The Friendship of Art

by Bliss Carman

Business and Beauty


    WE are told so constantly and so insistently that business is the chief concern of life that it almost comes to seem true. And, indeed, it is not altogether healthy, nor the mark of a strong man, always to be setting one’s face against the drift and tendency of one’s own time, — always to be a faultfinder, a prophet of ill, a censor, a petty cynic. It is better to temper such a critical spirit with something of the spirit of one’s own time, if that time have in it anything at all of honesty, of vigour, of helpfulness.

    It is well to think little of the boastful and ruthless industrialism which engulfs our life; it is well to look upon patriotism and find it only second-rate virtue; it is well to detest [Page 238] strife and war and vulgar commercial aggrandizement. And yet a man must have a poor spirit never to have loved his own country; never to have set his nerve to acquire some longed-for end, against odds and obstacles and disappointments and disastrous fate; and never to have desired for himself and his own a good meal and a soft bed.

    There must surely have been few periods in history which could not have yielded something wholesome and inspiring to those who lived in them, and which cannot teach us even now strange and vigorous lessons in life. And the prime wisdom of to-day, as of every day of the world, is to perceive wherein its distinction and virtue lie, to mark its best characteristic, and to cultivate whatever of good it presents to us. Always and in all things to feel one’s self out of accord with one’s own time is as grave a fault as it would be for an apple to feel itself out of accord with its orchard, or for a frog to feel himself out of accord with his pool. It is admirable to have [Page 239] mental detachment, and to be superior to the jolt and jargon of the days. It is folly to miss their sweetness, their strength, their far-seeing endurance, and the patient repose which underlies their distraction, their dissipation, their blind hurry.

    Our judgment must be critical; our temperament must be appreciative. To cultivate the first to the exclusion of the second is to become a confirmed pessimist. To indulge the second to the exclusion of the first is to become a complacent and fatuous optimist. You have your choice between a pedant’s hell and a fool’s paradise. The wise man is he who sets himself to cultivate both faculties — the heart that always loves, the mind that is never deceived. Nor are they in the least inconsistent; for the more we know and understand, the more wonderfully can we love and enjoy; and the more we love and are glad, the better can we comprehend.

    To know, to appreciate, and to do — this is perhaps the whole business of life. To know [Page 240] the truth, to appreciate the best, to do what is beautiful is a threefold task that may well tax our most persistent and unflagging energies through however long a lifetime; and it would seem as if the whole effort of the universe were to make possible that consummation. If ever we approach it, we shall know by the test of happiness that we are near the enchanted ground, the garden of the gods, the fairy-land that actually exists.

    Making all allowances, then, for the folly of the overcritical spirit, it still remains true that in criticism we must first of all be skeptical of things as they are, and to the last put forth all endeavour to learn where and why and how they are to be improved. It is the duty of the critical spirit not only to see things as they are, but to see them as they ought to be; just as it is the duty of the imaginative and creative spirit, not only to see them as they ought to be, but to bring them into accord with that more perfect arrangement. It is safe enough to say, therefore, that it is bad [Page 241] for us to be given to self-laudation in criticism, and that the more severe arraignment we make of ourselves and our progress the better, so that our sight may be clear and our foresight touched with purpose.

    Perhaps the most sweeping accusation that can be made against us as a people to-day is to say that we care overmuch for business and overlittle for beauty. It is an accusation which is painfully trite, but it is one that needs to be kept alive, none the less. For as we make toward the goal of material supremacy, we may be in danger, in ever-increasing danger, of missing the only goal of all ultimate supremacy, — the realization of a supreme manhood. Think of the increasing stress that is being laid upon wealth in the popular mind, calculated to debase its ideals, to confirm it in its errors, to make it content with its gross and brutalizing standards! Think of asking whether it is well for a business man to be college bred! Where does any one suppose the United States would be to-day if our fore-fathers [Page 242] had thought it was just as well for a farmer or a blacksmith not to know how to read? Can any one look carefully at modern industrial enterprise (to say nothing of nobler activities of our day) and declare that it is not due to the democratizing of intelligence and education? If a college education unfits a man for business, then there is either something wrong business or something wrong with the education. The truth is, probably, that there is something wrong with both. There certainly is something wrong with an education which attempts to cultivate a man’s mind and body, without once perceiving any essential connection and interdependence between the two processes, and which omits all spiritual culture entirely. By spiritual culture I do not mean a training in morals; I mean a training and developing of a whole spiritual nature, which is the seat and origin of all creative energy, of all initiation, of imagination, of artistic impulse and activity. The average education is faulty [Page 243] because it contents itself with enlarging the receptive faculties, powers of thought and reason and memory, and does nothing to enlarge the faculties of self-expression, of usefulness, of helpfulness, because it gives us a mass of knowledge and no instruction in the use of that knowledge; because it gives us gigantic muscles, but never tells us what to do with them. Just one-half of man’s needs are forgotten, and instead of turning out men, we turn out pedants and football players, the one as useless as the other, and both an encumbrance to the community and to themselves. Certainly one would not wish to have the standard of scholarship lowered, or the number of scholars diminished; but, also, quite as certainly one would wish to have their increased powers directed and given self-control, and to have them balanced by a realization of the possibilities of life.

    And the possibilities of life are certainly not limited to the exigent demands of business. Any man who is a “business man pure [Page 244] and simple,” as it is called, is just so much less a man. Just as a scholar who is nothing but a scholar, or an athlete who is nothing but an athlete, is just so much less a man.

    If our enormously developing business demands more and more men who are merely specialists, and who must be trained from early boyhood to fit them for the severe competition, you may say, so much the better for business; but I say, so much the worse for the nation. Man does not live by bread alone now any more than he ever did. Less, indeed!

    It is just as needful for a nation as for an individual to remember that the life is more than meat and the body than raiment. And a people that becomes forgetful of the delights of beauty is in danger of becoming forgetful of the delights of life. Captains of industry are useful members of society, for the time being at all events, but they are not more useful than captains of intellect or masters of an art. We must not let ourselves forget that. We must keep always in mind [Page 245] the ideals of intelligence and culture and liberty whereto we were born; we must see to it that they are never tarnished by the breath of a too-evident prosperity. But all the while, of course, we must keep our ideals with a poised and serene mind, and confront their antagonists with refutation, not with disparagement. We shall have something to learn, even from a nation of ironmongers. And we should have much to teach them. It should be exemplified in our own conduct of life that beauty is not less important than business in the making of a people. [Page 246]