Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/492

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when we consider that, in all the centuries of English-speaking times, the race has produced only one Shakespeare, the condition is not so saddening as it might be; the less so, since in our own day our country has produced a Newcomb in mathematics, a Rowland in physics and others in other branches of pure science, each of whom deserves a niche, not far, at least, from that of Newton. Were Newton living in the United States to-day he would have no lonely preeminence, he would be but one of a galaxy. A later writer tells us that now, instead of the fires of the creative imagination, we have the fires of the mogul engine—that we cannot have both at the same time.

The creative imagination in the limited literary sense was most unfettered amid primitive conditions, when rhapsodists such as the authors of Homer, the Sagas or the Kalevala chanted the exploits of gods or heroes. As men's experience widened, as their concepts increased in number, as their thought became philosophic, the product of imagination changed in form as well as in character until it dealt not with environments familiar alike to man and beast, but with broad principles. The poem in simple form, possibly the most beautiful form, appeals to the childlike side of our nature. Great poetical works, such as those of Shakespeare and Milton, appeal to us not because of their poetic form, not so much because of their imagery as because of the subtle philosophy which pervades them. Milton appealed to very few in his own day as a poet; he appeals to not many more in our day. Shakespeare's wit has been equaled by later dramatists; his constructive skill has been excelled by some; but his critical insight into human nature remains without rival. The Shakespeares and Miltons of our day write in prose.

Works such as those of Shakespeare and Milton would be an anachronism in our day. Men read carefully, thoughtfully; they think quickly and, as compared with earlier times, accurately. Arguments clothed with rhetorical figures have little power—one has not time in which to scrape off tinsel in order to reach the substance. Reading matter must be trivial or serious; if trivial, thoroughly so, that it may while away hours of weariness; if serious, it must be deserving of study; working hours are too few to be wasted on that which brings no reward. Here one finds reason for the remarkable sale of ephemeral works as well as for the equally remarkable sale of important works. There could be no better evidence of the intellectual growth in our day, a growth not confined to the more favored classes, but characterizing all from the richest to the poorest. Doctrinaires may sneer at the reading propensities of the working classes and may assert that little good can come from reading the stuff which they choose. Others recognize gratefully that the novels now read by such people are better morally and intellectually than those which served as mental food for the more