"Self-Reliance" by Ralph Waldo Emerson

In this famous essay, Emerson argues against conformity and suggests that individuals must rely on their on their own ideas.

Here are links to our lists for other works by Ralph Waldo Emerson: Nature, The Young American

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Explore the Words

definitions & notes only words
  1. admonition
    a firm rebuke
    The soul always hears an admonition in such lines, let the subject be what it may.
  2. firmament
    the sphere on which celestial bodies appear to be projected
    A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages.
  3. deliverance
    recovery or preservation from loss or danger
    It is a deliverance which does not deliver.
  4. providence
    the guardianship and control exercised by a deity
    Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events.
  5. piquant
    engagingly stimulating or provocative
    So God has armed youth and puberty and manhood no less with its own piquancy and charm, and made it enviable and gracious and its claims not to be put by, if it will stand by itself.
  6. nonchalance
    the trait of remaining calm and seeming not to care
    The nonchalance of boys who are sure of a dinner, and would disdain as much as a lord to do or say aught to conciliate one, is the healthy attitude of human nature.
  7. conformity
    compliance with accepted standards, rules, or norms
    The virtue in most request is conformity.
  8. importune
    beg persistently and urgently
    I remember an answer which when quite young I was prompted to make to a valued adviser, who was wont to importune me with the dear old doctrines of the church.
  9. titular
    existing in name only
    A man is to carry himself in the presence of all opposition, as if everything were titular and ephemeral but he.
  10. ephemeral
    lasting a very short time
    A man is to carry himself in the presence of all opposition, as if everything were titular and ephemeral but he.
  11. capitulate
    surrender under agreed conditions
    I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions.
  12. affectation
    a deliberate pretense or exaggerated display
    Rough and graceless would be such greeting, but truth is handsomer than the affectation of love.
  13. sot
    a chronic drinker
    There is a class of persons to whom by all spiritual affinity I am bought and sold; for them I will go to prison, if need be; but your miscellaneous popular charities; the education at college of fools; the building of meeting-houses to the vain end to which many now stand; alms to sots; and the thousand-fold Relief Societies;—though I confess with shame I sometimes succumb and give the dollar, it is a wicked dollar which by and by I shall have the manhood to withhold.
  14. expiation
    compensation for a wrong
    Men do what is called a good action, as some piece of courage or charity, much as they would pay a fine in expiation of daily non-appearance on parade.
  15. expediency
    the quality of being suited to the end in view
    I hear a preacher announce for his text and topic the expediency of one of the institutions of his church.
  16. ostentation
    pretentious or showy or vulgar display
    Do I not know that, with all this ostentation of examining the grounds of the institution, he will do no such thing?
  17. chagrin
    cause to feel shame
    Their two is not the real two, their four not the real four; so that every word they say chagrins us, and we know not where to begin to set them right.
  18. asinine
    devoid of intelligence
    We come to wear one cut of face and figure, and acquire by degrees the gentlest asinine expression.
  19. countenance
    the appearance conveyed by a person's face
    If this aversation had its origin in contempt and resistance like his own, he might well go home with a sad countenance; but the sour faces of the multitude, like their sweet faces, have no deep cause, but are put on and off as the wind blows and a newspaper directs.
  20. brook
    put up with something or somebody unpleasant
    It is easy enough for a firm man who knows the world to brook the rage of the cultivated classes.
  21. decorous
    characterized by propriety and dignity and good taste
    Their rage is decorous and prudent, for they are timid as being very vulnerable themselves.
  22. magnanimity
    nobility and generosity of spirit
    But when to their feminine rage the indignation of the people is added, when the ignorant and the poor are aroused, when the unintelligent brute force that lies at the bottom of society is made to growl and mow, it needs the habit of magnanimity and religion to treat it godlike as a trifle of no concernment.
  23. acrostic
    verse in which the first letter in each line forms a message
    A character is like an acrostic or Alexandrian stanza;—read it forward, backward, or across, it still spells the same thing.
  24. contrite
    feeling or expressing pain or sorrow for sins or offenses
    In this pleasing, contrite wood-life which God allows me, let me record day by day my honest thought without prospect or retrospect, and, I cannot doubt, it will be found symmetrical, though I mean it not, and see it not.
  25. venerable
    profoundly honored
    Honor is venerable to us because it is no ephemeris.
  26. posterity
    all future generations
    Every true man is a cause, a country, and an age; requires infinite spaces and numbers and time fully to accomplish his design;—and posterity seem to follow his steps as a train of clients.
  27. interloper
    someone who intrudes on the privacy or property of another
    Let him not peep or steal, or skulk up and down with the air of a charity-boy, a bastard, or an interloper, in the world which exists for him.
  28. obsequious
    attentive in an ingratiating or servile manner
    That popular fable of the sot who was picked up dead drunk in the street, carried to the duke's house, washed and dressed and laid in the duke's bed, and, on his waking, treated with all obsequious ceremony like the duke, and assured that he had been insane, owes its popularity to the fact that it symbolizes so well the state of man, who is in the world a sort of sot, but now and then wakes up, exercises his reason, and finds himself a true prince.
  29. mendicant
    practicing beggary
    Our reading is mendicant and sycophantic.
  30. sycophantic
    attempting to win favor by flattery
    Our reading is mendicant and sycophantic.
  31. deference
    a disposition or tendency to yield to the will of others
    Why all this deference to Alfred, and Scanderbeg, and Gustavus?
  32. aboriginal
    having existed from the beginning
    What is the aboriginal Self, on which a universal reliance may be grounded?
  33. reverie
    absentminded dreaming while awake
    My willful actions and acquisitions are but roving;—the idlest reverie, the faintest native emotion, command my curiosity and respect.
  34. profane
    grossly irreverent toward what is held to be sacred
    The relations of the soul to the divine spirit are so pure, that it is profane to seek to interpose helps.
  35. impertinence
    the trait of being rude and inclined to take liberties
    Time and space are but physiological colors which the eye makes, but the soul is light; where it is, is day; where it was, is night; and history is an impertinence and an injury, if it be anything more than a cheerful apologue or parable of my being and becoming.
  36. repose
    freedom from activity
    Power ceases in the instant of repose; it resides in the moment of transition from a past to a new state, in the shooting of the gulf, in the darting to an aim.
  37. prate
    speak about unimportant matters rapidly and incessantly
    Why, then, do we prate of self-reliance?
  38. petulance
    an irritable feeling
    Not for that will I adopt their petulance or folly, even to the extent of being ashamed of it.
  39. upbraid
    express criticism towards
    Consider whether you have satisfied your relations to father, mother, cousin, neighbor, town, cat, and dog; whether any of these can upbraid you.
  40. solicitous
    full of anxiety and concern
    We solicitously and apologetically caress and celebrate him, because he held on his way and scorned our disapprobation.
  41. disapprobation
    pronouncing as wrong or morally culpable
    We solicitously and apologetically caress and celebrate him, because he held on his way and scorned our disapprobation.
  42. complacency
    the feeling you have when you are satisfied with yourself
    In proportion to the depth of the thought, and so to the number of the objects it touches and brings within reach of the pupil, is his complacency.
  43. churlish
    rude and boorish
    I have no churlish objection to the circumnavigation of the globe, for the purposes of art, of study, and benevolence, so that the man is first domesticated, or does not go abroad with the hope of finding somewhat greater than he knows.
  44. extemporaneous
    with little or no preparation or forethought
    Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession.
  45. deign
    do something that one considers to be below one's dignity
    Not possibly will the soul all rich, all eloquent, with thousand-cloven tongue, deign to repeat itself; but if you can hear what these patriarchs say, surely you can reply to them in the same pitch of voice; for the ear and the tongue are two organs of one nature.
  46. amelioration
    the act of relieving ills and changing for the better
    It undergoes continual changes; it is barbarous, it is civilized, it is Christianized, it is rich, it is scientific; but this change is not amelioration.
  47. encumber
    hold back, impede, or weigh down
    His notebooks impair his memory; his libraries overload his wit; the insurance office increases the number of accidents; and it may be a question whether machinery does not encumber; whether we have not lost by refinement some energy, by a Christianity entrenched in establishments and forms, some vigor of wild virtue.
  48. deprecate
    express strong disapproval of; deplore
    Men have looked away from themselves and at things so long, that they have come to esteem the religious, learned, and civil institutions as guards of property, and they deprecate assaults on these, because they feel them to be assaults on property.
  49. slavish
    abjectly submissive; characteristic of a servant
    Our dependence on these foreign goods leads us to our slavish respect for numbers.
  50. concourse
    a large gathering of people
    The political parties meet in numerous conventions; the greater the concourse, and with each new uproar of announcement, The delegation from Essex!
Created on July 31, 2018 (updated July 31, 2018)

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