Ralph Waldo Emerson was born this day in 1803, and the editors picked out a real barn-burner for his birthday — his 1841 essay, "Heroism," where he forthrightly laid down what it meant to be heroic.
" Self-trust is the essence of heroism. It is the state of the soul at war, and its ultimate objects are the last defiance of falsehood and wrong, and the power to bear all that can be inflicted by evil agents. It speaks the truth and it is just. It is generous, hospitable, temperate, scornful of petty calculations and scornful of being scorned. It persists; it is of an undaunted boldness and of a fortitude not to be wearied out. Its jest is the littleness of common life.
"Times of heroism are generally times of terror, but the day never shines in which this element may not work. The circumstances of man, we say, are historically somewhat better in this country and at this hour than perhaps ever before. More freedom exists for culture. It will not now run against an axe at the first step out of the beaten track of opinion. But whoso is heroic will always find crises to try his edge. Human virtue demands her champions and martyrs, and the trial of persecution always proceeds. "
No matter how dark the times may seem, there is always someone willing to step up, someone who does not fear the axe. The history of our nation is filled with these people — people who meet Emerson's definition of heroism.