The material upon which this great power is nourished is specifically furnished by the works which it has created. As the eye is trained to discover the line of beauty by companionship with the works in which it is revealed with the greatest clearness and power, so is the imagination developed by intimacy with the books which disclose its depth, its reality, and its method. The reader of Shakespeare cannot follow the leadings of his masterly imagination without feeling a liberation of his own faculty of seeing things as parts of a vast order of life. He does not gain the poet’s creative power, but he is enlarged and enriched to the point where his own imagination plays directly on the material about it; he receives it into himself, and in the exact measure in which he learns the secret of absorbing what he sees, feels, and knows, becomes master and interpreter of the world of his time, and restorer of the world of other times and men. For the imagination, playing upon fact and experience, divines their meaning and puts us in possession of the truth and life that are in them. To possess this magical power is to live the whole of life and to enter into the heritage of history.
Breadth of Life.
One of the prime characteristics of the man of culture is freedom from provincialism, complete deliverance from rigidity of temper, narrowness of interest, uncertainty of taste, and general unripeness. The villager, or pagan in the old sense, is always a provincial; his horizon is narrow, his outlook upon the world restricted, his knowledge of life limited. He may know a few things thoroughly; he cannot know them in true relation to one another or to the larger order of which they are part. He may know a few persons intimately; he cannot know the representative persons of his time or of his race. The essence of provincialism is the substitution of a part for the whole; the acceptance of the local experience, knowledge, and standards as possessing the authority of the universal experience, knowledge, and standards. The local experience is entirely true in its own sphere; it becomes misleading when it is accepted as the experience of all time and all men. It is this mistake which breeds that narrowness and uncertainty of taste and opinion from which culture furnishes the only escape. A small community, isolated from other communities by the accidents of position, often comes to believe that its way of doing things is the way of the world; a small body of religious people, devoutly attentive to their own observances, often reach the conclusion that these observances are the practice of that catholic church which includes the pious-minded of all creeds and rituals; a group of radical reformers, by passionate advocacy of a single reform, come to believe that there have been no reformers before them, and that none will be needed after them; a band of fresh and audacious young practitioners of any of the arts, by dint of insistence upon a certain manner, rapidly generate the conviction that art has no other manner.