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Title: Books and Culture
Author: Mabie, Hamilton Wright, 1845-1916
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Books and Culture" ***

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_Copyright, 1896_,

_All rights reserved._

University Press:



 CHAPTER                                          PAGE

    I. MATERIAL AND METHOD                           7

   II. TIME AND PLACE                               20

  III. MEDITATION AND IMAGINATION                   34

   IV. THE FIRST DELIGHT                            51

    V. THE FEELING FOR LITERATURE                   63

   VI. THE BOOKS OF LIFE                            74

  VII. FROM THE BOOK TO THE READER                  85

 VIII. BY WAY OF ILLUSTRATION                       95

   IX. PERSONALITY                                 109

    X. LIBERATION THROUGH IDEAS                    121

   XI. THE LOGIC OF FREE LIFE                      132

  XII. THE IMAGINATION                             143

 XIII. BREADTH OF LIFE                             154

  XIV. RACIAL EXPERIENCE                           165

   XV. FRESHNESS OF FEELING                        174

  XVI. LIBERATION FROM ONE'S TIME                  185

 XVII. LIBERATION FROM ONE'S PLACE                 195

XVIII. THE UNCONSCIOUS ELEMENT                     204

  XIX. THE TEACHING OF TRAGEDY                     217


  XXI. CULTURE THROUGH ACTION                      239


XXIII. THE VISION OF PERFECTION                    260

 XXIV. RETROSPECT                                  271

Chapter I.

Material and Method.

If the writer who ventures to say something more about books and their
uses is wise, he will not begin with an apology; for he will know
that, despite all that has been said and written on this engrossing
theme, the interest of books is inexhaustible, and that there is
always a new constituency to read them. So rich is the vitality of the
great books of the world that men are never done with them; not only
does each new generation read them, but it is compelled to form some
judgment of them. In this way Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, and
their fellow-artists, are always coming into the open court of public
opinion, and the estimate in which they are held is valuable chiefly
as affording material for a judgment of the generation which forms it.
An age which understands and honours creative artists must have a
certain breadth of view and energy of spirit; an age which fails to
recognise their significance fails to recognise the range and
splendour of life, and has, therefore, a certain inferiority.

We cannot get away from the great books of the world, because they
preserve and interpret the life of the world; they are inexhaustible,
because, being vitally conceived, they need the commentary of that
wide experience which we call history to bring out the full meaning of
the text; they are our perpetual teachers, because they are the most
complete expressions, in that concrete form which we call art, of the
thoughts, acts, dispositions, and passions of humanity. There is no
getting to the bottom of Shakespeare, for instance, or to the end of
his possibilities of enriching and interesting us, because he deals
habitually with that primary substance of human life which remains
substantially unchanged through all the mutations of racial, national,
and personal condition, and which is always, and for all men, the
object of supreme interest. Time, which is the relentless enemy of all
that is partial and provisional, is the friend of Shakespeare, because
it continually brings to the student of his work illustration and
confirmation of its truth. There are many things in his plays which
are more intelligible and significant to us than they were to the men
who heard their musical cadence on the rude Elizabethan stage, because
the ripening of experience has given the prophetic thought an
historical demonstration; and there are truths in these plays which
will be read with clearer eyes by the men of the next century than
they are now read by us.

It is this prophetic quality in the books of power which silently
moves them forward with the inaudible advance of the successive files
in the ranks of the generations, and which makes them contemporary
with each generation. For while the mediæval frame-work upon which
Dante constructed the "Divine Comedy" becomes obsolete, the
fundamental thought of the poet about human souls and the identity of
the deed and its result not only remains true to experience but has
received the most impressive confirmation from subsequent history and
from psychology.

It is as impossible, therefore, to get away from the books of power as
from the stars; every new generation must make acquaintance with them,
because they are as much a part of that order of things which forms
the background of human life as nature itself. With every intelligent
man or woman the question is not, "Shall I take account of them?" but
"How shall I get the most and the best out of them for my enrichment
and guidance?"

It is with the hope of assisting some readers and students of books,
and especially those who are at the beginning of the ardours, the
delights, and the perplexities of the book-lover, that these chapters
are undertaken. They assume nothing on the part of the reader but a
desire to know the best that has been written; they promise nothing on
the part of the writer but a frank and familiar use of experience in a
pursuit which makes it possible for the individual life to learn the
lessons which universal life has learned, and to piece out its limited
personal experience with the experience of humanity. One who loves
books, like one who loves a particular bit of a country, is always
eager to make others see what he sees; that there have been other
lovers of books and views before him does not put him in an apologetic
mood. There cannot be too many lovers of the best things in these
pessimistic days, when to have the power of loving anything is
beginning to be a great and rare gift.

The word love in this connection is significant of a very definite
attitude toward books,--an attitude not uncritical, since it is love
of the best only, but an attitude which implies more intimacy and
receptivity than the purely critical temper makes possible; an
attitude, moreover, which expects and invites something more than
instruction or entertainment,--both valuable, wholesome, and
necessary, and yet neither descriptive of the richest function which
the book fulfils to the reader. To love a book is to invite an
intimacy with it which opens the way to its heart. One of the wisest
of modern readers has said that the most important characteristic of
the real critic--the man who penetrates the secret of a work of
art--is the ability to admire greatly; and there is but a short step
between admiration and love. And as if to emphasise the value of a
quality so rare among critics, the same wise reader, who was also the
greatest writer of modern times, says also that "where keen perception
unites with good will and love, it gets at the heart of man and the
world; nay, it may hope to reach the highest goal of all." To get at
the heart of that knowledge, life, and beauty which are stored in
books is surely one way of reaching the highest goal.

That goal, in Goethe's thought, was the complete development of the
individual life through thought, feeling, and action,--an aim often
misunderstood, but which, seen on all sides, is certainly the very
highest disclosed to the human spirit. And the method of attaining
this result was the process, also often and widely misunderstood, of
culture. This word carries with it the implication of natural, vital
growth, but it has been confused with an artificial, mechanical
process, supposed to be practised as a kind of esoteric cult by a
small group of people who hold themselves apart from common human
experiences and fellowships. Mr. Symonds, concerning whose
representative character as a man of culture there is no difference of
opinion, said that he had read with some care the newspaper accounts
of his "culture," and that, so far as he could gather, his newspaper
critics held the opinion that culture is a kind of knapsack which a
man straps on his back, and in which he places a vast amount of
information, gathered, more or less at random, in all parts of the
world. There was, of course, a touch of humour in Mr. Symonds's
description of the newspaper conception of culture; but it is
certainly true that culture has been regarded by a great many people
either as a kind of intellectual refinement, so highly specialised as
to verge on fastidiousness, or as a large accumulation of
miscellaneous information.

Now, the process of culture is an unfolding and enrichment of the
human spirit by conforming to the laws of its own growth; and the
result is a broad, rich, free human life. Culture is never quantity,
it is always quality of knowledge; it is never an extension of
ourselves by additions from without, it is always enlargement of
ourselves by development from within; it is never something acquired,
it is always something possessed; it is never a result of
accumulation, it is always a result of growth. That which
characterises the man of culture is not the extent of his information,
but the quality of his mind; it is not the mass of things he knows,
but the sanity, the ripeness, the soundness of his nature. A man may
have great knowledge and remain uncultivated; a man may have
comparatively limited knowledge and be genuinely cultivated. There
have been famous scholars who have remained crude, unripe,
inharmonious in their intellectual life, and there have been men of
small scholarship who have found all the fruits of culture. The man of
culture is he who has so absorbed what he knows that it is part of
himself. His knowledge has not only enriched specific faculties, it
has enriched him; his entire nature has come to ripe and sound

This personal enrichment is the very highest and finest result of
intimacy with books; compared with it the instruction, information,
refreshment, and entertainment which books afford are of secondary
importance. The great service they render us--the greatest service
that can be rendered us--is the enlargement, enrichment, and unfolding
of ourselves; they nourish and develop that mysterious personality
which lies behind all thought, feeling, and action; that central force
within us which feeds the specific activities through which we give
out ourselves to the world, and, in giving, find and recover

Chapter II.

Time and Place.

To get at the heart of Shakespeare's plays, and to secure for
ourselves the material and the development of culture which are
contained in them, is not the work of a day or of a year; it is the
work and the joy of a lifetime. There is no royal road to the
harmonious unfolding of the human spirit; there is a choice of
methods, but there are no "short cuts." No man can seize the fruits of
culture prematurely; they are not to be had by pulling down the boughs
of the tree of knowledge, so that he who runs may pluck as he pleases.
Culture is not to be had by programme, by limited courses of reading,
by correspondence, or by following short prescribed lines of home
study. These are all good in their degree of thoroughness of method
and worth of standards, but they are impotent to impart an enrichment
which is below and beyond mere acquirement. Because culture is not
knowledge but wisdom, not quantity of learning but quality, not mass
of information but ripeness and soundness of temper, spirit, and
nature, time is an essential element in the process of securing it. A
man may acquire information with great rapidity, but no man can hasten
his growth. If the fruit is forced, the flavour is lost. To get into
the secret of Shakespeare, therefore, one must take time. One must
grow into that secret.

This does not mean, however, that the best things to be gotten out of
books are reserved for people of leisure; on the contrary, they are
oftenest possessed by those whose labours are many and whose leisure
is limited. One may give his whole life to the pursuit of this kind of
excellence, but one does not need to give his whole time to it.
Culture is cumulative; it grows steadily in the man who takes the
fruitful attitude toward life and art; it is secured by the clear
purpose which so utilises all the spare minutes that they practically
constitute an unbroken duration of time. James Smetham, the English
artist, feeling keenly the imperfections of his training, formulated a
plan of study combining art, literature, and the religious life, and
devoted twenty-five years to working it out. Goethe spent more than
sixty years in the process of developing himself harmoniously on all
sides; and few men have wasted less time than he. And yet in the case
of each of these rigorous and faithful students there were other, and,
for long periods, more engrossing occupations. Any one who knows men
widely will recall those whose persistent utilisation of the odds and
ends of time, which many people regard as of too little value to save
by using, has given their minds and their lives that peculiar
distinction of taste, manner, and speech which belong to genuine

It is not wealth of time, but what Mr. Gladstone has aptly called
"thrift of time," which brings ripeness of mind within reach of the
great mass of men and women. The man who has learned the value of five
minutes has gone a long way toward making himself a master of life and
its arts. "The thrift of time," says the English statesman, "will
repay in after life with a usury of profit beyond your most sanguine
dreams, and waste of it will make you dwindle alike in intellectual
and moral stature beyond your darkest reckoning." And Matthew Arnold
has put the same truth into words which touch the subject in hand
still more closely: "The plea that this or that man has no time for
culture will vanish as soon as we desire culture so much that we begin
to examine seriously into our present use of time." It is no
exaggeration to say that the mass of men give to unplanned and
desultory reading of books and newspapers an amount of time which, if
intelligently and thoughtfully given to the best books, would secure,
in the long run, the best fruits of culture.

There is no magic about this process of enriching one's self by
absorbing the best books; it is simply a matter of sound habits
patiently formed and persistently kept up. Making the most of one's
time is the first of these habits; utilising the spare hours, the
unemployed minutes, no less than those longer periods which the more
fortunate enjoy. To "take time by the forelock" in this way, however,
one must have his book at hand when the precious minute arrives. There
must be no fumbling for the right volume; no waste of time because one
is uncertain what to take up next. The waste of opportunity which
leaves so many people intellectually barren who ought to be
intellectually rich, is due to neglect to decide in advance what
direction one's reading shall take, and neglect to keep the book of
the moment close at hand. The biographer of Lucy Larcom tells us that
the aspiring girl pinned all manner of selections of prose and verse
which she wished to learn at the sides of the window beside which her
loom was placed; and in this way, in the intervals of work, she
familiarised herself with a great deal of good literature. A certain
man, now widely known, spent his boyhood on a farm, and largely
educated himself. He learned the rudiments of Latin in the evening,
and carried on his study during working hours by pinning ten lines
from Virgil on his plough,--a method of refreshment much superior to
that which Homer furnished the ploughman in the well-known passage in
the description of the shield. These are extreme cases, but they are
capital illustrations of the immense power of enrichment which is
inherent in fragments of time pieced together by intelligent purpose
and persistent habit.

This faculty of draining all the rivulets of knowledge by the way was
strikingly developed by a man of surpassing eloquence and tireless
activity. He was never a methodical student in the sense of following
rigidly a single line of study, but he habitually fed himself with any
kind of knowledge which was at hand. If books were at his elbow, he
read them; if pictures, engravings, gems were within reach, he studied
them; if nature was within walking distance, he watched nature; if men
were about him, he learned the secrets of their temperaments, tastes,
and skills; if he were on shipboard, he knew the dialect of the vessel
in the briefest possible time; if he travelled by stage, he sat with
the driver and learned all about the route, the country, the people,
and the art of his companion; if he had a spare hour in a village in
which there was a manufactory, he went through it with keen eyes and
learned the mechanical processes used in it. "Shall I tell you the
secret of the true scholar?" says Emerson. "It is this: every man I
meet is my master in some point, and in that I learn of him."

The man who is bent on getting the most out of life in order that he
may make his own nature rich and productive will learn to free himself
largely from dependence on conditions. The power of concentration
which issues from a resolute purpose, and is confirmed by habits
formed to give that purpose effectiveness, is of more value than
undisturbed hours and the solitude of a library; it is of more value
because it takes the place of things which cannot always be at
command. To learn how to treat the odds and ends of hours so that they
constitute, for practical purposes, an unbroken duration of time, is
to emancipate one's self from dependence on particular times, and to
appropriate all time to one's use; and in like manner to accustom
one's self to make use of all places, however thronged and public, as
if they were private and secluded, is to free one's self from bondage
to a particular locality, or to surroundings specially chosen for the
purpose. Those who have abundance of leisure to spend in their
libraries are beyond the need of suggestions as to the use of time and
place; but those whose culture must be secured incidentally, as it
were, need not despair,--they have shining examples of successful use
of limited opportunities about them. It is not only possible to make
all time enrich us, but to use all space as if it were our own. To
have a book in one's pocket and the power of fastening one's mind upon
it to the exclusion of every other object or interest is to be
independent of the library, with its unbroken quietness. It is to
carry the library with us,--not only the book, but the repose.

One bright June morning a young man, who happened to be waiting at a
rural station to take a train, discovered one of the foremost of
American writers, who was, all things considered, perhaps the most
richly cultivated man whom the country has yet produced, sitting on
the steps intent upon a book, and entirely oblivious of his
surroundings. The young man's reverence for the poet and critic filled
him with desire to know what book had such power of beguiling into
forgetfulness one of the noblest minds of the time. He affirmed within
himself that it must be a novel. He ventured to approach near enough
to read the title, holding, rightly enough, that a book is not
personal property, and that his act involved no violation of privacy.
He discovered that the great man was reading a Greek play with such
relish and abandon that he had turned a railway station into a private
library! One of the foremost of American novelists, a man of real
literary insight and of genuine charm of style, says that he can write
as comfortably on a trunk in a room at a hotel, waiting to be called
for a train, as in his own library. There is a good deal of discipline
behind such a power of concentration as that illustrated in both these
cases; but it is a power which can be cultivated by any man or woman
of resolution. Once acquired, the exercise of it becomes both easy and
delightful. It transforms travel, waiting, and dreary surroundings
into one rich opportunity. The man who has the "Tempest" in his
pocket, and can surrender himself to its spell, can afford to lose
time on cars, ferries, and at out-of-the-way stations; for the world
has become an extension of his library, and wherever he is, he is at
home with his purpose and himself.

Chapter III.

Meditation and Imagination.

There is a book in the British Museum which would have, for many
people, a greater value than any other single volume in the world; it
is a copy of Florio's translation of Montaigne, and it bears
Shakespeare's autograph on a flyleaf. There are other books which must
have had the same ownership; among them were Holinshed's "Chronicles"
and North's translation of Plutarch. Shakespeare would have laid
posterity under still greater obligations, if that were possible, if
in some autobiographic mood he had told us how he read these books;
for never, surely, were books read with greater insight and with more
complete absorption. Indeed, the fruits of this reading were so rich
and ripe that the books from which their juices came seem but dry
husks and shells in comparison. The reader drained the writer dry of
every particle of suggestiveness, and then recreated the material in
new and imperishable forms. The process of reproduction was
individual, and is not to be shared by others; it was the expression
of that rare and inexplicable personal energy which we call genius;
but the process of absorption may be shared by all who care to submit
to the discipline which it involves. It is clear that Shakespeare read
in such a way as to possess what he read; he not only remembered it,
but he incorporated it into himself. No other kind of reading could
have brought the East out of its grave, with its rich and languorous
atmosphere steeping the senses in the charm of Cleopatra, or recalled
the massive and powerfully organised life of Rome about the person of
the great Cæsar. Shakespeare read his books with such insight and
imagination that they became part of himself; and so far as this
process is concerned, the reader of to-day can follow in his steps.

The majority of people have not learned this secret; they read for
information or for refreshment; they do not read for enrichment.
Feeding one's nature at all the sources of life, browsing at will on
all the uplands of knowledge and thought, do not bear the fruit of
acquirement only; they put us into personal possession of the
vitality, the truth, and the beauty about us. A man may know the plays
of Shakespeare accurately as regards their order, form, construction,
and language, and yet remain almost without knowledge of what
Shakespeare was at heart, and of his significance in the history of
the human soul. It is this deeper knowledge, however, which is
essential for culture; for culture is such an appropriation of
knowledge that it becomes a part of ourselves. It is no longer
something added by the memory; it is something possessed by the soul.
A pedant is formed by his memory; a man of culture is formed by the
habit of meditation, and by the constant use of the imagination. An
alert and curious man goes through the world taking note of all that
passes under his eyes, and collects a great mass of information, which
is in no sense incorporated into his own mind, but remains a definite
territory outside his own nature, which he has annexed. A man of
receptive mind and heart, on the other hand, meditating on what he
sees, and getting at its meaning by the divining-rod of the
imagination, discovers the law behind the phenomena, the truth behind
the fact, the vital force which flows through all things, and gives
them their significance. The first man gains information; the second
gains culture. The pedant pours out an endless succession of facts
with a monotonous uniformity of emphasis, and exhausts while he
instructs; the man of culture gives us a few facts, luminous in their
relation to one another, and freshens and stimulates by bringing us
into contact with ideas and with life.

To get at the heart of books we must live with and in them; we must
make them our constant companions; we must turn them over and over in
thought, slowly penetrating their innermost meaning; and when we
possess their thought we must work it into our own thought. The
reading of a real book ought to be an event in one's history; it ought
to enlarge the vision, deepen the base of conviction, and add to the
reader whatever knowledge, insight, beauty, and power it contains. It
is possible to spend years of study on what may be called the
externals of the "Divine Comedy," and remain unaffected in nature by
this contact with one of the masterpieces of the spirit of man as well
as of the art of literature. It is also possible to so absorb Dante's
thought and so saturate one's self with the life of the poem as to add
to one's individual capital of thought and experience all that the
poet discerned in that deep heart of his and wrought out of that
intense and tragic experience. But this permanent and personal
possession can be acquired by those alone who brood over the poem and
recreate it within themselves by the play of the imagination upon it.
A visitor was shown into Mr. Lowell's room one evening not many years
ago, and found him barricaded behind rows of open books; they covered
the table and were spread out on the floor in an irregular but magic
circle. "Still studying Dante?" said the intruder into the workshop of
as true a man of culture as we have known on this continent. "Yes,"
was the prompt reply; "always studying Dante."

A man's intellectual character is determined by what he habitually
thinks about. The mind cannot always be consciously directed to
definite ends; it has hours of relaxation. There are many hours in the
life of the most strenuous and arduous man when the mind goes its own
way and thinks its own thoughts. These times of relaxation, when the
mind follows its own bent, are perhaps the most fruitful and
significant periods in a rich and noble intellectual life. The real
nature, the deeper instincts of the man, come out in these moments, as
essential refinement and genuine breeding are revealed when the man is
off guard and acts and speaks instinctively. It is possible to be
mentally active and intellectually poor and sterile; to drive the mind
along certain courses of work, but to have no deep life of thought
behind these calculated activities. The life of the mind is rich and
fruitful only when thought, released from specific tasks, flies at
once to great themes as its natural objects of interest and love, its
natural sources of refreshment and strength. Under all our definite
activities there runs a stream of meditation; and the character of
that meditation determines our wealth or our poverty, our
productiveness or our sterility.

This instinctive action of the mind, although largely unconscious, is
by no means irresponsible; it may be directed and controlled; it may
be turned, by such control, into a Pactolian stream, enriching us
while we rest and ennobling us while we play. For the mind may be
trained to meditate on great themes instead of giving itself up to
idle reverie; when it is released from work it may concern itself with
the highest things as readily as with those which are insignificant
and paltry. Whoever can command his meditations in the streets, along
the country roads, on the train, in the hours of relaxation, can
enrich himself for all time without effort or fatigue; for it is as
easy and restful to think about great things as about small ones. A
certain lover of books made this discovery years ago, and has turned
it to account with great profit to himself. He thought he discovered
in the faces of certain great writers a meditative quality full of
repose and suggestive of a constant companionship with the highest
themes. It seemed to him that these thinkers, who had done so much to
liberate his own thought, must have dwelt habitually with noble ideas;
that in every leisure hour they must have turned instinctively to
those deep things which concern most closely the life of men. The vast
majority of men are so absorbed in dealing with material that they
appear to be untouched by the general questions of life; but these
general questions are the habitual concern of the men who think. In
such men the mind, released from specific tasks, turns at once and by
preference to these great themes, and by quiet meditation feeds and
enriches the very soul of the thinker. And the quality of this
meditation determines whether the nature shall be productive or
sterile; whether a man shall be merely a logician, or a creative force
in the world. Following this hint, this lover of books persistently
trained himself, in his leisure hours, to think over the books he was
reading; to meditate on particular passages, and, in the case of
dramas and novels, to look at characters from different sides. It was
not easy at first, and it was distinctively work; but it became
instinctive at last, and consequently it became play. The stream of
thought, once set in a given direction, flows now of its own
gravitation; and reverie, instead of being idle and meaningless, has
become rich and fruitful. If one subjects "The Tempest," for instance,
to this process, he soon learns it by heart; first he feels its
beauty; then he gets whatever definite information there is in it; as
he reflects, its constructive unity grows clear to him, and he sees its
quality as a piece of art; and finally its rich and noble disclosure
of the poet's conception of life grows upon him until the play belongs
to him almost as much as it belonged to Shakespeare. This process of
meditation habitually brought to bear on one's reading lays bare the
very heart of the book in hand, and puts one in complete possession of

This process of meditation, if it is to bear its richest fruit, must
be accompanied by a constant play of the imagination, than which there
is no faculty more readily cultivated or more constantly neglected.
Some readers see only a flat surface as they read; others find the
book a door into a real world, and forget that they are dealing with a
book. The real readers get beyond the book, into the life which it
describes. They see the island in "The Tempest;" they hear the tumult
of the storm; they mingle with the little company who, on that magical
stage, reflect all the passions of men and are brought under the spell
of the highest powers of man's spirit. It is a significant fact that
in the lives of men of genius the reading of two or three books has
often provoked an immediate and striking expansion of thought and
power. Samuel Johnson, a clumsy boy in his father's bookshop,
searching for apples, came upon Petrarch, and was destined henceforth
to be a man of letters. John Keats, apprenticed to an apothecary, read
Spenser's "Epithalamium" one golden afternoon in company with his
friend, Cowden Clarke, and from that hour was a poet by the grace of
God. In both cases the readers read with the imagination, or their own
natures would not have kindled with so sudden a flash. The torch is
passed on to those only whose hands are outstretched to receive it. To
read with the imagination, one must take time to let the figures
reform in his own mind; he must see them with great distinctness and
realise them with great definiteness. Benjamin Franklin tells us, in
that Autobiography which was one of our earliest and remains one of
our most genuine pieces of writing, that when he discovered his need
of a larger vocabulary he took some of the tales which he found in an
odd volume of the "Spectator" and turned them into verse; "and after a
time, when I had pretty well forgotten the prose, turned them back
again. I also sometimes jumbled my collections of hints into
confusion, and after some weeks endeavoured to reduce them into the
best order before I began to form the full sentences and compleat the
paper." Such a patient recasting of material for the ends of verbal
exactness and accuracy suggests ways in which the imagination may deal
with characters and scenes in order to stimulate and foster its own
activity. It is well to recall at frequent intervals the story we read
in some dramatist, poet, or novelist, in order that the imagination
may set it before us again in all its rich vitality. It is well also
as we read to insist on seeing the picture as well as the words. It is
as easy to see the bloodless duke before the portrait of "My Last
Duchess," in Browning's little masterpiece, to take in all the
accessories and carry away with us a vivid and lasting impression, as
it is to follow with the eye the succession of words. In this way we
possess the poem, and make it serve the ends of culture.

Chapter IV.

The First Delight.

"We were reading Plato's Apology in the Sixth Form," says Mr. Symonds
in his account of his school life at Harrow. "I bought Cary's crib,
and took it with me to London on an _exeat_ in March. My hostess,
a Mrs. Bain, who lived in Regent's Park, treated me to a comedy one
evening at the Haymarket. I forget what the play was. When we returned
from the play I went to bed and began to read my Cary's Plato. It so
happened that I stumbled on the 'Phædrus.' I read on and on, till I
reached the end. Then I began the 'Symposium;' and the sun was shining
on the shrubs outside the ground floor on which I slept before I shut
the book up. I have related these unimportant details because that
night was one of the most important nights of my life.... Here in the
'Phædrus' and the 'Symposium,' in the 'Myth of the Soul,' I discovered
the revelation I had been waiting for, the consecration of a
long-cherished idealism. It was just as though the voice of my own
soul spoke to me through Plato. Harrow vanished into unreality. I had
touched solid ground. Here was the poetry, the philosophy of my own
enthusiasm, expressed with all the magic of unrivalled style." The
experience recorded in these words is typical; it comes to every one
who has the capacity for the highest form of enjoyment and the highest
kind of growth. It was an experience which was both emotional and
spiritual; delight and expansion were involved in it; the joy of
contact with something beautiful, and the sudden enlargement which
comes from touch with a great nature dealing with fundamental truth.
In every experience of this kind there comes an access of life, as if
one had drunk at a fountain of vitality.

A thrilling chapter in the spiritual history of the race might be
written by bringing together the reports of such experiences which are
to be found in almost all literatures,--experiences which vary greatly
in depth and significance, which have in common the unfailing interest
of discovery and growth. If this collocation of vital contacts could
be expanded so as to include the history of the intellectual commerce
of races, we should be able to read the story of humanity in a new and
searching light. For the transmission of Greek thought and beauty to
the Oriental world, the wide diffusion of Hebrew ideas of man and his
life, the contact of the modern with the antique world in the
Renaissance, for instance, effected changes in the spiritual
constitution of man more subtle, pervasive, and radical than we are
yet in a position to understand. The spiritual history of men is
largely a history of discovery,--the record of those fruitful moments
when we come upon new things, and our ideas are swiftly or slowly
expanded to include them. That process is generally both rapid and
continuous; the discovery of this continent made an instant and
striking impression on the older world, but that older world has not
yet entirely adjusted itself to the changes in the social order which
were to follow close upon the rising of the new world above the once
mysterious line of the western horizon.

Now, this process of discovery goes on continuously in the experience
of every human soul which has capacity for growth; and it is the
peculiar joy of the lover of books. Literature is a continual
revelation to every genuine reader; a revelation of that quality which
we call art, and a revelation of that mysterious vital force which we
call life. In this double disclosure literature shares with all art a
function which ranges it with the greatest resources of the spirit;
and the reader who has the trained vision has the constant joy of
discovery: first, of beauty and power; next, of that concrete or vital
form of truth which is one with life. One who studies books is in
constant peril of losing the charm of the first by permitting himself
to be absorbed in the interest of the second discovery. When one has
begun to see the range and veracity of literature as a disclosure of
the soul and life of man, the definite literary quality sometimes
becomes of secondary importance. In academic teaching the study of
philology, of grammar, of construction, of literary history, has often
been mistaken or substituted for the study of literature; and in
private study the peculiar enrichment which comes from art simply as
art is often needlessly sacrificed by exclusive attention to books as
documents of spiritual history.

It must not be forgotten that books become literature by virtue of a
certain quality which is diffused through every true literary work,
and which separates it at once and forever from all other writing. To
miss this quality, therefore, is to miss the very essence of the thing
with which we are in contact; to treat the inspired books as if they
were uninspired. The first discovery which the real reader makes is
the perception of some new and individual beauty or power; the
discovery of life and truth is secondary in order of time, and depends
in no small measure on the sensitiveness of the spirit to the first
and obvious charm. If one wishes to study the life--not the mere
structure--of an apple-tree in bloom, he must surrender himself at the
start to the bloom and fragrance; for these are not mere external
phases of the growth of the tree,--they are most delicate and
characteristic disclosures of its life. In like manner he who would
master "As You Like It" must give himself up in the first place to its
wonderful and significant beauty. For this lovely piece of literature
is a revelation in its art quite as definitely as in its thought; and
the first care of the reader must be to feel the deep and lasting
charm contained in the play. In that charm resides something which may
be transmitted, and the reception of which is always a step in

To feel freshly and deeply is not only a characteristic of the artist,
but also of the reader; the first finds delight in creation, the
second finds delight in discovery: between them they divide one of the
greatest joys known to men. Wagner somewhere says that the greatest
joy possible to man is the putting forth of creative activity so
spontaneously that the critical faculty is, for the time being,
asleep. The purest joy known to the reader is a perception of the
beauty and power of a work of art so fresh and instantaneous that it
completely absorbs the whole nature. Analysis, criticism, and judicial
appraisement come later; the first moment must be surrendered to the
joy of discovery.

Heine has recorded the overpowering impression made upon him by the
first glimpse of the Venus of Melos. An experience so extreme in
emotional quality could come only to a nature singularly sensitive to
beauty and abnormally sensitive to physical emotion; but he who has no
power of feeling intensely the power of beauty in the moment of
discovery, has missed something of very high value in the process of
culture. One of the signs of real culture is the power of enjoyment
which goes with fresh feeling. All great art is full of this feeling;
its characteristic is the new interest with which it invests the most
familiar objects; and one evidence of capacity to receive culture from
art is the development of this feeling. The reader who is on the way
to enrich himself by contact with books cultivates the power of
feeling freshly and keenly the charm of every book he reads simply as
a piece of literature. One may destroy this power by permitting
analysis and criticism to become the primary mood, or one may develop
it by resolutely putting analysis and criticism into the secondary
place, and sedulously developing the power to enjoy for the sake of
enjoyment. The reader who does not feel the immediate and obvious
beauty of a poem or a play has lost the power, not only of getting the
full effect of a work of art, but of getting its full significance as
well. The surprise, the delight, the joy of the first discovery are
not merely pleasurable; they are in the highest degree educational.
They reveal the sensitiveness of the nature to those ultimate forms of
beauty and power which art takes on, and its power of responding not
only to what is obviously beautiful but is also profoundly true. For
the harmonious and noble beauty of "As You Like It" is not only
obvious and external; it is wrought into its structure so completely
that, like the blossom of the apple, it is the effluence of the life
of the play. To get delight out of reading is, therefore, the first
and constant care of the reader who wishes to be enriched by vital
contact with the most inclusive and expressive of the arts.

Chapter V.

The Feeling for Literature.

The importance of reading habitually the best books becomes apparent
when one remembers that taste depends very largely on the standards
with which we are familiar, and that the ability to enjoy the best and
only the best is conditioned upon intimate acquaintance with the best.
The man who is thrown into constant association with inferior work
either revolts against his surroundings or suffers a disintegration of
aim and standard, which perceptibly lowers the plane on which he
lives. In either case the power of enjoyment from contact with a
genuine piece of creative work is sensibly diminished, and may be
finally lost. The delicacy of the mind is both precious and
perishable; it can be preserved only by associations which confirm and
satisfy it. For this reason, among others, the best books are the only
books which a man bent on culture should read; inferior books not only
waste his time, but they dull the edge of his perception and diminish
his capacity for delight.

This delight, born afresh of every new contact of the mind with a real
book, furnishes indubitable evidence that the reader has the feeling
for literature,--a possession much rarer than is commonly supposed. It
is no injustice to say that the majority of those who read have no
feeling for literature; their interest is awakened or sustained not by
the literary quality of a book, but by some element of brightness or
novelty, or by the charm of narrative. Reading which finds its reward
in these things is entirely legitimate, but it is not the kind of
reading which secures culture. It adds largely to one's stock of
information, and it refreshes the mind by introducing new objects of
interest; but it does not minister directly to the refining and
maturing of the nature. The same book may be read in entirely
different ways and with entirely different results. One may, for
instance, read Shakespeare's historical plays simply for the story
element which runs through them, and for the interest which the
skilful use of that element excites; and in such a reading there will
be distinct gain for the reader. This is the way in which a healthy
boy generally reads these plays for the first time. From such a
reading one will get information and refreshment; more than one
English statesman has confessed that he owed his knowledge of certain
periods of English history largely to Shakespeare. On the other hand,
one may read these plays for the joy of the art that is in them, and
for the enrichment which comes from contact with the deep and
tumultuous life which throbs through them; and this is the kind of
reading which produces culture, the reading which means enlargement
and ripening.

The feeling for literature, like the feeling for art in general, is
not only susceptible of cultivation, but very quickly responds to
appeals which are made to it by noble or beautiful objects. It is
essentially a feeling, but it is a feeling which depends very largely
on intelligence; it is strengthened and made sensitive and responsive
by constant contact with those objects which call it out. No rules can
be laid down for its development save the very simple rule to read
only and always those books which are literature. It is impossible to
give specific directions for the cultivation of the feeling for
Nature. It is not to be gotten out of text-books of any kind; it is
not to be found in botanies or geologies or works on zoölogy; it is to
be gotten only out of familiarity with Nature herself. Daily
fellowship with landscapes, trees, skies, birds, with an open mind and
in a receptive mood, soon develops in one a kind of spiritual sense
which takes cognisance of things not seen before and adds a new joy
and resource to life. In like manner the feeling for literature is
quickened and nourished by intimate acquaintance with books of beauty
and power. Such an intimacy makes the sense of delight more keen,
preserves it against influences which tend to deaden it, and makes the
taste more sure and trustworthy. A man who has long had acquaintance
with the best in any department of art comes to have, almost
unconsciously to himself, an instinctive power of discerning good work
from bad, of recognising on the instant the sound and true method and
style, and of feeling a fresh and constant delight in such work. His
education comes not by didactic, but by vital methods.

The art quality in a book is as difficult to analyse as the feeling
for it; not because it is intangible or indefinite, but because it is
so subtly diffused. It is difficult to analyse because it is the
breath of life in the book, and life always evades us, no matter how
keen and exhaustive our search may be. Most of us are so entirely out
of touch with the spirit of art in this busy new world that we are not
quite convinced of its reality. We know that it is decorative, and
that a certain pleasure flows from it; but we are sceptical of its
significance in the life of the race, of its deep necessity in the
development of that life, and of its supreme educational value. And
our scepticism, it must be frankly said, like most scepticism, grows
out of our ignorance. True art has nothing in common with the popular
conception of its nature and uses. Instead of being decorative, it is
organic; when men arrive at a certain stage of ripeness and power they
express themselves through its forms as naturally as the tree puts
forth its flowers. Nothing which lies within the range of human
achievement is more real or inevitable. This expression is neither
mechanical nor artificial; it is made under certain inflexible laws,
but they are the laws of the human spirit, not the rules of a craft;
they are rooted in that deeper psychology which deals with man as an
organic whole and not as a bundle of separate faculties.

It was once pointed out to Tennyson that he had scrupulously
conformed, in a certain poem, to a number of rules of versification
and to certain principles in the use of different sound values. "Yes,"
answered the poet in substance, "I carefully observed all those rules
and was entirely unconscious of them!" There was no contradiction
between the Laureate's practice of his craft and the technical rules
which govern it. The poet's instinct kept him in harmony with those
essential and vital principles of language of which the formal rules
are simply didactic statements.

Art, it need hardly be said, is never artifice; intelligence and
calculation enter into the work of the artist, but in the last
analysis it is the free and noble expression of his own personality.
It expresses what is deepest and most significant in him, and
expresses it in a final rather than a provisional form. The secret of
the reality and power of art lies in the fact that it is the
culmination and summing up of a process of observation, experience,
and feeling; it is the deposit of whatever is richest and most
enduring in the life of a man or a race. It is a finality both of
experience and of thought; it contains the ultimate and the widest
conception of man's nature and life, or of the meaning and reality of
Nature, which an age or a race reaches. It is the supreme flowering of
the genius of a race or an age. It has, therefore, the highest
educational value. For the very highest products of man's life in this
world are his ideas and ideals; they grow out of his highest nature;
they react on his character; they are the precious deposit of all that
he has thought, felt, suffered, and done in word and work, in feeling
and action. The richest educational material upon which modern men are
nourished are these ultimate conclusions and convictions of the
Hebrew, the Greek, and the Roman. These ultimate inferences, these
final interpretations of their own natures and of the world about
them, contain not only the thought of these races, but their life as
well. They have, therefore, a vital quality which not only assures
their own immortality, but has the power of transmission to others.
These ultimate results of experience are embodied in art, and
especially in literature; and that which makes them art is this very
vitality. For this reason art is absolutely essential for culture; it
has the power of enriching and expanding the natures which come in
contact with it by transmitting to them the highest results of the
life of the past, by sharing with them the ripeness and maturity of
the human spirit in its universal experience.

Chapter VI.

The Books of Life.

The books of power, as distinguished from the books of knowledge,
include the original, creative, first-hand books in all literatures,
and constitute, in the last analysis, a comparatively small group,
with which any student can thoroughly familiarise himself. The
literary impulse of the race has expressed itself in a great variety
of works, of varying charm and power; but the books which are
fountain-heads of vitality, ideas, and beauty, are few in number.
These original and dominant creations may be called the books of life,
if one may venture to modify De Quincey's well-worn phrase. For that
which is deepest in this group of masterpieces is not power, but
something greater and more inclusive, of which power is but a single
form of expression,--life; that quintessence of the unbroken
experience and activity of the race which includes not only thought,
power, beauty, and every kind of skill, but, below all these, the
living soul of the living man.

If it be true, as many believe, that the fundamental process of the
universe, so far as we can understand it, is not intellectual, but
vital, it follows that the deepest things which men have learned have
come to them not as the result of processes of thought, but as the
result of the process of living. It is evident that certain definite
purposes are being wrought out through physical forms, processes, and
forces; science reveals clearly enough certain great lines of
development. In like manner, although with very significant
differences, certain deep lines of growth and expansion become more
and more clear in human history. Through the bare process of living,
men not only learn fundamental facts about themselves and their world,
but they are evidently working out certain purposes. Of these purposes
they do not, it is true, possess full knowledge; but complete
knowledge is necessary neither for the demonstration of the existence
of the purpose nor for those ethical and intellectual uses which that
knowledge serves. The life of the race is a revelation of the nature
of man, of the character of his relations with his surroundings, and
of the certain great lines of development along which the race is
moving. Every leading race has its characteristic thought concerning
its own nature, its relation to the world, and the character and
quality of life. These various fundamental conceptions have shaped all
definite thinking, and have very largely moulded race character, and,
therefore, determined race destiny. The Hebrew, the Greek, and the
Roman conceptions of life constitute not only the key to the diverse
histories of the leaders of ancient civilisation, but also their most
vital contribution to civilisation. These conceptions were not
definitely thought out; they were worked out. They were the result of
the contact of these different peoples with Nature, with the
circumstances of their own time, and with those universal experiences
which fall to the lot of all men, and which are, in the long run, the
prime sources and instruments of human education.

The interpretations of life which each of these races has left us are
revelations both of race character and of life itself; they embody the
highest thought, the deepest feeling, the most searching experiences,
the keenest suffering, the most strenuous activity. In these
interpretations are expressed and represented the inner and essential
life of each race; in them the soul of the elder world survives. Now,
these interpretations constitute, in their highest forms, not only the
supreme art of the world, but they are also the richest educational
material accessible to men. Information and discipline may be drawn
from other sources, but that culture which means the enrichment and
unfolding of a man's self is largely developed by familiarity with
those ultimate conclusions of man about himself which are the deposit
of all that he has thought, suffered, wrought, and been,--those deep
deposits of truth silently formed in the heart of the race in the long
and painful working out of its life, its character, and its destiny.
For these rich interpretations we must turn to art, and especially to
the art of literature; and in literature we must turn especially to
the small group of works which, by reason of the adequacy with which
they convey and illustrate these interpretations, hold the first
places,--the books of life.

The man who would get the ripest culture from books ought to read
many, but there are a few books which he must read; among them, first
and foremost, are the Bible, and the works of Homer, Dante,
Shakespeare, and Goethe. These are the supreme books of life as
distinguished from the books of knowledge and skill. They hold their
places because they combine in the highest degree vitality, truth,
power, and beauty. They are the central reservoirs into which the
rivulets of individual experience over a vast surface have been
gathered; they are the most complete revelations of what life has
brought and has been to the leading races; they bring us into contact
with the heart and soul of humanity. They not only convey information,
and, rightly used, impart discipline, but they transmit life. There is
a vitality in them which passes on into the nature which is open to
receive it. They have again and again inspired intellectual movements
on a wide scale, as they are constantly recreating individual ideals
and aims. Whatever view may be held of the authority of the Bible, it
is agreed that its power as literature has been incalculable by reason
of the depth of life which it sounds and the range of life which it
compasses. There is power enough in it to revive a decaying age or
give a new date and a fresh impulse to a race which has parted with
its creative energy. The reappearance of the New Testament in Greek,
after the long reign of the Vulgate, contributed mightily to that
renewal and revival of life which we call the Reformation; while its
translation into the modern languages liberated a moral and
intellectual force of which no adequate measurement can be made. In
like manner, though in lesser degree, the "Iliad" and "Odyssey," the
"Divine Comedy," the plays of Shakespeare, and "Faust" have set new
movements in motion and have enriched and enlarged the lives of races.

With these books of life every man ought to hold the most intimate
relationship; they are not to be read once and put on the upper
shelves of the library among those classics which establish one's
claim to good intellectual standing, but which silently gather the
dust of isolation and solitude; they are to be always at hand. The
barrier of language has disappeared so far as they are concerned; they
are to be had in many and admirable translations; one evidence of
their power is afforded by the fact that every new age of literary
development and every new literary movement feels compelled to
translate them afresh. The changes of taste in English literature and
the notable phases through which it has passed since the days of the
Elizabethans might be traced or inferred from the successive
translations of Homer, from the work of Chapman to that of Andrew
Lang. One needs to read many books, to browse in many fields, to know
the art of many countries; but the books of life ought to form the
background of every life of thought and study. They need not, indeed
they cannot, be mastered at once; but by reading in them constantly,
for brief or for long intervals, one comes to know them familiarly,
and almost insensibly to gain the enrichment and enlargement which
they offer. Moreover, they afford tenfold greater and more lasting
delight, recreation, and variety than all the works of lesser writers.
Whoever knows them in a real sense knows life, humanity, art, and

Chapter VII.

From the Book to the Reader.

The study which has found its material and its reward in Dante's
"Divine Comedy" or in Goethe's "Faust" is the best possible evidence
of the inexhaustible interest in the masterpieces of these two great
poets. Libraries of considerable dimensions have been written in the
way of commentaries upon, and expositions of, their notable works.
Many of these books are, it is true, deficient in insight and
possessed of very little power of interpretation or illumination; they
are the products of a barren, dry-as-dust industry, which has expended
itself upon external characteristics and incidental references.
Nevertheless, the very volume and mass of these secondary books
witness to the fertility of the first-hand books with which they deal,
and show beyond dispute that men have an insatiable desire to get at
their interior meanings. If these great poems had been mere
illustrations of individual skill and gift, this interest would have
long ago exhausted itself. That singular and unsurpassed qualities of
construction, style, and diction are present in "Faust" and the
"Divine Comedy" need not be emphasised, since they both belong to the
very highest class of literary production; but there is something
deeper and more vital in them: there is a philosophy or interpretation
of life. Each of these poems is a revelation of what man is and of
what his life means; and it is this deep truth, or set of truths, at
the heart of these works which we are always striving to reach and
make clear to ourselves.

In the case of neither poem did the writer content himself with an
exposition of his own experience; in both cases there is an attempt to
embody and put in concrete form an immense section of universal
experience. Neither poem could have been written if there had not been
a long antecedent history, rich in every kind and quality of human
contact with the world, and of the working out of the forces which are
in every human soul. These two forms of activity represent in a
general way what men have learned about themselves and their
surroundings; and, taken together, they constitute the material out of
which interpretations and explanations of human life have been made.
These explanations vary according to the genius, the environment, and
the history of races but in every case they represent the very soul of
race life, for they are the spiritual forms in which that life has
expressed itself. Other forms of race activity, however valuable or
beautiful, are lost in the passage of time, or are taken up and
absorbed, and so part with their separate and individual existence;
but the quintessence of experience and thought expressed in great
works of art is gathered up and preserved, as Milton said, for "a life
beyond life."

Now, it is upon this imperishable food which the past has stored up
through the genius of great artists that later generations feed and
nourish themselves. It is through intimate contact with these
fundamental conceptions, worked out with such infinite pain and
patience, that the individual experience is broadened to include the
experience of the race. This contact is the mystery as it is the
source of culture. No one can explain the transmission of power from a
book to a reader; but all history bears witness to the fact that such
transmissions are made. Sometimes, as during what is called the
Revival of Learning, the transmission is so general and so genuine
that the life of an entire society is visibly quickened and enlarged;
indeed, it is not too much to say that an entire civilisation feels
the effect. The transmission of power, the transference of vitality,
from books to individuals are so constant and common that they are
matters of universal experience. Most men of any considerable culture
date the successive enlargements of their intellectual lives from the
reading, at successive periods, of the books of insight and
power,--the books that deal with life at firsthand. There are, for
instance, few men of a certain age who have read widely or deeply who
do not recall with perennial enthusiasm the days when Carlyle and
Emerson fell into their hands. They may have reacted radically from
the didactic teaching of both writers, but they have not lost the
impulse, nor have they parted with the enlargement of thought received
in those first rapturous hours of discovery. There was wrought in them
then changes of view, expansions of nature, a liberation of life which
can never be lost. This experience is repeated so long as the man
retains the power of growth and so long as he keeps in contact with
the great writers. Every such contact marks a new stage in the process
of culture. This means not merely the deep satisfaction and delight
which are involved in every fresh contact with a genuine work of art;
it means the permanent enrichment of the reader. He has gained
something more lasting than pleasure and more valuable than
information: he has gained a new view of life; he has looked again
into the heart of humanity; he has felt afresh the supreme interest
which always attaches to any real contact with the life of the race.
And all this comes to him not only because the life of the race is
essentially dramatic and, therefore, of quite inexhaustible interest,
but because that life is essentially a revelation. A series of
fundamental truths is being disclosed through the simple process of
living, and whoever touches the deep life of men in the great works of
art comes in contact also with these fundamental truths. Whoever reads
the "Divine Comedy" and "Faust" for the first time discovers new
realms of truth for himself, and gains not only the joy of discovery,
but an immense addition of territory as well.

The most careless and superficial readers do not remain untouched by
the books of life; they fail to understand them or get the most out of
them, but they do not escape the spell which they all possess,--the
power of compelling the attention and stirring the heart. Not many
years ago the stories of the Russian novelists were in all hands. That
the fashion has passed is evident enough, and it is also evident that
the craving for these books was largely a fashion. Nevertheless, the
fashion itself was due to the real power which those stories revealed,
and which constitutes their lasting contribution to the world's
literature. They were touched with a profound sadness, which was
exhaled like a mist by the conditions they portrayed; they were full
of a sympathy born of knowledge and of sorrow; their roots were in the
rich soil of the life they described. The latest of them, Count
Tolstoi's "Master and Man," is one of those masterpieces which take
rank at once, not by reason of their magnitude, but by reason of a
certain beautiful quality which comes only to the man whose heart is
pressed against the heart of his theme, and who divines what life is
in the inarticulate soul of his brother man. Such books are the rich
material of culture to the man who reads them with his heart, because
they add to his experience a kind of experience otherwise inaccessible
to him, which quickens, refreshes, and broadens his own nature.

Chapter VIII.

By Way of Illustration.

The peculiar quality which culture imparts is beyond the comprehension
of a child, and yet it is something so definite and engaging that a
child may recognise its presence and feel its attraction. One of the
special pieces of good fortune which fell to my boyhood was
companionship with a man whose note of distinction, while not entirely
clear to me, threw a spell over me. I knew other men of greater force
and of larger scholarship; but no one else gave me such an impression
of balance, ripeness, and fineness of quality. I not only felt a
peculiarly searching influence flowing from one who graciously put
himself on my level of intelligence, but I felt also an impulse to
emulate a nature which satisfied my imagination completely. Other men
of ability whose conversation I heard filled me with admiration; this
man made the world larger and richer to my boyish thought. There was
no didacticism on his part; there was, on the contrary, a simplicity
so great that I felt entirely at home with him; but he was so
thoroughly a citizen of the world that I caught a glimpse of the world
in his most casual talk. I got a sense of the largeness and richness
of life from him. I did not know what it was which laid such hold on
my mind, but I saw later that it was the remarkable culture of the
man,--a culture made possible by many fortunate conditions of wealth,
station, travel, and education, and expressing itself in a peculiar
largeness of vision and sweetness of spirit. In this man's friendship
I was for the moment lifted out of my own crudity into that vast
movement and experience in which all the races have shared.

I am often reminded of this early impulse and enthusiasm, but there
are occasions when its significance and value become especially clear
to me. It was brought forcibly to my mind several years ago by an hour
or two of talk with one who, as truly as any other American, stands as
a representative man of culture; one, that is, whose large scholarship
has been so completely absorbed that it has enriched the very texture
of his mind, and given him the gift of sharing the experience of the
race. It was on an evening when a play of Sophocles was to be rendered
by the students of a certain university in which the tradition of
culture has never wholly died out, and I led the talk along the lines
of the play. I was rewarded by an hour of such delight as comes only
from the best kind of talk, and I felt anew the peculiar charm and
power of culture. For what I got that enriched me and prepared me for
real comprehension of one of the greatest works of art in all
literature was not information, but atmosphere. I saw rising about me
the vanished life, which the dramatist knew so well that its secrets
of conviction and temperament were all open to him; in architecture,
poetry, religion, politics, and manners, it was quietly rebuilded for
me in such wise that my own imagination was stirred to meet the talker
half-way, and to fill in the outlines of a picture so swiftly and
skilfully sketched. When I went to the play I went as a contemporary
of its writer might have gone. I did not need to enter into it, for it
had already entered into me. A man of scholarship could have set the
period before me in a mass of facts; a man of culture alone could give
me power to share, for an evening at least, its spirit and life.

These personal illustrations will be pardoned, because they bring out
in the most concrete way that special quality which marks the
possession of culture in the deepest sense. That quality allies it
very closely with genius itself, in certain aspects of that rare and
inexplicable gift. For one of the most characteristic qualities of
genius is its power of divination, of sharing alien or diverse
experiences. It is this peculiar insight which puts the great
dramatists in possession of the secrets of so many temperaments, the
springs of so many different personalities, the atmosphere of such
remote periods of time,--which, in a way, gives them power to make the
dead live again; for Shakespeare can stand at the tomb of Cleopatra
and evoke not the shade, but the passionate woman herself out of the
dust in which she sleeps. There has been, perhaps, no more luminous
example of the faculty of sharing the experience of a past age, of
entering into the thought and feeling of a vanished race, than the
peculiar divination and rehabilitation of certain extinct phases of
emotion and thought which one finds in the pages of Walter Pater. In
those pages there are, it is true, occasional lapses from a perfectly
sound method; there is at times a loss of simplicity, a cloying
sweetness in the style of this accomplished writer. These are,
however, the perils of a very sensitive temperament, an intense
feeling for beauty, and a certain seclusion from the affairs of life.
That which characterises Mr. Pater at all times is his power of
putting himself amid conditions that are not only extinct, but obscure
and elusive; of winding himself back, as it were, into the primitive
Greek consciousness and recovering for the moment the world as the
Greeks saw, or, rather, felt it. It is an easy matter to mass the
facts about any given period; it is a very different and a very
difficult matter to set those facts in vital relations to each other,
to see them in true prospective. And the difficulties are immensely
increased when the period is not only remote, but deficient in
definite registry of thought and feeling; when the record of what it
believed and felt does not exist by itself, but must be deciphered
from those works of art in which is preserved the final form of
thought and feeling, and in which are gathered and merged a great mass
of ideas and emotions.

This is especially true of the more subtle and elusive Greek myths,
which were in no case creations of the individual imagination or of
definite periods of time, but which were fed by many tributaries, very
slowly taking shape out of general but shadowy impressions, widely
diffused but vague ideas, deeply felt but obscure emotions. To get at
the heart of one of these stories one must be able not only to enter
into the thought of the unknown poets who made their contributions to
the myth, but must also be able to disentangle the threads of idea and
feeling so deftly woven together, and follow each back to its shadowy
beginning. To do this, one must have not only knowledge, but sympathy
and imagination,--those closely related qualities which get at the
soul of knowledge and make it live again; those qualities which the
man of culture shares in no small measure with the man of genius. In
his studies of such myths as those which gather about Dionysus and
Demeter this is precisely what Mr. Pater did. He not only marked out
distinctly the courses of the main streams, but he followed back the
rivulets to their fountain-heads; he not only mastered the thought of
an extinct people, but, what is much more difficult, he put off his
knowledge and put on their ignorance; he not only entered into their
thought about the world of nature which surrounded them, but he
entered into their feeling about it. Very lightly touched and charming
is, for instance, his description of the habits and haunts and worship
of Demeter, the current impressions of her service and place in the
life of the world:--

  "Demeter haunts the fields in spring, when the young lambs are
  dropped; she visits the barns in autumn; she takes part in mowing
  and binding up the corn, and is the goddess of sheaves. She
  presides over the pleasant, significant details of the farm, the
  threshing-floor, and the full granary, and stands beside the
  woman baking bread at the oven. With these fancies are connected
  certain simple rites, the half-understood local observance and
  the half-believed local legend reacting capriciously on each
  other. They leave her a fragment of bread and a morsel of meat at
  the crossroads to take on her journey; and perhaps some real
  Demeter carries them away, as she wanders through the country.
  The incidents of their yearly labour become to them acts of
  worship; they seek her blessing through many expressive names,
  and almost catch sight of her at dawn or evening, in the nooks of
  the fragrant fields. She lays a finger on the grass at the
  roadside, and some new flower comes up. All the picturesque
  implements of country life are hers; the poppy also, emblem of an
  exhaustless fertility, and full of mysterious juices for the
  alleviation of pain. The country-woman who puts her child to
  sleep in the great, cradle-like basket for winnowing the corn
  remembers Demeter _Kourotrophos_, the mother of corn and
  children alike, and makes it a little coat out of the dress worn
  by its father at his initiation into her mysteries.... She lies
  on the ground out-of-doors on summer nights, and becomes wet with
  the dew. She grows young again every spring, yet is of great age,
  the wrinkled woman of the Homeric hymn, who becomes the nurse of

This bit of description moves with so light a foot that one forgets,
as true art always makes one forget, the mass of hard and scattered
materials which lie back of it, materials which would not have yielded
their secret of unity and vitality save to imagination and sympathy;
to knowledge which has ripened into culture. But the recovery of such
a story, the reconstruction of such a figure, are not affected by
description alone; one must penetrate to the heart of the myth, and
master the significance of the woman transformed by idealisation into
a beneficent and much labouring goddess. We must go with Mr. Pater a
step farther if we would understand how a man of culture divines the
deeper experiences of an alien race:--

  "Three profound ethical conceptions, three impressive sacred
  figures, have now defined themselves for the Greek imagination,
  condensed from all the traditions which have now been traced,
  from the hymns of the poets, from the instinctive and
  unformulated mysticism of primitive minds. Demeter is become the
  divine, sorrowing mother. Kore, the goddess of summer, is become
  Persephone, the goddess of death, still associated with the forms
  and odours of flowers and fruit, yet as one risen from the dead
  also, presenting one side of her ambiguous nature to men's
  gloomier fancies. Thirdly, there is the image of Demeter
  enthroned, chastened by sorrow, and somewhat advanced in age,
  blessing the earth in her joy at the return of Kore. The myth has
  now entered upon the third phase of its life, in which it becomes
  the property of those more elevated spirits, who, in the decline
  of the Greek religion, pick and choose and modify, with perfect
  freedom of mind, whatever in it may seem adapted to minister to
  their culture. In this way the myths of the Greek religion become
  parts of an ideal, visible embodiments of the susceptibilities
  and intentions of the nobler kind of souls; and it is to this
  latest phase of mythological development that the highest Greek
  sculpture allies itself."

This illustration of the divination by which the man of culture
possesses himself of a half-forgotten and obscurely recorded
experience and rehabilitates and interprets it, is so complete that it
makes amplification superfluous.

Chapter IX.


"It is undeniable," says Matthew Arnold, "that the exercise of a
creative power, that a free creative activity is the highest function
of man; it is proved to be so by man's finding in it his true
happiness." If this be true, and the heart of man apart from all
testimony affirms it, then the great books not only embody and express
the genius and vital knowledge of the race which created them, but
they are the products of the highest activity of man in the finest
moments of his life. They represent a high felicity no less than a
noble gift; they are the memorials of a happiness which may have been
brief, but which, while it lasted, had a touch of the divine in it;
for men are never nearer divinity than in their creative impulses and
moments. Homer may have been blind; but if he composed the epics which
bear his name he must have known moments of purer happiness than his
most fortunate contemporary; Dante missed the lesser comforts of life,
but there were hours of transcendent joy in his lonely career. For the
highest joy of which men taste is the full, free, and noble putting
forth of the power that is in them; no moments in human experience are
so thrilling as those in which a man's soul goes out from him into
some adequate and beautiful form of expression. In the act of creation
a man incorporates his own personality into the visible world about
him, and in a true and noble sense gives himself to his fellows. When
an artist looks at his work he sees himself; he has performed the
highest task of which he is capable, and fulfilled the highest purpose
for which he was planned by an artist greater than himself.

The rapture of the creative mood and moment is the reward of the little
group whose touch on any kind of material is imperishable. It comes
when the spell of inspired work is on them, or in the moment which
follows immediately on completion and before the reaction of
depression--which is the heavy penalty of the artistic temperament--has
set in. Balzac knew it in that frenzy of work which seized him for days
together; and Thackeray knew it, as he confesses, when he had put the
finishing touches on that striking scene in which Rawdon Crawley
thrashes Lord Steyne within an inch of his wicked life. The great
novelist, who happened also to be a great writer, knew that the whole
scene, in conception and execution, was a stroke of genius. But while
this supreme rapture belongs to a chosen few, it may be shared by all
those who are ready to open the imagination to its approach. It is one
of the great rewards of the artist that while other kinds of joy are
often pathetically short-lived, his joy, having brought forth enduring
works, is, in a sense, imperishable. And it not only endures; it renews
itself in kindred moments and experiences which it bestows upon those
who approach it sympathetically. There are lines in the "Divine Comedy"
which thrill us to-day as they must have thrilled Dante; there are
passages in the Shakespearian plays and sonnets which make a riot in
the blood to-day as they doubtless set the poet's pulses beating three
centuries ago. The student of literature, therefore, finds in its
noblest works not only the ultimate results of race experience and the
characteristic quality of race genius, but the highest activity of the
greatest minds in their happiest and most expansive moments. In this
commingling of the best that is in the race and the best that is in
the individual lies the mystery of that double revelation which makes
every work of art a disclosure not only of the nature of the man
behind it, but of all men behind him. In this commingling, too, is
preserved the most precious deposit of what the race has been and
done, and of what the man has seen, felt, and known. In the nature of
things no educational material can be richer; none so fundamentally
expansive and illuminative.

This contact with the richest personalities the world has produced is
one of the deepest sources of culture; for nothing is more truly
educative than association with persons of the highest intelligence
and power. When a man recalls his educational experience, he finds
that many of his richest opportunities were not identified with
subjects or systems or apparatus, but with teachers. There is
fundamental truth in Emerson's declaration that it makes very little
difference what you study, but that it is in the highest degree
important with whom you study. There flows from the living teacher a
power which no text-book can compass or contain,--the power of
liberating the imagination and setting the student free to become an
original investigator. Text-books supply methods, information, and
discipline; teachers impart the breath of life by giving us
inspiration and impulse. Now, the great books are different from all
other books in their possession of this mysterious vital force; they
are not only text-books by reason of the knowledge they contain, but
they are also books of life by reason of the disclosure of personality
which they make. The student of "Faust" receives from that drama not
only the poet's interpretation of man's life in the world, but he is
also brought under the spell of Goethe's personality, and, in a real
sense, gets from his book that which his friends got from the man.
This is not true of secondary books; it is true only of first-hand
books. Secondary books are often products of skill, pieces of
well-wrought but entirely self-conscious craftsmanship; first-hand
books are always the expression of what is deepest, most original and
distinctive in the nature which produces them. In such books,
therefore, we get not only the skill, the art, the knowledge; we get,
above all, the man. There is added to what he has to give us of
thought or form the inestimable boon of his companionship.

The reality of this element of personality and the force for culture
which resides in it are clearly illustrated by a comparison of the
works of Plato with those of Aristotle. Aristotle was for many
centuries the first name in philosophy, and is still one of the
greatest; but Aristotle, although a student of the principles of the
art of literature and a critic of deep philosophical insight, was
primarily a thinker, not an artist. One goes to him for discipline,
for thought, for training in a very high sense; one does not go to him
for form, beauty, or personality. It is a clear, distinct, logical
order of ideas, a definite system which he gives us; not a view of
life, a disclosure of the nature of man, a synthesis of ideas touched
with beauty, dramatically arranged and set in the atmosphere of
Athenian life. For these things one goes to Plato, who is not only a
thinker, but an artist of wonderful gifts,--one who so closely and
beautifully relates Greek thought to Greek life that we seem not to be
studying a system of philosophy, but mingling with the society of
Athens in its most fascinating groups and at its most significant
moments. To the student of Aristotle the personality of the writer
counts for nothing; to the student of the "Dialogues," on the other
hand, the personality of Plato counts for everything. If we approach
him as a thinker, it is true, we discard everything except his ideas;
but if we approach him as a great writer, ideas are but part of the
rich and illuminating whole which he offers us. One can imagine a man
fully acquainting himself with the work of Aristotle and yet remaining
almost devoid of culture; but one cannot imagine a man coming into
intimate companionship with Plato and remaining untouched by his rich,
representative personality.

From such a companionship something must flow besides an enlargement
of ideas or a development of the power of clear thinking; there must
flow also the stimulating and illuminating impulse of a fresh contact
with a great nature; there must result a certain liberation of the
imagination, a certain widening of experience, a certain ripening of
the mind of the student. The beauty of form, the varied and vital
aspects of religious, social, and individual character, the splendour
and charm of a nobly ordered art in temples, speech, manners, and
dress, the constant suggestion of the deep humanism behind that art
and of the freshness and reality of all its forms of expression,--these
things are as much and as great a part of the "Dialogues" as the
thought; and they are full of that quality which enriches and ripens
the mind that comes under their influence. In these qualities of his
style, quite as much as in his ideas, is to be found the real Plato,
the great artist, who refused to consider philosophy as an abstract
creation of the mind, existing, so far as man is concerned, apart from
the mind which formulates it, but who saw life in its totality and
made thought luminous and real by disclosing it at all points against
the background of the life, the nature, and the habits of the thinker.
This is the method of culture as distinguished from that of scholarship;
and this is also the disclosure of the personality of Plato as
distinguished from his philosophical genius. Whoever studies the
"Dialogues" with his heart as well as with his mind comes into
personal relations with the richest mind of antiquity.

Chapter X.

Liberation through Ideas.

Matthew Arnold was in the habit of dwelling on the importance of a
free movement of fresh ideas through society; the men who are in touch
with such movements are certain to be productive, while those whose
minds are not fed by this stimulus are likely to remain unfruitful.
One of the most suggestive and beautiful facts in the spiritual
history of men is the exhilaration which a great new thought brings
with it; the thrilling moments in history are the moments of contact
between such ideas and the minds which are open to their approach. It
is true that fresh ideas often gain acceptance slowly and against
great odds in the way of organised error and of individual inertness
and dulness; nevertheless, it is also true that certain great ideas
rapidly clarify themselves in the thought of almost every century.
They are opposed and rejected by a multitude, but they are in the air,
as we say; they seem to diffuse themselves through all fields of
thought, and they are often worked out harmoniously in different
departments by men who have no concert of action, but whose minds are
open and sensitive to these invisible currents of light and power.

The first and the most enduring result of this movement of ideas is
the enlargement of the thoughts of men about themselves and their
world. Every great new truth compels, sooner or later, a readjustment
of the whole body of organised truth as men hold it. The fresh thought
about the physical constitution of man bears its fruit ultimately in
some fresh notion of his spiritual constitution; the new fact in
geology does not spend its force until it has wrought a modification
of the view of the creative method and the age of man in the world;
the fresh conception of the method of evolution along material and
physical lines slowly reconstructs the philosophy of mental and
spiritual development. Every new thought relates itself finally to all
thought, and is like the forward step which continually changes the
horizon about the traveller.

The history of man is the story of the ideas he has entertained and
accepted, and of his struggle to incorporate these ideas into laws,
customs, institutions, and character. At the heart of every race one
finds certain ideas, not always clearly seen nor often definitely
formulated save by a few persons, but unconsciously held with
deathless tenacity and illustrated by a vast range of action and
achievement; at the heart of every great civilisation one finds a few
dominant and vital conceptions which give a certain coherence and
unity to a vast movement of life. Now, the books of life, as has
already been said, hold their place in universal literature because
they reveal and illustrate, in symbol and personality, these
fundamental ideas with supreme power and felicity. The large body of
literature in prose and verse which is put between the covers of the
Old Testament not only gives us an account of what the Hebrew race did
in the world, but of its ideas about that world, and of the character
which it formed for itself largely as the fruit of those ideas. Those
ideas, it need hardly be said, not only registered a great advance on
the ideas which preceded them, but remain in many respects the most
fundamental ideas which the race as a whole has accepted. They lifted
the men to whom they were originally revealed, or who accepted them,
to a great height of spiritual and moral vision, and a race character
was organised about them of the most powerful and persistent type. The
modern student of the Old Testament is born into a very different
atmosphere from that in which these conceptions of man and the
universe were originally formed; but though they have largely lost
their novelty, they have not lost the power of enlargement and
expansion which were in them at the beginning.

In his own history every man repeats, within certain limits, the
history of the race; and the inexhaustible educational value of race
experience lies in the fact that it so completely parallels the
history of every member of the race. Childhood has the fancies and
faiths of the earliest ages; youth has visions and dreams which form,
generation after generation, a kind of contemporary mythology;
maturity aspires after and sometimes attains the repose, the clear
intelligence, the catholic outlook of the best modern type of mind and
character. In some form every modern man travels the road over which
his predecessors have passed, but he no longer blazes his path; a
highway has been built for him. He is spared the immense toil of
formulating the ideas by which he lives, and of passing through the
searching experience which is often the only approach to the greatest
truths. If he has originative power, he forms ideas of his own, but
they are based on a massive foundation of ideas which others have
worked out for him; he passes through his own individual experience,
but he inherits the results of a multitude of experiences of which
nothing remains save certain final generalisations. Every intelligent
man is born into possession of a world of knowledge and truth which
has been explored, settled, and organised for him. To the discovery
and regulation of this world every race has worked with more or less
definiteness of aim, and the total result of the incalculable labours
and sufferings of men is the somewhat intangible but very real thing
we call civilisation.

At the heart of civilisation, and determining its form and quality, is
that group of vital ideas to which each race has contributed according
to its intelligence and power,--the measure of the greatness of a race
being determined by the value of its contribution to this organised
spiritual life of the world. This body of ideas is the highest product
of the life of men under historic conditions; it is the quintessence
of whatever was best and enduring not only in their thought, but in
their feeling, their instinct, their affections, their activities; and
the degree in which the man of to-day is able to appropriate this rich
result of the deepest life of the past is the measure of his culture.
One may be well-trained and carefully disciplined, and yet have no
share in this organised life of the race; but no one can possess real
culture who has not, according to his ability, entered into it by
making it a part of himself. It is by contact with these great ideas
that the individual mind puts itself in touch with the universal mind
and indefinitely expands and enriches itself.

Culture rests on ideas rather than on knowledge; its distinctive use
of knowledge is to gain material for ideas. For this reason the
"Iliad" and "Odyssey" are of more importance than Thucydides and
Curtius. For Homer was not only in a very important sense the
historian of his race; he was, above all, the expositor of its ideas.
There is involved in the very structure of the Greek epics the
fundamental conception of life as the Greeks looked at it; their view
of reverence, worship, law, obligation, subordination, personality. No
one can be said to have read these poems in any real sense until he
has made these ideas clear to himself; and these ideas carry with them
a definite enlargement of thought. When a man has gotten a clear view
of the ideas about life held by a great race, he has gone a long way
towards self-education,--so rich and illuminative are these central
conceptions around which the life of each race has been organised. To
multiply these ideas by broad contact with the books of life is to
expand one's thought so as to compass the essential thought of the
entire race. And this is precisely what the man of broad culture
accomplishes; he emancipates himself from whatever is local,
provincial, and temporal, by gaining the power of taking the race
point of view. He is liberated by ideas, not only from his own
ignorance and the limitations of his own nature, but from the partial
knowledge and the prejudices of his time; and liberation by ideas, and
expansion through ideas, constitute one of the great services of the
books of life to those who read them with an open mind.

Chapter XI.

The Logic of Free Life.

The ideas which form the substance or substratum of the greatest books
are not primarily the products of pure thought; they have a far deeper
origin, and their immense power of enlightenment and enrichment lies
in the depth of their rootage in the unconscious life of the race. If
it be true that the fundamental process of the physical universe and
of the life of man, so far as we can understand them, is not
intellectual, but vital, then it is also true that the formative ideas
by which we live, and in the clear comprehension of which the
greatness of intellectual and spiritual life for us lies, have been
borne in upon the race by living rather than by thinking. They are
felt and experienced first, and formulated later. It is clear that a
definite purpose is being wrought out through physical processes in
the world of matter; it is equally clear to most men that moral and
spiritual purposes are being worked out through the processes which
constitute the conditions of our being and acting in this world. It
has been the engrossing and fruitful study of science to discover the
processes and comprehend the ends of the physical order; it is the
highest office of art to discover and illustrate, for the most part
unconsciously, the processes and results of the spiritual order by
setting forth in concrete form the underlying and formative ideas of
races and periods.

"The thought that makes the work of art," says Mr. John La Farge in a
discussion of the art of painting of singular insight and
intelligence, "the thought which in its highest expression we call
genius, is not reflection or reflective thought. The thought which
analyses has the same deficiencies as our eyes. It can fix only one
point at a time. It is necessary for it to examine each element of
consideration, and unite it to others, to make a whole. But the
_logic of free life, which is the logic of art_, is like that
logic of one using the eye, in which we make most wonderful
combinations of momentary adaptation, by co-ordinating innumerable
memories, by rejecting those that are useless or antagonistic; and all
without being aware of it, so that those especially who most use the
eye, as, for instance, the painter or the hunter, are unaware of more
than one single, instantaneous action." This is a very happy
formulation of a fundamental principle in art; indeed, it brings
before us the essential quality of art, its illustration of thought in
the order not of a formal logic, but of the logic of free life. It is
at this point that it is differentiated from philosophy; it is from
this point that its immense spiritual significance becomes clear. In
the great books fundamental ideas are set forth not in a systematic
way, nor as the results of methodical teaching, but as they rise over
the vast territory of actual living, and are clarified by the
long-continued and many-sided experience of the race. Every book of
the first order in literature of the creative kind is a final
generalisation from a vast experience. It is, to use Mr. La Farge's
phrase, the co-ordination of innumerable memories,--memories shared by
an innumerable company of persons, and becoming, at length and after
long clarification, a kind of race memory; and this memory is so
inclusive and tenacious that it holds intact the long and varied play
of soil, sky, scenery, climate, faith, myth, suffering, action,
historic process, through which the race has passed and by which it
has been largely formed.

The ideas which underlie the great books bring with them, therefore,
when we really receive them into our minds, the entire background of
the life out of which they took their rise. We are not only permitted
to refresh ourselves at the inexhaustible spring, but, as we drink,
the entire sweep of landscape, to the remotest mountains in whose
heart its sources are hidden, encompasses us like a vast living world.
It is, in other words, the totality of things which great art gives
us,--not things in isolation and detachment. Mr. La Farge will pardon
further quotation; he admirably states this great truth when he says
that "in a work of art, executed through the body, and appealing to
the mind through the senses, the entire make-up of its creator
addresses the entire constitution of the man for whom it is meant."
One may go further, and say of the greatest books that the whole race
speaks through them to the whole man who puts himself in a receptive
mood towards them. This totality of influences, conditions, and
history which goes to the making of books of this order receives
dramatic unity, artistic sequence, and integral order and coherence
from the personality of the writer. He gathers into himself the
spiritual results of the experience of his people or his age, and
through his genius for expression the vast general background of his
personal life, which, as in the case of Homer, for instance, has
entirely faded from view, rises once more in clear vision before us.
"In any museum," says Mr. La Farge, "we can see certain great
differences in things; which are so evident, so much on the surface,
as almost to be our first impressions. They are the marks of the
places where the works of art were born. Climate; intensity of heat
and light; the nature of the earth; whether there was much or little
water in proportion to land; plants, animals, surrounding beings, have
helped to make these differences, as well as manners, laws, religions,
and national ideals. If you recall the more general physical
impression of a gallery of Flemish paintings and of a gallery of
Italian masters, you will have carried off in yourself two distinct
impressions received during their lives by the men of these two races.
The fact that they used their eyes more or less is only a small factor
in this enormous aggregation of influences received by them and
transmitted to us."

From this point of view the inexhaustible significance of a great work
of art becomes clear, both as regards its definite revelation of
racial and individual truth, and as regards its educational or culture
quality and value. Ideas are presented not in isolation and
detachment, but in their totality of origin and relationship; they are
not abstractions, general propositions, philosophical generalisations;
they are living truths--truths, that is, which have become clear by
long experience, and to which men stand, or have stood, in personal
relations. They are ideas, in other words, which stand together, not
in the order of formal logic, but of the "logic of free life." They
are not torn out of their normal relations; they bring all their
relationships with them. We are offered a plant in the soil, not a
flower cut from its stem. Every man is rooted to the soil, touches
through his senses the physical, and through his mind and heart the
spiritual, order of his time; all these influences are focussed in
him, and according to his capacity he gathers them into his
experience, formulates and expresses them. The greater and more
productive the man, the wider his contact with and absorption of the
life of his time. For the artist stands nearest, not farthest from his
contemporaries. He is not, however, a mere medium in their hands, not
a mere secretary or recorder of their ideas and feelings. He is
separated from them in the clearness of his vision of the significance
of their activities, the ends towards which they are moving, the ideas
which they are working out; but, in the exact degree of his greatness,
he is one with them in sympathy, experience, and comprehension. They
live for him, and he lives with them; they work out ideas in the logic
of free life, and he clarifies, interprets, and illustrates those
ideas. The world is not saved _by_ the remnant, as Matthew Arnold
held; it is saved _through_ the remnant. The elect of the race,
its prophets, teachers, artists,--and every great artist is also a
prophet and teacher,--are its leaders, not its masters; its
interpreters, not its creators. The race is dumb without its artists;
but the artists would be impossible without the sustaining fellowship
of the race. In the making of the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey" the Greek
race was in full partnership with Homer. The ideas which form the
summits of human achievement are sustained by immense masses of earth;
the higher they rise the vaster their bases. The richer and wider the
race life, the freer and deeper the play of that vital logic which
produces the formative ideas.

Chapter XII.

The Imagination.

The Lady of Shalott, sitting in her tower, looked into her magic
mirror and saw the whole world go by,--monk, maiden, priest, knight,
lady, and king. In the mirror of the imagination not only the world of
to-day but the entire movement of human life moves before the eye as
the throngs of living men move on the streets. For the imagination is
the real magician, of whose marvels all simulated magic is but a
clumsy and mechanical imitation. It is the real power, of which all
material powers are very inadequate symbols. Rarely taken into account
by teachers, largely ignored by educational systems and philosophies,
it is the divinest of all the powers which men are able to put forth,
because it is the creative power. It uses thought, but, in a way, it
is greater than thought, because it builds out of thought that which
thought alone is powerless to construct. It is, indeed, the essential
element in great constructive thinking; for while we may have thoughts
untouched by the imagination, one cannot think along high constructive
lines without its constant aid. Isolated thoughts come unattended by
it, but the thinking which issues in organised systems, in
comprehensive interpretations of things and events, in those noble
generalisations which have the splendour of the discovery of new
worlds in them, in those concrete embodiments of idea which we call
works of art, is conditioned on the use of the imagination. Plato's
Dialogues were fashioned by it as truly as Homer's poems; Hegel's
philosophy was created by it as definitely as Shakespeare's plays,
and Newton and Kepler used it as freely as Dante or Rembrandt.

Upon the use of this supreme faculty we depend not only for creative
power, but for education in the highest sense of the word; for culture
is the highest result of education, and the final test of education is
its power to produce culture. Goethe was in the habit of saying that
sympathy is essential to all true criticism; for no man can discern
the heart of a movement, of a work of art, or of a race who does not
put himself into heart relations with that which he is trying to
understand. We never really possess an idea, a bit of knowledge, or a
fact of experience until we get below the mind of it into the heart of
it. Now, sympathy in this sense is the imagination touched with
feeling; it is the imagination bringing thought and emotion into vital
relation. In the process of culture, therefore, the imagination plays
a great part; for culture, it cannot too often be said, is knowledge,
observation, and experience incorporate into personality and become
part of the very nature of the individual. The man of culture is
pre-eminently a man of imagination; lacking this quality, he may
become learned by force of industry, or a scholar by virtue of a
trained intelligence, but the ripeness, the balance, the peculiar
richness of fibre which characterise the man of culture will be denied
him. The man of culture, it is true, is not always a man of creative
power; but he is never devoid of that kind of creative quality which
transforms everything he receives into something personal and
individual. And the more deeply one studies the work of the great
artists, the more distinctly does he see the immense place which
culture in the vital, as contrasted with the academic, sense held in
their lives, and the great part it played in their productive
activity. Dante, Goethe, Tennyson, Browning, Lowell, were men
possessed in rare degree of culture of both kinds; but Shakespeare and
Burns were equally men of culture. They shared in the possession of
this faculty of making all they saw and knew a part of themselves.
Between culture of this quality and the creative power there is
something more than complete unity; there is almost identity, for they
seem to be two forms of activity of the same power rather than
distinct faculties. Culture enables us to receive the world into
ourselves, not in the reflection of a magic mirror, but in the depths
of a living soul; to receive that world in such a way that we possess
it; it ceases to be outside us and becomes part of our very nature.
The creative power enables us to refashion that world and to put it
forth again out of ourselves, as it was originally put forth out of
the life of the divine artist. The creative process is, therefore, a
double process, and culture and genius stand in indissoluble union.

The development of the imagination, upon the power of which both
absorption of knowledge and creative capacity depend, is, therefore, a
matter of supreme importance. To this necessity educators will some
day open their eyes, and educational systems will some day conform;
meantime, it must be done mainly by individual work. Knowledge,
discipline, and technical training of the best sort are accessible on
every hand; but the development of the faculty which unites all these
in the highest form of activity must be secured mainly by personal
effort. The richest and most accessible material for this highest
education is furnished by art; and the form of art within reach of
every civilised man, at all times, in all places, is the book. To
these masterpieces, which have been called the books of life, all men
may turn with the assurance that as the supreme achievements of the
imagination they have the power of awakening, stimulating, and
enriching it in the highest degree. For the genuine reader, who sees
in a book what the writer has put there, repeats in a way the process
through which the maker of the book passed. The man who reads the
"Iliad" and the "Odyssey" with his heart as well as his intelligence
must measurably enter into the life which these poems describe and
interpret; he must identify himself for the time with the race whose
soul and historic character are revealed in epic form as in a great
mirror; he must see life from the Greek point of view, and feel life
as the Greek felt it. He must, in a word, go through the process by
which the poems were made, as well as feel, comprehend, and enjoy
their final perfection. In like manner the open-hearted and
open-minded reader of the Book of Job cannot rest content with that
noble poem in the form which it now possesses; the imaginative impulse
which even the casual reading of the poem liberates in him sends him
behind the finished product to the life of which it was the immortal
fruit; he enters into the groping thought of an age which has perished
out of all other remembrance; he deals with a problem which is as old
as man from the standpoint of men who have left no other record of
themselves. In proportion to the depth of his feeling and the vitality
of his imagination he must saturate himself with the rich life of
thought, conviction, and emotion, of struggle and aspiration, out of
which the greatest of the poems of nature took its rise. He must, in a
word, receive into himself the living material upon which the unknown
poet worked. In such a process the imagination is evoked in full and
free play; it insensibly reconstructs a life gone out of knowledge;
selects, harmonises, unifies, and in a measure creates. It illuminates
and unifies knowledge, divines the wide relations of thought, and
discerns its place in organic connection with the world which gave it

The material upon which this great power is nourished is specifically
furnished by the works which it has created. As the eye is trained to
discover the line of beauty by companionship with the works in which
it is revealed with the greatest clearness and power, so is the
imagination developed by intimacy with the books which disclose its
depth, its reality, and its method. The reader of Shakespeare cannot
follow the leadings of his masterly imagination without feeling a
liberation of his own faculty of seeing things as parts of a vast
order of life. He does not gain the poet's creative power, but he is
enlarged and enriched to the point where his own imagination plays
directly on the material about it; he receives it into himself, and in
the exact measure in which he learns the secret of absorbing what he
sees, feels, and knows, becomes master and interpreter of the world of
his time, and restorer of the world of other times and men. For the
imagination, playing upon fact and experience, divines their meaning
and puts us in possession of the truth and life that are in them. To
possess this magical power is to live the whole of life and to enter
into the heritage of history.

Chapter XIII.

Breadth of Life.

One of the prime characteristics of the man of culture is freedom from
provincialism, complete deliverance from rigidity of temper,
narrowness of interest, uncertainty of taste, and general unripeness.
The villager, or pagan in the old sense, is always a provincial; his
horizon is narrow, his outlook upon the world restricted, his
knowledge of life limited. He may know a few things thoroughly; he
cannot know them in true relation to one another or to the larger
order of which they are part. He may know a few persons intimately; he
cannot know the representative persons of his time or of his race. The
essence of provincialism is the substitution of a part for the whole;
the acceptance of the local experience, knowledge, and standards as
possessing the authority of the universal experience, knowledge, and
standards. The local experience is entirely true in its own sphere; it
becomes misleading when it is accepted as the experience of all time
and all men. It is this mistake which breeds that narrowness and
uncertainty of taste and opinion from which culture furnishes the only
escape. A small community, isolated from other communities by the
accidents of position, often comes to believe that its way of doing
things is the way of the world; a small body of religious people,
devoutly attentive to their own observances, often reach the
conclusion that these observances are the practice of that catholic
church which includes the pious-minded of all creeds and rituals; a
group of radical reformers, by passionate advocacy of a single reform,
come to believe that there have been no reformers before them, and
that none will be needed after them; a band of fresh and audacious
young practitioners of any of the arts, by dint of insistence upon a
certain manner, rapidly generate the conviction that art has no other

Society is full of provincialism in art, politics, religion, and
economics; and the essence of this provincialism is always the
same,--the substitution of a part for the whole. Larger knowledge of
the world and of history would make it perfectly clear that there has
always been not only a wide latitude, but great variation, in ritual
and worship; that the political story of all the progressive nations
has been one long agitation for reforms, and that no reform can ever
be final; that reform must succeed reform until the end of
time,--reforms being in their nature neither more nor less than those
readjustments to new conditions which are involved in all social
development. A wider survey of experience would make it clear that art
has many manners, and that no manner is supreme and none final.

A long experience gives a man poise, balance, and steadiness; he has
seen many things come and go, and he is neither paralysed by
depression when society goes wrong, nor irrationally elated when it
goes right. He is perfectly aware that his party is only a means to an
end, and not a piece of indestructible and infallible machinery; that
the creed he accepts has passed through many changes of
interpretation, and will pass through more; that the social order for
which he contends, if secured, will be only another stage in the
unbroken development of the organised life of men in the world. And
culture is, at bottom, only an enlarged and clarified experience,--an
experience so comprehensive that it puts its possessor in touch with
all times and men, and gives him the opportunity of comparing his own
knowledge of things, his faith and his practice, with the knowledge,
faith, and practice of all the generations. This opportunity brings,
to one who knows how to use it, deliverance from the ignorance or
half-knowledge of provincialism, from the crudity of its half-trained
tastes, and from the blind passion of its rash and groundless faith in
its own infallibility.

Provincialism is the soil in which philistinism grows most rapidly and
widely. For as the essence of provincialism is the substitution of a
part for the whole, so the essence of philistinism is the conviction
that what one possesses is the best of its kind, that the kind is the
highest, and that one has all he needs of it. A true philistine is not
only convinced that he holds the only true and consistent position,
but he is also entirely satisfied with himself. He is infallible and
he is sufficient unto himself. In politics he is a blind partisan, in
theology an arrogant dogmatist, in art an ignorant propagandist. What
he accepts, believes, or has, is not only the best of its kind, but
nothing better can ever supersede it.

To this spirit the spirit of culture is antipodal; between the two
there is inextinguishable antagonism. They can never compromise or
agree upon a truce, any more than day and night can consent to dwell
together. To destroy philistinism root and branch, to eradicate the
ignorance which makes it possible for a man to believe that he
possesses all things in their final forms, to empty a man of the
stupidity and vulgarity of self-satisfaction, and to invigorate the
immortal dissatisfaction of the soul with its present attainments, are
the ends which culture is always seeking to accomplish. The keen lance
of Matthew Arnold, flashing now in one part of the field and now in
another, pierced many of the fallacies of provincialism and
philistinism, and mortally wounded more than one Goliath of ignorance
and conceit; but the work must be done anew in every generation and in
every individual. All men are conceived in the sin of ignorance and
born in the iniquity of half-knowledge; and every man needs to be
saved by wider knowledge and clearer vision. It is a matter of
comparative indifference where one is born; it is a matter of supreme
importance how one educates one's self. There is as genuine a
provincialism in Paris as in the remotest frontier town; it is better
dressed and better mannered, but it is not less narrow and vulgar.
There is as much vulgarity in the arrogance of a czar as in that of an
African chief; as much absurdity in the self-satisfaction of the man
who believes that the habit and speech of the boulevard are the
ultimate habit and speech of the race, as in that of the man who
accepts the manners of the mining camp as the finalities of human
intercourse. Culture is not an accident of birth, although
surroundings retard or advance it; it is always a matter of individual

This education finds no richer material than that which is contained
in literature; for the characteristic of literature, as of all the
arts, is its universality of interest, its elevation of taste, its
disclosure of ideas, its constant appeal to the highest in the reader
by its revelation of the highest in the writer. Many of the noblest
works of literature are intensely local in colour, atmosphere,
material, and allusion; but in every case that which is of universal
interest is touched, evoked, and expressed. The artist makes the
figure he paints stand out with the greatest distinctness by the
accuracy of the details introduced and by the skill with which they
are handled; but the very definiteness of the figure gives force and
clearness to the revelation of the universal trait or characteristic
which is made through it. Père Goriot has the ineffaceable stamp of
Paris upon him, but he is for that very reason the more completely
disclosed as a typical individuality. Literature abounds in
illustrations of this true and artistic adjustment of the local to the
universal, this disclosure of the common humanity in which all men
share through the highly elaborated individuality; and this
characteristic indicates one of the deepest sources of its educational
power. So searching is this power that it is safe to say that no one
can know thoroughly the great books of the world and remain a
provincial or a philistine; the very air of these works is fatal to
narrow views, to low standards, and to self-satisfaction.

Chapter XIV.

Racial Experience.

There is a general agreement among men that experience is the most
effective and successful of teachers; that for many men no other form
of education is possible; and that those who enjoy the fullest
educational opportunities miss the deeper processes of training if
they fail of that wide contact with the happenings of life which we
call experience. To touch the world at many points; to come into
relations with many kinds of men; to think, to feel, and to act on a
generous scale,--these are prime opportunities for growth. For it is
not only true, as Browning said so often and in so many kinds of speech,
that a man's greatest good fortune is to have the opportunity of
giving out freely and powerfully all the force that is in him, but it
is also true that almost equal good fortune attends the man who has
the opportunity of receiving truth and instruction through a wide and
rich experience.

But individual experience, however inclusive and deep, is necessarily
limited, and the life of the greatest man would be confined within
narrow boundaries if he were shut within the circle of his own
individual contact with things and persons. If Shakespeare had written
of those things only of which he had personal knowledge, of those
experiences in which he had personally shared, his contribution to
literature would be deeply interesting, but it would not possess that
quality of universality which makes it the property of the race. In
Shakespeare there was not only knowledge of man, but knowledge of men
as well. His greatness rests not only on his own commanding
personality, but on his magical power of laying other personalities
under tribute for the enlargement of his view of things and the
enrichment of his portraiture of humanity. A man learns much from his
own contacts with his time and his race, but one of the most important
gains he makes is the development of the faculty of appropriating the
results of the contacts of other men with other times and races; and
one of the finer qualities of rich experience is the quickening of the
imagination to divine that which is hidden in the experience of other
races and ages.

The man of culture must not only live deeply and intelligently in his
own experience, rationalising and utilising it as he passes through
it; he must also break away from its limitations and escape its
tendency to substitute a part of life, distinctly seen, for the whole
of life, vaguely discerned. The great writer, for instance, must first
make his own nature rich in its development and powerful in harmony of
aim and force, and he must also make this nature sensitive,
sympathetic, and clairvoyant in its relations with the natures of
other men. To become self-centred, and yet to be able to pass entirely
out of one's self into the thoughts, emotions, impulses, and
sufferings of others, involves a harmonising of opposing tendencies
which is difficult of attainment.

It is precisely this poise which men of the highest productive power
secure; for it is this nice adjustment of the individual discovery of
truth to the general discovery of truth which gives a man of
imaginative faculty range, power, and sanity of view. To see, feel,
think, and act strongly and intelligently in our own individual world
gives us first-hand relations to that world, and first-hand knowledge
of it; to pass beyond the limits of this small sphere, which we touch
with our own hands, into the larger spheres which other men touch, not
only widens our knowledge but vastly increases our power. It is like
exchanging the power of a small stream for the general power which
plays through Nature. One of the measures of greatness is furnished by
this ability to pass through individual into national or racial
experience; for a man's spiritual dimensions, as revealed through any
form of art, are determined by his power of discerning essential
qualities and experiences in the greatest number of people. The four
writers who hold the highest places in literature justify their claims
by their universality; that is to say, by the range of their knowledge
of life as that knowledge lies revealed in the experience of the race.

It is the fortune of a very small group of men in any age to possess
the power of divining, by the gift of genius, the world which lies,
nebulous and shadowy, in the lives of men about them, or in the lives
of men of other times; in the nature of things, the clairvoyant vision
of poets like Tennyson, Browning, and Hugo, of novelists like
Thackeray, Balzac, and Tolstoi, is not at the command of all men; and
yet all men may share in it and be enlarged by it. This is one of the
most important services which literature renders to its lover: it
makes him a companion of the most interesting personalities in their
most significant moments; it enables him to break the bars of
individual experience and escape into the wider and richer life of the
race. Within the compass of a very small room, on a very few shelves,
the real story of man in this world may be collected in the books of
life in which it is written; and the solitary reader, whose personal
contacts with men and events are few and lacking in distinction and
interest, may enter, through his books, into the most thrilling life
of the race in some of its most significant moments.

No man can read "In Memoriam" or "The Ring and the Book" without
passing beyond the boundaries of his individual experience into
experiences which broaden and quicken his own spirit; and no one can
become familiar with the novels of Tourguéneff or Tolstoi without
touching life at new points and passing through emotions which would
never have been stirred in him by the happenings of his own life. Such
a story as "Anna Karénina" leaves no reader of imagination or heart
entirely unchanged; its elemental moral and artistic force strikes
into every receptive mind and leaves there a knowledge of life not
possessed before. The work of the Russian novelists has been, indeed,
a new reading in the book of experience; it has made a notable
addition to the sum total of humanity's knowledge of itself. In the
pages of Gogol, Dostoievski, Tourguéneff, and Tolstoi, the majority of
readers have found a world absolutely new to them; and in reading
those pages, so penetrated with the dramatic spirit, they have come
into the possession of a knowledge of life not formal and didactic,
but deep, vital, and racial in its range and significance. To possess
the knowledge of an experience at once so remote and so rich in
disclosure of character, so charged with tragic interest, is to push
back the horizons of our own experience, to secure a real contribution
to our own enrichment and development. Whoever carries that process
far enough brings into his individual experience much of the richness
and splendour of the experience of the race.

Chapter XV.

Freshness of Feeling.

The primary charm of art resides in the freshness of feeling which it
reveals and conveys. An art which discloses fatigue, weariness,
exhaustion of emotion, deadening of interest, has parted with its
magical spell; for vitality, emotion, passionate interest in the
experiences of life, devout acceptance of the facts of life, are the
prime characteristics of art in those moments when its veracity and
power are at the highest point. A great work of art may be tragic in
the view of life which it presents, but it must show no sign of the
succumbing of the spirit to the appalling facts with which it deals;
even in those cases in which, as in the tragedy of "King Lear," blind
fate seems relentlessly sovereign over human affairs, the artist must
disclose in his attitude and method a sustained energy of spirit.
Nothing shows so clearly a decline in creative force as a loss of
interest on the part of the artist in the subject or material with
which he deals.

That fresh bloom which lies on the very face of poetry, and in which
not only its obvious but its enduring charm resides, is the expression
of a feeling for nature, for life, and for the happenings which make
up the common lot, which keeps its earliest receptivity and
responsiveness. When a man ceases to care deeply for things, he ceases
to represent or interpret them with insight and power. The
preservation of feeling is, therefore, essential in all artistic work;
and when it is lost, the artist becomes an echo or an imitation of his
nobler self and work. It is the beautiful quality of the true art
instinct that it constantly sees and feels the familiar world with a
kind of childlike directness and delight. That which has become
commonplace to most men is as full of charm and novelty to the artist
as if it had just been created. He sees it with fresh eyes and feels
it with a fresh heart. To such a spirit nothing becomes stale and
hackneyed; everything remains new, fresh, and significant. It has
often been said that if it were not for the children the world would
lose the faith, the enthusiasm, the delight which constantly renew its
spirit and reinforce its courage. A world grown old in feeling would
be an exhausted world, incapable of production along spiritual or
artistic lines. Now, the artist is always a child in the eagerness of
his spirit and the freshness of his feeling; he retains the magical
power of seeing things habitually, and still seeing them freshly. Mr.
Lowell was walking with a friend along a country road when they came
upon a large building which bore the inscription, "Home for Incurable
Children." "They'll take me there some day," was the half-humorous
comment of a sensitive man, to whom life brought great sorrows, but
who retained to the very end a youthful buoyancy, courage, and faculty
of finding delight in common things.

It is a significant fact that the greatest men and women never lose
the qualities which are commonly associated with youth,--freshness of
feeling, zest for work, joy in life. Goethe at eighty-four studied the
problems of life with the same deep interest which he had felt in them
at thirty or forty; Tennyson's imagination showed some signs of waning
power in extreme old age, but the magic of feeling was still fresh in
his heart; Dr. Holmes carried his blithe spirit, his gayety and
spontaneity of wit, to the last year of his life; and Mr. Gladstone at
eighty-six was one of the most eager and aspiring men of his time.
Genius seems to be allied to immortal youth; and in this alliance
resides a large part of its power. For the man of genius does not
demonstrate his possession of that rare and elusive gift by seeing
things which have never been seen before, but by seeing with fresh
interest what men have seen so often that they have ceased to regard
it. Novelty is rarely characteristic of great works of art; on the
contrary, the facts of life which they set before us are familiar, and
the thoughts they convey by direct statement or by dramatic
illustration have always been haunting our minds. The secret of the
artist resides in the unwearied vitality which brings him to such
close quarters with life, and endows him with directness of sight and
freshness of feeling. Daisies have starred fields in Scotland since
men began to plough and reap, but Burns saw them as if they had sprung
from the ground for the first time; forgotten generations have seen
the lark rise and heard the cuckoo call in England, but to Wordsworth
the song from the upper sky and the notes from the thicket on the hill
were full of the music of the first morning. Shakespeare dealt with
old stories and constantly touched upon the most familiar things; but
with what new interest he invests both theme and illustration! One may
spend a lifetime in a country village, surrounded by people who are
apparently entirely uninteresting; but if one has the eye of a
novelist for the facts of life, the power to divine character, the
gift to catch the turn of speech, the trick of voice, the peculiarity
of manner, what resources, discoveries, and diversion are at hand! The
artist never has to search for material; it is always at hand. That it
is old, trite, stale to others, is of no consequence; it is always
fresh and significant to him.

This freshness of feeling is not in any way dependent on the character
of the materials upon which it plays; it is not an irresponsible
temperamental quality which seeks the joyful or comic facts of life
and ignores its sad and tragic aspects. The zest of spirit which one
finds in Shakespeare, for instance, is not a blind optimism
thoughtlessly escaping from the shadows into the sunshine. On the
contrary, it is drawn by a deep instinct to study the most perplexing
problems of character, and to drop its plummets into the blackest
abysses of experience. Literature deals habitually with the most
sombre side of the human lot, and finds its richest material in those
awful happenings which invest the history of every race with such
pathetic interest; and yet literature, in its great moments, overflows
with vitality, zest of spirit, freshness of spirit! There is no
contradiction in all this; for the vitality which pervades great art
is not dependent upon external conditions; it has its source in the
soul of the artist. It is the immortal quality in the human spirit
playing like sunshine on the hardest and most tragic facts of
experience. It often suggests no explanation of these facts; it is
content to present them with relentless veracity; but even when it
offers no solution of the tragic problem, the tireless interest which
it feels, the force with which it illustrates and describes, the power
of moral organisation and interpretation which it reveals, carry with
them the conviction that the spirit of man, however baffled and
beaten, is superior to all the accidents of fortune, and
indestructible even within the circle of the blackest fate. As
OEdipus, old, blind, and smitten, vanishes from our sight, we think
of him no longer as a great figure blasted by adverse fate, but as a
great soul smitten and scourged, and yet still invested with the
dignity of immortality. The dramatist, even when he throws no light on
the ultimate solution of the problem with which he is dealing, feels
so deeply and freshly, and discloses such sustained strength, that the
vitality with which the facts are exhibited and the question stated
affirms its superiority over all the adversities and catastrophes of

This freshness of feeling, which is the gift of men and women of
genius, must be possessed in some measure by all who long to get the
most out of life and to develop their own inner resources. To retain
zest in work and delight in life we must keep freshness of feeling.
Its presence lends unfailing charm to its possessor; its loss involves
loss of the deepest personal charm. It is essential in all genuine
culture, because it sustains that interest in events, experience, and
opportunity upon which growth is largely conditioned; and there is no
more effective means of preserving and developing it than intimacy
with those who have invested all life with its charm. The great books
are reservoirs of this vitality. When our own interest begins to die
and the world turns gray and old in our sight, we have only to open
Homer, Shakespeare, Browning, and the flowers bloom again and the
skies are blue; and the experiences of life, however tragic, are
matched by a vitality which is sovereign over them all.

Chapter XVI.

Liberation from One's Time.

The law of opposites under which men live is very strikingly brought
out in the endeavour to secure a sound and intelligent adjustment to
one's time,--a relation intimate and vital, and at the same time
deliberately and judicially assumed. To be detached in thought,
feeling, or action, from the age in which one lives, is to cut the
ties that bind the individual to society, and through which he is very
largely nourished and educated. To live deeply and really through
every form of expression and in every relationship is so essential to the
complete unfolding of the personality that he who falls below the full
measure of his capacity for experience and for expression falls below the
full measure of his possible growth. Life is not, as some men of detached
moods or purely critical temper have assumed, a spectacle of which the
secret can be mastered without sharing in the movement; it is rather a
drama, the splendour of whose expression and the depth of whose meaning
are revealed to those alone who share in the action. To stand aside from
the vital movement and study life in a purely critical spirit is to miss
the deeper education which is involved in the vital process, and to
lose the fundamental revelation which is slowly and painfully disclosed
to those whose minds and hearts are open to receive it. No one can
understand love who has not loved and been loved; no one can comprehend
sorrow who has not had the companionship of sorrow. The experiment has
been made in many forms, but no one has yet been nourished by the fruit
of the tree of knowledge who has eaten of that fruit alone. In the art
of living, as in all the arts which illustrate and enrich living, the
amateur and the dilettante have no real position; they never attain
to that mastery of knowledge or of execution which alone give reality
to a man's life or work. Mastery in any art comes to those only who
give themselves without reservation or stint to their task; mastery
in the supreme art of living is within reach of those only who live
completely in every faculty and relation.

To stand in the closest and most vital relation to one's time is,
therefore, the first condition of comprehending one's age and getting
from it what it has to give. But while a man must be in and with his
time in the most vital sense, he must not be wholly of it. To get the
vital enrichment which flows from identification with one's age, and
at the same time to get the detachment which enables one to see his
time in true relation to all time, is one of the problems which
requires the highest wisdom for its solution. It is easy to become
entirely absorbed in one's age, or it is easy to detach one's self
from it, and study it in a cold and critical temper; but to get its
warmth and vitality and escape its narrowing and limiting influence is
so difficult that comparatively few men succeed in striking the
balance between two divergent tendencies.

A man gets power and knowledge from his time in the degree in which he
suffers it to enlarge and vitalise him; he loses power and knowledge
in the degree in which he suffers it to limit his vision and confine
his interests. The Time Spirit is the greatest of our teachers so long
as it is the interpreter of the Eternal Spirit; it is the most
fallible and misleading of teachers when it attempts to speak for
itself. The visible and material things by which we are surrounded are
of immense helpfulness so long as they symbolise invisible and
spiritual things; they become stones of stumbling and rocks of offence
when they are detached from the spiritual order and set apart in an
order of their own. The age in which we live affords a concrete
illustration of the vital processes in society and means of contact
with that society, but it is comprehensible and educative in the exact
degree in which we understand its relation to other times. The
impression which the day makes upon us needs to be tested by the
impression which we receive from the year; the judgment of a decade
must be corrected by the judgment of the century. The present hour is
subtly illusive; it fills the whole stage, to the exclusion of the
past and the present; it appears to stand alone, detached from all
that went before or is to follow; it seems to be the historic moment,
the one reality amid fleeting shadows. As a matter of fact, it is a
logical product of the past, bound to it by ties so elusive that we
cannot trace them, and so numerous and tenacious that we cannot sever
them; it is but a fragment of a whole immeasurably greater than
itself; its character is so completely determined by the past that the
most radical changes we can make in it are essentially superficial;
for it is the future, not the present, which is in our hands. To get
even a glimpse of the character and meaning of our own time, we must,
therefore, see it in relation to all time; to master it in any sense
we must set it in its true historical relations. That which to the
uneducated mind seems portentous is lightly regarded by the mind which
sees the apparently isolated event in a true historic perspective;
while the occurrence or condition which is barely noticed by the
untrained, seen in the same perspective, becomes tragic in its
prophecy of change and suffering. History is full of corrections of
the mistaken judgments of the hour; and from the hate or adoration of
contemporaries, the wise man turns to the clear-sighted and inexorable
judgment of posterity. In the far-seeing vision of a trained
intelligence the hour is never detached from the day, nor the day from
the year; and the year is always held in its place in the century.

Now, the man of culture has pre-eminently the gift of living deeply in
his own age, and at the same time of seeing it in relation to all
ages. It has no illusion for him; it cannot deceive him with its
passionate acceptance or its equally passionate rejection. He sees the
crown shining above the cross; he hears the long thunders of applause
breaking in upon execrations which they will finally silence; he
foresees the harvest in the seed that lies barely covered on the
surface; and, afar off, his ear notes the final crash of that which at
the moment seems to carry with it the assurance of eternal duration.
Such a man secures the vitality of his time, but he escapes its
limitation of vision by seeing it clearly and seeing it whole; he
corrects the teaching of the time spirit by constant reference to the
teaching of the Eternal Spirit imparted in the long training and the
wide revelation of history. The day is beautiful and significant, or
ominous and tragic, to him as it discloses its relation to the good or
the evil of the years that are gone. And these vital associations,
these deep historic connections, are brought to light with peculiar
clearness in literature. Beyond all other means of enfranchisement,
the book liberates a man from imprisonment within the narrow limits of
his own time; it makes him free of all times. He lives in all periods,
under all forms of government, in all social conditions; the mind of
antiquity, of mediævalism, of the Renaissance, is as open to him as
the mind of his own day, and so he is able to look upon human life in
its entirety.

Chapter XVII.

Liberation from One's Place.

The instinct which drives men to travel is at bottom identical with
that which fills men with passionate desire to know what is in life.
Time and strength are often wasted in restless change from place to
place; but real wandering, however aimless in mood, is always
education. To know one's neighbours and to be on good terms with the
community in which one lives are the beginning of sound relations to
the world at large; but one never knows his village in any real sense
until he knows the world. The distant hills which seem to be always
calling the imaginative boy away from the familiar fields and hearth
do not conspire against his peace, however much they may conspire
against his comfort; they help him to the fulfilment of his destiny by
suggesting to his imagination the deeper experience, the richer
growth, the higher tasks which await him in the world beyond the
horizon. Man is a wanderer by the law of his life; and if he never
leaves his home in which he is born, he never builds a home of his

It is the law of life that a child should leave his father and
separate himself from his inherited surroundings, in order that by
self-unfolding and self-realisation he may substitute a conscious for
an unconscious, a moral for an instinctive relation. The instinct of
the myth-makers was sound when it led them to attach such importance
to the wandering and the return; the separation effected in order that
individuality and character might be realised through isolation and
experience, the return voluntarily made through clear recognition of
the soundness of the primitive relations, the beauty of the service of
the older and wiser to the younger and the more ignorant. We are born
into relations which we accept as normal and inevitable; we break away
from them in order that by detachment we may see them objectively and
from a distance, and that we may come to self-consciousness; we resume
these relations of deliberate purpose and with clear perception of
their moral significance. So the boy, grown to manhood, returns to his
home from the world in which he has tested himself and seen for the
first time, with clear eyes, the depth and beauty of its service in
the spiritual order; so the man who has revolted from the barren and
shallow dogmatic statement of a spiritual truth returns, in riper
years and with a deeper insight, to the truth which is no longer
matter of inherited belief but of vital need and perception.

The ripe, mature, full mind not only escapes the limitation of the
time in which it finds itself; it also escapes from the limitations of
the place in which it happens to be. A man of deep culture cannot be a
provincial; he must be a citizen of the world. The man of provincial
tastes and ideas owns the acres; the man of culture commands the
landscape. He knows the world beyond the hills; he sees the great
movement of life from which the village seems almost shut out; he
shares those inclusive experiences which come to each age and give
each age a character of its own. He is in fellowship and sympathy with
the smaller community at his doors, but he belongs also to that
greater community which is coterminous with humanity itself. He is not
disloyal to his immediate surroundings when he leaves them for
exploration, travel, and discovery; he is fulfilling that law of life
which conditions true valuation of that into which one is born upon
clear perception of that which one must acquire for himself.

The wanderings of individuals and races, which form so large a part of
the substance of history, are witnesses of that craving for deeper
experience and wider knowledge which is one of the springs of human
progress. The American cares for Europe not for its more skilful and
elaborate ministration to his comfort; he is drawn towards it through
the appeal of its rich historic life to his imagination and through
the diversity and variety of its social and racial phenomena. And in
like manner the European seeks the East, not simply as a matter of
idle curiosity, but because he finds in the East conditions which are
set in such sharp contrast with those with which he is familiar. The
instinct for expansion which gives human history its meaning and
interest is constantly urging the man of sensitive mind to secure by
observation that which he cannot get by experience.

To secure the most complete development one must live in one's time
and yet live above it, and one must also live in one's home and yet
live, at the same time, in the world. The life which is bounded in
knowledge, interest, and activity by the invisible but real and
limiting walls of a small community is often definite in aim,
effective in action, and upright in intention; but it cannot be rich,
varied, generous, and stimulating. The life, on the other hand, which
is entirely detached from local associations and tasks is often
interesting, liberalising, and catholic in spirit; but it cannot be
original or productive. A sound life--balanced, poised, and
intelligently directed--must stand strongly in both local and
universal relations; it must have the vitality and warmth of the
first, and the breadth and range of the second.

This liberation from provincialism is not only one of the signs of
culture, but it is also one of its finest results; it registers a high
degree of advancement. For the man who has passed beyond the
prejudices, misconceptions, and narrowness of provincialism has gone
far on the road to self-education. He has made as marked an advance on
the position of the great mass of his contemporaries as that position
is an advance on the earlier stages of barbarism. The barbarian lives
only in his tribe; the civilised man, in the exact degree in which he
is civilised, lives with humanity. Books are among the richest
resources against narrowing local influences; they are the ripest
expositions of the world-spirit. To know the typical books of the race
is to be in touch with those elements of thought and experience which
are shared by men of all countries. Without a knowledge of these books
a man never really gets at the life of localities which are foreign to
him; never really sees those historic places about which the
traditions of civilisation have gathered. Travel is robbed of half its
educational value unless one carries with him a knowledge of that
which he looks at for the first time with his own eyes. No American
sees England unless he carries England in his memory and imagination.
Westminster Abbey is devoid of spiritual significance to the man who
is ignorant of the life out of which it grew, and of the history which
is written in its architecture and its memorials. The emancipation
from the limitations of locality is greatly aided by travel, but it is
accomplished only by intimate knowledge of the greater books.

Chapter XVIII.

The Unconscious Element.

While it is true that the greatest books betray the most intimate
acquaintance with the time in which they are written, and disclose the
impress of that time in thought, structure, and style, it is also true
that such books are so essentially independent of contemporary forms
and moods that they largely escape the vicissitudes which attend those
forms and moods. The element of enduring interest in them outweighs
the accidents of local speech or provincial knowledge, as the force
and genius of Cæsar survive the armor he wore and the language he
spoke. A great book is a possession for all time, because a writer of
the first rank is the contemporary of every generation; he is never
outgrown, exhausted, or even old-fashioned, although the garments he
wore may have been laid aside long ago.

In this permanent quality, unchanged by changes of taste and form,
resides the secret of that charm which draws about the great poets men
and women of each succeeding period, eager to listen to words which
thrilled the world when it was young, and which have a new meaning for
every new age. It is safe to say that Homer will speak to men as long
as language survives, and that translation will follow translation to
the end of time. What Robinson said of the Bible in one of the great
moments of modern history may be said of the greater works of
literature: more light will always stream from them. Indeed, many of
them will not be understood until they are read in the light of long
periods of history; for as the great books are interpretations of
life, so life in its historic revelation is one continuous commentary
on the greater books.

This preponderance of the permanent over the accidental or temporary
in books of this class is largely due to the unconscious element which
plays so great a part in them: the element of universal experience, in
which every man shares in the exact degree in which, in mind and
heart, he approaches greatness. It is idle to attempt to separate
arbitrarily in Shakespeare, for instance, those elements in the poet's
work which were deliberately introduced from those which went into it
by the unconscious action of his whole nature; but no one can study
the plays intelligently without becoming more and more clearly aware
of those depths of life which moved in the poet before they moved in
his work; which enlarged, enriched, and silently reorganised his view
of life and his power of translating life out of individual into
universal terms. It would be impossible, for instance, to write such a
play as "The Tempest" by sheer force of intellect; in the creation of
such a work there is involved, beyond literary skill, calculation, and
deep study of the relation of thought to form, a ripeness of spirit, a
clearness of insight, a richness of imagination, which are so much
part of the very soul of the poet that he does not separate them in
thought, and cannot consciously balance, adjust, and employ them. They
are quite beyond his immediate control, as they are beyond all
attempts to imitate them.

Cleverness may learn all the forms and methods, but it is powerless to
imitate greatness; it can simulate the conscious, dexterous side of
greatness, but it cannot simulate the unconscious, vital side. The
moment a man like Voltaire attempts to deal with such a character as
Joan of Arc, his spiritual and artistic limitations become painfully
apparent; of cleverness there is no lack, but of reverence, insight,
depth of feeling, the affinity of the great imagination for the great
nature or deed, there is no sign. The man is entirely and hopelessly
incapacitated for the work by virtue of certain limitations in his own
nature of which he is obviously in entire ignorance. The conscious
skill of Voltaire was delicate, subtle, full of vitality; but the
unconscious side of his nature was essentially shallow, thin, largely
undeveloped; and it is the preponderance of the unconscious over the
conscious in a man's life which makes him great in himself and equips
him for work of the highest quality. No man can put his skill to the
highest use and give his knowledge the final touch of individuality
until both are so entirely incorporated in his personality that they
have become part of himself.

This deepest and most vital of all the processes of self-education and
self-unfolding, which is brought to such perfection in men of the
highest creative power, is the fundamental process of culture,--the
chief method which every man uses, consciously or unconsciously, who
brings his nature to complete ripeness of quality and power. The
absorption of vital experience and knowledge which went on in
Shakespeare enlarged and clarified his vision and insight to such a
degree that both became not only searching, but veracious in a rare
degree; life was opened to him on many sides by the expansion first
accomplished in himself. This is saying again what has been said so
many times, but cannot be said too often,--that, in order to give
one's work a touch of greatness, a man must first have a touch of
greatness in his own nature. But greatness is not an irresponsible and
undirected growth; it is as definitely conditioned on certain
obediences to intellectual discipline and spiritual law as is any kind
of lesser skill conditioned on practice and work. One of these
conditions is the development of the power to turn conscious processes
of observation, emotion, and skill into unconscious processes; to
enrich the nature below the surface, so to speak; to make the soil
productive by making it deep and rich. Men of mere skill always stop
short of this final process of self-development, and always stop short
of those final achievements which sum up and express all that has been
known or felt about a subject and give it permanent form; men of
essential greatness take this last step in that higher education which
makes one master of the force of his personality, and give his words
and works universal range and perennial interest.

Now, this is the deepest quality in the books of life, which a student
may not only enjoy to the full, but may also absorb and make his own.
When Alfred de Musset, in an oft-repeated phrase, said that it takes a
great deal of life to make a little art, he was not only affirming the
reality of this process of passing experience through consciousness
into the unconscious side of a man's nature, but he was also hinting
at one of the greatest resources of pleasure and growth. For time and
life continually enrich the man who has learned the secret of turning
experience and observation into knowledge and power. It is a secret in
the sense in which every vital process is a secret; but it is not a
trick, a skill, or a method which may be communicated in a formula.
Mrs. Ward describes a character in one of her stories as having passed
through a great culture into a great simplicity of nature; in other
words, culture had wrought its perfect work, and the man had passed
through wide and intensely self-conscious activity into the repose and
simplicity of self-unconsciousness; his knowledge had become so
completely a part of himself that he had ceased to be conscious of it
as a thing distinct from himself. There is no easy road to this last
height in the long and painful process of education; and time is an
essential element in the process, because it is a matter of growth.

There are, it is true, a few men and women who seem born with this
power of living in the heart of things and possessing them in the
imagination without having gone through the long and painful stages of
preparatory education; but genius is not only inexplicable, it is also
so rare that for the immense majority of men any effort to comprehend
it must be purely academic. It is enough to know that if we are in any
degree to share with men and women of genius the faculty of vision,
insight, and creative energy, we must master the conditions which
favor the development of those supreme gifts. There is laid,
therefore, upon the student who wishes to get the vital quality of
literature the necessity of repeating, by deliberate and intelligent
design, the process which in so many of the masters of the arts has
been, apparently, accomplished instinctively. To make observation,
study, and experience part of one's spiritual and intellectual
capital, it is, in the first place, necessary to saturate one's self
with that which one is studying; to possess it by constant familiarity;
to let the imagination play upon it; to meditate upon it. And
it is necessary, in the second place, to make this practice habitual;
when it becomes habitual, it will become largely unconscious: one does
it by instinct rather than by deliberation. This process is
illustrated in every successful attempt to master any art. In the art
of speaking, for instance, the beginner is hampered by an embarrassing
consciousness of his hands, feet, speech; he cannot forget himself and
surrender himself to his thought or his emotion; he dare not trust
himself. He must, therefore, train himself through mind, voice, and
body; he must submit to constant and long-sustained practice, thinking
out point by point what he shall say and how he shall say it. This
process is, at the start, partly mechanical; in the nature of things
it must be entirely within the view and control of a vigilant
consciousness. But as the training progresses, the element of
self-consciousness steadily diminishes, until, in great moments, the
true orator, become one harmonious instrument of expression,
surrenders himself to his theme, and his personality shines clear and
luminous through speech, articulation, and gesture. The unconscious
nature of the man subordinates his skill wholly to its own uses. In
like manner, in every kind of self-expression, the student who puts
imagination, vitality, and sincerity into the work of preliminary
education, comes at last to full command of himself, and gives
complete expression to that which is deepest and most individual in
him. Time, discipline, study, and thought enrich every nature which is
receptive and responsive.

Chapter XIX.

The Teaching of Tragedy.

No characters appeal more powerfully to the imagination than those
impressive figures about whom the literature of tragedy
moves,--figures associated with the greatest passions and the most
appalling sorrows. The well-balanced man, who rises step by step
through discipline and work to the highest place of influence and
power, is applauded and admired; but the heart of the world goes out
to those who, like OEdipus, are overmatched by a fate which pursues
with relentless step, or, like Hamlet, are overweighted with tasks too
heavy or too terrible for them. Agamemnon, OEdipus, Orestes, Hamlet,
Lear, Père Goriot, are supreme figures in that world of the
imagination in which the poets have endeavoured both to reflect and to
interpret the world as men see it and act in it.

The essence of tragedy is the collision between the individual will,
impulse, or action, and society in some form of its organisation, or
those unwritten laws of life which we call the laws of God. The tragic
character is always a lawbreaker, but not always a criminal; he is,
indeed, often the servant of a new idea which sets him, as in the case
of Giordano Bruno, in opposition to an established order of knowledge;
he is sometimes, as in the case of Socrates, a teacher of truths which
make him a menace to lower conceptions of citizenship and narrower
ideas of personal life; or he is, as in the case of Othello and Paolo,
the victim of passions which overpower the will and throw the whole
life out of relation to its moral and social environment. The interest
with which the tragic character is always invested is due not only to
the exceptional experience in which the tragic situation always
culminates, but also to the self-surrender which precedes the penalty
and the expiation.

There is a fallacy at the bottom of the admiration we feel when a rich
nature throws restraint of any kind to the winds and gives itself up
wholly to some impulse or passion,--the fallacy of supposing that by a
violent break with existing conditions freedom can be secured; for the
world loves freedom, even when it is too slothful or too cowardly to
pay the price which it exacts. That admiration arises, however, from a
sound instinct,--the instinct which makes us love both power and
self-sacrifice, even when the first is ill-directed and the second
wasted. The vast majority of men are content to do their work quietly
and in obscurity, with no disclosure of originality, freshness, or
force; they obey law, conform to custom, respect the conventionalities
of their age; they appear to be lacking in representative quality;
they are, apparently, the faithful and uninteresting drudges of
society. There are, it is true, a host of commonplace persons, in
every generation, who perform uninteresting tasks in a mechanical
spirit; but it must not be inferred that a man is either craven or
cowardly because he does not break from the circle in which he finds
himself and make a bold and picturesque rush for freedom; it may be
that freedom is to be won for him in the silent and faithful doing of
the work which lies next him; it is certain that the highest power and
the noblest freedom are secured, not by the submission which fears to
fight, but by that which accepts the discipline for the sake of the
mastery which is conditioned upon it.

There are, however, conditions which no man can control, and which are
in their nature essentially tragic; and men and women who are involved
in these conditions cannot elude a fate for which they are not
responsible and from which they cannot escape. This was true of many
of the greatest characters in classical tragedy, and it is true also
of many of the characters in modern tragedy. The world looks with
bated breath on a struggle of the noblest heroism, in which men and
women, matched against overwhelming social forces, bear their part
with sublime and unfaltering courage, and by the completeness of their
self-surrender assert their sovereignty even in the hour when disaster
seems to crush and destroy them. To these striking figures, isolated
by the greatness of their fate, the heart of the world has always gone
out as to the noblest of its children. Solitary in the possession of
some new conception of duty or of truth, separated from the mass of
their fellows by that lack of sympathy which springs from imperfect
comprehension of higher aims or deeper insight, these sublime
strugglers against ignorance, prejudice, caste, and power, become the
heroes and martyrs of the race; they announce the advent of new
conceptions of social order and individual rights; they incarnate the
imperishable soul of humanity in its long and terrible endeavour to
bring the institutions and the ideas of men into harmony with a higher
order of life.

The tragic element has, therefore, many aspects,--sometimes lawless
and destructive, sometimes self-sacrificing and instructive; but its
illustration in literature in any form is not only profoundly
interesting, but profoundly instructive as well. In no other literary
form is the stuff of which life is made wrought into such commanding
figures; in no other form are the deeper possibilities of life brought
into such clear view; in no other form are the fundamental laws of
life disclosed in a light at once so searching and so beautiful in its
revealing power. If all the histories were lost and all the ethical
discussions forgotten, the moral quality of life and the tremendous
significance of character would find adequate illustration in the
great tragedies. They lay bare the very heart of man under all
historic conditions; they make us aware of the range of his
experiences; they uncover the depths by which he is surrounded. They
enable us to see, in lightning flashes, the undiscovered territory
which incloses the little island on which we live; they light up the
mysterious background of invisible forces against which we play our
parts and work out our destiny.

To the student of literature, who strives not only to enjoy but to
comprehend, tragedy brings all the materials for a deep and genuine
education. Instead of a philosophical or ethical statement of
principles, it offers living illustration of ethical law as revealed
in the greatest deeds and the most heroic experiences; it discloses
the secret of the age which created it,--for in no other literary form
are the fundamental conceptions of a period so deeply involved or so
clearly set forth. The very springs of Greek character are uncovered
in the Greek tragedies; and the tremendous forces liberated by the
Renaissance are nowhere else so strikingly brought to light as in that
group of tragedies which were produced in so many countries, by so
many men, at the close of that momentous epoch. When literature runs
mainly to the tragic form, it may be assumed that the spiritual force
of the race has expressed itself afresh, and that a race, or a group
of races, has passed through one of those searching experiences which
bring men again face to face with the facts of life; for the
production of tragedy involves thought of such depth, insight of such
clearness, and imaginative power of such quality and range that it is
possible, on a great scale, only when the springs of passion and
action have been profoundly stirred. The appearance of tragedy marks,
therefore, those moments when men manifest, without calculation or
restraint, all the power that is in them; and into no other literary
form is the vital force poured so lavishly. It is the instinctive
recognition of this unveiling of the soul of man which gives the
tragedy such impressiveness even when it is haltingly represented on
the stage, and which subdues the imagination to its mood when the
solitary reader comes under its spell. The life of the race is sacred
in those great passages which record its sufferings; and nothing makes
us so aware of our unity with our kind in all times and under all
circumstances as the community of suffering in which, actively or
passively, all men share.

In the tragedy the student of literature is brought into the most
intimate relation with his race in those moments when its deepest
experiences are laid bare; he enters into its life when that life is
passing through its most momentous passages; he is present in those
hidden places where it confesses its highest hopes, reveals its most
terrible passions, suffers its most appalling punishments, and passes
on, through anguish and sacrifice, to its new day of thought and

Chapter XX.

The Culture Element in Fiction.

One of the chief elements in fiction which make for culture is,
primarily, its disclosure of the elementary types of character and
experience. A single illustration of this quality will suggest its
presence in all novels of the first rank and its universal interest
and importance. The aspirations, dreams, devotions, and sacrifices of
men are as real as their response to self-interest or their tendency
to the conventional and the commonplace; and they are, in the long
run, a great deal more influential. They have wider play; they are
more compelling; and they are of the very highest significance,
because they spring out of that which is deepest and most distinctive
in human nature. A host of men never give these higher impulses, these
spiritual aptitudes and possibilities, full play; but they are in all
men, and all men recognise them and crave an expression of them.
Nothing is truer, on the lowest and most practical plane, than the old
declaration that men do not live by bread alone; they sometimes exist
on bread, because nothing better is to be had at the moment; but they
live only in the full and free play of all their activities, in the
complete expression not only of what is most pressing in interest and
importance at a given time, but of that which is potential and
possible at all times.

The novel of romance and adventure has had a long history, and the
elements of which it is compounded are recognisable long before they
took the form of fiction. Two figures appear and reappear in the
mythology of every poetic people,--the hero and the wanderer; the man
who achieves and the man who experiences; the man who masters life
by superiority of soul or body, and the man who masters it by
completeness of knowledge. It is interesting and pathetic to find how
universally these two figures held the attention and stirred the
hearts of primitive men; how infinitely varied are their tasks, their
perils, and their vicissitudes. They wear so many guises, they bear so
many names, they travel so far and compass so much experience that it
is impossible, in any interpretation of mythology, to escape the
conviction that they were the dominant types in the thought of the
myth-makers. And these earliest story-makers were not idle dreamers,
entertaining themselves by endless manufacture of imaginary incidents,
conditions, and persons. They were, on the contrary, the observers,
the students, the scientists of their period; their endeavour was not
to create a fiction, but to explain the world and themselves. Their
observation was imperfect, and they made ludicrous mistakes of fact
because they lacked both knowledge and training; but they made free
use of the creative faculty, and there is, consequently, a good deal
more truth in their daring guesses than in many of those provisional
explanations of nature and ourselves which have been based too
exclusively on scrutiny of the obvious fact, and indifference to the
fact, which is not less a fact because it is elusive.

The myth-makers endeavoured to explain the world, but that was only
one-half of their endeavour; they attempted also to explain
themselves. They discovered the striking analogies between certain
natural phenomena or processes and the phenomena and processes of
their own nature; they discovered the tasks and wanderings of the sun,
and they perceived the singular resemblance of these tasks and
wanderings to the happenings of their own lives. So the hero and the
wanderer became subjective as well as objective, and symbolised what
was deepest and most universal in human nature and human experience,
as well as what was most striking in the external world. When
primitive men looked into their hearts and their experience, they
found their deepest hopes, longings, and possibilities bound up and
worked out in two careers,--the career of the hero and the career of
the wanderer.

These two figures became the commanding types of all the nobler
mythologies, because they symbolised what was best, deepest, and most
real in human nature and life. They represent the possible reach and
the occasional achievement of the human soul; they stand for that
which is potential as well as for that which is actual in human
experience. Few men achieve or experience on a great scale; but these
few are typical, and are, therefore, transcendent in interest. The
average commonplace man fills great space in contemporary history, as
in the history of all times, and his character and career are well
worth the closest study and the finest art of the writer; but the
average man, who never achieves greatly, and to whom no striking or
dramatic experience comes, has all the possibilities of action and
suffering in his nature, and is profoundly interested in these more
impressive aspects of life. Truth to fact is essential to all sound
art, but absolute veracity involves the whole truth,--the truth of the
exceptional as well as of the average experience; the truth of the
imagination as well as of observation.

The hero and the wanderer are still, and always will be, the great
human types; and they are, therefore, the types which will continue to
dominate fiction; disappearing at times from the stage which they may
have occupied too exclusively, but always reappearing in due
season,--the hero in the novel of romance, the wanderer in the novel
of adventure. These figures are as constant in fiction as they were in
mythology; from the days of the earliest Greek and Oriental stories to
these days of Stevenson and Barrie, they have never lost their hold on
the imagination of the race. When the sense of reality was feeble,
these figures became fantastic, and even ridiculous; but this false
art was the product of an unregulated, not of an illegitimate,
exercise of the imagination; and while "Don Quixote" destroyed the old
romance of chivalry, it left the instinct which produced that romance
untouched. As the sense of reality becomes more exacting and more
general, the action of the imagination is more carefully regulated;
but it is not diminished, either in volume or in potency. Men have not
lost the power of individual action because society has become so
highly developed, and the multiplication of the police has not
materially reduced the tragic possibilities of life. There is more
accurate and more extensive knowledge of environment than ever before
in the history of the race, but temperament, impulse, and passion
remain as powerful as they were in primitive men; and tragedy finds
its materials in temperament, impulse, and passion, much more
frequently than in objective conditions and circumstances.

The soul of man has passed through a great education, and has
immensely profited by it; but its elemental qualities and forces
remain unchanged. Two things men have always craved,--to come to close
quarters with life, and to do something positive and substantial.
Self-expression is the prime need of human nature; it must know, act,
and suffer by virtue of its deepest instincts. The greater and richer
that nature, the deeper will be its need of seeing life on many sides,
of sharing in many kinds of experience, of contending with multiform
difficulties. To drink deeply of the cup of life, at whatever cost,
appears to be the insatiable desire of the most richly endowed men and
women; and with such natures the impulse is to seek, not to shun,
experience. And that which to the elect men and women of the race is
necessary and possible is not only comprehensible to those who cannot
possess it: it is powerfully and permanently attractive. There is a
spell in it which the dullest mortal does not wholly escape.[1]

    1. Reprinted in part, by permission, from the "Forum."

Chapter XXI.

Culture through Action.

It is an interesting fact that the four men who have been accepted as
the greatest writers who have yet appeared, used either the epic or
the dramatic form. It can hardly have been accidental that Homer and
Dante gave their greatest work the epic form, and that Shakespeare and
Goethe were in their most fortunate moments dramatists. There must
have been some reason in the nature of things for this choice of two
literary forms which, differing widely in other respects, have this in
common, that they represent life in action. They are very largely
objective; they portray events, conditions, and deeds which have
passed beyond the stage of thought and have involved the thinker in
the actual historical world of vital relationships and dramatic
sequence. The lyric poet may sing, if it pleases him, like a bird in
the recesses of a garden, far from the noise and dust of the highway
and the clamour of men in the competitions of trade and work; but the
epic or dramatic poet must find his theme and his inspiration in the
stir and movement of men in social relations. He deals, not with the
subjective, but with the objective man; with the man whose dreams are
no longer visions of the imagination, but are becoming incorporate in
some external order; whose passions are no longer seething within him,
but are working themselves out in vital consequences; whose thought is
no longer purely speculative, but has begun to give form and shape to
laws, habits, or institutions. It is the revelation of the human
spirit in action which we find in the epic and the drama; the inward
life working itself out in material and social relations; the soul of
the man becoming, so to speak, externalised.

The epic, as illustrated in the "Iliad" and "Odyssey," deals with a
main or central movement in Greek tradition; a series of events which,
by reason of their nature and prominence, imbedded themselves in the
memory of the Greek race. These events are described in narrative
form, with episodes, incidents, and dialogues, which break the long
story and relax the strain of attention from time to time, without
interrupting the progress of the narrative. There are heroes whose
figures stand out in the long story with great distinctness, but we
are interested much more in what they do than in what they are; for in
the epic, character is subordinate to action. In the dramas of
Shakespeare, on the other hand, while action is more constantly
employed and is thrown into bolder relief, our deepest interest
centres in the actors; the action is no longer the matter of first
importance; it is significant mainly because it involves men and women
not only in the chain of external consequences, but also in the order
of spiritual sequences. We are deeply stirred by our perception of the
intimate connection between the possibilities which lie sleeping in
the individual life, and the tragic events which are set in motion
when those possibilities are realised in action. In both epic and
drama men are seen, not in their subjective moods, but in their
objective struggles; not in the detachment of the life of speculation
and imagination, but in vital association and relation with society in
its order and institutions. With many differences, both of spirit and
form, the epic and the drama are at one in portraying men in that
ultimate and decisive stage which determines individual character and
gives history its direction and significance.

And it is from men in action that much of the deepest truth concerning
life and character has come; indeed, it is not until we pass out of
the region of the speculative, the merely potential, that the word
"character" takes on that tremendous meaning with which thousands of
years of actual happenings have invested it. A purely ideal world--a
world fashioned wholly apart from the realities which convey definite,
concrete revelations of what is in us and in our world--would
necessarily be an unmoral world. The relationships which bind men
together and give human intercourse such depth and richness spring
into being only when they are actually entered upon; they could never
be understood or foreseen in a world of pure thought; nor would it be
possible, in such a world, to realise that reaction of the deed upon
the doer which creates character, nor that far-reaching influence of
the deed upon society, and the sequence of events which so often
issues in tragedy and from which history derives its immense interest
and meaning. A world which stopped short of realisation in action
would not only lose the fathomless dramatic interest which inheres in
human life, but it would part with all those moral implications of the
integrity and persistence of the individual soul, its moral quality
and its moral responsibility, which make man something different from
the dust which whirls about him on the highway, or the stone over
which he stumbles. This is precisely the character of those
speculative systems which deny the reality of action and substitute
the idea for the deed; such a world does more than suffocate the
individual soul; it destroys the very meaning of life by robbing it of
moral order and meaning. The end of such a conception of the universe
is necessarily annihilation, and its mood is necessarily despair.

"How can a man come to know himself?" asked Goethe. "Never by
thinking, but by doing." Now, this knowledge of self in the large
sense is precisely the knowledge which ripens and clarifies us, which
gives us sanity, repose, and power. To know what is in humanity and
what life means to humanity, we must study humanity in its active, not
in its passive, moods; in the hours when it is doing, not thinking.
Sooner or later all its thinking which has any reality in it passes on
into action. The emotion, passion, thought, impulse, which never gets
beyond the subjective stage, dies before birth; and all those
philosophies which urge abstinence from action would cut the plant of
life at the root; they are, in the last analysis, pleas for suicide.
Men really live only as they freely express themselves through
thought, emotion, and action. They get at the deepest truth and enter
into the deepest relationships only as they act. Inaction involves
something more than the disease and decay of certain faculties; it
involves the deformity of arrested development, and failure to enter
into that larger world of truth which is open to those races alone
which live a whole life. It is for this reason that the drama must
always hold the first place among those forms which the art of
literature has perfected; it is for this reason that Homer, Dante,
Shakespeare, and Goethe, consciously or unconsciously, chose those
forms of expression which are specially adapted to represent and
illustrate life in action; it is for this reason, among others, that
these writers must always play so great a part in the work of
educating the race. Culture is, above all things, real and vital;
knowledge may deal with abstractions and unrelated bits of fact, but
culture must always fasten upon those things which are significant in
a spiritual order. It has to do with the knowledge which may become
incorporate in a man's nature, and with that knowledge especially
which has come to humanity through action. It is this deeper knowledge
which holds a lighted torch aloft in the deepest recesses of the soul,
or over those abysses of possible experience which open on all sides
about every man, which is to be found in the pages of Homer, Dante,
Shakespeare, and Goethe, and of all those great artists who have seen
men in those decisive and significant moments when they strike into
the movement of history, or, through their deeds and sufferings, the
order of life suddenly shines forth.

Chapter XXII.

The Interpretation of Idealism.

Idealism has so often been associated in recent years with vagueness
of thought, slovenly construction, and a weak sentimentalism, that it
has been discredited, even among those who have recognised the reality
behind it and the great place it must hold in all rich and noble
living. It is the misfortune of what is called Idealism, that, like
other spiritual principles, it attracts those who mistake the longings
of unintelligent discontent for aspiration, or the changing outlines
of vapory fancies for the firm and consistent form and shape of real
conceptions deeply realised in the imagination. Idealism has suffered
much at the hands of feeble practitioners who have substituted
irrational dreams for those far-reaching visions and those penetrating
insights which are characteristic of its true use and illustration in
the arts. The height of the reaction so vigorously and impressively
illustrated in a great group of modern realistic works is due largely
to the weakness and extravagance of the idealistic movement. When
sentiment is exchanged for its corrupting counterfeit, sentimentalism,
and clear and definite thinking gives place to vague and elusive
emotions and fancies, reaction is not only inevitable but wholesome;
the instinct for sanity in men will always prevent them from becoming
mere dreamers and star-gazers.

The true Idealist has his feet firmly planted on reality, and his
idealism discloses itself not in a disposition to dream dreams and see
visions, but in the largeness of a vision which sees realities in the
totality of their relations and not merely in their obvious and
superficial relations. It is a great mistake to discern in men nothing
more substantial than that movement of hopes and longings which is so
often mistaken for aspiration; it is equally a mistake to discern in
men nothing more enduring and aspiring than the animal nature; either
report, standing by itself, would be fundamentally untrue. Man is an
animal; but he is an animal with a soul, and the sane view of him
takes both body and soul into account. The defect of a good deal of
current Realism lies in its lack of veracity; it is essentially
untrue, and it is, therefore, fundamentally unreal. The love of truth,
the passion for the fact, the determination to follow life wherever
life leads, are noble, artistic instincts, and have borne noble fruit;
but what is often called Realism has suffered quite as much as
Idealism from weak practitioners, and stands quite as much in need of
rectification and restatement.

The essence of Idealism is the application of the imagination to
realities; it is not a play of fancy, a golden vision arbitrarily
projected upon the clouds and treated as if it had an objective
existence. Goethe, who had such a vigorous hold upon the realities of
existence, and who had also an artist's horror of mere abstractions,
touched the heart of the matter when he defined the Ideal as the
completion of the real. In this simple but luminous statement he
condensed the faith and practice not only of the greater artists of
every age, but of the greater thinkers as well. In the order of life
there can be no real break between things as they now exist and things
as they will exist in the remotest future; the future cannot
contradict the present, nor falsify it; for the future must be the
realisation of the full possibilities of the present. The present is
related to it as the seed is related to the flower and fruit in which
its development culminates. There are vast changes of form and
dimension between the seed and the tree hanging ripe with fruit, but
there is no contradiction between the germ and its final unfolding.

A rigid Realism, however, sees in the seed nothing but its present
hardness, littleness, ugliness; a true and rational Idealism sees all
these things, but it sees also not only appearances but
potentialities; or, to recall another of Goethe's phrases, it sees the
object whole.

To see life clearly and to see it whole is not only to see distinctly
the obvious facts of life, but to see these facts in sequence and
order; in other words, to explain and interpret them. The power to do
this is one of the signs of a great imagination; and, other things
being equal, the rank of a work of art may, in the last analysis, be
determined by the clearness and veracity with which explanation and
interpretation are suggested. Homer is, for this reason, the foremost
writer of the Greek race. He is wholly free from any purpose to give
ethical instruction; he is absolutely delivered from the temptation to
didacticism; and yet he reveals to us the secret of the temperament
and genius of his race. And he does this because he sees in his race
the potentialities of the seed; the vitality, beauty, fragrance, and
growth which lie enfolded in its tiny and unpromising substance. If
the reality of a thing is not so much its appearance as the totality
of that which is to issue out of it, then nothing can be truly seen
without the use of the imagination. All that the Idealist asks is that
life shall be seen not only with his eyes but with his imagination.
His descriptions are accurate, but they are also vital; they give us
the thing not only as it looked standing by itself, but as it appeared
in the complete life of which it was a part; he makes us see the
physical side of the fact with great distinctness, but he makes us see
its spiritual side as well. As a result, there is left in our minds by
the intelligent reading of Homer a clear impression of the spiritual,
political, and social aptitudes and characteristics of the Greek
people of his age,--an impression which no exact report of mere
appearances could have conveyed; an impression which is due to the
constant play of the poet's imagination upon the facts with which he
is dealing.

This is true Idealism; but it is also true Realism. It is not only the
fact, but the truth. The fact may be observed, but the truth must be
discerned by insight,--it is not within the range of mere observation;
and it is this insight, this discernment of realities in their
relation to the whole order of things, which characterises true
Idealism, and which makes all the greater writers Idealists in the
fundamental if not in the technical sense. Tolstoi has often been
called a Realist by those who are eager to label everything and
everybody succinctly; but Tolstoi is one of the representative
Idealists of his time, and his "Master and Man" is one of the most
touching and sincere bits of true Idealism which has been given the
world for many a day.

There is nothing which needs such constant reinforcement as this
faculty of seeing things in their totality; for we are largely at the
mercy of the hour unless we invoke the aid of the imagination to set
the appearances of the moment in their large relations. To the man who
sees things as they rush like a stream before him, there is no order,
progression, or intelligent movement in human affairs; but to the
student who brings to the study of current events wide and deep
knowledge of the great historic movements, these apparently unrelated
phenomena disclose the most intimate inter-relations and connections.
The most despairing pessimism would be born in the heart of the man
who should be fated to see to-day apart from yesterday and to-morrow;
a rational and inspiring hope may be born in the soul of the man who
sees the day as part of the year and the year as part of the century.
The great writers are a refuge from the point of view of the moment,
because they set the events of life in a fundamental order, and make
us aware of the finer potentialities of our race. They are Idealists
in the breadth of their vision and the nobility of the interpretation
of events which they offer us.

Chapter XXIII.

The Vision of Perfection.

These writers are also, by virtue of the faculty of discerning the
interior relations of appearances and events, the expositors of that
ultimate Idealism which not only discovers the possibility of the
whole in the parts, of the perfect in the imperfect, but which
discovers the whole, the complete and the perfect, and brings each
before us in some noble form. The reality of the Ideal as Plato saw it
is by no means universally accepted as a philosophical conclusion, but
all high-minded men and women accept it as a rule of life. Idealism is
wrought into the very fibre of the race, and is as indestructible as
the imagination in which it has its roots. Deep in the heart of
humanity lies the unshakable faith in its essential divinity, and in
the reality of its highest hopes of development and attainment. The
failure of noble schemes, the decline of enthusiasms, the fading of
visions and dreams which seemed to have the luminous constancy of
fixed stars, breed temporary depressions and passing moods of
scepticism and despair; but the spiritual vitality of the race always
reasserts itself, and faith returns after every disaster or

Indeed, as the race grows older and masters more and more a knowledge
of its conditions, the impression of the essential greatness of the
experience we call life deepens in the finer spirits. It becomes clear
that the end towards which the hopes of the world have always moved is
farther off than it seemed to the earlier generations; that the
process of spiritual and social evolution is longer and more painful;
that the universe is vaster and more wonderful than the vision of it
which formed in the imagination of thinkers and poets; in a word, that
the education which is being imparted to humanity by the very
structure of the conditions under which it lives grows more severe,
prolonged, and exacting as its methods and processes become more
clear. The broadening of the field of observation has steadily
deepened the impression of the magnitude and majesty of the physical
order by which men are surrounded; and the fuller knowledge of what is
in human experience has steadily deepened the impression of the almost
tragic greatness of the lot of men. The disappointments of the race
have been largely due to its inadequate conception of its own
possibilities; its disillusions have been like the fading of the
mirage which simulates against the near horizon that which lies long
leagues away. These disappointments and disillusions, as Browning saw
clearly, are essential parts of an education which leads the race step
by step from smaller to larger ideas, from nearer and easier to more
remote and difficult attainments.

The disappointment which comes with the completion of every piece of
work well and wisely done does not arise from the futility of the
work, as the pessimists tell us, but from its inadequacy to express
entirely the thought and force of the man who has striven to express
himself completely in a material which, however masterfully used, can
never give its ultimate form to a spiritual conception. It is not an
evidence of failure, but a prophecy of greater achievement. A world in
which the work was as great as the worker, the piece of art as the
artist, would be a finished world in more senses than one; a world in
which all work is inadequate to contain the energy of the worker, all
art insufficient to express the soul of the artist, is necessarily a
prophetic world, bearing witness to the presence of a creative force
in workers and artists immeasurably beyond the capacity of any
perishable material to receive or to preserve.

A rational Idealism is, therefore, not only indestructible in a race
which does not violate the laws of life, but is instilled into the
higher order of minds by the order of life as revealed by science,
history, and the arts. And this idealistic tendency is not only the
poetic temper; it is the hope and safeguard of society. The real
perils of the race are not material; they are always spiritual; and no
peril could be greater than the loss of faith and hope in the
possibility of attaining the best things. If men are ever bereft of
their instinctive or rational conviction that they have the power
ultimately to bring institutions of all kinds into harmony with their
higher conceptions, they will sink into the lethargy of despair or the
slough of sensualism. The belief in the reality of the Ideal in
personal and social life is not only the joy and inspiration of the
poet and thinker; it is also the salvation of the race. It is
imperishable, because it is the product of the play of the imagination
on the realities of life; and until the imagination perishes, the
vision of the ultimate perfection will form and reform in the heart of
every generation. It is the inspiration of every art, the end of every
noble occupation, the secret hope of every fine character.

Idealism in this sense, not as the product of an easy and ignorant
optimism turning away from the facts of life, but as the product of a
large and spiritual dealing with those facts, is the very soul, not
only of noble living, but of those noble expressions of life which the
greater writers have given us. They disclose wide diversity of gifts,
but they have this in common,--that, in discovering to us the
spiritual order of the facts of life, they disclose also those ideal
figures which the race accepts as embodiments of its secrets, hopes,
and aims. It is a significant fact that, in portraying the Greek of
his time, Homer has given us also the ideal Greek and the Greek
ideals. His insight went to the soul of the persons he described, and
he struck into that spiritual order in which the ideal is not only a
reality, but, in a sense, the only reality.

Cervantes, in the very act of destroying a false Idealism,
conventionally conceived and treated, made one of the most beautiful
revelations of a true Idealism which the world has yet received.
Shakespeare's presentation of the facts of life is, on the whole, the
most comprehensive and impressive which has yet been made; in the
disclosure of tragic elements it is unsurpassed; and yet what a host of
ideal figures move through the plays and invest them with a light
beyond the glow of art! In the Forest of Arden and on Prospero's
Island there live, beyond the touch of time and the vicissitudes of
fate, those gracious and beautiful spirits in whom the race sees its
noblest hopes come true, its instinctive faith in itself justified.
These spirits are not airy nothings, woven of the unsubstantial
gossamer of which dreams are made; they are born of a deep insight
into the possibilities of the soul, and a rational faith in their
reality. Prospero is as real as Trinculo, and Rosalind as true as
Cressida. These ideal persons are not necessarily fortunate in their
surroundings or happy in their lot; they are simply perfect in their
development of a type. They are not abnormal beings, rising above
normal conditions; they are normal beings, rising above abnormal
conditions. They stand for wholeness amid fragments, for perfection
amid imperfection; but the very imperfection and fragmentariness by
which they are surrounded predicts their coming and affirms their

In the rounded and developed nature there must be a deep vein of the
Idealism which grows out of the vision of things in their large
relations--out of a view of men ample enough to discern not only what
they are at this stage of development, but what they may become when
development has been completed. Nothing is more essential than the
courage, the joy, and the insight which grow out of such an Idealism,
and no spiritual possession is more easily lost. The spiritual
depression of a reactionary period, the routine of work, the immersion
in the stream of events, the decline of moral energy, conspire to
blight this noble use of the imagination, and to chill the faith which
makes creative living and working possible. The familiar companionship
of the great Idealists is one of the greatest resources against the
paralysis of this faith and the decay of this faculty.

Chapter XXIV.


The books of four great writers have been used almost exclusively by
way of illustration throughout this discussion of the relation of
books to culture. This limited selection may have seemed at times too
narrow and rigid; it may have conveyed an impression of insensibility
to the vast range and the great variety of literary forms and
products, and of indifference to contemporary writing. It needs to be
said, therefore, that the constant reference to Homer, Dante,
Shakespeare, and Goethe has been made for the sake of clearness and
force of illustration, and not, in any sense, as applying an exclusive
principle of selection. The books of life are to be found in every
language, and are the product of almost every age; and no one attains
genuine culture who does not, through them, make himself familiar with
the life of each successive generation. To be ignorant of the thought
and art of one's time involves a narrowness of intelligence which is
inconsistent with the maturity of taste and ripeness of nature which
have been emphasised in these chapters as the highest and finest
fruits of culture. The more generous a man's culture becomes, the more
catholic becomes his taste and the keener his insight. The man of
highest intelligence will be the first to recognise the fresh touch,
the new point of view, the broader thought. He will bring to the books
of his own time not only a trained instinct for sound work, but a deep
sympathy with the latest effort of the human spirit to express itself
in new forms. So deep and real will be his feeling for life that he
will be eager to understand and possess every fresh manifestation of
that life. However novel and unconventional the new form may be, it
will not make its appeal to him in vain.

It remains true, however, that literature is a universal art,
expressive and interpretative of the spirit of humanity, and that no
man can make full acquaintance with that spirit who fails to make
companionship with its greatest masters and interpreters. The appeal
of contemporary books is so constant and urgent that it stands in
small need of emphasis; but the claims of the rich and splendid
literature of the past are often slighted or ignored. The supreme
masters of an art ought to be the objects of constant study and
thought; there is more of life, truth, and beauty in them than in
their fellow-artists of narrower range of experience and artistic
achievement. For this reason these greatest interpreters of the human
spirit are in no sense exclusively of the past; they are of the
present and the future. To know them is not only to know the
particular periods in which they wrote, but to know our own period in
the deepest sense. No man can better prepare himself to enter into the
formative life of his time than by thoroughly familiarising himself
with the greatest books of the past; for in these are revealed, not
the secrets of past forms of life, but the secrets of that spirit
whose historic life is one unbroken revelation of its nature and
destiny. It is, therefore, no disparagement of the great company of
writers who have been the secretaries of the race in all ages to
fasten attention upon the claims of the four men of genius whom the
world has accepted as the supreme masters of the art of literature,
and to point out again the immense importance of their works in the
educational life of the individual and of society.

It cannot be said too often that literature is the product of the
continuous spiritual activity of the race; that it cannot be
arbitrarily divided into periods save for mere convenience of
arrangement; and that it is impossible to understand and value its
latest products unless one is able to find their place and discern
their value in the order of a spiritual development. To secure an
adequate impression of this highest expression of the human spirit one
must keep in view the work of the past quite as definitely as the work
of the present; in such a broad survey there is a constant deliverance
from the rashness of contemporary judgments, and from that narrowness
of feeling which limits one's vital contact with the life of the race
to the products of a single brief period.

In any attempt to indicate the fundamental significance of the art of
literature in the educational development of the individual and of
society there must also be a certain repetition of idea and of
illustration. This limitation, if it be a limitation, is inherent in
the very nature of the undertaking. Literature is, for purposes of
comment and exposition, practically inexhaustible; its themes are as
varied and as numerous as the objects upon which the mind can fasten
and about which the imagination can play. But while its forms and
products are almost without number, this magnificent growth has, in
the last analysis, a single root, and in these brief chapters the
endeavour has been made, very inadequately, to bring the mind to this
deep and hidden unity of life and art. Information, instruction,
delight, flow in a thousand rivulets from as many books, but there is
a spring of life which feeds all these separate streams. From that
unseen source flows the vitality which has given power and freshness
to a host of noble works; from that source vitality also flows into
every mind open to its incoming. A rich intellectual life is
characterised not so much by profusion of ideas as by the application
of a few formative ideas to life; not so much by multiplicity of
detached thoughts as by the habit of thinking. The genius of Carlyle
is evidenced not by prodigal growth of ideas, but by an impressive
interpretation of life through the application to all its phenomena of
a few ideas of great depth and range. And this is true of all the
great writers who have given us fresh views of life from some central
and commanding height rather than a succession of glimpses or outlooks
from a great number of points. The closer the approach to the central
force behind any course of development, the fewer in number are the
elements involved. The rootage of literature in the spiritual nature
and experience of the race is the fundamental fact not only in the
history of this rich and splendid art, but in its relation to culture.
From this rootage flows the vitality which imparts immortality to its
noblest products, and which supplies an educational element unrivalled
in its enriching and enlarging quality.

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