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 XVI.

Liberation from One’s Time.

The law of opposites under which men live is very strikingly brought out in the endeavour to secure a sound and intelligent adjustment to one’s time,—­a relation intimate and vital, and at the same time deliberately and judicially assumed.  To be detached in thought, feeling, or action, from the age in which one lives, is to cut the ties that bind the individual to society, and through which he is very largely nourished and educated.  To live deeply and really through every form of expression and in every relationship is so essential to the complete unfolding of the personality that he who falls below the full measure of his capacity for experience and for expression falls below the full measure of his possible growth.  Life is not, as some men of detached moods or purely critical temper have assumed, a spectacle of which the secret can be mastered without sharing in the movement; it is rather a drama, the splendour of whose expression and the depth of whose meaning are revealed to those alone who share in the action.  To stand aside from the vital movement and study life in a purely critical spirit is to miss the deeper education which is involved in the vital process, and to lose the fundamental revelation which is slowly and painfully disclosed to those whose minds and hearts are open to receive it.  No one can understand love who has not loved and been loved; no one can comprehend sorrow who has not had the companionship of sorrow.  The experiment has been made in many forms, but no one has yet been nourished by the fruit of the tree of knowledge who has eaten of that fruit alone.  In the art of living, as in all the arts which illustrate and enrich living, the amateur and the dilettante have no real position; they never attain to that mastery of knowledge or of execution which alone give reality to a man’s life or work.  Mastery in any art comes to those only who give themselves without reservation or stint to their task; mastery in the supreme art of living is within reach of those only who live completely in every faculty and relation.

To stand in the closest and most vital relation to one’s time is, therefore, the first condition of comprehending one’s age and getting from it what it has to give.  But while a man must be in and with his time in the most vital sense, he must not be wholly of it.  To get the vital enrichment which flows from identification with one’s age, and at the same time to get the detachment which enables one to see his time in true relation to all time, is one of the problems which requires the highest wisdom for its solution.  It is easy to become entirely absorbed in one’s age, or it is easy to detach one’s self from it, and study it in a cold and critical temper; but to get its warmth and vitality and escape its narrowing and limiting influence is so difficult that comparatively few men succeed in striking the balance between two divergent tendencies.

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Books and Culture from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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