system, affects us
with slight paralysis and a certain yawning of the jaws. We are not
encouraged when the law tonches it with its, fingers. Education should
be as broad as man. Whatever elements are in him that should foster and
demonstrate. If he be dexterous, his tuition should make it appear; if
he be capable of dividing men by the trenchant sword of his thought,
education should unsheathe and sharpen it ; if he is one to cement
society by his all-reconciling affinities, oh!  hasten their
action , If he is jovial, if he is mercurial, if he is great-hearted, a
cunning artificer, a strong commander, a potent ally, ingenious,
useful, elegant, witty, prophet, diviner, – society has need of all
these. The imagination must be addressed. Why always coast on the
surface and never open the interior of nature, not by science, which is
surface still, but by poetry ? Is not the Vast an element of the mind ?
Yet what teaching, what book of this day appeals to the Vast ?

culture has truckled to the times, – to the senses. It is not
manworthy. If the vast and the spiritual are omitted, so are the
practical and the moral. It does not make us brave or free. We teach
boys to be such men as we are. We do not teach them to aspire to be all
they can. We do not give them a training as if we believed in their
noble nature. We scarce educate their bodies. We do not train the eye
and the hand. We exercise their understandings to the apprehension and
comparison of some facts, to a skill in numbers, in words ; we aim to
make accountants, attorneys, engineers ; but not to make able, earnest,
great-hearted men. The great object of Education should be commensurate
with the object of life. It should be a moral one ; to teach self-trust
: to inspire the youthful man with an interest in himself ; with a
curiosity touching his own nature ; to acquaint him with the resources
of his mind, and to teach him that there is all his strength, and to
inflame him with a piety towards the Grand Mind in which he lives. Thus
would education conspire with the Divine Providence. A man is a little
thing whilst he works by and for himself, but, when he gives voice to
the rules of love and justice, is godlike, his word is current in all
countries ; and all men, though his enemies, are made his friends and
obey it as their own.

In affirming that the moral nature of man
is the predominant element and should therefore be mainly consulted in
the arrangements of a school, I am very far from wishing that it should
swallow up all the other instincts and faculties of man. It should be
enthroned in his mind, but if it monopolize the man he is not yet
sound, he does not yet know his wealth. He is in danger of becoming
merely devout, and wearisome through the monotony of his thought. It is
not less necessary that the intellectual and the active faculties
should be nourished and matured. Let us apply to this subject the light
of the same torch by which we have looked at all the phenomena of the
time ; the infinitude, namely, of every man. Everything teaches that.

fact constitutes all my satisfaction, inspires all my trust, viz., this
perpetual youth, which, as long as there is any good in us, we cannot
get rid of. It is very certain that the coining age and the departing
age seldom understand each other. The old man thinks the young man has
no distinct purpose, for he could never get anything intelligible and
earnest out of him. Perhaps the young man does not think it worth his
while to explain himself to so hard and inapprehensive a confessor. Let
him be led up with a long-sighted forbearance, and let not the sallies
of his petulance or folly be checked with disgust or indignation or

I call our system a system of despair, and I find all
the correction, all the revolution that is needed and that the best
spirits of this age promise, in one word, in Hope. Nature, when she
sends a new mind into the world, fills it beforehand with a desire for
that which she wishes it to know and do. Let us wait and see what is
this new creation, of what new organ the great Spirit had need when it
incarnated this new Will. A new Adam in the garden, he is to name all
the beasts in the field, all the gods in the sky. And jealous provision
seems to have been made in his constitution that you shall not invade
and contaminate him with the worn weeds of your language and opinions.
The charm of life is this variety of genius, these contrasts and
flavors by which Heaven has modulated the identity of truth, and there
is a perpetual hankering to violate this individuality, to warp his
ways of thinking and behavior to resemble or reflect your thinking and
behavior. A low self-love in the parent desires that his child should
repeat his character and fortune ; an expectation which the child, if
justice is done him, will nobly disappoint. By working on the theory
that this resemblance exists, we shall do what in us lies to defeat his
proper promise and produce the ordinary and mediocre. I suffer whenever
I see that common sight of a parent or senior imposing his opinion and
way of thinking and being on a young soul to which they are totally
unfit. Cannot we let people be themselves. and enjoy life in their own
way ? You are trying to make that man another you. One's enough.
we sacrifice the genius of the pupil, the unknown possibilities of his
nature, to a neat and safe uniformity, as the Turks whitewash the
costly mosaics of ancient art which the Greeks left on their temple
walls. Rather let us have men whose man-hood is only the continuation
of their boyhood, natural characters still; such are able and fertile
for heroic action : and not that sad spectacle with which we are too
familiar, educated eyes in uneducated bodies.

I like boys, the
masters of the playground and of the street, – boys, who have the same
liberal ticket of admission to all shops, factories, armories,
town-meetings. caucuses, mobs, target-shootings, as flies have ; quite
unsuspected, coming in as naturally as the janitor, – known to have no
money in their pockets, and themselves not suspecting the value of this
poverty : putting nobody on his guard, but seeing the inside of the
show, – hearing all the asides. There are no secrets from them, they
know everything that befalls in the fire-company, the merits of every
engine and of every man at the brakes, how to work it, and are swift to
try their hand at every part ; so too the merits of every locomotive on
the rails, and will coax the engineer to let them ride with him and
pull the handles when it goes to the engine-house. They are there only
for fun, and not knowing that they are at school, in the court-house,
or the cattle-show, quite as much and more than they were, an hour ago,
in the arithmetic class.

They know truth from counterfeit as
quick as the chemist does. They detect weakness in your eye and
behavior a week before you open your mouth, and have given you the
benefit of their opinion quick as a wink. They make no mistakes, have
no pedantry, but entire belief on experience. Their elections at base –
ball or cricket are founded on merit, and are right. They don't pass
for swimmers until they can swim, nor for stroke-oar until they can
row: and I desire to be saved from their contempt. If I can pass with
them, I can manage well enough with their fathers.

delights in the energy with which boys deal and talk with each other ;
the mixture of fun and earnest, reproach and coaxing, love and wrath,
with which the game is played ; – the good-natured yet defiant
independence of a leading boy's behavior in the school-yard. How we
envy in later life the happy youths to whom their boisterous games and
rough exercise furnish the precise element which frames and sets off
their school and college tasks, and teaches them, when least they think
it, the use and meaning of these. In their fun and extreme freak they
hit on the topmost sense of Horace. The young giant, brown from his
hunting-tramp, tells his story well, interlarded with lucky allusions
to Homer, to Virgil, to college-songs, to Walter Scott ; and Jove and
Achilles, partridge and trout, opera and binomial theorem, Caesar in
Gaul, Sherman in Savannah, and hazing in Holworthy, dance through the
narrative in merry confusion, yet the logic is good. If he can turn his
books to such picturesque account in his fishing and hunting, it is
easy to see how his reading and experience, as he has more of both,
will interpenetrate each other. And every one desires that this pure
vigor of action and wealth of narrative, cheered with so much humor and
street rhetoric, should be carried into the habit of the young man,
purged of its uproar and rudeness, but with all its vivacity entire.
His hunting and campings-out have given him an indispensable base : I
wish to add a taste for good company through his impatience of bad.
That stormy genius of his needs a little direction to games, charades,
verses of society, song, and a correspondence year by year with his
wisest and best friends. Friendship is an order of nobility ; from its
revelations we come more worthily into nature. Society he must have or
he is poor indeed ; he gladly enters a school which forbids conceit,
affectation, emphasis and dulness, and requires of each only the flower
of his nature and experience ; requires good-will, beauty, wit, and
select information ; teaches by practice the law of conversation,
namely, to hear as well as to speak.

Meantime, if circumstances
do not permit the high social advantages, solitude has also its
lessons. The obscure youth learns there the practice instead of the
literature of his virtues ; and, because of the disturbing effect of
passion and sense, which by a multitude of trifles impede the mind's
eye from the quiet search of that fine horizon-line which truth keeps,
– the way to knowledge and power has ever been an escape from too much
engagement with affairs and possessions; a way, not through plenty and
superfluity, but by denial and renunciation, into solitude and
privation ; and, the more is taken away, the more real and inevitable
wealth of being is made known to us. The solitary knows the essence of
the thought, the scholar in society only its fair face. There is no
want of example of great men, great benefactors, who have been monks
and hermits in habit. The bias of mind is sometimes irresistible in
that direction. The man is, as it were, born deaf and dumb, and
dedicated to a narrow and lonely life. Let him study the art of
solitude, yield as gracefully as he can to his destiny. Why can-not he
get the good of his doom. and if it is from eternity a settled fact
that he and society shall be nothing to each other, why need he blush
so, and , make wry faces to keep up a freshman's seat in the fine world
? Heaven often protects valuable souls charged with great secrets,
great ideas, by long shutting them up with their own thoughts. And the
most genial and amiable of men must alternate society with solitude,
and learn its severe lessons.

There comes the period of the
imagination to each, a later youth ; the power of beauty, the power of
books, of poetry. Culture makes his books realities to him, their
characters more brilliant, more effective on his mind, than his actual
mates. Do not spare to put novel:; into the hands of young people as an
occasional holiday and experiment; but, above all, good poetry in all
kinds, epic, tragedy, lyric. If we can touch the imagination, we serve
them, they will never forget it. Let him read "Tom Brown at Rugby,"
read " Tom Brown at Oxford,"- better yet, read " Hodson's Life "-Hodson
who took prisoner the king of Delhi. They teach the same truth, – a
trust, against all appearances, against all privations, in your own
worth, and not in tricks, plotting, or patronage.

I believe that
our own experience instructs us that the secret of Education lies in
respecting the pupil. It is not for you to choose what he shall know,
what he shall do. It is chosen and foreordained, and he only holds the
key to his own secret. By your tampering and thwarting and too much
governing he may be hindered from his end and kept out of his own.
Respect the child. Wait and see the new product of Nature. Nature loves
analogies, but not repetitions. Respect the child. Be not too much his
parent. Trespass not on his solitude.

But I hear the outcry
which replies to this suggestion : – Would you verily throw up the
reins of public and private discipline ; would you leave the young
child to the mad career of his own passions and whimsies, and call this
anarchy a respect for the child's nature ? I answer, – Respect the
child, respect him to the end, but also respect yourself. Be the
companion of his thought, the friend of his friendship, the lover of
his virtue, – but no kinsman of his sin. Let him find you so true to
yourself that you are the irreconcilable hater of his vice and the
imperturbable slighter of his trifling.

The two points in a boy's training are, to keep his naturel and train off all but that : – to keep his naturel,
but stop off his uproar, fooling and horse-play ; – keep his nature and
arm it with knowledge in the very direction in which it points. Here
are the two capital facts, Genius and Drill. The first is the
inspiration in the well-born healthy child, the new perception he has
of nature. Somewhat he sees in forms or hears in music or apprehends in
mathematics, or believes practicable in mechanics or possible in
political society, which no one else sees or hears or believes. This is
the perpetual romance of new life, the invasion of God into the old
dead world, when he sends into quiet houses a young soul with a thought
which is not met, looking for something which is not there, but which
ought to be there : the thought is dim but it is sure, and he casts
about restless for means and masters to verify it ; he makes wild
attempts to ex-plain himself and invoke the aid and consent of the
bystanders. Baffled for want of language and methods to convey his
meaning, not yet clear to himself, he conceives that though not in this
house or town, yet in some other house or town is the wise master who
can put him in possession of the rules and instruments to execute his
will. Happy this child with a bias, with a thought which entrances him,
leads him, now into deserts now into cities, the fool of an idea. Let
him follow it in good and in evil report, in good or bad company ; it
will justify itself ; it will lead him at last into the illustrious
society of the lovers of truth.

In London, in a private company,
I became acquainted with a gentleman, Sir Charles Fellowes, who, being
at Xanthus, in the Aegean Sea, had seen a Turk point with his staff to
some carved work on the corner of a stone almost buried in the soil.
Fellowes scraped away the dirt, was struck with the beauty of the
sculptured ornaments, and, looking about him, observed more blocks and
fragments like this. He returned to the spot, procured laborers and
uncovered many blocks. He went back to England, bought a Greek grammar
and learned the language ; he read history and studied ancient art to
explain his stones ; he interested Gibson the sculptor ; he invoked the
assistance of the English Government ; he called in the succor of Sir
Humphry Davy to analyze the pigments ; of experts in coins, of scholars
and connoisseurs ; and at last in his third visit brought home to
England such statues and marble reliefs and such careful plans that he
was able to reconstruct, in the British Museum where it now stands, the
perfect model of the Ionic trophy-monument, fifty years older than the
Parthenon of Athens, and which had been destroyed by earthquakes, then
by iconoclast Christians, then by savage Turks. But mark that in the
task he had achieved an excellent education, and become associated with
distinguished scholars whom he had interested in his pursuit ; in
short, had formed a college for himself ; the enthusiast had found the
master, the masters, whom he sought. Always genius seeks genius,
desires nothing so much as to be a pupil and to find those who can lend
it aid to perfect itself.

Nor are the two elements, enthusiasm
and drill, incompatible. Accuracy is essential to beauty. The very
definition of the intellect is Aristotle's : "that by which we know
terms or boundaries." Give a boy accurate perceptions. Teach him the
difference between the similar and the same. Make him call things by
their right names. Pardon in him no blunder. Then he will give you
solid satisfaction as long as he lives. It is better to teach the child
arithmetic and Latin grammar than rhetoric or moral philosophy, because
they require exactitude of performance ; it is made certain that the
lesson is mastered, and that power of performance is worth more than
the knowledge. He can learn anything which is important to him now that
the power to learn is secured: as mechanics say, when one has learned
the use of tools, it is easy to work at a new craft.

Letter by
letter, syllable by syllable, the child learns to read, and in good
time can convey to all the domestic circle the sense of Shakspeare. By
many steps each just as short, the stammering boy and the hesitating
collegian, in the school debate, in college clubs, in mock court, comes
at last to full, secure, triumphant unfolding of his thought in the
popular assembly, with a fullness of power that makes all the steps

But this function of opening and feeding the human
mind is not to be fulfilled by any mechanical or military method ; is
not to be trusted to any skill less large than Nature itself. You must
not neglect the form, but you must secure the essentials. It is curious
how perverse and intermeddling we are, and what vast pains and cost we
incur to do wrong. Whilst we all know in our own experience and apply
natural methods in our own business, – in education our common sense
fails us, and we are continually trying costly machinery against
nature, in patent schools and academies and in great colleges and

The natural method forever confutes our
experiments, and we must still come back to it. The whole theory of the
school is on the nurse's or mother's knee. The child is as hot to learn
as the mother is to impart. There is mutual delight. The joy of our
childhood in hearing beautiful stories from some skilful aunt who loves
to tell them, must be repeated in youth. The boy wishes to learn to
skate, to coast, to catch a fish in the brook, to hit a mark with a
snowball or a stone ; and a boy a little older is just as well pleased
to teach him these sciences. Not less delightful is the mutual pleasure
of teaching and learning the secret of algebra, or of chemistry, or of
good reading and good recitation of poetry or of prose, or of chosen
facts in history or in biography.

Nature provided for the
communication of thought, by planting with it in the receiving mind a
fury to impart it. It is so in every art, in every science. One burns
to tell the new fact, the other burns to hear it. See how far a young
doctor will ride or walk to witness a new surgical operation. I have
seen a carriage-maker's shop emptied of all its workmen into the
street, to scrutinize a new pattern from New York. So in literature,
the young man who has taste for poetry, for fine images, for noble
thoughts, is insatiable for this nourishment, and forgets all the world
for the more learned friend, – who finds equal joy in dealing out his

Happy the natural college thus self-instituted around
every natural teacher : the young men of Athens around Socrates ; of
Alexandria around Plotinus ; of Paris around Abelard ; of Germany
around Fichte. Niebuhr, or Goethe : in short the natural sphere of
every leading mind. But the moment this is organized, difficulties
begin. The college was to be the nurse and home of genius ; but, though
every young man is born with some determination in his nature, and is a
potential genius; is at last to be one ; it is, in the most, obstructed
and delayed, and, whatever they may hereafter be, their senses are now
opened in advance of their minds. They are more sensual than
intellectual. Appetite and indolence they have, but no enthusiasm.
These come in numbers to the college : few geniuses : and the teaching
comes to be arranged for these many, and not for those few. Hence the
instruction seems to require skilful tutors, of accurate and systematic
mind, rather than ardent and inventive masters. Besides, the youth of
genius are eccentric, won't drill, are irritable, uncertain, explosive,
solitary, not men of the world, not good for every-day association. You
have to work for large classes instead of individuals; yon must lower
your flag and reef your sails to wait for the dull sailors; you grow
departmental, routinary, military almost with your discipline and
college police. But what doth such a school to form a great and heroic
character? What abiding Hope can it inspire? What Reformer will it
nurse? What poet will it breed to sing to the human race? What
discoverer of Nature's laws will it prompt to enrich us by disclosing
in the mind the statute which all matter must obey ? What fiery soul
will it send out to warm a nation with his charity ? What tranquil mind
will it have fortified to walk with meekness in private and obscure
duties, to wait and to suffer? Is it not manifest that our academic
institutions should have a wider scope : that they should not be timid
and keep the ruts of the last generation, but that wise men thinking
for themselves and heartily seeking the good of mankind, and counting
the cost of innovation, should dare to arouse the young to a just and
heroic life; that the moral nature should be addressed in the
school-room, and children should be treated as the high-born candidates
of truth and virtue ?

So to regard the young child, the young
man, requires, no doubt, rare patience : a patience that nothing but
faith in the remedial forces of the soul can give. You see his
sensualism ; you see his want of those tastes and perceptions which
make the power and safety of your character. Very likely. But he has
something else. If he has his own vice, he has its correlative virtue.
Every mind should be allowed to make its own statement in action, and
its balance will appear. In these judgments one needs that foresight
which was attributed to an eminent reformer, of whom it was said his
patience could see in the bud of the aloe the blossom at the end of a
hundred years." Alas for the cripple Practice when it seeks to come up
with the bird Theory, which flies before it. Try your design on the
best school. The scholars are of all ages and temperaments and
capacities. It is difficult to class them, some are too young, some are
slow, some perverse. Each requires so much consideration, that the
morning hope of the teacher, of a day of love and progress, is often
closed at evening by despair. Each single case, the more it is
considered, shows more to be done; and the strict conditions of the
hours, on one side, and the number of tasks, on the other. Whatever
becomes of our method, the conditions stand fast, – six hours, and
thirty, fifty, or a hundred and fifty pupils. Something must be done,
and done speedily, and in this distress the wisest are tempted to adopt
violent means, to proclaim martial law, corporal punishment, mechanical
arrangement, bribes, spies, wrath, main strength and ignorance, in lieu
of that wise genial providential influence they had hoped, and yet hope
at some future day to adopt. Of course the devotion to details reacts
injuriously on the teacher. He cannot indulge his genius, he cannot
delight in personal relations with young friends, when his eye is
always on the clock, and twenty classes are to be dealt with before the
day is done. Besides, how can he please himself with genius, and foster
modest virtue ? A sure proportion of rogue and dunce finds its way into
every school and requires a cruel share of time, and the gentle
teacher, who wished to be a Providence to youth, is grown a martinet,
sore with suspicions ; knows as much vice as the judge of a police
court, and his love of learning is lost in the routine of grammars and
books of elements.

A rule is so easy that it does not need a man
to apply it ; an automaton, a machine, can be made to keep a school so.
It facilitates labor and thought so much that there is always the
temptation in large schools to omit the endless task of meeting the
wants of each single mind, and to govern by steam. But it is at
frightful cost. Our modes of Education aim to expedite, to save labor ;
to do for masses what cannot be done for masses, what must be done
reverently, one by one : say rather, the whole world is needed for the
tuition of each pupil. The advantages of this system of emulation and
display are so prompt and obvious, it is such a time-saver, it is so
energetic on slow and on bad natures, and is of so easy application,
needing no sage or poet, but any tutor or schoolmaster in his first
term can apply it, – that it is not strange that this calomel of
culture should be a popular medicine. On the other hand, total
abstinence from this drug. and the adoption of simple discipline and
the following of nature, involves at once immense claims on the time,
the thoughts, on the life of the teacher. It requires time, use,
insight, event, all the great lessons and assistances of God ; and only
to think of using it implies character and profoundness ; to enter on
this course of discipline is to be good and great. It is precisely
analogous to the difference between the use of corporal punishment and
the methods of love. It is so easy to bestow on a bad boy a blow,
overpower him, and get obedience without words, that in this world of
hurry and distraction, who can wait for the returns of reason and the
conquest of self ; in the uncertainty too whether that will ever come?
And yet the familiar observation of the universal compensations might
suggest the fear that so summary a stop of a bad humor was more
jeopardous than its continuance.

Now the correction of this
quack practice is to import into Education the wisdom of life. Leave
this military hurry and adopt the pace of Nature. Her secret is
patience. Do you know how the naturalist learns all the secrets of the
forest, of pants, of birds, of beasts, of reptiles, of fishes, of the
rivers and the sea ? When he goes into the woods the birds fly before
him and he finds none ; when he goes to the river bank, the fish and
the reptile swim away and leave him alone. His secret is patience ; he
sits down, and sits still ; he is a statue ; he is a log. These
creatures have no value for their time, and he must put as low a rate
on his. By dint of obstinate sitting still, reptile, fish, bird and
beast, which all wish to return to their haunts, begin to return. He
sits still ; if they approach, he remains passive as the stone he sits
upon. They lose their fear. They have curiosity too about him. By and
by the curiosity masters the fear, and they come swimming, creeping and
flying towards him ; and as he is still immovable, they not only resume
their haunts and their ners, show themselves trim, but also volunteer
some towards fellowship and good a biped who behaves so civilly not
baffle the impatience and by your tranquillity? Can you not wait for
him, as Nature and Providence do ? Can you not keep for his mind and
ways, for his secret, the same curiosity you give to the squirrel,
snake, rabbit, and the sheldrake and the deer? He has a secret ;
wonderful methods in him ; he is, – every child, – a new style of man ;
give him time and opportunity. Talk of Columbus and Newton ! I tell you
the child just born in yonder hovel is the be-ginning of a revolution
as great as theirs. But you must have the believing and prophetic eye.
Have the self-command you wish to inspire. Your teaching and discipline
must have the reserve and taciturnity of Nature. Teach them to hold
their tongues by holding your own. Say little ; do not snarl ; do not
chide ; but govern by the eye. See what they need, and that the right
thing is done.

I confess myself utterly at a loss in suggesting
particular reforms in our ways of teaching. No discretion that can be
lodged with a school-committee, with the overseers or visitors of an
academy, of a college, can at all avail to reach these difficulties and
perplexities, but they solve themselves when we leave institutions and
address individuals. The will, the male power, organizes, imposes its
own thought and wish on others, and makes that military eye which
controls boys as it controls men ; admirable in its results, a fortune
to him who has it, and only dangerous when it leads the workman to
overvalue and overuse it and precludes him from finer means. Sympathy,
the female force, – which they must use who have not the first, –
deficient in instant control and the breaking down of resistance, is
more subtle and lasting and creative. I advise teachers to cherish
mother-wit. I assume that you will keep the grammar, reading, writing
and arithmetic in order ; 't is easy and of course you will. But
smuggle in a little contraband wit, fancy, imagination, thought. If you
have a taste which you have suppressed because it is not shared by
those about you, tell them that. Set this law up, whatever becomes of
the rules of the school : they must not whisper, much less talk ; but
if one of the young people says a wise thing, greet it, and let all the
children clap their hands. They shall have no book but school-books in
the room ; but if one has brought in a Plutarch or Shakspeare or Don
Quixote or Goldsmith or any other good book, and understands what he
reads, put him at once at the head of the class. Nobody shall be
disorderly, or leave his desk without permission, but if a boy runs
from his bench, or a girl, because the fire falls, or to check some
injury that a little dastard is inflicting behind his desk on some
helpless sufferer, take away the medal from the head of the class and
give it on the instant to the brave rescuer. If a child happens to show
that he knows any fact about astronomy, or plants birds, or rocks, or
history, that interests him and you, hush all the classes and encourage
him to tell it so that all may hear. Then you have made your
school-room like the world. Of course you will insist on modesty in the
children, and respect to their teachers, but if the boy stops you in
your speech, cries out that you are wrong and sets you right, hug him !

whatsoever upright mind, to whatsoever beating heart I speak, to you it
is committed to educate men. By simple living, by an illimitable soul,
you inspire, you correct, you instruct, you raise, you embellish all.
By your own act you teach the beholder how to do the practicable.
Ac-cording to the depth from which you draw your life, such is the
depth not only of your strenuous effort, but of your manners and

The beautiful nature of the world has here blended
your happiness with your power. Work straight on in absolute duty, and
you lend an arm and an encouragement to all the youth of the universe.
Consent yourself to be an organ of your highest thought, and lo !
suddenly you put all men in your debt, and are the fountain of an
energy that goes pulsing on with waves of benefit to the borders of
society, to the circumference of things.

The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson