An obscure childhood, insufficient instruction in his youth, disjointed and scattered studies in early manhood, the pressure of a school position, and all the worry and annoyance that are experienced in such a career—all these he had suffered as many others have. He had reached the age of thirty without having enjoyed a single favor at the hands of fate; yet in him were planted the germs of an enviable happiness, very possible to realize.
Even in these unhappy days we find the trace of that impulse to know for himself with his own eyes the conditions of the world, gloomy and disjointed traces it is true, but expressed with sufficient decision. A few attempts to see strange lands, undertaken without sufficient reflection, were unsuccessful. He dreamed of a journey to Egypt; he set out by way of France, but unforeseen obstacles turned him back. More wisely guided by his genius, he at last seized upon the idea of forcing his way to Rome. He felt how very profitable a sojourn in the Eternal City would be for him. This was no whim, no mere thought; it was a decided plan, which he undertook to realize with cleverness and decision.
Man can accomplish much by the opportune use of individual powers, he can even accomplish extraordinary things by the combination of several powers; but the unique, the startling, he can only achieve when all capabilities are evenly united in him. This last was the happy lot of the ancients, especially of the Greeks in their best period; to the other two alternatives we moderns are unfortunately limited by fate.
When the healthy nature of man acts as a unit, when he realizes his place in the world as part of a great and worthy whole, when a harmonious well-being accords him a pure and free happiness—then the universe, if it had the power of self-realization, its end attained, would rejoice and admire this culmination of its own genesis and existence. For to what purpose is the array of suns, planets and moons, of stars and milky ways, of comets and nebulae, of worlds existing and arising, if it be not that a happy man may unconsciously rejoice in his own existence?
While, in almost every act of contemplation, the modern thinker, as we have just done, projects himself into the infinite, to return only in the end—if he is happy enough in succeeding therein—to a limited proposition, the ancients, without following a long, round-about path, found their exclusive happiness within the lovely confines of this world. Here they were placed, to this end they had been called, here their activity found its field, their passion its object and nourishment.
Why are their poets and historians the wonder of the judicious, the despair of rivals, unless it be because the actors introduced by them were so deeply concerned in their own selves, in the narrow circle of the fatherland, within the circumscribed path of their own life as well as that of their fellow citizens, and because with all their mind, inclination, and power, they worked in and for the present? Under such conditions it could not be difficult for a writer of their opinion to immortalize such a present. What was actually occurring was for them the only thing of value, just as for us only what is thought or felt seems of greatest worth.