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An essay by Hamilton Wright Mabie

Sharing The Race-Fortune

Title:     Sharing The Race-Fortune
Author: Hamilton Wright Mabie [More Titles by Mabie]

The development of one's personality cannot be accomplished in isolation or solitude; the process involves close and enduring association with one's fellows. If work were purely a matter of mechanical skill, each worker might have his cell and perform his task, as in a prison. But work involves the entire personality, and the personality finds its complete unfolding, not in detachment, but in association. Talent, says Goethe, thrives in solitude, but character grows in the stream of the world. It is a twofold discovery which a man must make before the highest kind of success lies within his grasp: the discovery of his own individual gift, force, or aptitude, and the discovery of his place in society. If it were possible to secure complete development of one's power in isolation, the product would be, not the full energy of a man expressing itself through a congenial activity, but a detached skill exercised automatically and apart from a personality.

In order to stand erect on his feet, in true and fruitful relations with the world about him, a man must join hands with his fellows. For a very large part of his education must come from his contact with the race. Since men began to live and to learn the lessons of life, each generation has added something to that vital knowledge of the art of living which is the very soul of culture, and something to the constructive and positive product of this vital knowledge wrought out into institutions, organisations, science, art, and religion. This inheritance of culture and achievement is the richest possession into which the individual member of the race is born, and he cannot take possession of his share of the race- fortune unless he becomes one of the race family. This race-fortune is the product of the colossal work of the race through its entire history; it represents the slow and painful toil and saving of countless multitudes of men and women. It is a wealth beside which all purely monetary forms of riches are fleeting and secondary; it is the enduring spiritual endowment of the race secured by the incalculable toil of all past generations.

Now, no man can secure his share in this race-fortune until he joins the ranks of the workers and takes his place in the field, the shop, the factory, the study, or the _atelier_. The idle man is always a detached man, and is, therefore, excluded from the privileges of heirship. To get the beauty of any kind of art one must train himself to see, to understand, and to enjoy; for art is a sealed book to the ignorant. To secure the largeness of view which comes from a knowledge of many cities and races, one must travel with a mind already prepared by prolonged study. The approach to every science is guarded by doors which open only to the hand which has been made strong by patient and persistent exercise. Every department of knowledge is barred and locked against the ignorant; nothing which represents achievement, thought, knowledge, skill, beauty, is within reach of the idle. Society has secured nothing which endures save as the result of persistent and self-denying work; and nothing which it has created can be understood, nothing which it has accumulated can be appropriated, without kindred self-denial and toil. It is evident, therefore, that the material for the education of the individual cannot be secured save by intimate fellowship with the race. This fellowship must rest also in present relations; for while man may get much that is of vast importance by contact with the working race of the past, he cannot get either the richest material or put himself under the deepest educational process without making himself one with the working race of to-day. The race-fortune, unlike other fortunes, does not increase by its own productive powers; it grows only as it is employed by those who inherit it. Investments of capital often lose their vitality; they still represent a definite sum of money, but they make no returns of interest. In like manner the accumulations of the race become dead unless they are constantly vitalised by effective use. The richest material for culture is valueless unless it is so employed as continually to renew the temper of culture in those who possess it. The richest results of past toil, genius, and life are without significance in the hands of the ignorant; and it has happened more than once that the pearls of past civilisation have been trampled into the mire by the feet of swine.

The architectural remains of the older Rome were ruthlessly destroyed in the years before the Renaissance and put to menial use as mere building material. They had reverted to the condition and value of crude stone, because no one perceived their higher values.

There is, unfortunately, another kind of ignorance, not quite so dense as that which does not recognise beauty of form or value of historical association, but not less destructive; there is that ignorance of the spiritual force behind the form which makes a fetish of the form, and so misses the interior wealth which it contains. There has spread among men and women of the _dilettante_ temper the belief that to know the results and products of the past simply as curios and relics is to share the culture which these things of beauty and skill embody and preserve; and this false idea has helped to spread abroad the feeling that culture is accomplishment rather than force, and that it is for the idle rather than for the active and creative. There never was a more radical misconception of a fundamental process, for culture in the true sense involves, as a process, the highest and truest development of a race, and, as a product, the most enduring spiritual expression of race genius and experience. The culture of the Greeks was the highest form of their vital force; and the product of that culture was not only their imperishable art, but their political, social, and religious organisation and ideals. Their deepest life went into their culture, and the most enduring fruits of that culture are also the most significant expressions of their life.

To get at the sources of power in Shakespeare's plays, one must not only understand the secrets of their structure as works of art, but one must also discern their value as human documents; one must pass through them into the passion, the suffering, the toil of the race. No one can get to the heart of those plays without getting very near to the heart of his race; and no one can secure the fruits of culture from their study until he has come to see, with Shakespeare, that the unrecorded life-experience of the race is more beautiful, more tragic, and more absorbing than all the transcriptions of that experience made by men of genius. In other words, the ultimate result of a true study of Shakespeare is such an opening of the mind and such a quickening of the imagination that the student sees on all sides, in the lives of those about him, the stuff of which the drama is made. Not to the idle, but to the workers, does Shakespeare reveal himself.

[The end]
Hamilton Wright Mabie's essay: Sharing The Race-Fortune