It is very rare to find ground which produces nothing; if it is not covered with flowers, with fruit trees and grains, it produces briers and pines. It is the same with man; if he is not virtuous, he becomes vicious.
Culture, far from giving us freedom, only develops, as it advances, new necessities; the fetters of the physical close more tightly around us, so that the fear of loss quenches even the ardent impulse toward improvement, and the maxims of passive obedience are held to be the highest wisdom of life.
The great law of culture is, Let each become all that he was created capable of being; expand, if possible, to his full growth; resisting all impediments, casting off all foreign, especially all noxious adhesions, and show himself at length in his own shape and stature be these what they may.
The only worthy end of all learning, of all science, of all life, in fact, is that human beings should love one another better. Culture merely for cultures sake can never be anything but a sapless root, capable of producing at best a shriveled branch.
High culture always isolates, always drives men out of their class, and makes it more difficult for them to share naturally and easily the common class-life around them. They seek the few companions who can understand them, and when these are not to be had within a traversable distance, they sit and work alone.
Not that the moderns are born with more wit than their predecessors, but, finding the world better furnished at their coming into it, they have more leisure for new thoughts, more light to direct them, and more hints to work upon.
The prosperity of a country depends, not on the abundance of its revenues, nor on the strength of its fortifications, nor on the beauty of its public buildings; but it consists in the number of its cultivated citizens, in its men of education, enlightenment and character.
Whatever expands the affections, or enlarges the sphere of our sympathieswhatever makes us feel our relation to the universe, and all that it inherits, in time and in eternity, to the great and beneficent Cause of all, must unquestionably refine our nature, and elevate us in the scale of being.
There is no reason why the brown hand of labor should not hold Thomson as well as the sickle. Ornamental reading shelters and even strengthens the growth of what is merely useful. A cornfield never returns a poorer crop because a few wild-flowers bloom in the hedge. The refinement of the poor is the triumph of Christian civilization.
Where no interest is taken in science, literature and liberal pursuits, mere facts and insignificant criticisms necessarily become the themes of discourse; and minds, strangers alike to activity and meditation, become so limited as to render all intercourse with them at once tasteless and oppressive.
What sort of tree is there which will not, if neglected, grow crooked and unfruitful; what but will, if rightly ordered, prove productive and bring its fruit to maturity? What strength of body is there which will not lose its vigor and fall to decay by laziness, nice usage, and debauchery?
The earth flourishes, or is overrun with noxious weeds and brambles, as we apply or withhold the cultivating hand. So fares it with the intellectual system of man. If you are a parent, then, consider that the good or ill dispositions and principles you please to cultivate in the mind of your infant may hereafter preserve a nation in prosperity, or hang its fate on the point of the sword.
There are few delights in any life so high and rare as the subtle and strong delight of sovereign art and poetry; there are none more pure and more sublime. To have read the greatest works of any great poet, to have beheld or heard the greatest works of any great painter or musician, is a possession added to the best things of life.
Culture looks beyond machinery, culture hates hatred; culture has one great passionthe passion for sweetness and light. It has one even yet greater, the passion for making them all prevail. It is not satisfied till we all come to a perfect man; it knows that the sweetness and light of the few must be imperfect until the raw and unkindly masses of humanity are touched with sweetness and light.
It does not try to reach down to the level of inferior classes; it does not try to win them for this or that sect of its own, with ready-made judgments and watchwords of its own. It seeks to do away with classes, to make the best that has been taught and known in the world current everywhere, to make all men live in an atmosphere of sweetness and light, where they may use ideas, as it uses them itself, freelynourished, and not bound by them.
The wealthy and the noble, when they expend large sums in decorating their houses with the rare and costly efforts of genius, with busts from the chisel of a Canova and with cartoons from the pencil of a Raphael, are to be commended, if they do not stand still here, but go on to bestow some pains and cost, that the master himself be not inferior to the mansion, and that the owner be not the only thing that is little, amidst everything else that is great.
Culture implies all which gives the mind possession of its own powers, as languages to the critic, telescope to the astronomer. Culture alters the political status of an individual. It raises a rival royalty in a monarchy. Tis king against king. It is ever the romance of history in all dynastiesthe co-presence of the revolutionary force in intellect. It creates a personal independence which the monarch cannot look down, and to which he must often succumb.
To the highest culture, evenness of development, resulting in roundness and symmetry, is essential. The ideal man possesses, in addition to all his other qualities, that quality which is figured in the bloom of the flowering plant, in the fragrance of blossoms, in the blush and flavor of fruita quality which cannot be counterfeited any more than you can counterfeit a flowers perfume, which cannot be hidden any more than you can hide the fragrance of an orchard in May. It is the precious flavor of the ripened man. As the full fragrance of the apple, as the velvety cheek of the peach, comes only when the fruit has reached its highest development, so this quality comes only as the result of that wise self-enlargement, that deliberate catholicity, that cultivated charity of opinion, which characterizes the man of culture.