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An essay by Hamilton Wright Mabie

Securing Right Conditions

Title:     Securing Right Conditions
Author: Hamilton Wright Mabie [More Titles by Mabie]

To secure the finest growth of a plant there must be a careful study of the conditions of soil, exposure, and moisture, or sun which it needs; when these conditions are supplied and the necessary oversight furnished, nature may be trusted to do her work with ideal completeness. Now, the perfect unfolding of a rich personality involves the utmost intelligence in the discernment of the conditions which are essential, and the utmost persistence in the maintenance of those conditions after they have been secured. Perfectly developed men and women are rare, not only because circumstances are so often unfavourable, but also because so little thought is given, as a rule, to this aspect of life. The majority of men make use of such conditions and material as they find at hand; they do not make a thorough study of the things they need, and then resolutely set about the work of securing these essential things. Many men use faithfully the opportunities which come to hand, but they do not, by taking thought, convert the whole of life into one great opportunity.

When a man discovers that he has a special gift or talent, his first duty is to turn that gift into personal power by securing its fullest development. The recognition of such a gift generally brings with it the knowledge of the conditions which it needs for its complete unfolding; and when that discovery is made a man holds the clew to the solution of the problem of his life. The world is full of unintelligent sacrifice,-- sacrifice which is sound in motive, and therefore does not fail to secure certain results in character, but which is lacking in clear discernment, and fails, therefore, to accomplish the purpose for which it was made. Such unavailing sacrifice is always pathetic, for it involves a waste of spiritual power. One of the chief sources of this kind of waste is the habit which so many American communities have formed of calling a man into all kinds of activity before he has had time to thoroughly train and develop himself. Let a young teacher, preacher, speaker, or artist give promise of an unusual kind, and straightway all manner of enterprises solicit his support, local organisations and movements urge their claims upon him, reforms and philanthropies command his active co-operation; and if he wisely resists the pressure he is in the way of being set down as selfish, unenterprising, and lacking in public spirit.

As a matter of fact, in most cases, it is the community, not the individual, which is selfish; for communities are often ruthless destroyers of promising youth.

The gifted young preacher must clearly discern the needs of his own nature or he will miss the one thing which he was probably sent into the world to accomplish, the one thing which all men are sent into the world to secure,--free and noble self-development. He must be wiser than his parish or the community; he must recognise the peril which comes from the too close pressure of near duties at the start. The community will thoughtlessly rob him of the time, the quiet, and the repose necessary for the unfolding of his spirit; it will drain him in a few years of the energy which ought to be spread over a long period of time; and at the end of a decade it will begin to say, under its breath, that its victim has not fulfilled the promise of his youth. It will fail to discern that it has blighted that promise by its own urgent demands. The young preacher who is eager to give the community the very greatest service in his power will protect it and himself by locking his study door and resolutely keeping it locked.

The young artist and writer must pass through the same ordeal, and must learn before it is too late that he who is to render the highest service to his fellows must be most independent in his relations to them. He cannot commit the management of his life to others without maiming or blighting it. The community insists upon immediate activity at the expense of ultimate service, upon present productivity at the cost of ultimate power. The artist must learn, therefore, to bar his door against the public until he has so matured his own strength and determined his own methods that neither crowds nor applause nor demands can confuse or disturb him. The great spirits who have nourished the best life of the race have not turned to their fellows for their aims and habits of work; they have taken counsel of that ancient oracle which speaks in every man's soul, and to that counsel they have remained steadfastly true. There is no clearer disclosure of divine guidance in the confusion of human aims and counsels than the presence of a distinct faculty or gift in a man; and when such a gift reveals itself a man must follow it, though it cost him everything which is most dear; and he must give it the largest opportunity of growth, though he face the criticism of the world in the endeavour.

Life is always a struggle, and no man comes to any kind of mastery without a conflict. The really great man is often compelled to light for his right to live in the freedom of spirit. Prophets, poets, teachers, and artists have known the scorn, hatred, and rejection of society; they have known also its flatteries, rewards, and imperious demands; and they have learned that in both moods society is the foe of the highest development and of the noblest talent. He who breaks under the scorn or yields to the adulation becomes the creature of those whom he would serve, and so misses his own highest fortune and theirs as well; he who forgets the indifference in steadfast work, and holds to his aims and habits when success knocks at his door, gains the most and the best for himself and for others.

For the highest service which a man can render to his kind is possible only when he secures for himself the largest and noblest development; to stop short of that development is to rob himself and society. Selfishness does not lie in turning a deaf ear to present calls for work and help; it lies in indifference to the ultimate call. Goethe was by no means a man of symmetrical character, and there were reaches of spiritual life which he never traversed; but the charge of selfishness urged against him because he gave himself up completely to the work which he set out to do cannot be sustained. The very noblest service which he could render to the world was to hold himself apart from its multiform activities in order that he might enrich every department of its thought. For life consists not only in the doing of present duties, but in the unfolding of the relations of men to the entire spiritual order of which they are part, and in the enrichment of human experience by insight, interpretation, and the play of the creative faculties. The artist finds his use in the enrichment of life, and his place in the order of service is certainly not less assured and noble than that of the man of action. Such a nature as Dante's does more for men than a host of those who are doing near duties and performing the daily work of the world. Let no man decry the spiritual greatness of these obvious claims and tasks; but on the other hand, let not the man of practical affairs and of what may be called the executive side of ethical activity decry the artists, the thinkers, and the poets.

It is the duty of some men to leave reforms alone, and to give themselves up to study, meditation, and the creative spirit and mood. Of men of practical ability the world stands in little need; of men of spiritual insight, imaginative force, and creative energy it stands in sore need. When such a gift appears it ought to be sacredly guarded. It may be that it has a work to do which demands absolute detachment from the ordinary affairs of society. To assault it with the claims of the hour is to defeat its purpose and rob the future. It must have quiet, leisure, repose. Let it dream for a while in the silence of sweet gardens, within the walls of universities, in the fruitful peace of undisturbed days; for out of such dreams have come "As You Like It," "The Tempest," "In Memoriam," and "The Vision of Sir Launfal." Out of such conditions have come also the work of Darwin, Spencer, Martineau, Maurice, Jowett, and Childs. He who is bent on making a wise use of his abilities may safely be left to choose his own methods and to create his own conditions.

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Hamilton Wright Mabie's essay: Securing Right Conditions