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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Literature and Life
By Phillips Brooks (1835–1893)
From ‘Essays and Addresses’

LIFE comes before literature, as the material always comes before the work. The hills are full of marble before the world blooms with statues. The forests are full of trees before the sea is thick with ships. So the world abounds in life before men begin to reason and describe and analyze and sing, and literature is born. The fact and the action must come first. This is true in every kind of literature. The mind and its workings are before the metaphysician. Beauty and romance antedate the poet. The nations rise and fall before the historian tells their story. Nature’s profusion exists before the first scientific book is written. Even the facts of mathematics must be true before the first diagram is drawn for their demonstration.  1
  To own and recognize this priority of life is the first need of literature. Literature which does not utter a life already existent, more fundamental than itself, is shallow and unreal. I had a schoolmate who at the age of twenty published a volume of poems called ‘Life-Memories.’ The book died before it was born. There were no real memories, because there had been no life. So every science which does not utter investigated fact, every history which does not tell of experience, every poetry which is not based upon the truth of things, has no real life. It does not perish; it is never born. Therefore men and nations must live before they can make literature. Boys and girls do not write books. Oregon and Van Diemen’s Land produce no literature: they are too busy living. The first attempts at literature of any country, as of our own, are apt to be unreal and imitative and transitory, because life has not yet accumulated and presented itself in forms which recommend themselves to literature. The wars must come, the clamorous problems must arise, the new types of character must be evolved, the picturesque social complication must develop, a life must come, and then will be the true time for a literature…. Literature grows feeble and conceited unless it ever recognizes the priority and superiority of life, and stands in genuine awe before the greatness of the men and of the ages which have simply lived.  2

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