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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/426

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

any definite channel, or impressed with any distinct character. The culture of the mind, like the culture of a field, must have an object. We cultivate the field that we may get better crops from it; we cultivate the mind that it too may yield better fruits. Nature in its spontaneous workings gives us the starting-point in both cases. She supplies the wild varieties of grain and other vegetable food, and man by bis art improves her gifts, rendering them more adapted to his own special needs. In like manner the mind spontaneously working, without any thought of culture or training, lays hold of the facts which Nature presents to the senses and interprets them from its own standpoint. As the interpretation becomes wider through experience, new facts come into view, and knowledge and thought increase with even step. The object of all culture is, therefore, or should be, to give the power of broadly interpreting the data of sense, to place the individual in the most advantageous position possible for understanding the world in which he lives, and exerting a useful action upon some part of it. A culture that is severed from all ideas of utility is something altogether empty and nebulous; we may go further and say that it is something that tends to corruption. What does the decay of societies through luxury—that staple and by no means unreal theme of moralizing historians—mean, if not the corruption that comes of divorcing culture from service? Knowledge grows, art develops, wealth increases; and men forget that these should have a social destination and not merely be made ministers to pride and vanity and lust. For want of a healthy outlet for these forces a process of social decomposition sets in, and another page of history draws to a close.

Every man and woman, therefore, who seeks culture should seek it with reference to some definite aim in life, and not to make it serve as mere intellectual finery. The time has not yet come when we can safely intermit our efforts for the improvement of the social state; and all gifts and accomplishments can be pressed into the service of mankind, if only the motive for so employing them be present. It is when we consider our talents or our knowledge as serving only for our own glorification that they spoil on our hands. What more pitiful can be imagined than the small jealousy which is often found animating literary, artistic, and even scientific circles? It is hard to say whether the mutual admiration or the mutual depreciation of certain devotees of culture is the more ridiculous. All this comes of the "culture for its own sake" theory. Give culture an ulterior end, and it is at once ennobled and justified. The scholar, the man of science, the poet, the painter, the sculptor, the musician, will pursue their several tasks with no less devotion or success for thinking that, however little their work may be comprehended by the world at large, there is that in it in which even the world at large has a practical interest. If a man can not think this—that is to say, can not think it truly—then his work does net make for culture and might profitably be abandoned. Man lives by his faculties; culture is the enlargement or improvement of faculty in one direction or another, and makes thus for fuller life and deeper correspondence between the individual and the world. Governed by a social motive, it will seek to extend its benefits to all—as an ultimate aim—and will thus be kept fresh, vigorous, and pure. Governed by a selfish motive, it will degenerate into mere self-pleasing, affectation, and insincerity, and will never be far removed from moral corruption. The distinction is easily seized, and may profitably be taken to heart.