S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
Alas! we know that ideals can never be completely embodied in practice. Ideals must ever lie a great way offand we will thankfully content ourselves with any not intolerable approximation thereto! Let no man, as Schiller says, too querulously measure by a scale of perfection the meagre product of reality in this poor world of ours. We will esteem him no wise man; we will esteem him a sickly, discontented, foolish man. And yet, on the other hand, it is never to be forgotten that ideals do exist; that if they be not approximated to at all, the whole matter goes to wreck! Infallibly. No bricklayer builds a wall perpendicularmathematically this is not possible; a certain degree of perpendicularity suffices him, and he, like a good bricklayer, who must have done with his job, leaves it so. And yet, if he sway too much from the perpendicularabove all, if he throw plummet and level quite away from him, and pile brick on brick heedless, just as it comes to handsuch bricklayer, I think, is in a bad way. He has forgotten himself; but the law of gravitation does not forget to act on him: he and his wall rush down into a confused welter of ruins!
In all systems whatsoever, whether of religion, government, morals, etc., perfection is the object always proposed, though possibly unattainable. However, those who aim carefully at the mark itself, will unquestionably come nearer it than those who, from despair, negligence, or indolence leave to chance the work of skill. This maxim holds equally true in common life: those who aim at perfection will come infinitely nearer it than those desponding or indolent spirits who foolishly say to themselves, Nobody is perfect: perfection is unattainable: to attempt it is chimerical: I shall do as well as others: why then should I give myself trouble to be what I never can, and what, according to the common course of things, I need not beperfect?
Lord Chesterfield: Letters to his Son, Feb. 20, 1752.