Saturday, February 18, 2006



Ralph Waldo Emerson, Man the Reformer:
Can we not learn the lesson of self-help? Society is full of infirm people, who incessantly summon others to serve them. They contrive everywhere to exhaust for their single comfort the entire means and appliances of that luxury to which our invention has yet attained. Sofas, ottomans, stoves, wine, game-fowl, spices, perfumes, rides, the theatre, entertainments, — all these they want, they need, and whatever can be suggested more than these, they crave also, as if it was the bread which should keep them from starving; and if they miss any one, they represent themselves as the most wronged and most wretched persons on earth. One must have been born and bred with them to know how to prepare a meal for their learned stomach. Meantime, they never bestir themselves to serve another person; not they! they have a great deal more to do for themselves than they can possibly perform, nor do they once perceive the cruel joke of their lives, but the more odious they grow, the sharper is the tone of their complaining and craving. Can anything be so elegant as to have few wants and to serve them one's self, so as to have somewhat left to give, instead of being always prompt to grab? It is more elegant to answer one's own needs, than to be richly served; inelegant perhaps it may look to-day, and to a few, but it is an elegance forever and to all.
The original of this passage, in Emerson's Journal F2 (1840), is even harsher. Instead of "infirm people," in his journal he calls them "infirm, lazy people"; for "nor do they once perceive the cruel joke of their lives" he writes "so insane does selfishness make them that they never once perceive the cruel joke of their lives"; etc.

Today, instead of relying of private charity, many of these parasites are on the public dole.

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