There is a general agreement among men that experience is the most effective and successful of teachers; that for many men no other form of education is possible; and that those who enjoy the fullest educational opportunities miss the deeper processes of training if they fail of that wide contact with the happenings of life which we call experience. To touch the world at many points; to come into relations with many kinds of men; to think, to feel, and to act on a generous scale,—these are prime opportunities for growth. For it is not only true, as Browning said so often and in so many kinds of speech, that a man’s greatest good fortune is to have the opportunity of giving out freely and powerfully all the force that is in him, but it is also true that almost equal good fortune attends the man who has the opportunity of receiving truth and instruction through a wide and rich experience.
But individual experience, however inclusive and deep, is necessarily limited, and the life of the greatest man would be confined within narrow boundaries if he were shut within the circle of his own individual contact with things and persons. If Shakespeare had written of those things only of which he had personal knowledge, of those experiences in which he had personally shared, his contribution to literature would be deeply interesting, but it would not possess that quality of universality which makes it the property of the race. In Shakespeare there was not only knowledge of man, but knowledge of men as well. His greatness rests not only on his own commanding personality, but on his magical power of laying other personalities under tribute for the enlargement of his view of things and the enrichment of his portraiture of humanity. A man learns much from his own contacts with his time and his race, but one of the most important gains he makes is the development of the faculty of appropriating the results of the contacts of other men with other times and races; and one of the finer qualities of rich experience is the quickening of the imagination to divine that which is hidden in the experience of other races and ages.
The man of culture must not only live deeply and intelligently in his own experience, rationalising and utilising it as he passes through it; he must also break away from its limitations and escape its tendency to substitute a part of life, distinctly seen, for the whole of life, vaguely discerned. The great writer, for instance, must first make his own nature rich in its development and powerful in harmony of aim and force, and he must also make this nature sensitive, sympathetic, and clairvoyant in its relations with the natures of other men. To become self-centred, and yet to be able to pass entirely out of one’s self into the thoughts, emotions, impulses, and sufferings of others, involves a harmonising of opposing tendencies which is difficult of attainment.