Summary and Analysis of Self-Reliance
Ne te quaesiveris extra Latin, meaning "Do not seek outside yourself." In other words, "Look within."
Beaumont, Francis (d. 1616) An English dramatist, he co-authored all of his major works, including The Maides Ragedy (1611), with John Fletcher.
Fletcher, John (1579-1625) An English dramatist best known for his collaboration with Francis Beaumont; Fletcher was the sole author of at least fifteen plays.
bantling A baby.
Plato (c. 427-347 B.C.) A Greek philosopher, he formulated the philosophy of idealism, which holds that the concepts or ideas of things are more perfect — and, therefore, more real — than the material things themselves.
Milton, John (1608-74) The English poet renowned for his religious epic poem Paradise Lost (1667), which sought to "justify the ways of God to men."
set at naught To set aside, or deem inconsequential.
firmament The expanse of the heavens; the sky; poetically, a symbol of strength.
piquancy Appealingly provocative.
the pit In early theaters, the cheapest seats behind the orchestra, below the level of the stage.
cumbers To trouble the mind or the senses.
eclat A dazzling display.
Lethe In Greek mythology, the river of forgetfulness that flows between the world of the living and the underworld of the dead.
titular Existing only in title, or name.
ephemeral Short-lived; transitory.
Barbados The easternmost island of the West Indies, Barbados was a British colony until it became independent in 1966; British legislation abolished slavery in the West Indies in 1833.
lintel The horizontal door post of a house.
Whim Emerson is recalling Exodus 12, in which God instructs Moses to mark the doors of Hebrew homes with blood so that the inhabitants will be spared when God passes through Egypt to "smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast." Here, Emerson is saying that instead of marking the house with blood, he would mark the house with the word "Whim," thereby characterizing the inhabitants as utterly devoid of personal integrity.
alms to sots Donations to drunkards.
bleeding A medical practice in which blood is released from a patient's veins, supposedly to drain away infections or toxic matter.
Bible-society One of a number of societies organized for translating and distributing bibles.
blindman's buff A game in which a blindfolded player tries to catch and identify other players.
mow To grimace.
magnanimity The quality of being generous in forgiving insult or injury.
Joseph and the harlot A reference to the biblical Joseph, who refused the advances of an Egyptian officer's wife (the "harlot"); the woman then falsely accused him of rape, and Joseph was thrown in jail, where he received his gift of dream interpretation.
hobgoblin A frightening apparition; a goblin.
Pythagoras (sixth century B.C.) Greek philosopher; considered to be the first true mathematician.
Socrates (d. 399 B.C.) A Greek philosopher, he initiated a question-and-answer method of teaching — called the Socratic method — as a means of achieving self-knowledge; opponents of Socrates' method felt that he was undermining the authority of the state by teaching youths to question received knowledge. He was brought to trial, convicted of corrupting youth, and condemned to die; he carried out the sentence by drinking poison.
Luther, Martin (1483-1546) A German theologian, Luther is credited with initiating the Protestant Reformation; he believed in the ability of educated lay people to form ethical and religious judgments based on their own interpretations of scripture.
Copernicus, Nicolaus (1473-1543) The Polish astronomer who theorized that the earth revolves around the sun.
Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) An Italian scientist, Galileo furthered the theories advanced by Copernicus through use of the telescope; his views were considered a threat to certain religious doctrines, and he was obliged to publicly retract some of his assertions.
Newton, Sir Isaac (1642-1727) English mathematician and scientist; Newton is chiefly remembered for formulating the law of gravity.
Andes A South American rugged mountain chain that runs parallel to the Pacific coast, through Ecuador, Peru, and Chile.
Himmaleh The Himalaya Mountains are the highest in the world, forming the northern border of Nepal.
acrostic A short poem in which the first, middle, or last letter of each line spells a word or phrase when read in sequence.
Alexandrian stanza A palindrome; an arrangement of words that reads the same backwards or forward — for example, "If I had a hi-fi."
tacks The movement of a sailboat against the wind by setting sails and steering back and forth across the direction of the wind; each leg of the journey is a single tack.
Chatham, First Earl of (1708-78) More widely known as Willim Pitt the Elder, he supported the American colonists' bid for independence in the British Parliament.
port Bearing; posture.
ephemera Something that has a transitory existence.
gazetted Here, meaning "dismissed."
Spartan fife Refers to the fife, a small flute, used in tandem with drums to provide cadence for marching soldiers.
Caesar, Gaius Julius (100-44 B.C.) A Roman general, statesman, and emperor, Caesar was given a mandate by the people to rule as dictator for life; he was stabbed to death by a group of republicans led by Brutus and Cassius.
Monachism of the Hermit Anthony The construction of the abbeys of St. Anthony marked the beginning of Christian monasticism.
Reformation A sixteenth-century movement in Europe to reform excesses and deficiencies in the Church, the Reformation eventually resulted in the separation of the Protestant churches from what then came to be known as the Roman Catholic Church.
Quakerism Officially called the Society of Friends; a group of Christians originating in seventeenth-century England under George Fox. They hold that believers receive direct guidance from a divine inner light.
Fox, George (1624-91) The founder of the Society of Friends (1647), popularly called the Quakers, Fox preached equality between men and women, and pacifism. The Quaker doctrine of inner enlightenment is similar to transcendentalists' emphasis on intuitive knowledge.
Methodism Founded by John Wesley (1703-91), Charles Wesley (1707-88), and others in England during the early 1700s, this Protestant religion emphasized doctrines of free grace and individual responsibility.
Clarkson, Thomas (1760-1846) A pioneer of the British antislavery movement.
Scipio Africanus the "Elder" (237-183 B.C.) Until Julius Caesar, he was the greatest Roman general, defeating the mighty Hannibal at Zama in 202 B.C.
charity-boy A boy attending a school for indigent children and funded by charitable donations.
interloper One who interferes in the affairs of others.
mendicant Taking the characteristics of a beggar.
sycophantic Trying to win favors from influential people by excessive fawning and flattery.
Alfred (d. 899) Alfred was the king (871-99) of what was then called West Saxony, in the southwest portion of England.
Scanderbeg (d. 1468) Revolutionary leader and national hero of Albania.
Gustavus (1594-1632) Gustavus was the Swedish king responsible for making Sweden a major European power; after his troops marched through Germany, he became known as the "Lion of the North." During his reign, a short-lived Swedish colony — the only one in the Americas — was founded in what is now Delaware.
hieroglyphic A picture or symbol representing a sound or a word; best known for being used by the ancient Egyptians.
parallax The apparent change in the position of an object, resulting from a change in the position from which it is viewed.
David (d. 962 B.C.) The second king of Judah and Israel, David is the reputed author of many of the Psalms; the most famous stories about David concern his success as a young shepherd boy over the great Philistine warrior Goliath, and his love for the king's son, Jonathan, who loved David with a love that "was wonderful, surpassing the love of women" (I Samuel 17:48; 11 Samuel 1:26-27).
Jeremiah Hebrew prophet during the period 626 B.C. to the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.; his texts are compiled in the Book of Jeremiah, also called Lamentations.
Paul (c. first century) Termed the Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul was a Hebrew who had Roman citizenship; while on the road to Damascus, he saw a vision of Christ and was converted to Christianity. His writings in the New Testament articulate the foundations for most Christian beliefs.
Judas Iscariot (d. 33) Judas Iscariot was one of the Twelve Apostles and the betrayer of Christ.
Thor In Norse mythology, the god of thunder; he is commemorated in the name of the fifth day of the week, Thursday.
Woden The Anglo-Saxon form of Odin, chief among the Norse and Germanic gods.
Saxon breasts Part of the American construction of race in the 1800s was the development of the notion of a "Saxon" or "Anglo-Saxon" race, supposedly derived from the Teutonic conquerors of England following the Roman Empire; Americans who wished to maintain an elite class of descendants of northern European Protestants excluded Irish, eastern and southern Europeans, and people of color from the notion of "true" Americans.
antinomianism Belief in the religious doctrine that promotes faith rather than adherence to moral laws.
Zoroaster (sixth century B.C.) The Persian prophet who founded a religious system that taught that life was a continual struggle between the forces of light and dark.
Locke, John (1632-1704) An English philosopher, Locke developed a theory of cognition that denied the existence of innate ideas and asserted that all thought is based on knowledge received from our senses. His works influenced American Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards, who modified Puritan doctrine to allow for more play of reason and intellect, building a foundation for Unitarianism and, eventually, transcendentalism.
Lavoisier, Antoine Laurent (1743-94) French chemist; regarded as the founder of modern chemistry
Hutton, James (1726-97) A Scottish geologist, he advanced the hypothesis that geologic changes in the earth's surface occur slowly over long periods of time.
Bentham, Jeremy (1748-1832) British philosopher; recognized as the official founder of utilitarianism, which holds that the chief purpose of human social existence is to secure the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
Fourier, Francois Marie (1772-1837) French social theorist.
Calvinism A Christian theological perspective associated with the work of John Calvin (1509-64), who advocated the final authority of the Bible and salvation by grace alone.
Swedenborgism The philosophical system derived by the Swedish philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772); emphasizes mystical insight and an idealistic vision of human nature.
pinfold An enclosure for stray animals; to confine.
Thebes An ancient city in Egypt, it was a major center of national life and culture at the time of the Pharaohs; many of its magnificent monuments had fallen into ruin by Emerson's time.
Palmyra An ancient city in the Middle East, north of Damascus.
Doric The earliest and simplest of Greek architecture, characterized by fluted pillars with plain, square tops.
Gothic A European style of architecture noted for its pointed arches and flying buttresses.
Franklin, Benjamin (1706-90) An American scientist, inventor, diplomat, writer, and philosopher; one of the most important figures in the transformation of the American colonies into the United States of America.
Bacon, Francis (1561-1626) English essayist, statesman, and philosopher; he proposed a theory of scientific knowledge based on observation and experiment that came to be known as the inductive method.
Phidias (c. fifth century B.C.) A great Athenian sculptor, none of whose works survive.
Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) The Italian poet renowned for The Divine Comedy, completed in 1321.
Foreworld The primeval world.
amelioration An improvement.
Greenwich nautical almanac Initiated in 1767, the Nautical Almanac, published by the Royal Greenwich Observatory in England, was indispensable to ship captains and navigators,
solstice The two times of the year when the sun reaches its most northerly (summer) and southerly (winter) positions, with reference to the equator. These are the longest and shortest days, respectively, of the year.
equinox The two times during the year when the sun crosses the celestial equator, and day and night are of equal length.
Stoic One who approaches life rationally, indifferent to pleasure and emotional pain.
Plutarch (c. 46-120) Greek biographer; his Parallel Lives was a source for much of English literature, including several works by Shakespeare.
Phocion (402-318 B.C.) A ruler of Athens and a former pupil of Plato.
Anaxagoras (d. 428 B.C.) Greek philosopher; he believed that matter was composed of atoms.
Diogenes of Sinope (c. fourth century B.C.) Diogenes was the most famous of the Cynics, a group of Greek philosophers who considered virtue to be the only good and esteemed self-sufficiency.
Hudson, Henry (d. 1611) The English explorer who sailed up the river now bearing his name and established an English claim to it; he died after being set adrift by a mutinous crew in the Canadian bay that was later named for him.
Bering, Vitus (d. 1741) Danish explorer.
Parry, Sir William Edward (1790-1855) A pioneer explorer of the Arctic Ocean.
Franklin, Sir John (1786-1847) An Arctic explorer from England.
Napoleon I (1769-1821) The emperor of France from 1804 to 1814, Napoleon I is remembered as one of the greatest military strategists of all time.
bivouac A camp without tents.
Las Casas, Emmanuel (1766-1842) French historian; best known for recording Napoleon's last conversations on the island of St. Helena.
Caliph Ali (d. 661) The fourth caliph — or leader — of the Muslim community, Caliph Ali's descendants are regarded as the true successors to the prophet Mohammed.
Whigs Naming themselves after the British party of the common people (as opposed to the aristocratic Tories), the Whig party in the United States was active from 1834 to 1854.