Byron knew the secrets of the art which he practiced with such splendid success as few men have known them. His command of the lyric form was complete. And yet who that loves his work has not felt that lack in it which Matthew Arnold had in mind when he said that with all his genius Byron had the ideas of a country squire? The poet was a master of the technique of his art; he had rare gifts of passion and imagination; but he lacked breadth, variety, and depth of thought. There is a monotony of theme and of motive in his compositions. Tennyson, on the other hand, exalted his technical skill by the reality and richness of his culture. Nothing which contains and reveals the human spirit was alien to him. He did not casually touch a great range of themes; he studied them patiently, thoroughly, persistently. Religion, philosophy, science, literature, history were his familiar friends; he lived with them, and they so completely confided to him their richest truths that he became their interpreter. So wide were his interests and so varied his studies that he came to be one of those men in whom the deeper currents of an age flow together and from whom the tumult of angry and contending currents issues in a great harmonious tide. No modern man has prepared himself more intelligently for specific excellence by special training, and no man has more splendidly illustrated the necessity of combining the expertness of the skilled workman with the insight, power, and culture of a great personality. A life which issues in an art so beautiful in form and so significant in content reveals both the necessity of constant and general preparation, and the identity of great working power with great spiritual energy.
The Ultimate Aim
Workers of all kinds are divided into two classes by differences of skill and by differences of aim. The artist not only handles his materials in a different way from that which the artisan employs, but he uses them for a different end and in a different spirit. The peculiar spiritual quality of the artist is his supreme concern with the quality of his work and his subordinate interest in the returns of reputation or money which the work brings him. No wise man ought to be indifferent to recognition and to material rewards, because there is a vital relation between honest work and adequate wages of all kinds; a relation as clearly existing in the case of Michael Angelo or of William Shakespeare as in the case of the farmhand or the day labourer. But when the artist plans his work, and while he is putting his life into it day by day, the possible rewards which await him are overshadowed by the supreme necessity of making the work sound, true, adequate, and noble. A man is at his best only when he pours out his vital energy at full tide, without thought or care for anything save complete self-expression.
He who hopes to reach the highest level of activity in work will not aim, therefore, to gain specific ends or to touch external goals of any kind; he will aim at complete self-development. His ultimate aim will be not material but spiritual; he cannot rest short of the perfect self- expression. The rewards of work—money, influence, position, fame—will be the incidents, not the ends, of his toil. He has a right to look for them and count upon them; but if he be a true workman they will never be his inspirations, nor can they ever be his highest rewards. The man in public life who sets out to secure a certain official position as the ultimate goal of his ambition may be a successful politician but can never be a statesman; for a statesman is supremely concerned with the interests of the state, and only subordinately with his own interests. Such a man may definitely seek a Presidency or a Premiership; but he will seek it, in any final analysis of his motives, not for that which it will give him in the way of reward, but for that which it will give him in the way of opportunity. A genuine man seeks a great place, not that he may be seen of men, but that he may speak, influence and lead men.
The motives of the vast majority of men are, to a certain extent, confused and contradictory; for the noblest man never quite completes his education and brings his nature into final harmony; but the genuine man is inspired by generous motives, and to such an one success becomes not a snare but an education, in the process of which all that is noblest becomes controlling and all that is merely personal becomes subordinate. In this way the politician often develops into the statesman, and the merely clever and successful painter or writer grows to the stature of the artist. It is one of the saving qualities of ability that it has the power of growth, and great responsibilities often educate an able man out of selfish aims.
The ultimate aim which the worker sets before him ought always to have a touch of idealism because it must always remain a little beyond his reach. The man who attains his ultimate aim has come to the end of the race; there are no more goals to beckon him on; there is no more inspiration or delight in life. But no man ought ever to come to the end of the road; there ought always to be a further stretch of highway, an inviting turn under the shadow of the trees, a bold ascent, an untrodden summit shining beyond.
If a man sets a specific position or an external reward of any kind before him as the limit of his journey, he is in danger of getting to the end before he has fully put forth his strength, and so giving his life the pathos of an anti-climax. The more noble and able a man is, the less satisfaction can he find in any material return which his work brings him; no man with a touch of the artist in him can ever rest content with anything short of the complete putting forth of all that is in him, and the consciousness of having done his work well.
For a man's ultimate responsibility is met by what he is and does, not by what he gains. When he sets an exterior reward of any kind before him as the final goal of his endeavour, he breaks away from the divine order of life and destroys that deep interior harmony which ought to keep a man's spirit in time and tune with the creative element in the world.
We are not to seek specific rewards; they must come to us. They are the recognition and fruit of work, not its inspiration and sustaining power. Let a man select the right seed and give it the right soil, and sun, rain, and the warm earth must do the rest. Goethe touched the heart of the matter when he wrote:
"Shoot your own thread right through the earthly tissue Bravely; and leave the gods to find the issue."
In all work of the highest quality God must be taken into account. No man works in isolation and solitude; he works within the circle of a divine order, and his chief concern is to work with that order. To aim exclusively at one's own advancement and ease is to put oneself outside that order and to sever oneself from those sources of power which feed and sustain all whom they reach. In that order a man finds his place by bringing to perfection all that is in him, and so making himself a new centre of life and power among men.
Whatever is true of the religious life is true also of the working life; the two are different aspects of the same vital experience. In the field of work he who would keep his life must lose it, and in losing his life a man secures it for immortality. The noble worker pours himself into his work with sublime indifference to its rewards, and by the very completeness of his self-surrender and self-forgetfulness touches degrees of excellence and attains a splendour of vision which are denied those whose ventures are less daring and complete. And the largeness of conception, the breadth of treatment, the beauty of skill which a man gains when he casts all his spiritual fortune into his work often secure the richest measure of those returns which men value so highly because they are the tangible evidences of success. No man can forget himself for the sake of fame; but let him forget himself for the sake of his work, and fame will gladly serve him while lesser men are vainly wooing her. The man who is superior to fortune is much more likely to be fortunate than he who flatters fortune and wears her livery. Notwithstanding the successes that attend cleverness and dexterity and the flattery of popular taste and the study of the weaknesses of men, it remains true that greatness rules in every sphere, and that in the exact degree in which a man is superior is he authoritative and finally successful. Notoriety is easily bought, but fame remains unpurchasable; external successes, sought as final ends, are but the hollow mockeries of true achievement.
Securing Right Conditions
To secure the finest growth of a plant there must be a careful study of the conditions of soil, exposure, and moisture, or sun which it needs; when these conditions are supplied and the necessary oversight furnished, nature may be trusted to do her work with ideal completeness. Now, the perfect unfolding of a rich personality involves the utmost intelligence in the discernment of the conditions which are essential, and the utmost persistence in the maintenance of those conditions after they have been secured. Perfectly developed men and women are rare, not only because circumstances are so often unfavourable, but also because so little thought is given, as a rule, to this aspect of life. The majority of men make use of such conditions and material as they find at hand; they do not make a thorough study of the things they need, and then resolutely set about the work of securing these essential things. Many men use faithfully the opportunities which come to hand, but they do not, by taking thought, convert the whole of life into one great opportunity.
When a man discovers that he has a special gift or talent, his first duty is to turn that gift into personal power by securing its fullest development. The recognition of such a gift generally brings with it the knowledge of the conditions which it needs for its complete unfolding; and when that discovery is made a man holds the clew to the solution of the problem of his life. The world is full of unintelligent sacrifice,— sacrifice which is sound in motive, and therefore does not fail to secure certain results in character, but which is lacking in clear discernment, and fails, therefore, to accomplish the purpose for which it was made. Such unavailing sacrifice is always pathetic, for it involves a waste of spiritual power. One of the chief sources of this kind of waste is the habit which so many American communities have formed of calling a man into all kinds of activity before he has had time to thoroughly train and develop himself. Let a young teacher, preacher, speaker, or artist give promise of an unusual kind, and straightway all manner of enterprises solicit his support, local organisations and movements urge their claims upon him, reforms and philanthropies command his active co-operation; and if he wisely resists the pressure he is in the way of being set down as selfish, unenterprising, and lacking in public spirit.
As a matter of fact, in most cases, it is the community, not the individual, which is selfish; for communities are often ruthless destroyers of promising youth.
The gifted young preacher must clearly discern the needs of his own nature or he will miss the one thing which he was probably sent into the world to accomplish, the one thing which all men are sent into the world to secure,—free and noble self-development. He must be wiser than his parish or the community; he must recognise the peril which comes from the too close pressure of near duties at the start. The community will thoughtlessly rob him of the time, the quiet, and the repose necessary for the unfolding of his spirit; it will drain him in a few years of the energy which ought to be spread over a long period of time; and at the end of a decade it will begin to say, under its breath, that its victim has not fulfilled the promise of his youth. It will fail to discern that it has blighted that promise by its own urgent demands. The young preacher who is eager to give the community the very greatest service in his power will protect it and himself by locking his study door and resolutely keeping it locked.
The young artist and writer must pass through the same ordeal, and must learn before it is too late that he who is to render the highest service to his fellows must be most independent in his relations to them. He cannot commit the management of his life to others without maiming or blighting it. The community insists upon immediate activity at the expense of ultimate service, upon present productivity at the cost of ultimate power. The artist must learn, therefore, to bar his door against the public until he has so matured his own strength and determined his own methods that neither crowds nor applause nor demands can confuse or disturb him. The great spirits who have nourished the best life of the race have not turned to their fellows for their aims and habits of work; they have taken counsel of that ancient oracle which speaks in every man's soul, and to that counsel they have remained steadfastly true. There is no clearer disclosure of divine guidance in the confusion of human aims and counsels than the presence of a distinct faculty or gift in a man; and when such a gift reveals itself a man must follow it, though it cost him everything which is most dear; and he must give it the largest opportunity of growth, though he face the criticism of the world in the endeavour.
Life is always a struggle, and no man comes to any kind of mastery without a conflict. The really great man is often compelled to light for his right to live in the freedom of spirit. Prophets, poets, teachers, and artists have known the scorn, hatred, and rejection of society; they have known also its flatteries, rewards, and imperious demands; and they have learned that in both moods society is the foe of the highest development and of the noblest talent. He who breaks under the scorn or yields to the adulation becomes the creature of those whom he would serve, and so misses his own highest fortune and theirs as well; he who forgets the indifference in steadfast work, and holds to his aims and habits when success knocks at his door, gains the most and the best for himself and for others.
For the highest service which a man can render to his kind is possible only when he secures for himself the largest and noblest development; to stop short of that development is to rob himself and society. Selfishness does not lie in turning a deaf ear to present calls for work and help; it lies in indifference to the ultimate call. Goethe was by no means a man of symmetrical character, and there were reaches of spiritual life which he never traversed; but the charge of selfishness urged against him because he gave himself up completely to the work which he set out to do cannot be sustained. The very noblest service which he could render to the world was to hold himself apart from its multiform activities in order that he might enrich every department of its thought. For life consists not only in the doing of present duties, but in the unfolding of the relations of men to the entire spiritual order of which they are part, and in the enrichment of human experience by insight, interpretation, and the play of the creative faculties. The artist finds his use in the enrichment of life, and his place in the order of service is certainly not less assured and noble than that of the man of action. Such a nature as Dante's does more for men than a host of those who are doing near duties and performing the daily work of the world. Let no man decry the spiritual greatness of these obvious claims and tasks; but on the other hand, let not the man of practical affairs and of what may be called the executive side of ethical activity decry the artists, the thinkers, and the poets.
It is the duty of some men to leave reforms alone, and to give themselves up to study, meditation, and the creative spirit and mood. Of men of practical ability the world stands in little need; of men of spiritual insight, imaginative force, and creative energy it stands in sore need. When such a gift appears it ought to be sacredly guarded. It may be that it has a work to do which demands absolute detachment from the ordinary affairs of society. To assault it with the claims of the hour is to defeat its purpose and rob the future. It must have quiet, leisure, repose. Let it dream for a while in the silence of sweet gardens, within the walls of universities, in the fruitful peace of undisturbed days; for out of such dreams have come "As You Like It," "The Tempest," "In Memoriam," and "The Vision of Sir Launfal." Out of such conditions have come also the work of Darwin, Spencer, Martineau, Maurice, Jowett, and Childs. He who is bent on making a wise use of his abilities may safely be left to choose his own methods and to create his own conditions.
When a man has discovered the conditions which are necessary to his most complete development, he will, if he is wise and strong, resolutely preserve these conditions from all disturbing influences and claims. He will not hesitate to disappoint the early and eager expectation of his friends by devoting himself to practice while they are clamorous for work; he will take twenty years for preparation, if necessary, and cheerfully accept indifference and the pangs of being forgotten, if at the end of that time he can do a higher work in a better way. He who takes a long range must expect that his target will be invisible to those who happen to be taking note of him; he will need, therefore, to have a very clear perception of the end he is pursuing, and great persistence in the pursuit of that end.
The alertness and facility of the American temperament are very engaging and useful qualities, but they involve serious perils for those who are bent upon doing the best thing in the best way. The man who can turn his hand readily to many things is likely to do many things well, but to do nothing with commanding force and skill. One may have a fund of energy which needs more than one field to give it adequate play; but he who hopes to achieve genuine distinction in any kind of production must give some particular work the first place in his interest and activity, and must pour his whole soul into the doing of that work. A man may enjoy many diversions by the way, but he must never forget the end of his journey. If he is wise, he will not hasten; he will not miss the sights and sounds and pleasures which give variety to travel and bring rest to the traveller; but he will hold all these things subordinate to the accomplishment of his journey. He will rest for the sake of the strength it will give him; he will turn aside for the enjoyment of the view; he will linger in sweet and silent places to take counsel with his own thoughts; but the staff and wallet will never be laid aside.
There are no men so interesting as those who are quietly and steadfastly following some distant aim which is invisible to others. One recognises them because they seem to be moving silently but surely onward. Skill, insight, and power steadily flow to them; and, apparently without effort, they climb step by step the steep acclivity where influence and fame abide. They are supremely interesting because, through absorption in their work, they are largely free from self-consciousness, and because they bring with them the air and stir of growth and movement. They rarely obtrude their interests or pursuits upon others, but they give the impression of a definiteness of aim which cannot be obscured or blurred, and a concentration of energy which steadily reacts in increase of power. They are not only the heroic workers of the world, but they also set in motion the deeper currents of thought and action; into the atmosphere of a sluggish age they infuse freshness and vitality; they do not drift with majorities, they determine their own courses, and sweep others into the wide circles of influence which issue from them. They are the leaders, organisers, energising spirits of society; they do not copy, but create; they do not accept, but form conditions; they mould life to their purpose, and stamp themselves on materials.
To the making of genuine careers concentration is quite as essential as energy; to achieve the highest success, a man must not only be willing to pour out his vitality without stint or measure, but he must also be willing to give himself. For concentration is, at bottom, entire surrender of one's life to some definite end. In order to focus all one's powers at a single point, there must be abandonment of a wide field of interest and pleasure. One would like to do many things and take into himself many kinds of knowledge, many forms of influence; but if one is to master an art, a craft, or a profession, one must be willing to leave many paths untrod, to build many walls, and to lock many doors. When the boy has learned his lessons he may roam the fields and float on the river at his own sweet will; but so long as he is at the desk he must be deaf to the invitation of sky and woods. When a man has mastered his work he may safely roam the world; but while he is an apprentice let him be deaf and blind to all things that interrupt or divert or dissipate the energies.
Mr. Gladstone's astonishing range of interests and occupations was made possible by his power of concentration. He gave himself completely to the work in hand; all his knowledge, energy, and ability were focussed on that work, so that his whole personality was brought to a point of intense light and heat, as the rays of the sun are brought to a point in a burning-glass. When the power of concentration reaches this stage of development, it liberates a man from dependence upon times, places, and conditions; it makes privacy possible in crowds, and silence accessible in tumults of sound; it withdraws a man so completely from his surroundings that he secures complete isolation as readily as if the magic carpet of the "Arabian Nights" were under him to bear him on the instant into the solitude of lonely deserts or inaccessible mountains. More than this, it enables a man to work with the utmost rapidity, to complete his task in the shortest space of time, and to secure for himself, therefore, the widest margin of time for his own pleasure and recreation.
The marked differences of working power among men are due chiefly to differences in the power of concentration. A retentive and accurate memory is conditioned upon close attention. If one gives entire attention to what is passing before him, he is not likely to forget it or to confuse persons or incidents. The book which one reads with eyes which are continually lifted from the page may furnish entertainment for the moment, but cannot enrich the reader, because it cannot become part of his knowledge.
Attention is the simplest form of concentration, and its value illustrates the supreme importance of that focussing of all the powers upon the thing in hand which may be called the sustained attention of the whole nature.
Here, as everywhere in the field of man's life, there enters that element of sacrifice without which no real achievement is possible. To secure a great end, one must be willing to pay a great price. The exact adjustment of achievement to sacrifice makes us aware, at every step, of the invisible spiritual order with which all men are in contact in every kind of endeavour. If the highest skill could be secured without long and painful effort it would be wasted through ignorance of its value, or misused through lack of education; but a man rarely attains great skill without undergoing a discipline of self-denial and work which gives him steadiness, restraint, and a certain kind of character. The giving up of pleasures which are wholesome, the turning aside from fields which are inviting, the steady refusal of invitations and claims which one would be glad to accept or recognise, invest the power of concentration with moral quality, and throw a searching light on the nature of all genuine success. To do one thing well, a man must be willing to hold all other interests and activities subordinate; to attain the largest freedom, a man must first bear the cross of self-denial.
The ability to relax the tension of work is as important as the power of concentration; for the two processes combine in the doing of the highest kind of work. There are, it is true, great differences between men in capacity for sustained toil. Some men are able to put forth their energy at the highest point of efficiency for a short time only, while the endurance of others seems to be almost without limit. In manual or mechanical work it is mainly a question of physical or nervous resources; in creative work, however relaxation is not a matter of choice; it is a matter of necessity, because it affects the quality of the product. In the alertness of attention, the full activity of every faculty, the glow of the imagination, which accompany the putting forth of the creative power, the whole force of the worker is concentrated and his whole nature is under the highest tension. Everything he holds of knowledge, skill, experience, emotion flows to one point; as waters which have gathered from the surface of a great stretch of country sometimes run together and sweep, in deep, swift current, through a narrow pass. In such moments there is a concentration of thought, imagination, and spiritual energy which fuses all the forces of the worker into one force and directs that force to a single point.
In such a moment there is obviously a closing in of a man's nature from outward influences. The very momentum with which the absorbed worker is urged on in the accomplishment of his design shuts him from those approaches of truth and knowledge which are made only when the mind is at ease. One sees a hundred things in the woods as he saunters through their depths which are invisible as he rushes through on a flying train; and one is conscious of a vast world of sights, sounds, and odours when he sits out of doors at ease, of which he is oblivious when he is absorbed in any kind of task. Now, in order to give work the individuality and freshness of the creative spirit, one must be, at certain times, as open to these manifold influences from without as one must be, at other times, closed against them; the tension of the whole being which is necessary for the highest achievement must be intermitted. The flow of energy must be stopped at intervals in order that the reservoir may have time to fill. In the lower forms of work relaxation is necessary for health; in the higher forms of work it is essential for creativeness.
It is a very superficial view of the nature of man which limits growth to periods of self-conscious activity; a view so superficial that it not only betrays ignorance of the real nature of man's relation to his world, but also of the real nature of work. Activity is not necessarily work; it is often motion without direction, progress, or productiveness; mere waste of energy. In every field of life—religious, intellectual, material—there is an immense amount of activity which is sheer waste of power. Work is energy intelligently put forth; and intelligence in work depends largely upon keeping the whole nature in close and constant relation with all the sources of power. To be always doing something is to be as useless for the higher purposes of growth and influence as to be always idle; one can do nothing with a great show of energy, and one can do much with very little apparent effort. In no field of work is the difference between barren and fruitful activity more evident than in teaching. Every one who has acquaintance with teachers knows the two types: the man who is never at rest, but who pushes through the school day, watch in hand, with gongs sounding, monitors marking, classes marching, recitations beginning and ending with military precision, sharply defined sections in each text-book arbitrarily covered in each period; a mechanic of tireless activity, who never by any chance touches the heart of the subject, opens the mind of the pupil, enriches his imagination, or liberates his personality: and the other type, the real teacher, who is concerned not to sustain a mechanical industry, but to create a dynamic energy; who cares more for truth than for facts, for ability than for dexterity, for skill of the soul than for cunning of the brain; who aims to put his pupil in heart with nature as well as in touch with her phenomena; to disclose the formative spirit in history as well as to convey accurate information; to uncover the depths of human life in literature as well as to set periods of literary development in external order. Such a man may use few methods, and attach small importance to them; the railroad atmosphere of the schedule may be hateful to him in the school-room; but he is the real worker, for he achieves that which his noisier and more bustling colleague misses,—the education of his pupils. He is not content to impart knowledge; he must also impart culture; for without culture knowledge is the barren possession of the intellectual artisan.
Now, culture involves repose, openness of mind, that spiritual hospitality which is possible only when the nature is relaxed and lies fallow like the fields which are set aside in order that they may regain fertility. The higher the worker the deeper the need of relaxation in the large sense. A man must be nourished before he can feed others; must be enriched in his own nature before he can make others rich; must be inspired before he reveal, prophesy, or create in any field. If he makes himself wholly a working power, he isolates himself from the refreshment and re-creative power of the living universe in which he toils; in that isolation he may do many things with feverish haste, but he can do nothing with commanding ability. He narrows his energy to a rivulet by cutting himself off from the hills on which the feeding springs rise and the clouds pour down their richness. The rivulet may be swift, but it can never have depth, volume, or force. The great streams in which the stars shine and on which the sails of commerce whiten and fade are fed by half a continent.
To the man who is bent upon the highest personal efficiency through the most complete self-development a large part of life must be set aside for that relaxation which, by relief from tension and from concentration, puts the worker into relation with the influences and forces that nourish and inspire the spirit. The more one can gain in his passive moods, the more will he have to give in his active moods; for the greater the range of one's thought, the truer one's insight, and the deeper one's force of imagination, the more will one's skill express and convey. A man's life ought to be immensely in excess of his expression, and a man's life has its springs far below the plane of his work. Emerson's work reveals the man, because it contains the man, but the man was fashioned before the work began. The work played no small part in the unfolding of the man's nature, but that which gave the work individuality and authority antedated both poems and essays. These primal qualities had their source in the personality of the thinker and poet, and were developed and refined by long intimacy with nature, by that fruitful quietness and solitude which open the soul to the approach of the deepest truths and most liberating experiences. Emerson knew how to relax, to surrender to the hour and the place, to invite the higher powers by throwing all the doors open; and these receptive hours, when he gave himself into the keeping of the spirit, were the most fertile periods of his life; they enriched and inspired him for the hours of work.
There is a radical difference between relaxation and recreation. To relax is to unbend the bow, to diminish the tension, to lie fallow, to open the nature on all sides. Relaxation involves passivity; it is a negative condition so far as activity is concerned, although it is often a positive condition so far as growth is concerned. Recreation, on the other hand, involves activity, but activity along other lines than those of work. Froebel first clearly developed the educational significance and uses of play. Earlier thinkers and writers on education had seen that play is an important element in the unfolding of a child's nature, but Froebel discerned the psychology of play and showed how it may be utilised for educational purposes. His comments on this subject are full of significance: "The plays of the child contain the germ of the whole life that is to follow; for the man develops and manifests himself in play, and reveals the noblest aptitudes and the deepest elements of his being. ...The plays of childhood are the germinal leaves of all later life; for the whole man is developed and shown in these, in his tenderest dispositions, in his innermost tendencies." And one of Froebel's most intimate associates suggests another service of play, when he says: "It is like a fresh bath for the human soul when we dare to be children again with children." Play is the prelude to work, and stands in closest relation to it; it is the natural expression of the child's energy, as work is the natural expression of the man's energy. In play and through play the child develops the power that is in him, comes to knowledge of himself, and realises his relation with other children and with the world about him. In the free and unconscious pouring out of his vitality he secures for himself training, education, and growth.
The two instincts which impel the child to play are the craving for activity and the craving for joy. In a healthy child the vital energy rushes out with a fountain-like impetuosity and force; he does not take thought about what he shall do, for it is of very little consequence what he does so long as he is in motion. A boy, with the high spirits of perfect health, is, at times, an irresponsible force. He acts instinctively, not intelligently; and he acts under the pressure of a tremendous vitality, not as the result of design or conviction. The education of play is the more deep and fundamental because it is received in entire unconsciousness; like the landscape which sank into the soul of the boy blowing mimic hootings to the owls on the shore of Winander. The boy who has the supreme good fortune of physical, mental, and moral health often passes the invisible line between play and work without consciousness of the critical transition. In the life of a man so harmonious in nature and so fortunate in condition, work is a normal evolution of play; and the qualities which make play educational and vital give work its tone and temper. Activity and joy are not dissevered in such a normal unfolding of a man's life.
Now, play is as much a need of the man's nature as of the boy's, and if work is to keep its freshness of interest, its spontaneity, and its productiveness, it must retain the characteristics of play; it must have variety, unconsciousness of self, joy. Activity it cannot lose, but joy too often goes out of it. The fatal tendency to deadness, born of routine and repetition, overtakes the worker long before his force is spent, and blights his work by sapping its vitality. Real work always sinks its roots deep in a man's nature, and derives its life from the life of the man; when the vitality of the worker begins to subside, through fatigue, exhaustion of impulse, or loss of interest, the work ceases to be original, vital, and genuine. Whatever impairs the worker's vitality impairs his work. So close is the relation between the life of the artist and the life of his art that the stages of his decline are clearly marked in the record of his work. It is of the highest importance, therefore, that a man keep himself in the most highly vitalised condition for the sake of productiveness.
No one can keep in this condition without the rest which comes from self- forgetfulness and the refreshment which comes from joy; one can never lose the capacity for play without some sacrifice of the capacity for work. The man who never plays may not show any loss of energy, but he inevitably shows loss of power; he may continue to do a certain work with a certain efficiency, but he cannot give it breadth, freshness, spiritual significance. To give one's work these qualities one must withdraw from it at frequent intervals, and suffer the energies to play in other directions; one must not only diminish the tension and lessen the concentration of attention; one must go further and seek other objects of interest and other kinds of activity; and these objects and activities must be sought and pursued freely, joyfully, and in forgetfulness of self. The old delight of the playground must be called back by the man, and must be at the command of the man. The boy's play, in a real sense, creates the man; the man's play re-creates him by re-vitalising him, refreshing him and restoring to him that delight in activity for its own sake which is the evidence of fresh impulse.
This is the true meaning of recreation; it involves that spiritual recuperation and reinforcement which restore a man his original energy of impulse and action. Recreation is, therefore, not a luxury, but a necessity; not an indulgence, but a duty. When a man is out of health physically and neglects to take the precautions or remedies which his condition demands, he becomes, if he has intelligence, a suicide; for he deliberately throws his life away. In like manner, the man who destroys his freshness and force by making himself a slave to work and so transforming what ought to be a joy into a task, commits a grave offence against himself and society. The highest productivity will never be secured until the duty of recreation is set on the same plane with that of work, and the obligation to nourish one's life made as binding as the obligation to spend one's life.
How a man shall secure recreation and in what form he shall take it depends largely upon individual conditions. Mr. Gladstone found recreation not only in tree-cutting but in Homeric studies; Lord Salisbury finds it in chemistry; Washington found it in hunting; Wordsworth in walking; Carlyle in talking and smoking; Mr. Balfour finds it in golf, and Mr. Cleveland in fishing. Any pursuit or occupation which takes a man out of the atmosphere of his work-room and away from his work, gives him different interests, calls into activity different muscles or faculties, brings back the spirit of play, recalls the spontaneous and joyous mood, and re-creates through diversion, variety, and the appeal to another side of the nature. To work long and with cumulative power, one must play often and honestly; that is to say, one must play for the pure joy of it.
Ease of Mood
Ease, it has been said, is the result of forgotten toil; and ease is essential to the man who works continuously and on a large scale. It is fortunate, rather than the reverse, when one's work is not easily done at the start; for early facility is often fatal to real proficiency. The man who does his work without effort at the beginning is tempted to evade the training and discipline which bring ease to the mind and the hand because both have learned the secret of the particular work and mastered the art of doing it with force and freedom. Facility is mere agility; ease comes from the perfect adjustment of the man to his tools, his materials, and his task. The facile man, as a rule, does his work with as little effort at twenty as at fifty; the man of trained skill does his work with increasing comfort and power. The first starts more readily; the second has the greater faculty of growth, and is more likely to become an artist in the end.
It is significant that the most original and capacious minds, like the most powerful bodies, often betray noticeable awkwardness at the start; they need prolonged exercise in order to secure freedom of movement; they must have time for growth. Minds of a certain superficial brilliancy, on the other hand, often mature early because they have so little depth and range. To be awkward in taking hold of one's work is not, therefore, a thing to be regretted; as a rule it is a piece of good fortune.
But awkwardness must finally give place to ease if one is to do many things or great things, and do them well. Balzac wrote many stories before he secured harmony and force of style; but if, as the result of his long apprenticeship, he had failed to secure these qualities, the creation of the "Comedie Humaine" would have been beyond his power. The work was so vast that no man could have accomplished it who had not learned to work rapidly and easily. For ease, when it is the result of toil, evidences the harmonious action of the whole nature; it indicates that mastery which comes to those only who see all the possibilities of the material in hand and readily put all their power into the shaping of it. A great work of art conveys an impression, not of effort, but of force and resource. One is convinced that Shakespeare could have written plays and Rembrandt painted portraits through an indefinite period of time without strain or exhaustion.
Strain and exhaustion are fatal to fine quality of work,—exhaustion, because it deprives work of vitality; and strain, because it robs work of repose, harmony, and charm. It is interesting to note how deeply an audience enjoys ease in a speaker; when he seems to be entirely at home and to have complete command of his resources, his hearers throw off all apprehension, all fear that their sympathies may be drawn upon, and give themselves up to the charm of beautiful or compelling speech. Let a speaker show embarrassment or anxiety, on the other hand, and his hearers instantly share his anxiety. There are speakers, moreover, who give no occasion for any concern about their ability to deal with a subject or an occasion, but whose exertion is so evident that the audience, which is always sensitive to the psychologic condition of a speaker, is wearied and sometimes exhausted. It is one of the characteristics of art that it conceals all trace of toil; and a man's work never takes on the highest qualities until all evidences of labour and exertion are effaced from it. Not many months ago the members of a court of very high standing expressed great pleasure in the prospect of hearing a certain lawyer of eminence on the following morning. These judges were elderly men, who had listened patiently through long years to arguments of all kinds, presented with all degrees of skill. They had doubtless traversed the whole field of jurisprudence many times, and could hardly anticipate any surprises of thought or novelties of argument. And yet these patient and long-suffering jurists were looking forward with delight to the opportunity of hearing another argument on an abstruse question of legal construction! The explanation of their interest was not far to seek. The jurist whose appearance before them was anticipated with so much pleasure is notable in his profession for ease of manner, which is in itself a very great charm. This ease invests his discussions of abstract or obscure questions with a grace and finish which are within the command of the artist only; and the artist is always fresh, delightful, and captivating. Mr. Gladstone's friends recall as one of his captivating qualities the ease with which he seemed to do his work. He was never in haste; he always conveyed the impression of having ample time for his varied and important tasks. If he had felt the spur of haste he would have lost his power of winning through that delightful old-fashioned courtesy which none could resist; if in his talks, his books, or his speeches there had been evidences of strain, he would not have kept to the end an influence which was due in no small measure to the impression of reserve power which he always conveyed.
Ease of mood is essential to long-sustained working-power. The anxious man loses force, and the laborious man time, which cannot be spared from the greater tasks. Wellington used to say that a successful commander must do nothing which he could get other men to do; he must delegate all lesser tasks and relieve himself of all care of details, in order that he might concentrate his full force on the matter in hand. It is said that the most daring and compelling men are invariably cool and quiet in manner. Such men lose nothing by friction or waste of energy; they work with the ease which is born of toil.
Sharing the Race-Fortune
The development of one's personality cannot be accomplished in isolation or solitude; the process involves close and enduring association with one's fellows. If work were purely a matter of mechanical skill, each worker might have his cell and perform his task, as in a prison. But work involves the entire personality, and the personality finds its complete unfolding, not in detachment, but in association. Talent, says Goethe, thrives in solitude, but character grows in the stream of the world. It is a twofold discovery which a man must make before the highest kind of success lies within his grasp: the discovery of his own individual gift, force, or aptitude, and the discovery of his place in society. If it were possible to secure complete development of one's power in isolation, the product would be, not the full energy of a man expressing itself through a congenial activity, but a detached skill exercised automatically and apart from a personality.
In order to stand erect on his feet, in true and fruitful relations with the world about him, a man must join hands with his fellows. For a very large part of his education must come from his contact with the race. Since men began to live and to learn the lessons of life, each generation has added something to that vital knowledge of the art of living which is the very soul of culture, and something to the constructive and positive product of this vital knowledge wrought out into institutions, organisations, science, art, and religion. This inheritance of culture and achievement is the richest possession into which the individual member of the race is born, and he cannot take possession of his share of the race- fortune unless he becomes one of the race family. This race-fortune is the product of the colossal work of the race through its entire history; it represents the slow and painful toil and saving of countless multitudes of men and women. It is a wealth beside which all purely monetary forms of riches are fleeting and secondary; it is the enduring spiritual endowment of the race secured by the incalculable toil of all past generations.
Now, no man can secure his share in this race-fortune until he joins the ranks of the workers and takes his place in the field, the shop, the factory, the study, or the atelier. The idle man is always a detached man, and is, therefore, excluded from the privileges of heirship. To get the beauty of any kind of art one must train himself to see, to understand, and to enjoy; for art is a sealed book to the ignorant. To secure the largeness of view which comes from a knowledge of many cities and races, one must travel with a mind already prepared by prolonged study. The approach to every science is guarded by doors which open only to the hand which has been made strong by patient and persistent exercise. Every department of knowledge is barred and locked against the ignorant; nothing which represents achievement, thought, knowledge, skill, beauty, is within reach of the idle. Society has secured nothing which endures save as the result of persistent and self-denying work; and nothing which it has created can be understood, nothing which it has accumulated can be appropriated, without kindred self-denial and toil. It is evident, therefore, that the material for the education of the individual cannot be secured save by intimate fellowship with the race. This fellowship must rest also in present relations; for while man may get much that is of vast importance by contact with the working race of the past, he cannot get either the richest material or put himself under the deepest educational process without making himself one with the working race of to-day. The race-fortune, unlike other fortunes, does not increase by its own productive powers; it grows only as it is employed by those who inherit it. Investments of capital often lose their vitality; they still represent a definite sum of money, but they make no returns of interest. In like manner the accumulations of the race become dead unless they are constantly vitalised by effective use. The richest material for culture is valueless unless it is so employed as continually to renew the temper of culture in those who possess it. The richest results of past toil, genius, and life are without significance in the hands of the ignorant; and it has happened more than once that the pearls of past civilisation have been trampled into the mire by the feet of swine.
The architectural remains of the older Rome were ruthlessly destroyed in the years before the Renaissance and put to menial use as mere building material. They had reverted to the condition and value of crude stone, because no one perceived their higher values.
There is, unfortunately, another kind of ignorance, not quite so dense as that which does not recognise beauty of form or value of historical association, but not less destructive; there is that ignorance of the spiritual force behind the form which makes a fetish of the form, and so misses the interior wealth which it contains. There has spread among men and women of the dilettante temper the belief that to know the results and products of the past simply as curios and relics is to share the culture which these things of beauty and skill embody and preserve; and this false idea has helped to spread abroad the feeling that culture is accomplishment rather than force, and that it is for the idle rather than for the active and creative. There never was a more radical misconception of a fundamental process, for culture in the true sense involves, as a process, the highest and truest development of a race, and, as a product, the most enduring spiritual expression of race genius and experience. The culture of the Greeks was the highest form of their vital force; and the product of that culture was not only their imperishable art, but their political, social, and religious organisation and ideals. Their deepest life went into their culture, and the most enduring fruits of that culture are also the most significant expressions of their life.
To get at the sources of power in Shakespeare's plays, one must not only understand the secrets of their structure as works of art, but one must also discern their value as human documents; one must pass through them into the passion, the suffering, the toil of the race. No one can get to the heart of those plays without getting very near to the heart of his race; and no one can secure the fruits of culture from their study until he has come to see, with Shakespeare, that the unrecorded life-experience of the race is more beautiful, more tragic, and more absorbing than all the transcriptions of that experience made by men of genius. In other words, the ultimate result of a true study of Shakespeare is such an opening of the mind and such a quickening of the imagination that the student sees on all sides, in the lives of those about him, the stuff of which the drama is made. Not to the idle, but to the workers, does Shakespeare reveal himself.
The Imagination in Work
The uses of the imagination are so little understood by the great majority of men, both trained and untrained, that it is practically ignored not only in the conduct of life, but of education. It receives some incidental development as a result of educational processes, but the effort to reach and affect it as the faculties of observation, of reasoning, and of memory are made specific objects of training and unfolding, is rarely made. It is relegated to the service of the poets and painters if it is recognised at all; and so far as they are concerned it is assumed that they will find their own way of educating this elusive faculty. As for other men, dealing with life from the executive or practical sides, it is taken for granted that if they have imagination they can find no proper use for it. Individual teachers have often understood the place and function of the imagination, and have sought to liberate and enrich it by intelligently planned study; but the schools of most, if not of all, times have treated it as a wayward and disorderly gift, not amenable to discipline and training, and of very doubtful value. There has always been, in every highly civilised society, a good deal that has appealed to this divinest of all the gifts with which men have been endowed; there have been periods in which the imagination has been stirred to its depths by the force of human energy and the play and splendour of human experience and achievement; but there has never yet been adequate recognition of its place in the life of the individual and of society, nor intelligent provision for its education. The movements of thought along educational lines in recent years show, however, a slow but steady drift toward a clearer conception of what the imagination may do for men, and of what education may do for the imagination.
So long as the uses of the imagination in creative work are so little comprehended by the great majority of men, it can hardly be expected that its practical uses will be understood. There is a general if somewhat vague recognition of the force and beauty of its achievements as illustrated in the work of Dante, Raphael, Rembrandt, and Wagner; but very few people perceive the play of this supreme architectural and structural faculty in the great works of engineering, or in the sublime guesses at truth which science sometimes makes when she comes to the end of the solid road of fact along which she has travelled. The scientist, the engineer, the constructive man in every department of work, use the imagination quite as much as the artist; for the imagination is not a decorator and embellisher, as so many appear to think; it is a creator and constructor. Wherever work is done on great lines or life is lived in fields of constant fertility, the imagination is always the central and shaping power. Burke lifted statesmanship to a lofty plane by the use of it; Edison, Tesla, and Roebling in their various ways have shown its magical quality; and more than one man of fortune owes his success more to his imagination than to that practical sagacity which is commonly supposed to be the conjurer which turns all baser metals into gold.
That splendour of the spirit which shines in the great art of the world shines also in all lesser work that is genuine and sincere; for the higher genius of man, which is the heritage of all who make themselves ready to receive it, is present in all places where honest men work, and moulds all materials which honest men handle. Indeed the most convincing evidence of the activity of this supreme faculty is to be found, not in the works of men of exceptional gift, but in the work of the obscure and undistinguished. It is impossible to energise the imagination among the workers without energising it among the artists; and artists never appear in great numbers unless there is in the common work of common men a touch of vitality and freshness. A real movement of the imagination is never confined to a class; it is always shared by the community. It does not come in like a group of unrelated rivulets fed by separate fountains; it comes like a tide, slowly or swiftly rising until it enfolds a wide reach of territory. The presence of a true art spirit shows itself not so conclusively in a few noble works as in the touch of originality and beauty on common articles in common use; on furniture, and domestic pottery, and in the love of flowers.
The genius of a race works from below upward, as the seed sends its shoot out of the hidden place where it is buried; and when it becomes luminous in books, painting, and architecture, it grows also in out-of-the-way places and in things of humble use. The instinct for beauty, which is more pronounced and fruitful among the Japanese than among any other modern people, shows itself most convincingly in the originality, variety, and charm of the shapes which household pottery takes on, and in the quiet but deep enjoyment of the blossoming apple or cherry, the blooming vine or the fragrant rose. It is the presence of beauty diffused through the life of a people in habit, taste, pleasure, and daily use which makes the concentration of beauty in great and enduring works not only possible but inevitable; for if a people really care for beauty they will never lack artists to give enduring expression to that craving which, among men of lesser gift, shows itself in a constant endeavour to bring material surroundings into harmony with spiritual aspirations.
This play of the imagination over the whole landscape of life gives it perennial charm, because it perpetually re-forms and re-arranges it; and the free movement of the imagination in all occupations and tasks not only makes work a delight, but gives it a significance and adequacy, which make it the fit expression, not of a mere skill, but of an immortal spirit. The work from which this quality is absent may be honest and sincere, but it cannot be liberalising, joyful, and contagious; it cannot give the nature free play; it cannot express the man. Patience, persistence, fidelity are fundamental but not creative qualities; the true worker must possess and practise them; but he must go far beyond them if he is to put himself into his work, and bring his work into harmony with those spiritual conditions and aims which are the invisible but final standards and patterns of all works and tasks.
One may always get out of hard work the satisfaction which comes from the consciousness of an honest endeavour to do an honest piece of work; but the work which inspires rather than exhausts, and the doing of which gives the hand more freedom and power for the next tasks must be penetrated, suffused, and shaped by the imagination. The great lawyer, physician, electrician, teacher, and builder must give his work largeness, completeness, and nobility of structure by the use of the imagination in as real and true a sense as the great poet or painter. Without it all work is hard, detached, mechanical; with it all work is vital, co-ordinated, original. It must shape, illumine, and adorn; it must build the house, light the lamp within its walls, and impart to it that touch of beauty which invests wood and stone with the lightness, the grace, and the loveliness of spirit itself. We begin with the imagination; it holds its light over the play of childhood; it is the master of the revels, the enchantments, and the dreams of youth; it must be also the inspiration of all toil and the shaping genius of all work.
The Play of the Imagination
It is interesting to study the personality of a man whose work is invested with freshness, charm, and individuality, because such a study invariably makes us aware of that subtle and elusive skill in the use of all materials which is not technical but vital. That skill is impossible without special training, but it is not the product of training; it is not dexterity; it is not facility; it has the ease and grace of a harmonious expression of all that is distinctive and original in the man. No one thinks of technical skill in that moment of revelation which comes when one stands for the first time in the presence of a noble work; later one may study at length and with delight the perfection of workmanship disclosed in solidity of structure and in harmony of detail; but in the moment of revelation it is the essential and interior truth and beauty, which shine from form and colour and texture as the soul shines in a human face, which evoke a thrill of recognition in us.
Now, this higher skill which dominates and subordinates the technical skill, this skill of the spirit which commands and uses the skill of the body, is born in the soul of the worker and is the ultimate evidence and fruit of his mastership. It is conditioned on the free play of the imagination through all the material which the worker uses. It involves that fusion of knowledge, intelligence, facility, and insight which can be effected only by the constant use of the imagination. In statesmanship Burke and Webster are examples of this highest type of worker; men who not only command the facts with which they are called upon to deal, but who so organise and vitalise those facts that, in their final presentation, they possess the force of irresistible argument, and are illumined and clothed with perennial beauty as works of art. In like manner, in the pulpit, Chrysostom, Fenelon, Newman, and Brooks not only set religious truth in impressive order, but gave it the appealing power of a noble and enduring beauty.
It is impossible to do a great piece of work unless one can form an image of it in advance, unless one can see it as it will finally appear. If one were limited in vision to the detail actually in hand, the whole would never be completed; that which makes the perfection of the whole possible is the ability of the worker to keep that whole before him while he deals with the detached parts. Without that power the worker is a mechanical drudge, whose work has no quality save that of dogged fidelity to the task. Now, this power of keeping the whole before the mind while dealing with the parts, of seeing the completed machine while shaping a pin or a cog, of getting the complete effect of the argument while elaborating a minor point, resides in the imagination. It is the light which must shine upon all toil that has in it intelligence, prevision, and freshness; and its glow is as essential in mechanical as in purely artistic work. Whenever, in any kind of work dealing with any kind of material, there is any constructive quality, any fitting of part with part, any adjustment of means to ends, there must be imagination.
Work which is done without imagination is so rudimentary that, at the best, its highest use is to save some one else a little drudgery. This elementary kind of work is often done by those students of literature who confuse the study of grammatical construction with style, and those students of the Bible who think they are illustrating the truths of religion by purely textual study. Theology has suffered many things at the hands of those who have attempted to explain the divine mysteries without the light which alone penetrates these mysteries. To do the commonest work with sincerity and force; to understand the simplest character; to perform the simplest services of friendship; to enter into another's trial and to give the balm of sympathy to one who is smitten and bruised; to conduct a campaign by foreseeing the movements of an adversary, or to carry on successfully a great enterprise by forecasting its probable development; to make any invention or discovery; to be a really great preacher, physician, lawyer, teacher, mechanic;—to do any of these things one must have and one must use the imagination.
The charm with which the imagination invests childhood is due to its habitual and unconscious use by children, and is suggestive of the methods by which this faculty may be made the inspirer of all tasks and toil. The child makes vivid images of the ideas which appeal to it; it gives reality to those ideas by identifying them with the objective world; it clothes all things with which it plays with life. In his autobiography Goethe describes the door in the wall of a certain garden in Frankfort within which many marvellous things happened; a true romance of incident and adventure which became as real to the romancer as to his eager and credulous listeners. De Quincey created an imaginary kingdom, peopled with imaginary beings whom he ruled with benignant wisdom, amid universal prosperity and peace, until, in an unlucky hour, he admitted his brother into a partnership of authority; and that brother, unable to withstand the temptation of absolute power, became a remorseless tyrant. And De Quincey feelingly describes the reality of his anguish when, to protect his innocent subjects from a tyrant's rapacity, he was compelled to destroy his imaginary kingdom. The imaginative boy turns a vacant lot into an African jungle, and hunts wild beasts in constant peril of his life; the imaginative girl carries on social intercourse with her dolls as seriously as with her most intimate playmates. Everything is real and alive to a child, and the world of ideas has as much substance as the world of matter.
These characteristics of a child in its play throw clear light on the true methods of the man in his work; for the play of childhood is prophetic of the work of maturity; it is the prelude in which all the great motives are distinctly audible. The man who gives his work completeness and charm must conceive of that work, not as a detached and isolated activity, but as part of the great order of life; a product of the vital forces as truly as the flower which has its roots in the earth. To the growth of the flower everything contributes; it is not limited to the tiny plot in which it is planted: the vast chemistry of nature in soil, atmosphere, and sky nourish it. In like manner a man must habitually think of his work, not as a mere putting forth of his technical skill, but as the vital product of all the forces which sustain him. A real poem grows out of all that is deepest in a man's nature; to its making in spiritual conception, structure, form, and style his body, his mind, and his soul contribute; its metre adjusting itself to his breathing, its ideas taking direction and significance from his thought, and its elusive suggestiveness and beauty conveying something of his mysterious personality. A true sermon is never what is sometimes called a pulpit effort; it is always the product of the preacher's experience; he does not and cannot make it; it must grow within him. A great oration has the same vital relationship with the orator, the occasion, the theme, and human experience. It is never a bit of detached brilliancy; it is always, like Lincoln's address at Gettysburg, the summing up and expression of a vast and deep movement of the human spirit. In its form it reveals the man who makes it; in its content it is seen to be inevitable. It lies in the consciousness of a race before it rises into the consciousness of the orator and takes flight on the wings of immortal speech.
To think habitually of one's work as a growth and not a thing made out of hand, as a product of all the forces of one's nature and not a bit of skill, as alive in the sense in which all things are alive in which spirit and life express themselves,—to conceive of one's work in this large and vital way is to keep the imagination playing through and inspiring it.
Superiority of any kind involves discipline, self-denial, and self- sacrifice. It is the law of excellence that he who would secure it must pay for it. In this way the intellectual process is bound up with the moral process, and a man must give his character firmness and fibre before he can make his talent effective or his genius fruitful. The way of the most gifted workman is no easier than that of the most mediocre; he learns his lesson more easily, but he must learn the same lesson. The familiar story of the Sleeping Princess protected by a hedge of thorns, told in so many languages, is a parable of all success of a high order. The highest prizes are always guarded from the facile hand; they exact patience, persistence, intelligence, and force. If they were easily secured they would be easily misused; it rarely happens, however, that a man of high artistic gifts degrades his talent. He may set it to unprofitable uses, but he rarely makes merchandise of it. A Rembrandt, Thackeray, or Lowell cannot do inferior work for personal ends without suffering that devouring remorse which accompanies the conscience of the artist, and turns all ignoble popular successes into mockeries and scourges.
Moral education precedes mastership in every art, because the training which mastery involves reacts upon character and gives it steadiness and solidity. Great writers have sometimes lived careless, irresponsible lives, but they have always paid a great price for self-indulgence. The work of an irresponsible man of genius always suggests the loss which society has suffered by reason of his moral instability. Such men have done charming work; they have touched their creations with the magic of natural grace and the beauty of fresh and rich feeling; but they miss that completeness and finality which carry with them the conviction that the man has put forth all that was in him. We value what they have done, but we are always asking whether they could not have done more. Genius is of so rare and vital a nature that it will flash through all manner of obscurations, but there is a vast difference between the light which shines through a clear medium and that which is dimmed and reflected by a murky atmosphere. A man of Chatterton's temperament will give evidence of the possession of genius, but how far removed he is, in influence, position, and power, from a Tennyson or a Wordsworth!
The connection between sane living and sound work is a physiological and psychological necessity. The time, strength, poise, capacity for sustained work, steadiness of will, involved in the successful performance of great tasks or the production of great artistic creations exclude from the race all save those who bring to it health, vigour, and energy. It is unnecessary to inquire with regard to the habits of the man who builds up a great business enterprise or who secures genuine financial reputation and authority; these achievements always involve self-control, courage, persistence, and moral vigour. They are beyond the reach of the self- indulgent man. The man whose weakness of will makes him the victim of appetite or passion may make brilliant efforts, but he is incapable of sustained effort; he may do beautiful things from time to time, he cannot do beautiful things continuously and on a large scale. A Villon may give the world a few songs of notable sweetness or power; he cannot give the world a Divine Comedy or the plays of Corneille.
Every attempt to dissever art from character, however brilliantly sustained, is doomed to failure because the instinct, the intelligence, and the experience of the race are against it. Physiology and psychology are as definite as religion in their declarations on this matter; it is not a question of dogma or even of faith; it is a question of elementary laws and of common sense. All modern investigation goes to show the subtle and vital relations which exist between the different parts of a man's nature, and the certainty of the reaction of one part upon another; so that whatever touches the body ultimately touches the innermost nature of the man, and whatever affects the spirit eventually leaves its record on the physique. Every piece of genuine work which comes from a man's hand bears the impress of and is stamped with the quality of his whole being; it is the complex product of all that the man is and of all that be has done; it is the result of his genius, his industry, and his character.
Goethe saw clearly, as every critic of insight must see, that the artist is conditioned on the man; that whenever a man does anything which has greatness in it he does it with his whole nature. Into his verse the poet puts his body, his mind, and his soul; he is as powerless to detach his work from his past as he is to detach himself from it; and one of the saddest penalties of his misdoings is their survival in his work. The dulness of the poet's ear shows itself in the defective melody of his verse; for both metre and rhythm have a physiological basis; they represent and express the harmony which is in the body when the body is finely attuned to the spirit. Dull senses and a sluggish body are never found in connection with a great command of the melodic quality in language.
Goethe, with his deep insight, held so uncompromisingly to the unity of man and his works, that he would not have tried to escape the criticism of his nature which his works, adequately interpreted, suggest. He would have expected to find his moral limitations reproduced in his art. He indicated the fundamental principle when he said that his works, taken together, constituted one great confession. And this may be affirmed of every man's work; it is inevitably, and by the law of his nature, a disclosure of what he is, and what he is depends largely upon what he has been. Men have nowhere more conspicuously failed to escape themselves than in their works. Literary history, especially, is a practically unused treasure- house of moral illustration and teaching; for in no other record of human activity is the dependence of a man's work on his nature more constantly and strikingly brought out. The subtle relation between temperament, genius, environment, and character is in constant evidence to the student of literature; and he learns at last the primary truth that because a man's work is a revelation of the man, it is, therefore, as much a matter of his character as of his genius. The order of the world is moral in every fibre; men may do what they please within certain limits, and because they do what they please society seems to be in a state of moral chaos; but every word and deed reacts instantly on the man, and this reaction is so inevitable that since time began not one violator of any law of life has ever escaped the penalty. He has paid the price of his word or his deed on the instant in its reaction upon his character. God does not punish men; they punish themselves in their own natures and in the work of their hands. When Mirabeau, in the consciousness of the possession of the most masterful genius of his time, rose to speak in the States General, he became aware that his dissolute past was standing beside him and mocking him. His vast power, honestly put forth for great ends, was neutralised by a record which made belief in him almost impossible. In bitterness of soul he learned that genius and character are bound together by indissoluble ties, and that genius without character is like oil that blazes up and dies down about a shattered lamp. More than once, in words full of the deepest pathos, he recognised the immense value of character in men of far less ability than himself. The words which Mrs. Ward puts into the mouth of Henri Regnault are memorable as embodying searching criticism: "No, we don't lack brains, we French. All the same, I tell you, in the whole of that room there are about half-a-dozen people,— oh, not so many!—not nearly so many!—who will ever make a mark, even for their own generation, who will ever strike anything out of nature that is worth having—wrestle with her to any purpose. Why? Because they have every sort of capacity—every sort of cleverness—and no character!"
If a man is insensibly determining the quality of his work by everything which he is doing; if he is fixing the excellence of its workmanship by the standards he is accepting and the habits he is forming; if he is creating in advance its spiritual content and significance by the quality which his own nature is unconsciously taking on; and if he is determining its quantity and force by the strength, persistence, and steadfastness which he is developing, it is clear that work rests ultimately upon character, and that character conditions work in quality, content, skill, and mass.
Freedom from Self-Consciousness
The sublime paradox of the spiritual life is repeated in all true development of personal gift and power. In order to find his life a man must first lose it; in order to keep his soul a man must first give it. The beginning of all education is self-conscious; at the start every effect must be calculated, every skill, method, or dexterity carefully studied. Training involves a rigid account of oneself based on searching self-knowledge. To become an effective speaker one must know his defects of bearing, gesture, voice; one must bring his whole personality into clear light, and study it as if it were an external thing; one must become intensely self-conscious. The initiation to every art is through this door of rigid scrutiny of self and entire surrender of self to the discipline of minute study and exacting practice. The pianist knows the artistic value of every note, and strikes each note with carefully calculated effect. The artist gives himself up to a patient study of details, and is content with the monotony of laborious imitation; subjecting every element of material and manner to the most thorough analysis.
The first stage in the education of the true worker is self-conscious; the final stage is self-forgetful. No man can enter the final stage without passing through the initial stage; no man can enter the final stage without leaving the initial stage behind him. One must first develop intense self-consciousness, and then one must be able to forget and obliterate himself. One must first accept the most exacting discipline of the school, and then one must forget that schools exist. The apprentice is the servant of detail; the master is the servant of the idea: the first accepts methods as if they were the finalities of art; the second uses them as mere instruments. Tennyson's attention was once called to certain very subtle vowel effects in one of his later poems; he promptly said that he had not thought of them. That was undoubtedly true, for he had become a master; but there was a time, in his days of apprenticeship, when he had studied the musical qualities and resources of words with the most searching intelligence. The transition from apprenticeship to mastery is accomplished when a man passes through self-consciousness into self- forgetfulness, when his knowledge and skill become so much a part of himself that they become instinctive. When the artist has gained, through calculation, study, and, practice, complete command of himself and his materials, he subordinates skill to insight, and makes his art the unconscious expression of his deepest nature. When this stage is reached the artist can pour his whole soul into his work almost instinctively; his skill and methods have become so completely a part of himself that he can use them almost without being conscious of them.
This ability to transform skill into character, to make instinct do the work of intelligence, to pass from intense self-consciousness into self- forgetfulness, is the supreme test to which every artist must subject himself let him sustain this test and his place is secure. To find one's life in the deepest sense, to bring out and express one's personality, a man must lose that life; that is to say, he must have the power of entire self-surrender. When the inspiration comes, as it does come to all creative spirits, a man must be able to surrender himself to it completely. When the hour of vision arrives the prophet has no time or thought to waste on himself; if he is to speak, he must listen with intense and utter stillness of soul.
In the degree in which a man masters his art does he attain unconsciousness of self. Great artists have sometimes been great egotists, but not in their greatest hours or works. And in so far as their egotism has touched their art it has invariably limited its range or diminished its depth and power; for in those moments in which the vision is clearest a man is always lifted above himself. He escapes for the moment the limitations which ordinarily encircle him as the horizon encircles the sea.
That which is true of the master worker, the artist, is true of all lesser workers: the highest efficiency is conditioned on the ability to forget oneself. Self-consciousness is the most serious and painful limitation of many men and women of genuine capacity and power. It rests like a heavy load on shoulders which ought to be free; it is an impediment of speech when speech ought to have entire spontaneity, and freedom. This intense consciousness of self, although always revealing a certain amount of egoism, is often devoid of egotism; it is, in many cases, a sign of diffidence and essential modesty. It is the burden and limitation of those especially who have high aims and standards, but who distrust their own ability to do well the things they are eager to do. To be self-conscious is to waste a great deal of force which ought to go into work; it is to put into introspection the vitality which ought to issue in some form of expression. The speaker is never in full command of his theme or his audience until he has gotten rid of himself; so long as he has to deal with himself he cannot wholly surrender himself to his theme nor to his audience. He is hampered, troubled, and anxious when he ought to be free, calm, and unconcerned. There is but one remedy for self-consciousness, and that is absorption in one's work. There must first be not only thorough preparation for the task in hand but thorough training of the whole nature; for every weak place in a man's education for his work is a point of self-consciousness. No man of conscience can do easily and instinctively that which he knows he cannot do well. The worker must have, therefore, the serenity which comes from confidence in the adequacy of his preparation. A man can even fail with a clear conscience, if he has taken every precaution against the possibility of failure. Adequate training being assumed, a man must cultivate the habit of self-surrender. This is sometimes difficult, but it is rarely, if ever, impossible.
To take a further illustration from the experience of the speaker, who is, perhaps, as often as any other kind of worker, burdened and limited at the start by self-consciousness: it is entirely possible to lose consciousness of self for the time in the theme or the occasion. Assuming that the preparatory work has been thorough, a man can train himself to fasten his thought entirely on his subject and his opportunity. If his theme is a worthy one and he has given adequate thought or research to it, he can learn to forget himself and his audience in complete surrender to it. Companionship with truth invests a man with a dignity which ought to give him poise and serenity; which will give him calmness and effectiveness if he regards himself as its servant and messenger. An ambassador is held in great honour because of the power which he represents; a man who is dealing in any way with truth or beauty has a right to repose in the greatness and charm of that for which he stands. This transference of interest from the outcome of a personal effort to the sharing of a vision or the conveyance of a power has often made the stammerer eloquent and the timid spirit heroically indifferent to self. The true refuge of the artist is absorption in his art; the true refuge of the self-conscious worker is complete surrender to the dignity and interest of his work.
If the conception of man's relation to the world set forth in these chapters is sound, work is the chief instrumentality in the education of the human spirit; for it involves both self-realisation and the adjustment of self to the order of life. Through effort a man brings to light all that is in him, and by effort he finds his place in the universal order. Work is his great spiritual opportunity, and the more completely he expresses himself through it the finer the product and the greater the worker. There is an essential unity between all kinds of work, as there is an essential continuity in the life of the race. The rudest implements of the earliest men and the divinest creations of the greatest artists are parts of the unbroken effort of humanity to bring into clear consciousness all that is in it, and all that is involved in its relationship with the universe. The spiritual history of the race is written in the blurred and indistinct record of human energy and creativeness, made by the hands of all races, in all times, in every kind of material. Work has emancipated, educated, developed, and interpreted the human spirit; it has made man acquainted with himself; it has set him in harmony with nature; and it has created that permanent capital of force, self-control, character, moral power, and educational influence which we call civilisation.
Work has been, therefore, not only the supreme spiritual opportunity, but the highest spiritual privilege and one of the deepest sources of joy. It has been an expression not only of human energy but of the creativeness of the human spirit. By their works men have not only built homes for themselves in this vast universe, but they have co-operated with the divine creativeness in the control of force, the modification of conditions, the fertilisation of the earth, the fashioning of new forms.
In his work man has found God, both by the revelation of what is in his own spirit and by the discovery of those forces and laws with which every created thing must be brought into harmony. The divine element in humanity has revealed itself in that instinct for creativeness which is always striving for expression in the work of humanity; that instinct which blindly pushes its way through rudimentary stages of effort to the possession of skill; slowly transforming itself meanwhile into intelligence, and flowering at last in the Parthenon, the Cathedral at Amiens, the Book of Job, Faust, Hamlet, the Divine Comedy, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, Wagner's Parsifal, Rembrandt's portraits. This ascent of the spirit of man out of the mysterious depths of its own consciousness to these sublime heights of achievement is the true history of the race; the history which silently unfolds itself through and behind events, and makes events comprehensible. In the sweat of his brow man has protected and fed himself; but this has been but the beginning of that continuous miracle which has not only turned deserts into gardens and water into wine, but has transformed the uncouth rock into images of immortal beauty, and the worker from the servant of natural conditions and forces into their master. Men still work, as their fathers did before them, for shelter and bread; but the spiritual products of work have long since dwarfed its material returns. A man must still work or starve in any well-ordered society; but the products of work to-day are ease, travel, society, art,— in a word, culture. In that free unfolding of all that is in man and that ripening of knowledge, taste, and character, which are summed up in culture, work finds its true interpretation. A man puts himself into his work in order that he may pass through an apprenticeship of servitude and crudity into the freedom of creative power. He discovers, liberates, harmonises, and enriches himself. Through work he accomplishes his destiny; for one of the great ends of his life is attained only when he makes himself skilful and creative, masters the secrets of his craft and pours his spiritual energy like a great tide into his work. The master worker learns that the secret of happiness is the opportunity and the ability to express nobly whatever is deepest in his personality, and that supreme good fortune comes to him who can lose himself in some generous and adequate task.
The last word, however, is not task but opportunity; for work, like all forms of education, prophesies the larger uses of energy, experience, and power which are to come when training and discipline have accomplished their ends and borne their fruit.