Books and Culture eBook

Hamilton Wright Mabie
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 123 pages of information about Books and Culture.
grow out of his highest nature; they react on his character; they are the precious deposit of all that he has thought, felt, suffered, and done in word and work, in feeling and action.  The richest educational material upon which modern men are nourished are these ultimate conclusions and convictions of the Hebrew, the Greek, and the Roman.  These ultimate inferences, these final interpretations of their own natures and of the world about them, contain not only the thought of these races, but their life as well.  They have, therefore, a vital quality which not only assures their own immortality, but has the power of transmission to others.  These ultimate results of experience are embodied in art, and especially in literature; and that which makes them art is this very vitality.  For this reason art is absolutely essential for culture; it has the power of enriching and expanding the natures which come in contact with it by transmitting to them the highest results of the life of the past, by sharing with them the ripeness and maturity of the human spirit in its universal experience.

Chapter VI.

The Books of Life.

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

If it be true, as many believe, that the fundamental process of the universe, so far as we can understand it, is not intellectual, but vital, it follows that the deepest things which men have learned have come to them not as the result of processes of thought, but as the result of the process of living.  It is evident that certain definite purposes are being wrought out through physical forms, processes, and forces; science reveals clearly enough certain great lines of development.  In like manner, although with very significant differences, certain deep lines of growth and expansion become more and more clear in human history.  Through the bare process of living, men not only learn fundamental facts about themselves and their world, but they are evidently working out certain purposes.  Of these purposes

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