"Ah, he is an idealist." The words are usually spoken with an accent of contempt, sometimes the infliction of the speaker's voice is merely compassionate.
And yet we may indeed, even the most practical, the most materialistic of us, thank God for the presence of the idealist among us now and in the past. All the saviors of mankind, the masters who have taught and labored for the good of all, have been idealists in the truest sense, striving to bring to earth the divine idea or ideal within their souls.
What is every work of art, every painter's picture, the sculptor's statue, the musician's harmonies, the poet's epic, every philosophy and scheme for good and usefulness, but the outward token of a soul's ideal, the dim forth shadowing of a spiritual aspiration?
And may it not be said with truth that God is the Great Idealist, evolving his ideal upwards from the speck of protoplasm, through cycle upon cycle of upward tending life, working throughout the ages to accomplish the ultimate perfection of all created things?
Good alone can ultimately endure, and the evil working out its doom must perish, therefore it follows that the Ideal must be Eternal, and one day the Real.
Thoughts mould the ages past and present, and the idealist, from the moment he strives to reach his highest aspirations, becomes endowed with creative power; for the true idealist does not sit down in solitude to contemplate his ideal, he strives ever to attain to it, to make it become visible in outward form, and where could there be a grander keynote to the symphony of life than this— to make the Real, Ideal, and the Ideal, Real?
True it is indeed, that "'Tis impossible to frame conceptions equal to the soul's desire," yet the bare striving to attain to his ideal must make a man's life more sublime, and surely it is better to die on the heights in the pure air many fear to breathe, than to live long in the easy plains, unaspiring and looking towards the sod.
"The serf in body can be free in soul," the meanest and humblest among men can cherish the highest and noblest ideal and work towards it. Why not "Hitch your wagon to a star?" It is not folly to build castles in the air, if every breath we draw, every step we take, brings us more nearly to them. Castles in the air endure longer than castles on the earth, they are indestructible and ever builded.
Carlyle says, "The situation that hath not duty, its ideal, was never yet occupied by man." Then he adds, and here lies the deepest truth, and one that he knew too well, "The ideal is in thyself, the impediment too is in thyself." Were it not for faults in himself and the limitations, man could here see his ideal consummated.
But let us not think that though hearts have been broken and lives here cut short in pursuit of the ideal, that one single pang of pain, one iota of toil and labor towards the highest end shall prove wasted or in vain. The law of compensation is sure and eternal.
Surely most men, though they might scorn the name, are idealists at heart, only the very base, or those sunk deep in animalism could wish for the conditions of life to endure as they are now, and the idealist must need at times feel weighted down by what he sees; the greed, the lust, the hatred, the hypocrisy of the world. But though his shoulders bend beneath the burden of the earth, his eyes look ever upward and beyond; and where the knowledge of the sorrow and the sin might drive him to madness, the pursuit of, and belief in, his ideal preserves his sanity and transforms the sordid and the base with a glow which shines from "That far-off Divine event to which the whole creation moves."
How it changes the sordidness and triviality of daily tasks, truly "It is the vision of the ideal guarding the monotony of work from becoming the monotony of life."
When all men and women unite in striving to create ideal conditions, believing that by patient development mankind can show forth the ideal or God-like in himself, recognizing the immortal spiritual faculties which can govern all that is merely mortal and physical, then will the real Golden Age be seen on earth.