The Legend Beautiful is familiar The Vision and to all—that scene depicted by the poet's pen where the monk in his cell beheld the Vision, and questioned whether he should go to give the daily alms to the beggars at the convent gate, or should stay.
Would the Vision come again?
Then a voice within his breast
Whispered, audible and clear
As if to the outward ear:
Do thy duty; that is best:
Leave unto thy Lord the rest!
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Art and life are continually coming into juxtaposition rather than conjunction; and in this age of specialties the question more and more besets every earnest mind, Shall art be sacrificed to life, or shall life be sacrificed to art? Shall one insist upon his artistic isolation heedless of the human call, or shall he respond to the many voices that call to him, and neglect his art?
Though this problem confronts chiefly the thinker, the poet, the painter, the author, it is not wholly theirs. In a large degree it is the sphinx-like question to us all. Life and work conflict. 'How can you find time to work?' said a cultivated and very active woman; 'there is so much else to be done.' Nor did she mean to imply any sarcasm or to perpetrate a ton mot. It was simply the honest expression of an honest opinion. There is so much general activity demanded of every one that to accomplish a special work outside this activity seems sometimes impossible; and if one sacrifice to the work all his part in the daily drama of life, does he do well or ill? Should he be artist first and man afterwards, or the reverse? The question is a very practical one. How shall one wait for the voice and watch for the Vision?
The solution of this problem lies in absolutely one thing—the perfect triumphant acceptance of the power of love and faith. We need to revitalize these words. Love to man and faith in God have been used as mere formalisms, and have thus lost much of their deeper significance. They have been recorded as passive states when they are, instead, active virtues. They form the magnetic atmosphere by means of which the soul receives of the creative magnetism inherent in divine life. And with this constant, overflowing love for humanity that is in spontaneous and sympathetic response to his needs; with this vital and exhilarating faith in the divine power that in some way all shall be wisely overruled if we but keep our 'prow turned toward good,' as Charlotte Cushman said she endeavored to do—with this exquisite harmony about and within us, the perplexed problems of the days adjust themselves.
All men who have been greatest have been in closest touch with life. Shakespeare, Michael Angelo, Dante, Goethe are among those whose names will readily recur as the greatest creative artists, who, nevertheless, lived in touch with the world, and drew from it such suggestiveness and insight that when the higher vision dawned on them they were able to relate it to the human need. The example of Tennyson is one to suggest much questioning. The greatest poet of the nineteenth century, he lived for his art, he sought seclusion and isolation. Whether he would have been more or less had he lived nearer humanity, is a question that cannot here be entered into; and the world is too grateful for what he gave it to seek to discuss any limitations, or imagine him unattended by the muse of solitude.
There is a vast amount of truth, however, in Dr. Holmes's felicitous assertion: 'I do not talk to tell people what I think, but to find out what I think.'
The clergyman, the essayist, the orator will appreciate the subtle truth of .this assertion. The most cultivated man can often better find out what he thinks by conversation with even the uncultured mind than by solitude. Conversation is experimental; it is also creative—it stimulates the mind to new energies and to new combinations of ideas.
We live not only in an atmosphere composed of oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen, but in one which is simply throbbing and pulsating and thrilling with vitality. It is life, all life, around us. This atmospheric vitality holds in solution all things. We may draw from it in every conceivable direction, and receive in a measure limited only by our capacity for receiving. Some radical thinker boldly asserts that even poverty is a disease, a defective condition, that can be cured by setting about it in the right manner. The adepts of India produce creations of various kinds out of the very air itself; and their explanation is that all the elements exist in the air, and that he who knows the secret of the laws governing the elements and their combinations can produce endless substances at will.
At all events, it is certainly true that success or failure can be predetermined by a mental mood; that an individual can think prosperity to himself, so to speak, just as certainly as he can put out his hand and reach a book on the shelf. The secret of life is to learn how to do this. It is to learn how to bring our own spiritual power, which is creative power, to bear on material conditions.
It can be done. 'Real power is in silent moments,' says Emerson. Circumstances, conditions, surroundings, are as plastic to the stamp of the mind as the clay is to the impress of the sculptor.
And this power is made up of two qualities—love and faith. These seem to be best developed through human touch and attrition. So much love, so much force, and so much force born of love, so much power to create the conditions of one's life.
From any imperfect woman,
said Mrs. Browning in Aurora Leigh. 'An artist who lives for his art alone is a second-rate artist,' says the young poet, Richard Hovey. Through many-veined humanity the power is won.
Leave unto thy Lord the rest.'
It is the voice of poet and prophet.
Adelaide Anne Procter questions:—
'Have we not all, amid life's petty strife,
Some pure ideal of a nobler life,
That once seemed possible?
And she answers:—
We lost it in the daily jar and fret,
And now live idle in a vain regret.
But still our place is kept, and it will wait,
Ready for us to fill it, soon or late.
No star is ever lost we once have seen;
We always may be what we might have been.
Not only is that true, but we may be now, in the present, that which we aspire to be, notwithstanding the interruptions and the daily demands. These are not obstacles nor hindrances, but sources of strength; or, rather, they become sources of strength when transformed by love and faith. Met with distrust and disturbance, they bar the path; met with sunny faith, they make themselves into stepping-stones. Why, it is the initial business of life to be happy. One should go about treading on air, and sip nectar and ambrosia. It is a beautiful thing to live. Life is a fine art; it is the supreme consummation of all the arts, the final finish and flower. Achievements are not the result only, nor even chiefly, of conscious labor; they spring triumphant from the power of thought brought to bear upon the elements out of which success springs. We all remember the legend of Friar Jerome and the Beautiful Book, how, when the monk left his work on the richly illuminated missal to answer the call of human needs, he found, on his return, that an angel had stood at his desk and wrought at the task all the time he had been absent.
The legend is typical of life. The painter leaves his canvas or his clay, or the poet leaves his poem, to fulfill claims that press upon him from humanity; and lo! the angel presence is there, and in some way we cannot explain the miracle is wrought. But it can only be wrought for those who keep their atmosphere magnetic with love and faith, for this is the only atmosphere into which spiritual force can enter and assert its power. Even the work of Christ Himself was subject to conditions. 'And He did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief,' we read. 'Because of their unbelief'—therein lies the significance. Even Jesus could not work in an atmosphere rendered negative by want of faith. Spiritual power, like electricity, must work through the conditions that conduct it.
Happiness and success are the normal condition of life, just as health is the normal, and disease and illness the abnormal condition. This happiness, like the kingdom of heaven of which it is the reflection, is within, not without. It is a spiritual state, but it works outward, and asserts its own conditions. If the vitality of the Christ could but flow into our efforts, our friendships, our aspirations, what a lifting up to a higher plane there would be! How imperfect and struggling aim would leap into glorious achievement! How our halting and fragmentary friendships would glow with divine significance, and deepen into infinite tenderness! The entire scenery of life would be transformed. Gloom would give place to gladness, depression to exaltation, inertia to energy, halting effort to complete fulfillment.
Humanity is already on the very threshold of its higher development. We stand on the brink of such untold joys and deeper satisfactions that there is no room for repining or regret. Mental and psychic power is beginning to assert its potent sway. We are to live in enthusiasm and exaltation. In this new state we shall realize the transformation effected by this liberation of energy. If one pausing on a walk of twenty miles to care for or help a wayfarer, were, because of this delay, to be taken on board a lightning-express train and rushed swiftly on in a few minutes to his destination, he would not have cause to complain that he lost time by helping his brother, or that he failed of the achievement of his own work. The analogy holds true in all the complicated duties and demands of life. Do not fear to leave the Vision and the splendor. It will wait; it will shine again brighter than before.
Leave unto thy Lord the rest.
More from Lilian Whiting
- Born on October 3rd, 1859 in Niagara Falls, New York and died in 1942
- Author and journalist
- Edited The Boston Traveler and The Boston Budget