The Intellectual Life

The Intellectual Life

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Publié le 08 décembre 2010
Nombre de lectures 18
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Project Gutenberg's The Intellectual Life, by =Philip Gilbert Hamerton
This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org
Title: The Intellectual Life
Author: =Philip Gilbert Hamerton
Release Date: April 27, 2010 [EBook #32151]
Language: English
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THE
INTELLECTUAL LIFE,
BY
PHILIP GILBERT HAMERTON,
AUTHOR OF “A PAINTER’S CAMP,” “THOUGHTS ABOUT ART,” “THE UNKNOWN RIVER,” ETC.
NEW YORK
HURST & COMPANY
PUBLISHERS
TO EUGÈNIE H.
WEhave been have shared together many hours of study, and you willing, at the cost of much patient labor, to chee r the difficult paths of intellectual toil by the unfailing sweetness of your beloved companionship. It seems to me that all those things which we have learned together are doubly my own; whilst those other studies which I have pursued in solitude have never yielded me more than a maimed and imperfect satisfaction. The dream of my life would be to associate you with all I do if that were possible; but since the ideal can never be wholly realized, let me at least rejoice that we have been so little separated, and that the subtle influence of your finer taste and more delicate perception is ever, like some penetrating perfume, in the whole atmosphere around me.
PREFACE.
IPRO PO SE, in the following pages, to consider the possibili ties of a satisfactory intellectual life under various conditions of ordinary human existence. It will form a part of my plan to take into account favorable and unfavorable influences of many kinds; and my chief purpose, so far as any effect upon others may be hoped for, will be to guard some who may read the book alike against the loss of time caused by u nnecessary discouragement, and the waste of effort which is th e consequence of
misdirected energies.
I have adopted the form of letters addressed to persons of very different position in order that every reader may have a chan ce of finding what concerns him. The letters, it is unnecessary to observe, are in one sense as fictitious as those we find in novels, for they hav e never been sent to anybody by the post, yet the persons to whom they are addressed are not imaginary. I made it a rule, from the beginning, to think of a real person when writing, from an apprehension that by dwelling in a world too exclusively ideal I might lose sight of many impedi ments which beset all actual lives, even the most exceptional and fortunate.
The essence of the book may be expressed in a few sentences, the rest being little more than evidence or illustration. First, it appears that all who are born with considerable intellectual faculties a re urged towards the intellectual life by irresistible instincts, as water-fowl are urged to an aquatic life; but the lower animals have this advantage ove r man, that as their purposes are simpler, so they attain them more completely than he does. The life of a wild duck is in perfect accordance with its instincts, but the life of an intellectual man is never on all points perfectly in accordance withhis instincts. Many of the best intellectual lives know n to us have been hampered by vexatious impediments of the most various and complicated kinds; and when we come to have accurate and intimate knowledge of the lives led by our intellectual contemporaries, we are always quite sure to find that each of them has some great thwarting difficulty to contend against. Nor is it too much to say that if a man were so placed and endowed in every way that all his work should be made as ea sy as the ignorant imagine it to be, that man would find in that very facility itself a condition most unfavorable to his intellectual growth. So that, however circumstances may help us or hinder us, the intellectual life is always a contest or a discipline, and the art or skill of living intellec tually does not so much consist in surrounding ourselves with what is reputed to be advantageous as in compelling every circumstance and condition of our lives to yield us some tribute of intellectual benefit and force. The needs of the intellect are as various as intellects themselves are various: and if a man has got high mental culture during his passage through life it i s of little consequence where he acquired it, or how. The school of the intellectual man is the place where he happens to be, and his teachers are the people, books, animals, plants, stones, and earth round about him. The feel ing almost always predominant in the minds of intellectual men as they grow older, is not so much one of regret that their opportunities were not more abundant, as of regret that they so often missed opportunities which they might have turned to better account.
I have written for all classes, in the conviction that the intellectual life is really within the reach of every one who earnestly desires it. The highest culture can never be within the reach of those who cannot give the years of
labor which it costs; and if we cultivate ourselves to shine in the eyes of others, to become famous in literature or science, then of course we must give many more hours of labor than can be spared from a life of practical industry. But I am fully convinced of this, convinced by the observation of living instances in all classes, that any man or wo man of large natural capacity may reach the tone of thinking which may j ustly be called intellectual, even though that thinking may not be expressed in the most perfect language. The essence of intellectual livin g does not reside in extent of science or in perfection of expression, but in a constant preference for higher thoughts over lower thoughts, and this preference may be the habit of a mind which has not any very considerable amount of information. This may be very easily demonstrated by a reference to men who lived intellectually in ages when science had scarcely begun to exist, and when there was but little literature that could be of use as an aid to culture. The humblest subscriber to a mechanics’ institute has easier access to sound learning than had either Solomon or Aristotle, yet both Solomon and Aristotle lived the intellectual life. Whoever reads English is richer in the aids to culture than Plato was, yet Platothought intellectually. It is not erudition that makes the intellectual man, but a sort of virtue which delights in vigorous and beautiful thinking, just as moral virtue delights in vigorous and beautiful conduct. Intellectual living is not so much an accomplishment as a state or condition of the mind in which it seeks earnestly for the highest and purest truth. It is the continual exercise of a firmly noble choice between the larger truth and the lesser, between that which is perfectly just and that which falls a little short of justice. The ideal life would be to choose thus firmly and delicately always, yet if we often blunder and fail for want of perfect wisdom and clear light, have we not the inw ard assurance that our aspiration has not been all in vain, that it has brought us a little nearer to the Supreme Intellect whose effulgence draws us whilst it dazzles? Here is the true secret of that fascination which belongs to intellectual pursuits, that they reveal to us a little more, and yet a little more, of the eternal order of the Universe, establishing us so firmly in what is know n, that we acquire an unshakable confidence in the laws which govern what is not, and never can be, known.
CONTENTS.
PART I.
CHAPTER
I.
II. III. IV. V. VI. VII.
I.
II. III.
IV.
I.
II. III. IV.
THE PHYSICAL BASIS.
To a young man of letters who worked excessively To the same To a student in uncertain health To a muscular Christian To a student who neglected bodily exercise To an author in mortal disease To a young man of brilliant ability, who had just taken his degree
PART II.
THE MORAL BASIS.
To a moralist who had said that there was a want of moral fibre in the intellectual, especially in poets and artists To an undisciplined writer To a friend who suggested the speculation “which of the moral virtues was most essential to the intellectual life” To a moralist who said that intellectual culture was not conducive to sexual morality
PART III.
OF EDUCATION.
To a friend who recommended the author to learn this thing and that To a friend who studied many things To the same To a student of literature
PAG E
17 22 27 42 47 53
57
67 80
91
98
104 110 120 130
V.
VI. VII. VIII. IX. X. XI.
I.
II.
III.
IV. V.
I. II. III.
To a country gentleman who regretted that his son had the tendencies of a dilettant To the principal of a French college To the same To a student of modern languages To the same To a student who lamented his defective memory To a master of arts who said that a certain distinguished painter was half-educated
PART IV.
THE POWER OF TIME.
To a man of leisure who complained of want of time To a young man of great talent and energy who had magnificent plans for the future To a man of business who desired to make himself better acquainted with literature, but whose time for reading was limited To a student who felt hurried and driven To a friend who, though he had no profession, could not find time for his various intellectual pursuits
PART V.
THE INFLUENCES OF MONEY.
To a very rich student To a genius careless in money matters To a student in great poverty
PART VI.
134 137 143 149 153 165
170
176
185
200 207
212
216 224 239
I.
II.
III.
IV.
V.
VI.
I.
II.
III. IV. V. VI. VII.
VIII. IX.
CUSTOM AND TRADITION.
To a young gentleman who had firmly resolved never to wear anything but a gray coat To a conservative who had accused the author of a want of respect for tradition To a lady who lamented that her son had intellectual doubts concerning the dogmas of the church To the son of the lady to whom the preceding letter was addressed To a friend who seemed to take credit to himself, intellectually, from the nature of his religious belief To a Roman Catholic friend who accused the intellectual class of a want of reverence for authority
PART VII.
WOMEN AND MARRIAGE.
To a young gentleman of intellectual tastes, who, without having as yet any particular lady in view, had expressed, in a general way, his determination to get married To a young gentleman who contemplated marriage To the same To the same To the same To a solitary student To a lady of high culture who found it difficult to associate with persons of her own sex To a lady of high culture To a young man of the middle class, well educated, who complained that it was difficult for him to live agreeably with his mother, a person of somewhat authoritative disposition,
246
254
263
269
276
280
285
291 299 306 312 322
325 330
I. II.
I.
II.
III. IV. V.
VI.
I.
II.
III.
IV.
but uneducated
PART VIII.
ARISTOCRACY AND DEMOCRACY.
To a young English nobleman To an English democrat
PART IX.
SOCIETY AND SOLITUDE.
To a lady who doubted the reality of intellectual friendships To a young gentleman who lived much in fashionable society To the same To the same To a young gentleman who kept entirely out of company To a friend who kindly warned the author of the bad effects of solitude
PART X.
INTELLECTUAL HYGIENICS.
To a young author whilst he was writing his first book To a student in the first ardor of intellectual ambition To an intellectual man who desired an outlet for his energies To the friend of a man of high culture who
333
341 358
374
379 384 391
397
402
415
422
431
V. VI. VII. VIII.
IX.
X.
I.
II.
III.
IV.
V.
I.
II.
III.
produced nothing To a student who felt hurried and driven To an ardent friend who took no rest To the same To a friend (highly cultivated) who congratulated himself on having entirely abandoned the habit of reading newspapers To an author who appreciated contemporary literature To an author who kept very irregular hours
PART XI.
TRADES AND PROFESSIONS.
To a young gentleman of ability and culture who had not decided about his profession To a young gentleman who had literary and artistic tastes, but no profession To a young gentleman who wished to devote himself to literature as a profession To an energetic and successful cotton manufacturer To a young Etonian who thought of becoming a cotton-spinner
PART XII.
SURROUNDINGS.
To a friend who often changed his place of residence To a friend who maintained that surroundings were a matter of indifference to a thoroughly occupied mind To an artist who was fitting up a magnificent new studio
441 446 451 456
466
470 476
488
499
504
513
522
530
539
546
THE
INTELLECTUAL LIFE.
PART I.
THE PHYSICAL BASIS.
LETTER I.
TO A YOUNG MAN OF LETTERS WHO WORKED EXCESSIVELY.
Mental labor believed to be innocuous to healthy persons—Difficulty of testing this —Case of the poet Wordsworth—Case of an eminent living author—Case of a literary clergyman—Case of an energetic tradesman—Instances of two Londoners who wrote professionally—Scott’s paralysis—Byron’s death—All intellectual labor proceeds on a physical basis.
SOlittle is really known about the action of the nervous system, that to go into the subject from the physiological point of view would be to undertake a most difficult investigation, entirely beyond the competence of an unscientific person like your present correspondent. You will, therefore, permit me, in reference to this, to leave you to the teaching of the most advanced physiologists of the time; but I may be able to offer a few practical suggestions, based on the experience of intellectual workers, which may be of use to a man whose career is likely to be one of severe and almost uninterrupted intellectual labor.
A paper was read several years ago before the members of a society in London, in which the author maintained that mental labor was never injurious to a perfectly healthy human organization, and that the numerous cases of break-down, which are commonly attributed to excessive brain-work, are due, in reality, to the previous operation of disease.
This is one of those assertions which cannot be answered in a sentence. Concentrated within the briefest expression it comes to this, that mental
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labor cannot produce disease, but may aggravate the consequences of disease which already exists.
The difficulty of testing this is obvious; for so long as health remains quite perfect, it remains perfect, of course, whether the brain is used or not; and when failure of health becomes manifest, it is not always easy to decide in what degree mental labor may have been the cause of it. Again, the accuracy of so general a statement cannot be proved by any number of instances in its favor, since it is universally admitted that brain-work is not the only cause of disease, and no one affirms that it is more than one amongst many causes which may impede the bodily functions.
When the poet Wordsworth was engaged in composing the “White Doe of Rylstone,” he received a wound in his foot, and he observed that the continuation of the literary labor increased the irritation of the wound; whereas by suspending his work he could diminish it, and absolute mental rest produced a perfect cure. In connection with this incident he remarked that poetic excitement, accompanied by protracted l abor in composition, always brought on more or less of bodily derangemen t. He preserved himself from permanently injurious consequences by his excellent habits of life.
A very eminent living author, whose name I do not feel at liberty to mention, is always prostrated by severe illness at the conclusion of each of his works; another is unwell every Sunday, because he does not write on that day, and the recoil after the mental stretch of the week is too much for him.
In the case of Wordsworth, the physical constitution is believed to have been sound. His health at seventy-two was excellent; the two other instances are more doubtful in this respect, yet both these writers enjoy very fair health, after the pressure of brain-work has been removed for any considerable time. A clergyman of robust organization, who does a good deal of literary work at intervals, told me that, whenever he had attempted to make it regular, the consequence had always been di stressing nervous sensations, from which at other times he was perfectly free. A tradesman, whose business affords an excellent outlet for energetic bodily activity, told me that having attempted, in addition to his ordina ry work, to acquire a foreign language which seemed likely to be useful to him, he had been obliged to abandon it on account of alarming cerebral symptoms. This man has immense vigor and energy, but the digestive functions, in this instance, are sluggish. However, when he abandoned study, the cerebral inconveniences disappeared, and have never returned since.
Two Londoners who followed literature as a professi on, and who both worked to excess, had cerebral attacks of a still more decided kind. One of them, after his recovery, resolved to regulate his work in future, so that it might never pass the limits of moderation. He is no w living, and in
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