BY THE WAY
Hamilton Wright Mabie
How much of what is best and pleasantest in life comes to us by the way! The artist forms great plans and sets about great achievements, but when he comes to the hour of realization he discovers that the personal reward has come mainly by the way. The applause of which he dreamed, the fame for which he hoped, bring small satisfaction; the joy of the work was largely in the doing of it, and was taken in the long days of toil and the brief times of rest which were part of the great undertaking. To the man or woman who looks forward from the heights of youth, life seems to be an artistic whole, which can be completely shaped by the will, and wrought out with perfection of detail in the repose and silence of the workshop. In that glowing time the career of a great man appears to be so symmetrical, so rounded, so complete, that it seems to be a veritable work of art, thought out and executed without hindrance, and with the co-operation of all the great forces. Nights of rest and days of work, uninterrupted and cumulative, with bursts of applause widening and deepening as the years go by, with fame adding note after note to her hymn of praise, - is not this the dream of young ambition as it surveys the field from the place of preparation?
The ideal is not an ignoble one, but it falls far short of the great reality in range and effort. There is an artistic harmony in a great life; but it is not a conscious beauty deliberately evoked by a free hand bent only on the illustration of its skill; it is a beauty born of pain, self-sacrifice, and arduous surrender to the stern conditions of success. A bit of fancy lightly inspires the singer, and as lightly borrows the wings of verse; a great vision of the imagination demands years and agonies. A bit of verse, such as serves for the small currency of poetry, runs off the pen on a convenient scrap of paper; a great poem involves a deep movement of human life, -- something vast, profound, mysterious. A great life is a work of art of that noble order in which a man surrenders himself to the creative impulse, and becomes the instrument of a mightier thought and passion than he consciously originates. There is a deep sense in which we make our careers, but there is a deeper sense in which our careers are made for us. The greater the man the greater the influences that play upon him and center in him; it is more a question of what he shall receive than of what he shall do. His life-work is wrought out in no well-appointed atelier, barred against intrusion, enfolded in silence; the task must be accomplished in the great arena of the world, jostled by crowds, beaten upon by storms, broken in upon by all manner of interruptions. The artist does not stand apart from his work, surveying its progress from hour to hour, and with a skillful hand bringing his thought in ever clearer view; for the work is done, not by, but within him; his aspiring soul, passionate heart, and eager mind are the substance upon which the tools of the graver work. Death and care, disease and poverty, do not wait afar off, awed by greatness and enthralled by genius; the door is always open to them, and they are often familiar companions. The work of a great life is always accomplished with toil, self-sacrifice, and with incessant intrusions from without; it is often accomplished amid bitter sorrows and under the pressure of relentless misfortune.
Yet these things, that break in upon the artistic mood and play havoc with the artistic poise, make the life-work immeasurably nobler and richer; the reality differs from the ideal of youth in being vaster, and therefore more difficult and painful of attainment. The easy achievement, always well in hand, and executed in the quiet of reposeful hours, gives place to the sublime accomplishment wrought out amid the uproar of the world and under the pressure of the sorrow and anguish which are a part of every human lot. The toil is intense, prolonged, and painful because it is to be imperishable; there is a divine element in it, and the work takes on a form of immortality. The little time which falls to the artist here is inadequate to the greatness of his task; the applause, small or great, which accompanies his toil is but a momentary and imperfect recognition of what has been done with strength and beauty. It is pleasant when men see what one has done, but the real satisfaction is the consciousness that something worthy of being seen has been accomplished. The rewards of great living are not external things, withheld until the crowning hour of success arrives; they come by the way, - in the consciousness of growing power and worth, of duties nobly met, and work thoroughly done. To the true artist, working always in humility and sincerity, all life is a reward, and every day brings a deeper satisfaction. Joy and peace are by the way.