Short Stories
All Titles

In Association with Amazon.com

Home > Authors Index > Browse all available works of Hamilton Wright Mabie > Text of Ultimate Aim

An essay by Hamilton Wright Mabie

The Ultimate Aim

Title:     The Ultimate Aim
Author: Hamilton Wright Mabie [More Titles by Mabie]

Workers of all kinds are divided into two classes by differences of skill and by differences of aim. The artist not only handles his materials in a different way from that which the artisan employs, but he uses them for a different end and in a different spirit. The peculiar spiritual quality of the artist is his supreme concern with the quality of his work and his subordinate interest in the returns of reputation or money which the work brings him. No wise man ought to be indifferent to recognition and to material rewards, because there is a vital relation between honest work and adequate wages of all kinds; a relation as clearly existing in the case of Michael Angelo or of William Shakespeare as in the case of the farmhand or the day labourer. But when the artist plans his work, and while he is putting his life into it day by day, the possible rewards which await him are overshadowed by the supreme necessity of making the work sound, true, adequate, and noble. A man is at his best only when he pours out his vital energy at full tide, without thought or care for anything save complete self-expression.

He who hopes to reach the highest level of activity in work will not aim, therefore, to gain specific ends or to touch external goals of any kind; he will aim at complete self-development. His ultimate aim will be not material but spiritual; he cannot rest short of the perfect self- expression. The rewards of work--money, influence, position, fame--will be the incidents, not the ends, of his toil. He has a right to look for them and count upon them; but if he be a true workman they will never be his inspirations, nor can they ever be his highest rewards. The man in public life who sets out to secure a certain official position as the ultimate goal of his ambition may be a successful politician but can never be a statesman; for a statesman is supremely concerned with the interests of the state, and only subordinately with his own interests. Such a man may definitely seek a Presidency or a Premiership; but he will seek it, in any final analysis of his motives, not for that which it will give him in the way of reward, but for that which it will give him in the way of opportunity. A genuine man seeks a great place, not that he may be seen of men, but that he may speak, influence and lead men.

The motives of the vast majority of men are, to a certain extent, confused and contradictory; for the noblest man never quite completes his education and brings his nature into final harmony; but the genuine man is inspired by generous motives, and to such an one success becomes not a snare but an education, in the process of which all that is noblest becomes controlling and all that is merely personal becomes subordinate. In this way the politician often develops into the statesman, and the merely clever and successful painter or writer grows to the stature of the artist. It is one of the saving qualities of ability that it has the power of growth, and great responsibilities often educate an able man out of selfish aims.

The ultimate aim which the worker sets before him ought always to have a touch of idealism because it must always remain a little beyond his reach. The man who attains his ultimate aim has come to the end of the race; there are no more goals to beckon him on; there is no more inspiration or delight in life. But no man ought ever to come to the end of the road; there ought always to be a further stretch of highway, an inviting turn under the shadow of the trees, a bold ascent, an untrodden summit shining beyond.

If a man sets a specific position or an external reward of any kind before him as the limit of his journey, he is in danger of getting to the end before he has fully put forth his strength, and so giving his life the pathos of an anti-climax. The more noble and able a man is, the less satisfaction can he find in any material return which his work brings him; no man with a touch of the artist in him can ever rest content with anything short of the complete putting forth of all that is in him, and the consciousness of having done his work well.

For a man's ultimate responsibility is met by what he is and does, not by what he gains. When he sets an exterior reward of any kind before him as the final goal of his endeavour, he breaks away from the divine order of life and destroys that deep interior harmony which ought to keep a man's spirit in time and tune with the creative element in the world.

We are not to seek specific rewards; they must come to us. They are the recognition and fruit of work, not its inspiration and sustaining power. Let a man select the right seed and give it the right soil, and sun, rain, and the warm earth must do the rest. Goethe touched the heart of the matter when he wrote:

"Shoot your own thread right through the earthly tissue
Bravely; and leave the gods to find the issue."

In all work of the highest quality God must be taken into account. No man works in isolation and solitude; he works within the circle of a divine order, and his chief concern is to work with that order. To aim exclusively at one's own advancement and ease is to put oneself outside that order and to sever oneself from those sources of power which feed and sustain all whom they reach. In that order a man finds his place by bringing to perfection all that is in him, and so making himself a new centre of life and power among men.

Whatever is true of the religious life is true also of the working life; the two are different aspects of the same vital experience. In the field of work he who would keep his life must lose it, and in losing his life a man secures it for immortality. The noble worker pours himself into his work with sublime indifference to its rewards, and by the very completeness of his self-surrender and self-forgetfulness touches degrees of excellence and attains a splendour of vision which are denied those whose ventures are less daring and complete. And the largeness of conception, the breadth of treatment, the beauty of skill which a man gains when he casts all his spiritual fortune into his work often secure the richest measure of those returns which men value so highly because they are the tangible evidences of success. No man can forget himself for the sake of fame; but let him forget himself for the sake of his work, and fame will gladly serve him while lesser men are vainly wooing her. The man who is superior to fortune is much more likely to be fortunate than he who flatters fortune and wears her livery. Notwithstanding the successes that attend cleverness and dexterity and the flattery of popular taste and the study of the weaknesses of men, it remains true that greatness rules in every sphere, and that in the exact degree in which a man is superior is he authoritative and finally successful. Notoriety is easily bought, but fame remains unpurchasable; external successes, sought as final ends, are but the hollow mockeries of true achievement.

[The end]
Hamilton Wright Mabie's essay: The Ultimate Aim