Books and Culture eBook

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

In the tragedy the student of literature is brought into the most intimate relation with his race in those moments when its deepest experiences are laid bare; he enters into its life when that life is passing through its most momentous passages; he is present in those hidden places where it confesses its highest hopes, reveals its most terrible passions, suffers its most appalling punishments, and passes on, through anguish and sacrifice, to its new day of thought and achievement.

Chapter XX.

The Culture Element in Fiction.

One of the chief elements in fiction which make for culture is, primarily, its disclosure of the elementary types of character and experience.  A single illustration of this quality will suggest its presence in all novels of the first rank and its universal interest and importance.  The aspirations, dreams, devotions, and sacrifices of men are as real as their response to self-interest or their tendency to the conventional and the commonplace; and they are, in the long run, a great deal more influential.  They have wider play; they are more compelling; and they are of the very highest significance, because they spring out of that which is deepest and most distinctive in human nature.  A host of men never give these higher impulses, these spiritual aptitudes and possibilities, full play; but they are in all men, and all men recognise them and crave an expression of them.  Nothing is truer, on the lowest and most practical plane, than the old declaration that men do not live by bread alone; they sometimes exist on bread, because nothing better is to be had at the moment; but they live only in the full and free play of all their activities, in the complete expression not only of what is most pressing in interest and importance at a given time, but of that which is potential and possible at all times.

The novel of romance and adventure has had a long history, and the elements of which it is compounded are recognisable long before they took the form of fiction.  Two figures appear and reappear in the mythology of every poetic people,—­the hero and the wanderer; the man who achieves and the man who experiences; the man who masters life by superiority of soul or body, and the man who masters it by completeness of knowledge.  It is interesting and pathetic to find how universally these two figures held the attention and stirred the hearts of primitive men; how infinitely varied are their tasks, their perils, and their vicissitudes.  They wear so many guises, they bear so many names, they travel so far and compass so much experience that it is impossible, in any interpretation of mythology, to escape the conviction that they were the dominant types in the thought of the myth-makers.  And these earliest story-makers were not idle dreamers, entertaining themselves by endless manufacture of imaginary incidents, conditions, and persons.  They were,

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Books and Culture from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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