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- Essays On Work And Culture - 3/15 -

of care. The freshness of feeling, the delight in experience, the joy of discovery, the unspent vitality which welcomes every morning as a challenge to one's strength, invest youth with a charm which art is always striving to preserve, and which men who have parted from it remember with a sense of pathos; for the morning of life comes but once, and when it fades something goes which never returns. There are ample compensations, there are higher joys and deeper insights and relationships; but a magical charm which touches all things and turns them to gold, vanishes with the morning. In reaching its perfection of beauty the flower must part with the dewy promise of its earliest growth.

All this is true of youth, which in many ways symbolises the immortal part of man's nature, and must be, therefore, always beautiful and sacred to him. But it is untrue that the sky of youth has no clouds and the spirit of youth no cares; on the contrary, no period of life is in many ways more painful. The finer the organisation and the greater the ability, the more difficult and trying the experiences through which the youth passes. George Eliot has pointed out a striking peculiarity of childish grief in the statement that the child has no background of other griefs against which the magnitude of its present sorrow may be measured. While that sorrow lasts it is complete, absolute, and hopeless, because the child has no memory of other trials endured, of other sorrows survived. In this fact about the earliest griefs lies the source also of the pains of youth. The young man is an undeveloped power; he is largely ignorant of his own capacity, often without inward guidance towards his vocation; he is unadjusted to the society in which he must find a place for himself. He is full of energy and aspiration, but he does not know how to expend the one or realise the other. His soul has wings, but he cannot fly, because, like the eagle, he must have space on the ground before he rises in the air. If his imagination is active he has moments of rapture, days of exaltation, when the world seems to lie before him clear from horizon to horizon. His hours of study overflow with the passion for knowledge, and his hours of play are haunted by beautiful or noble dreams. The world is full of wonder and mystery, and the young explorer is impatient to be on his journey. No plan is then too great to be accomplished, no moral height too difficult to be attained. After all that has been said, the rapture of youth, when youth means opportunity, remains unexpressed. No poet will ever entirely compass it, as no poet will ever quite ensnare in speech the measureless joy of those festival mornings in June when Nature seems on the point of speaking in human language.

But this rapture is inward; it has its source in the earliest perception of the richness of life and man's capacity to appropriate it. It is the rapture of discovery, not of possession; the rapture of promise, not of achievement. It is without the verification of experience or the corroborative evidence of performance. Youth is possibility; that is its charm, its joy, and its power; but it is also its limitation. There lies before it the real crisis through which every man of parts and power passes: the development of the inward force and the adjustment of the personality to the order of life. The shadow of that crisis is never quite absent from those radiant skies which the poets love to recall; the uncertainty of that supreme issue in experience is never quite out of mind. Siegfried must meet the dragon before he can climb those heights on which, encircled by fire, his ideal is to take the form and substance of reality; and the prelusive notes of that fateful struggle are heard long before the sword is forged or the hour of destiny has come.

There is no test of character more severe or difficult to bear than the suspense of waiting. The man who can act eases his soul under the greatest calamities; but he who is compelled to wait, unless he be of hardy fibre, eats his heart out in a futile despair. Troops will endure losses when they are caught up in the stir of a charge which would demoralise and scatter them if they were compelled to halt under the relentless guns of masked batteries. Now, the characteristic trial of youth is this experience of waiting at a moment when the whole nature craves expression and the satisfaction of action. The greater the volume of energy in the man who has yet to find his vocation and place, the more trying the ordeal. There are moments in the life of the young imagination when the very splendour of its dreams fills the soul with despair, because there seems no hope of giving them outward reality; and the clearer the consciousness of the possession of power, the more poignant the feeling that it may find no channel through which to add itself to the impulsion which drives forward the work of society.

The reality of this crisis in spiritual experience--the adjustment between the personality and the physical, social, and industrial order in which it must find its place and task--is the measure of its possible painfulness. It is due, perhaps, to the charm which invests youth, as one looks back upon it from maturity or age, that its pain is forgotten and that sympathy withheld which youth craves often without knowing why it craves. A helpful comprehension of the phase of experience through which he is passing is often the supreme need of the ardent young spirit. His pain has its roots in his ignorance of his own powers and of the world. He strives again and again to put himself in touch with organised work; he takes up one task after another in a fruitless endeavour to succeed. He does not know what he is fitted to do, and he turns helplessly from one form of work for which he has no faculty to another for which he has less. His friends begin to think of him as a ne'er-do-weel; and, more pathetic still, the shadow of failure begins to darken his own spirit. And yet it may be that in this halting, stumbling, ineffective human soul, vainly striving to put its hand to its task, there is some rare gift, some splendid talent, waiting for the ripe hour and the real opportunity! In such a crisis sympathetic comprehension is invaluable, but it is rarely given, and the youth works out his problem in isolation. If he is courageous and persistent he finds his place at last; and work brings peace, strength, self-comprehension.

Chapter V

The Year of Wandering

Goethe prefaces Wilhelm Meister's travels with some lines full of that sagacity which was so closely related to his insight:

What shap'st thou here at the world? 't is shapen long ago; The Maker shaped it, he thought it best even so; Thy lot is appointed, go follow its hest; Thy way is begun, thou must walk, and not rest; For sorrow and care cannot alter the case; And running, not raging, will win thee the race.

My inheritance, how wide and fair! Time is my estate: to time I'm heir.

Between the preparation and the work, the apprenticeship and the actual dealing with a task or an art, there comes, in the experience of many young men, a period of uncertainty and wandering which is often misunderstood and counted as time wasted, when it is, in fact, a period rich in full and free development. In the days when Wilhelm Meister was written, the _Wanderjahr_ or year of travel was a recognised part of student life, and was held in high regard as contributing a valuable element to a complete education. "The Europe of the Renaissance," writes M. Wagner, "was fairly furrowed in every direction by students, who often travelled afoot and barefoot to save their shoes." These wayfarers were light-hearted and often empty-handed; they were in quest of knowledge, but the intensity of the search was tempered by gaiety and ease of mood. Under a mask of frivolity, however, youth often wears a serious face, and behind apparent aimlessness there is often a steady and final turning of the whole nature towards its goal.

Uncertainty breeds impatience; and in youth, before the will is firmly seated and the goal clearly seen, impatience often manifests itself in the relaxation of all forms of restraint. The richer the nature the greater the reaction which sometimes sets in at this period; the more varied and powerful the elements to be harmonised in a man's character and life, the greater the ferment and agitation which often precede the final discernment and acceptance of one's work. If the pressure of uncertainty with regard to one's gifts and their uses ought to call out patience and sympathy, so ought that experience of spiritual and intellectual agitation which often intervenes between the training for life and the process of actual living. This experience is a true year of wandering, and there is nothing of which the wanderer stands in such need as the friendly hand and the door which stands hospitably open.

It is the born drudge alone who is content to go from the school to the office or the shop without so much as asking the elementary questions about life. The aspiring want to know what is behind the occupation; they must discover the spiritual necessity of work before they are ready to bend to the inevitable yoke. Strong natures are driven by the Very momentum of their own moral impulse to explore the world before they build in it and unite themselves with it; the imagination must be fed with beauty and truth before they are content to choose their task and tools. It is often a sign of greatness in a man that he does not quickly fit into his place or easily find his work. Let him look well at the stars before he bends to his task; he will need to remember them when the days of toil come, as they must come, at times, to every man. Let him see the world with his own eyes before he gives to fortune those hostages which hold him henceforth fast-bound in one place.

It is as natural for ardent and courageous youth to wish to know what is in life, what it means, and what it holds for its children, as for a child to reach for and search the things that surround and attract it. Behind every real worker in the world is a real man, and a man has a right to know the conditions under which he must live, and the choices of knowledge, power, and activity which are offered him. In the education of many men and women, therefore, there comes the year of wandering; the experience of travelling from knowledge to knowledge and from occupation to occupation. There are men and women, it is true, who are born under conditions so free and prosperous that the choice of work is made almost instinctively and unconsciously, and apprenticeship merges into mastery without any intervening agitation or uncertainty. At long intervals Nature not only sends a great talent into the world, but provides in advance for its training and for its steady direction and unfolding; but Nature is not often so minute in her provision for her children. Those who receive most generously from her hand are, for the most part, compelled to discover their gifts and find their places in the general order as the result of much searching, and often of many failures.

And even in the most harmonious natures the elements of agitation and ferment are rarely absent. The forces which go to the making of a powerful man can rarely be adjusted and blended without some disturbance of relations and conditions. This disturbance is sometimes injurious, because it affects the moral foundations upon which character rests; and for this reason the significance of the experience in its relation to development ought to be sympathetically studied. The birth of the imagination and of the passions, the perception of the richness of life, and the consciousness of the possession of the power to master and use that wealth, create a critical moment in the history of youth,--a moment richer in possibilities of all kinds than comes at any later period. Agitation and ferment of soul are inevitable in that wonderful moment. It is as idle to ask youth to be calm and contented in that supreme moment as to ask the discoverer who is catching his first glimpse of a new continent to avoid excitement. There are times when agitation is as normal as is self-control at other and less critical times. There are days in June when Nature seems to betray an almost riotous prodigality of energy; but that prodigality is always well within the limits of order. In youth that which is to be

Essays On Work And Culture - 3/15

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