From such a companionship something must flow besides an enlargement of ideas or a development of the power of clear thinking; there must flow also the stimulating and illuminating impulse of a fresh contact with a great nature; there must result a certain liberation of the imagination, a certain widening of experience, a certain ripening of the mind of the student. The beauty of form, the varied and vital aspects of religious, social, and individual character, the splendour and charm of a nobly ordered art in temples, speech, manners, and dress, the constant suggestion of the deep humanism behind that art and of the freshness and reality of all its forms of expression,—these things are as much and as great a part of the “Dialogues” as the thought; and they are full of that quality which enriches and ripens the mind that comes under their influence. In these qualities of his style, quite as much as in his ideas, is to be found the real Plato, the great artist, who refused to consider philosophy as an abstract creation of the mind, existing, so far as man is concerned, apart from the mind which formulates it, but who saw life in its totality and made thought luminous and real by disclosing it at all points against the background of the life, the nature, and the habits of the thinker. This is the method of culture as distinguished from that of scholarship; and this is also the disclosure of the personality of Plato as distinguished from his philosophical genius. Whoever studies the “Dialogues” with his heart as well as with his mind comes into personal relations with the richest mind of antiquity.
Liberation through Ideas.
Matthew Arnold was in the habit of dwelling on the importance of a free movement of fresh ideas through society; the men who are in touch with such movements are certain to be productive, while those whose minds are not fed by this stimulus are likely to remain unfruitful. One of the most suggestive and beautiful facts in the spiritual history of men is the exhilaration which a great new thought brings with it; the thrilling moments in history are the moments of contact between such ideas and the minds which are open to their approach. It is true that fresh ideas often gain acceptance slowly and against great odds in the way of organised error and of individual inertness and dulness; nevertheless, it is also true that certain great ideas rapidly clarify themselves in the thought of almost every century. They are opposed and rejected by a multitude, but they are in the air, as we say; they seem to diffuse themselves through all fields of thought, and they are often worked out harmoniously in different departments by men who have no concert of action, but whose minds are open and sensitive to these invisible currents of light and power.