Fact and Fancy



    BETWEEN fancy and fact lies the dilemma we call life. On the one hand, things as they are; on the other, things as we would have them be. On the one side, the solid, durable, implacable circumstance; on the other, the plastic will, the deviable desire, the incertitude of mind. And yet the fact is not established beyond the influence of fancy. We are no more victims of circumstance than circumstance is the shadow of ourselves. We are moulded, we say, by the conditions and surroundings in which we live; but we too often forget that the environment is largely what we make it. We are like children living in fear of the fabulous giant, if we do not remember that fact is solidified fancy. What is the [Page 83] form and substance of our daily life but the realization of countless years of aspiration and resolve?
    There is nothing accomplished that is not just the impalpable breath of dream, a suggestion, a hint of spirit; on this the active self lays hold, and forges it into the more permanent shape. We make our habits, our customs, our possessions, as spiders spin their airy nets. The massive fabrication of civilized communities is reared from stuff more volatile than the clouds, only half of it is solid. And yet it is in awe of these floating apparitions that we pass so much time.
    This is unwholesome. Fear is a malarial germ in the soul. If only the world could cast out fear and establish hope in its place, the morning of the millennium would be already far advanced. But if we would not fear, then we must love. If we would not shrink from the facts of life, we must love them. We are creatures so strangely compounded of dust and dream, that we can never wholly give our [Page 84] allegiance to either one. We are neither animal nor angel, at present; and wherever our trend of aspiration may lead us in future, certainly this life is in some sense a compromise. Desirable as the angelic ideal appears, beautiful as it is for an ultimate goal, there is the fact of the physical to be taken count of, to be respected, to be reverenced, to be loved, equally with the spiritual. They miss the very core and gist of human life, it seems to me, who forget this miracle, the union of mind and matter. And certainly we shall accomplish little by an undivided devotion to the one side of life at the expense of the other. It sometimes appears that every human ill can be traced to the divergence between fancy and fact, between what we have done and what we would do. And this again is traceable to the faulty idea in the first instance.
    It is evident, then, how loyal we need to be to the promptings of fancy, to the inspiration to the glimmering of genius. For if we misinterpret or disregard this word of the spirit [Page 85], we are but setting out toward disaster. Our wrong initiative gradually takes more and more solid form in fact; the fact closes in moment by moment, and we are taken in the toils of our own weaving, which we too often call inevitable fate. But if a loyalty to the intimations of spirit is so large a part of wisdom, a loyalty to fact is needed, too, – a loyalty to those past ideas we have made permanent. It is good at times to let fancy be, to disregard the restless urgings of the inner life and dwell with the comfortable lower kingdoms, with the trees and the cattle.
    That is one reason why we must take care to have our ideals right, so that when they have become crystallized into circumstance and conditions we shall be able to live with them. It is an unhappy soul that cannot live with its facts. If my outward material surroundings and my relations with my fellow beings are such that I cannot live with them quietly, normally, and frankly, as the weeks go by, but must depend on the intellectual and [Page 86] spiritual life wholly, then I am on the road to sickness and sorrow. For fact and fancy cannot be long divorced; the one cannot live without the other; they are the body and soul of the universe. To the materialist must be said: “Cleave close to our fancy. Never forsake for a moment that generous and faithful guide. Be not overengrossed with the visible and solid beauty of being.” To the overstrenuous idealist must be said: “Hold hard to fact. Live near the comforting, unrestless blessings of the actual. Never stray too far from the physical phase of existence, lest you wander and be lost for ever.”
    Men and women who take upon themselves the tasks of the intellectual life, who try ever so humbly to help forward the work of understanding the world, who wish to illumine and cheer the dark recesses of being, are peculiarly in danger of ignoring the fact. Eager and sedulous in the pursuit of this dream or that, as artists or preachers or teachers or reformers, they become wholly absorbed in the emotional [Page 87] and mental life, neglecting the material. They are forerunners of better facts which they wish to see established and for which they too easily die. It is better to live for a purpose than to die for it, – unless to die is necessary. But our friends the enthusiasts who secure for us so much good, who are in the last analysis the authors of all the good deeds of man, should be content to hasten slowly, and, while they strive for perfection, to hold the sadly imperfect we have already gained. It will avail you nothing to stand face to face with the vision, if you cannot in some way make actual and apparent to men the beauty you have beheld. Let aspiration be as ethereal as you will, the spirit of beauty must be made manifest to be fully enjoyed.
    Are you sick or sorry or dejected, or unfortunate, or overwrought? There may be one of two reasons for it; either you are living too far away from your ideal or too far away from your facts. If you are world-sick, retreat into the chamber of your own heart, be quiet [Page 88] and obedient to your genius, and summon to your aid the great and kindly master’s thought. A little solitude, a little contemplation, a little love, is the cure for your malady. But if you are soul-sick from too much stress of the eager indomitable spirit, then put all thought aside; vegetate, animalize, be ordinary, and thank God there are easy, unambitious things to do. Curl up close to some fire, or the south side of a barn, and forget your immortal soul. Your mortal body is just exactly as important, and deserves just as much care and consideration. Be wise, be indolent, try to live in your body and not merely inhabit it, and do not fuss over the Great Tangle. “Who leans upon Allah, Allah belongs to him [Page 89].”