The hero and the wanderer are still, and always will be, the great human types; and they are, therefore, the types which will continue to dominate fiction; disappearing at times from the stage which they may have occupied too exclusively, but always reappearing in due season,—the hero in the novel of romance, the wanderer in the novel of adventure. These figures are as constant in fiction as they were in mythology; from the days of the earliest Greek and Oriental stories to these days of Stevenson and Barrie, they have never lost their hold on the imagination of the race. When the sense of reality was feeble, these figures became fantastic, and even ridiculous; but this false art was the product of an unregulated, not of an illegitimate, exercise of the imagination; and while “Don Quixote” destroyed the old romance of chivalry, it left the instinct which produced that romance untouched. As the sense of reality becomes more exacting and more general, the action of the imagination is more carefully regulated; but it is not diminished, either in volume or in potency. Men have not lost the power of individual action because society has become so highly developed, and the multiplication of the police has not materially reduced the tragic possibilities of life. There is more accurate and more extensive knowledge of environment than ever before in the history of the race, but temperament, impulse, and passion remain as powerful as they were in primitive men; and tragedy finds its materials in temperament, impulse, and passion, much more frequently than in objective conditions and circumstances.
The soul of man has passed through a great education, and has immensely profited by it; but its elemental qualities and forces remain unchanged. Two things men have always craved,—to come to close quarters with life, and to do something positive and substantial. Self-expression is the prime need of human nature; it must know, act, and suffer by virtue of its deepest instincts. The greater and richer that nature, the deeper will be its need of seeing life on many sides, of sharing in many kinds of experience, of contending with multiform difficulties. To drink deeply of the cup of life, at whatever cost, appears to be the insatiable desire of the most richly endowed men and women; and with such natures the impulse is to seek, not to shun, experience. And that which to the elect men and women of the race is necessary and possible is not only comprehensible to those who cannot possess it: it is powerfully and permanently attractive. There is a spell in it which the dullest mortal does not wholly escape.
1. Reprinted in part, by permission, from the “Forum.”
Culture through Action.