For the ease and pleasure of treading the old road, accepting the fashions, the education, the religion of society, he takes the cross of making his own, and, of-course, the self-accusation, the faint heart, the frequent uncertainty and loss of time, which are the nettles and tangling vines in the way of the self-relying and self-directed; and the state of virtual hostility in which he seems to stand to society, and especially to educated society.

When I start analyzing its meaning, I don't get even little far and stuck up in almost near beginning of it, the following comes in my mind, which does not makes any sense to me:-

For enjoying walking on the old road ... he takes the burden of making his own way in life...

I have skipped the sentence in place of ... because it was not making any sense to me. Please help me and explain the meaning.


figurative a thing that is unavoidable and has to be endured : she's just a cross we have to bear.

This definition of cross from the New Oxford American is how the word is being used here by Ralph Waldo Emerson. It is derived from the Christian image of Jesus carrying the cross he was to be crucified on.

In the above passage, Emerson is saying the true American Scholar must "take the cross" of making his own way in life and not blindly follow the fashions, educational paths, and religion of those around him. The fact that he uses a religious phrase to convey this is clever. The reason this process is a cross, as he explains, is that this self-determination can be a lonely path filled with self-doubt and possible ostracism from society.

  • I think it's quite unusual/poetic to use just the bald word cross in this way, as a synonym for burden. Normally it occurs as part of the well-worn cliché of a cross to bear. I doubt Emerson's usage was, is, or will become particularly widespread, but of course your definition and expansion are spot on. – FumbleFingers Jul 3 '11 at 15:01
  • I thought after getting this phrase's meaning, I will be able to understand the complete sentence, but NO. Can you/or/somebody else reading this make me understand the meaning of the complete sentence. Thank you very much in advance. Please help me understand it. – teenup Jul 3 '11 at 17:58
  • @Callithumpian, Though, you have almost explained the meaning also in your answer. And Though I am able to understand from your answer everything, but I can not fetch out the same from the original sentence. – teenup Jul 3 '11 at 18:28

A minor point is that "For" at the start of the passage means 'instead of'. An unusual but not improper construction: I imagine Emerson was trying to be concise.

Compare an errata notice: 'For "smoking drugs" read "Smocking and rugs"'

  • But, you are right, applying 'instead of' in place of 'for' makes sense, but how can one use 'instead of' in place of 'for'. The sense becomes entirely different. - Why is this not improper construction ? – teenup Jul 4 '11 at 2:50

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