Whenever I find myself nose deep in great writing from a century or more ago, before suffragettes and sexequalist slingers, I am remiss that these truths are made to be learned anew. It is no longer true as Donne wrote, that no man is an island, for every man is an island as much as he is not. The bell would toll for you were it to toll at all but it cannot toll when it is smelted for modern bells and whistles and the multitude of other distractions.
If I am not stopped I shall continue ranting into the morning. . . Where did all this begin?
Right. Ralph Waldo Emerson. If you have been with us from the start you will recognize that the Society is a great fan. Today we bring a snippet from his essay on heroism, as defined by Emerson the ‘sphere is the embodiment of heroism. I would agree. Enjoy:
“Our culture, therefore, must not omit the arming of the man. Let him hear in season, that he is born into the state of war, and that the commonwealth and his own well-being, require that he should not go dancing in the weeds of peace, but warned, self-collected, and neither defying nor dreading the thunder, let him take both reputation and life in his hand, and with perfect urbanity, dare the gibbet and the mob by the absolute truth of his speech, and the rectitude of his behavior.
Towards all this external evil, the man within the breast assumes a warlike attitude, and affirms his ability to cope single-handed with the infinite army of enemies. To this military attitude of the soul, we give the name Heroism. Its rudest form is the contempt for safety and ease, which makes the attractiveness of war. It is a self-trust which slights the restraints of prudence in the plentitude of its energy and power to repair the harms it may suffer. The hero is a mind of such balance that no disturbances can shake his will, but pleasantly, and , as it were, merrily, he advances to his own music, alike in frightful alarms, and in the tipsy mirth of universal dissoluteness. There is somewhat not philosophical in heroism; there is somewhat not holy in it; it seems not to know that other souls are of one texture with it; it hath pride; it is the extreme of individual nature. Nevertheless, we must profoundly revere it. There is somewhat in great actions, which does not allow us to go behind them. Heroism feels and never reasons, and therefore is always right and, although a difference breeding, different religion, and greater intellectual activity , would have modified, or even reversed the particular action, yet for the hero, that thing he does, is the slightest deed, and is not open to the censure of philosophers or divines It is the avowal of the unschooled man, that he finds a quality in him that is negligent of expense, of health, of life, of danger, of hatred, of reproach, and that he knows that his will is higher and more excellent than all actual and all possible antagonists.
Heroism works in contradiction to the voice of mankind, and in contradiction, for a time, to the voice of the great and good. Heroism is an obedience to a secret impulse of an individual’s character. . .”
-RW Emerson, Heroism
Veritas numquam perit,