This illustration of the divination by which the man of culture possesses himself of a half-forgotten and obscurely recorded experience and rehabilitates and interprets it, is so complete that it makes amplification superfluous.
“It is undeniable,” says Matthew Arnold, “that the exercise of a creative power, that a free creative activity is the highest function of man; it is proved to be so by man’s finding in it his true happiness.” If this be true, and the heart of man apart from all testimony affirms it, then the great books not only embody and express the genius and vital knowledge of the race which created them, but they are the products of the highest activity of man in the finest moments of his life. They represent a high felicity no less than a noble gift; they are the memorials of a happiness which may have been brief, but which, while it lasted, had a touch of the divine in it; for men are never nearer divinity than in their creative impulses and moments. Homer may have been blind; but if he composed the epics which bear his name he must have known moments of purer happiness than his most fortunate contemporary; Dante missed the lesser comforts of life, but there were hours of transcendent joy in his lonely career. For the highest joy of which men taste is the full, free, and noble putting forth of the power that is in them; no moments in human experience are so thrilling as those in which a man’s soul goes out from him into some adequate and beautiful form of expression. In the act of creation a man incorporates his own personality into the visible world about him, and in a true and noble sense gives himself to his fellows. When an artist looks at his work he sees himself; he has performed the highest task of which he is capable, and fulfilled the highest purpose for which he was planned by an artist greater than himself.