Books and Culture eBook

Hamilton Wright Mabie
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 123 pages of information about Books and Culture.

Chapter II.

Time and Place.

To get at the heart of Shakespeare’s plays, and to secure for ourselves the material and the development of culture which are contained in them, is not the work of a day or of a year; it is the work and the joy of a lifetime.  There is no royal road to the harmonious unfolding of the human spirit; there is a choice of methods, but there are no “short cuts.”  No man can seize the fruits of culture prematurely; they are not to be had by pulling down the boughs of the tree of knowledge, so that he who runs may pluck as he pleases.  Culture is not to be had by programme, by limited courses of reading, by correspondence, or by following short prescribed lines of home study.  These are all good in their degree of thoroughness of method and worth of standards, but they are impotent to impart an enrichment which is below and beyond mere acquirement.  Because culture is not knowledge but wisdom, not quantity of learning but quality, not mass of information but ripeness and soundness of temper, spirit, and nature, time is an essential element in the process of securing it.  A man may acquire information with great rapidity, but no man can hasten his growth.  If the fruit is forced, the flavour is lost.  To get into the secret of Shakespeare, therefore, one must take time.  One must grow into that secret.

This does not mean, however, that the best things to be gotten out of books are reserved for people of leisure; on the contrary, they are oftenest possessed by those whose labours are many and whose leisure is limited.  One may give his whole life to the pursuit of this kind of excellence, but one does not need to give his whole time to it.  Culture is cumulative; it grows steadily in the man who takes the fruitful attitude toward life and art; it is secured by the clear purpose which so utilises all the spare minutes that they practically constitute an unbroken duration of time.  James Smetham, the English artist, feeling keenly the imperfections of his training, formulated a plan of study combining art, literature, and the religious life, and devoted twenty-five years to working it out.  Goethe spent more than sixty years in the process of developing himself harmoniously on all sides; and few men have wasted less time than he.  And yet in the case of each of these rigorous and faithful students there were other, and, for long periods, more engrossing occupations.  Any one who knows men widely will recall those whose persistent utilisation of the odds and ends of time, which many people regard as of too little value to save by using, has given their minds and their lives that peculiar distinction of taste, manner, and speech which belong to genuine culture.

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