The most careless and superficial readers do not remain untouched by the books of life; they fail to understand them or get the most out of them, but they do not escape the spell which they all possess,—the power of compelling the attention and stirring the heart. Not many years ago the stories of the Russian novelists were in all hands. That the fashion has passed is evident enough, and it is also evident that the craving for these books was largely a fashion. Nevertheless, the fashion itself was due to the real power which those stories revealed, and which constitutes their lasting contribution to the world’s literature. They were touched with a profound sadness, which was exhaled like a mist by the conditions they portrayed; they were full of a sympathy born of knowledge and of sorrow; their roots were in the rich soil of the life they described. The latest of them, Count Tolstoi’s “Master and Man,” is one of those masterpieces which take rank at once, not by reason of their magnitude, but by reason of a certain beautiful quality which comes only to the man whose heart is pressed against the heart of his theme, and who divines what life is in the inarticulate soul of his brother man. Such books are the rich material of culture to the man who reads them with his heart, because they add to his experience a kind of experience otherwise inaccessible to him, which quickens, refreshes, and broadens his own nature.
By Way of Illustration.
The peculiar quality which culture imparts is beyond the comprehension of a child, and yet it is something so definite and engaging that a child may recognise its presence and feel its attraction. One of the special pieces of good fortune which fell to my boyhood was companionship with a man whose note of distinction, while not entirely clear to me, threw a spell over me. I knew other men of greater force and of larger scholarship; but no one else gave me such an impression of balance, ripeness, and fineness of quality. I not only felt a peculiarly searching influence flowing from one who graciously put himself on my level of intelligence, but I felt also an impulse to emulate a nature which satisfied my imagination completely. Other men of ability whose conversation I heard filled me with admiration; this man made the world larger and richer to my boyish thought. There was no didacticism on his part; there was, on the contrary, a simplicity so great that I felt entirely at home with him; but he was so thoroughly a citizen of the world that I caught a glimpse of the world in his most casual talk. I got a sense of the largeness and richness of life from him. I did not know what it was which laid such hold on my mind, but I saw later that it was the remarkable culture of the man,—a culture made possible by many fortunate conditions of wealth, station, travel, and education, and expressing itself in a peculiar largeness of vision and sweetness of spirit. In this man’s friendship I was for the moment lifted out of my own crudity into that vast movement and experience in which all the races have shared.