BOOKS AND CULTURE
HAMILTON WRIGHT MABIE
NEW YORK: PUBLISHED BY DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY
BY DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY, All rights reserved.
University Press: JOHN WILSON AND SON, CAMBRIDGE, U.S.A.
To EDMUND CLARENCE STEDMAN
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
XX. THE CULTURE ELEMENT IN FICTION 229
XXI. CULTURE THROUGH ACTION 239
XXII. THE INTERPRETATION OF IDEALISM 250
XXIII. THE VISION OF PERFECTION 260
XXIV. RETROSPECT 271
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 mediaeval 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 maturity.
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 ourselves.
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 culture.
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.
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 Caesar. 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 it.
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.
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 'Phaedrus.' 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 'Phaedrus' 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 culture.
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.
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 zooelogy; 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.
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 himself.
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.
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 Demophoon."
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.
"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.
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.
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."