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Emerson: The difference between persons is not in wisdom but in art
From: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays, XI: Intellect
The making a fact the subject of thought, raises it. All that mass of mental and moral phenomena which we do not make objects of voluntary thought come within the power of fortune; they constitute the circumstance of daily life; they are subject to change, to fear and hope.
Every man beholds his human condition with a degree of melancholy. As a ship aground is battered by the waves, so man, imprisoned in mortal life, lies open to the mercy of coming events. But a truth, separated by the intellect, is no longer a subject of destiny. We behold it as a god upraised above care and fear. And so any fact in our life, or any record of our fancies or reflections, disentangled from the web of our unconsciousness, becomes an object impersonal and immortal. It is the past restored, but embalmed. A better art than that of Egypt has taken fear and corruption out of it. It is eviscerated of care. It is offered for science. What is addressed to us for contemplation does not threaten us, but makes us intellectual beings.
The growth of intellect is spontaneous in every step. The mind that grows could not predict the times, the means, the mode of that spontaneity. God enters by a private door into every individual. Long prior to the age of reflection is the thinking of the mind. Out of darkness it came insensibly into the marvelous light of to-day. Over it always reigned a firm law. In the period of infancy it accepted and disposed of all impressions from the surrounding creation after its own way. Whatever any mind doth or saith, is after a law. It has no random act or word. And this native law remains over it after it has come to reflection or conscious thought.
In the most worn, pedantic, introverted, self- tormentor's life, the greatest part is incalculable by him, unforeseen, unimaginable, and must be, until he can take himself up by his own ears. What am I? What has my will done to make me that I am? Nothing. I have been floated into this thought, this hour, this connection of events, by might and mind sublime, and my ingenuity and wilfulness have not thwarted, have not aided to an appreciable degree.
Cf. Rilke, Letter to a Young Poet | Plato, Whom are we talking to? | Kierkegaard, My work as an author | Emerson, Self-knowledge | Gibson - McRury, Discovering one's face | Emerson, We differ in art, not in wisdom | Emerson, Art and History | Joyce, Portrait of the Artist