Facts in Self-Reliance
Sir Isaac Newton (1643–1727) was an English mathematician and physicist who developed the Laws of Motion, which serve as the basis for a number of theories in physics.
Johann Gaspar Spurzheim (1776–1832) was a German doctor and major proponent of Franz Joseph Gall’s pseudomedicinal field of phrenology, a field of study that conceptualizes the brain as organized into different parts that control different aspect of an animal’s functions based on size and shape of one’s skull. He is famous for popularizing Gall’s budding ideas.
Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) was an English philosopher and social activist who founded utilitarianism,the idea that the best moral action is the one that benefits the most amount of people. Although innovative, his theories came under criticism because they ignored individual values and feelings.
James Hutton (1726–1797) was a Scottish geologist and naturalist who described uniformitarianism, a cornerstone principle of geology that accounts for geological change over time.
This is a possible reference to René Descartes' (1596–1650) most famous philosophical statement, “I think, therefore I am” (“Cogito ergo sum). René Descartes was a French philosopher known as the father of modern Western philosophy.
Julius Caesar (100 BCE–44 BCE) was a Roman military general and statesman who led a vast military campaign and is responsible for the largest expansion of the Roman Empire.
Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543) was a Polish astronomer and Renaissance mathematician who proved that the Earth revolves around the sun through a list of scientific assumptions that were published during the year of his death. The Catholic Church argued against his theories (although many years after they were published) because they went against the traditional church teaching that the worId was flat.
Francis Beaumont (1584–1616) and John Fletcher (1579–1625) were English dramatists who collaborated on a number of plays during the English Renaissance. Along with other dramatists (including Nathan Field and Philip Massinger), the two writers published the Beaumont and Fletcher folios in 1647 and 1679. Honest Man's Fortune is a play in the 1647 folio.
The Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) is most famous for his epic poem The Divine Comedy. This poem is split into three sections that delve into the three tiers of Christian afterlife: purgatory (Purgatorio), heaven (Paradiso), and hell (Inferno).
Phidias (490 BCE–430 BCE) was an Athenian artist and sculptor most famous for directing the construction of the Parthenon. The Parthenon is a historic temple from ancient Greece, which still stands despite being worn down by time and weather.
Francis Bacon (1561–1626) was a philosopher who served as the Lord Chancellor of England. He was most famous for arguing for an observational and experimental approach to science, now known as the scientific method.
George Washington (1732–1799) led the Continental Army in the American Revolution and was the first president of the United States.
Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) was a scientist, inventor, diplomat, writer, and, most famously, a founding father of the United States. Some of his most well-known inventions include swim fins, the Franklin stove, and the lightning rod.
Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) was a Swedish philosopher and theologian who founded Swedenborgianism, also known as The New Church. At the age of 53, he claimed to go through a spiritual rebirth where he had dreams and visions from God that called upon him to write The Heavenly Doctrine, which called for a reformation of Christianity.
Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (1743–1794) was a French scientist known as the “father of modern chemistry.” His most notable discovery was understanding the role that oxygen plays in combustion.
John Locke (1632–1704) was an English philosopher who focused his studies on political philosophy and the topic of education. He was associated with the Whig party and heavily promoted political liberalism. His essays are amongst the most influential foundations of modern Western philosophy, even today.
Zoroaster (628 BCE–551 BCE) was an Iranian religious leader who founded Zoroastrianism. His name roughly translates to “He of the golden light.” His major focus of study was the struggle between good and evil.
The Whigs were an American political party in the 19th century. The party opposed the Democratic Party and promoted the protection of industry and limitation on the power of the executive branch. There have been four Whig presidents.
Emmanuel Las Casas (1766–1842) was a French historian and author most famous for his book about Napoleon, The Memorial of Saint Helena. This quote serves as a metaphor for one of Emerson's main claims in this essay: "to make a perfect army" every soldier would have to learn how to do everything involved in the battle from scratch (even manufacturing guns), instead of being given the guns ready to shoot.
Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) was a French military general who led a number of successful military conquests and temporarily conquered most of mainland Europe. He is famous for an unwavering desire to expand French rule and changing the way military campaigns are fought. Considered one of the greatest military generals in history, he was also the first emperor of France.
Sir William Edward Perry (1790–1855) was an English explorer who attempted to reach the North Pole and, although he didn’t get there, held the record as the person closest to doing so for nearly five decades. John Franklin (1786–1847) was an Arctic explorer who disappeared during his last exploration of the Arctic.
Vitus Jonassen Behring (Bering) (1681–1741) was a Danish explorer credited with “finding” the passageway that is now called the Bering Strait.
Henry Hudson (1565–1611) was an English explorer credited with “discovering” what are now called the Hudson River and Hudson Bay.
Diogenes of Sinope (404 BCE–323 BCE) was a Greek philosopher who promoted personal virtue by ways of self-control and simple living. Based on these ideals, he founded the Cynic school, which believed the prominent reason for living is to live a life of virtue.
Anaxagoras (500 BCE–428 BCE) was a Greek philosopher who studied mostly nature and cosmology. His most famous discovery was the explanation of celestial eclipses (when a celestial mass passes in front of a source of celestial light, such as when the moon passes in front of the sun.
Phocion (402 BCE–318 BCE) was an Athenian politician who became known as “The Good” for his sense of virtue and reputation as an honest government official. When Macedonia threatened (with their significantly stronger military) to overtake Athens, he built good diplomatic relations with them to avoid complete domination. Plutarch wrote about him in Parallel Lives.
Plutarch (46–119) was a biographer from Greece whose work contributed to the popularity of essay and biographical writings in Europe beginning in the 16th century. His two most famous works are Bioi parallēloi, or Parallel lives (stories of Greek and Roman soldiers, government officials, and artists), and Moralia (a book of essays covering a wide variety of topics). Emerson uses this reference to show that although there have been great strides in all the fields of study, the men Plutarch wrote about were all great even without all of those impressive strides to build upon.
Gustavus Adolphus (1594–1632) was the King of Sweden accredited with making Sweden into a great power during his military leadership during the Thirty Years War.
Known as “Skanderbeg,” George Castriot (1405–1468) was an Albanian warrior who led marches through Ottoman territory while severely undermanned and consistently defeated opposing armies. This was important at the time because the Ottoman Empire was ruthlessly trying to spread throughout Europe and the Middle East through brute military force.
Alfred the Great (849–899) was the King of Wessex in southwestern England and is most famous for defending England against a Danish invasion and forming the first British navy. He is known for being a great peacemaker during his time of rule.
Thomas Clarkson (1760–1846) was a tireless opponent of the African slave trade who led campaigns and formed the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade.
Charles Wesley (1707–1788) led the Methodist movement, a denomination of Protestantism, in England during the 18th century. Methodists were concerned with social issues, mainly the abolition of slavery.
Quakers are members of the Religious Society of Friends, a sect of Christianity founded by George Fox in England during the late 17th century. Quakers strongly oppose violence and have no formal creeds, rites, or clergy.
John Adams (1735–1774) was the first vice president of the United States and the second president. He helped draft the Declaration of Independence and is known as one of the most important of the founding fathers.
William Pitt (1708–1778), the first Earl of Chatham, supported the American colonists’ cries for independence. Emerson uses this line to show how Pitt’s consciousness and gut feeling likely made him willing to support an unpopular idea in the eyes of Great Britain’s government.
The Andes are a large mountain range in South America and the Himmaleh (Himalayas) are a large mountain range in Asia. Although the Andes are a significantly longer mountain range, the Himalayas are made up of significantly taller mountains. This simile says that each individual's talents are significant in their own way and need not be compared to anyone else’s.
Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) was an Italian astronomer and mathematician whose studies made enduring impressions in the field of physics. He constructed a telescope that was able to support Copernicus’s theory that the world was round and located within a sun-centered solar system. The church accused him twice of heresy for his controversial findings.
Martin Luther (1483–1546) was a German priest and an important figure in the Protestant Reformation. He was excommunicated for his differing views with the heads of the church, arguing that eternal salvation was granted by God and could not be purchased through indulgences. Historically, he is a symbol of a religious man who followed what he believed to be morally right rather than listening blindly to the word of the church.
According to Christian doctrine, Jesus of Nazareth (approximately 4 BCE–33 CE) was the son of God in human form and died on a cross to save humans from their sins, so that all people could have an opportunity to go to heaven. He preached peace and love as the most important aspects of life and religion, which conflicted with more rigid, traditional Hebrew teachings.
Socrates (approx. 470 BCE–399 BCE.) was a Greek philosopher from Athens who was sentenced to death because his teachings conflicted with the Greek government during his time. His teachings survived through the writings of his students, Plato and Xenophon.
Pythagoras of Samos (approx. 570 BCE–490 BCE) was a Greek philosopher and mathematician credited by some as the first person to claim that the world was spherical and not flat. Many of his theories were disputed because they were brand new and challenged traditional teachings.
Barbadoes (Barbados) is an island country in the Caribbean that was once infamous for being a major port for the African slave trade.
In Greek mythology, Lethe is one of the rivers in Hades and was known as the river of forgetfulness. Emerson uses this allusion to say that once one grows up, one can’t forget the responsibilities and restraints of adulthood that have been thrust upon him.
John Milton (1608–1674) was an influential English poet most famous is most famous for his epic poem Paradise Lost. He predominantly used blank verse, and he used his writing to stand up to political and societal injustice. His works have been exemplary study texts for later English poets.
Plato (approx. 428 BCE–348 BCE) was a Greek philosopher, student of Socrates, and Aristotle’s (two other prominent Greek philosophers). He wrote on human justice, worldly beauty, and morality in his “dialogues,” a form of works where he used several characters with conflicting ideas to discuss their different points of view. He founded the Academy of Athens, known as one of the first higher-learning academic institutions in the Western world.
According to the Old Testament, Moses was a Hebrew raised by the Egyptian royal family. He fled Egypt after killing an Egyptian slavemaster for murdering a Hebrew. After fleeing Egypt he encountered God on Mount Horeb, who told him he must return to Egypt to save the Israelites from slavery. He led the Israelites for 40 years through the desert and died within sight of the Promised Land. He is the most important prophet in Judaism and a prominent prophet in Islam, Christianity, and a number of other faiths.
In Christian doctrine, the Last Judgement is God’s final, eternal judgement that determines the resting place of all souls. The term comes from passages in the Gospel according to Matthew and the Gospel according to Luke, where the text discusses the second coming of Jesus and the resurrection of the dead. Emerson mentions it to stress how one must live a life of non-conformity in its entirety.