The Art of Successful Letter Writing Part 6
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Imagination is the eye of the soul.—Joubert.
The soul without imagination is what an observatory would be without a telescope.—Beecher.
IMAGINATION has two qualities—it enables us to see the thing we think of, and it enables us to endow the things we see through our material eyes with qualities that others may not see; the latter faculty may perhaps be classed as the finer form of imagination termed Fancy and we find it predominating in poetic imagery. In the words of Fuller, "Most marvelous and enviable is that fecundity of fancy which can adorn whatever it touches, which can invest naked fact and dry reasoning with unlooked-for beauty, make flowerets bloom even on the brow of the precipice, and when nothing better can be had, can turn the very substance of rock itself into moss and lichens. This faculty is incomparably the most important for the vivid and attractive exhibition of truth to the minds of men."
It may seem a strange assertion that the faculty of the poet should have a use—a vital-constructive use—in prosaic business, but it certainly has. A gasoline engine, for instance, to the manufacturer is apt to be but a thing of iron and steel and brass and babbitt, wrought out by mechanical processes in a noisy, smoky factory at the cost of so much tabulated time and labor and money.
A yachtsman may look at that engine in an entirely different light; he conceives it wrought under Thor-like hammers into a thing of grace, and beauty and strength. To him it becomes something almost sentient—a faithful friend, that, when howling gale and breaking seas threaten his destruction, hums cheerily beneath his feet a symphony that breathes of rugged virility and power and dependability—he feels the throbbing, pulsing, vibrant strength that is forging him through rushing walls of water towards the haven ahead and when "She" takes him past the breakwater into harbor his feeling approximates sheer affection. An advertisement shot through with the gold of such imagination must necessarily contain qualities that unimaginative announcements lack.
To the grown-up the woods at night—are the woods at night. But what of the child? To the budding boy or girl in whose mind imagination has woven its magic threads those woods abound in sprites, fairies, imps and gnomes who, in glades glamored by the moon above, give rein to their impish, elfish tricks.
Imagination enables us to conjure up things we have seen but do not see now (with material eyes) and make them live again, vivid and real and actual, and it also enables us to take the things we see and give them properties or qualities the unimaginative do not see. I will point out the value of the first quality in the work of letter writing directly; as regards the second quality it must be plain that the faculty is of tremendous advantage because, possessing it, we can not alone make ourselves see what we conjure up, but others also.
Imagination, in its finest form, is a constructive force in the work of the world because it dowers logic and reason with a sub-normal sense that carries it past its own limitations into a still greater sphere. Many scientists and inventors have achieved their ultimate goal through pushing reason and experiment to the utmost limits and bridging the gap with imaginative power that saw things that did exist, but which imagination alone made plain.
A writer capable of self-analysis can observe himself working in pictures that flash before his mind like those thrown on the screen by the cinematograph and which he transfers to paper by the symbols called words and his power as a writer is gauged in precise degree by his power to make those symbols he puts down flash back to the brain of the reader those pictures that have passed before his brain. The best results, from writer and reader, come when both have the faculty of imagination, therefore; some men lack it, and these men, what-ever their other qualifications, can never become either good writers or good readers; it takes an imaginative man to read and appreciate Shakespeare or other great poets.
Imagination, we have found, is a useful tool in business writing; if you aspire to success in this field you must either have it, or you must cultivate it. Read the following words; if they conjure up pictures, scenery, ocean sky and beach and cliff in your mind, then you have imagination.
"Sunset and evening star,
Given that first line, if an artist, could you sketch a picture from it? Do you see that picture now?
"And the stately ship glides on
Take the simple child-song and see how it abounds in pictures:
"The sun is careering
Do pictures flash through your mind as you read those lines? Do you see what the writer saw, reduced to word symbols, and endeavored to flash back to your brain? If you do, you have imagination.
Take your wife—can you see her now? Not think of her, but actually see her as you left her this morning? Can you see the breakfast table as you came to it? Can you see the parlor of your home—the interior of your church—the face of your friend? All right, you can; then talk to him of something mutually known that is of mutual interest. Now, can you see his expression change as you talk, now attentive, now sympathetic, now eager? Can you see his eyes light with the spirit of fun, or mischief, or adventure? If so, you have Imagination and it is strong or weak in precise degree to the clearness or otherwise of the objects you take to try these tests on.
I wound my last chapter up with these words: "Bring this man opposite another man and watch him warm up and tell and demonstrate what he has till he has the other fellow convinced in spite of Hell. Why? Because a living, breathing man is before him into whose face and eyes he can look and watch and he stimulated by the effects of his words as mirrored in the other's countenance.
"Take this man and place him opposite a type-writer, a blank sheet of paper, and an envelope, and watch what happens; his eyes see material where before they saw spiritual things; he is no longer faced with flesh and blood and heart and brain and soul and spirit, but with cold, immobile dead things—he is demagnetized."
But not if he possesses Imagination. Through that precious faculty, "The eye of the soul," he still faces a human being and as he talks to him through writing symbols he can watch his expression change as he brings him through the stages of Attention, Interest, Desire and Action. Imagination has transformed a purely mechanical rule or principle into a thing of pulsing life and we deal again, in the solitude of office or den, with living men and women.
Now perhaps you see the tremendous value of Imagination in advertising—you see the faculty of the poet is also the faculty of the plain prose business writer, and, realizing that truth, you will be better able to appreciate those words of Arthur Brisbane, who said:
"The ancient poet was a troubadour, telling the story of his hero in rhyme.
"The modern poet is the advertising writer, telling his story in plain prose, as a rule, realizing that truth poetically told is what makes business and success.
"Mr. Business Man, why do you admire certain great figures in history?
"You admire them because of what able writers have told you about them.
"If you expect the world to admire you, patronize you, regard your energy, and make you rich, you must have an able writer to tell about you, and he must be an advertiser who understands the poetry of business as well as the commonplace prose of business—one who can give the whole buying world a just estimate of your value and what you are doing."
I have indicated the business value of that phase of imagination that can conjure up a thing or a person seen or known in the past and bring that thing or person into the living present; Mr. Brisbane in the above words indicates the value of that phase of imagination that "Adorns whatever it touches...with unlooked for beauty."
This has its dramatic side; a man starts in business; he lacks capital; energy and ambition take the place of it; he fights a losing battle against the forces of giant competition marketing against him by sheer weight of money; our young business man is poor but imaginative,
"When I could not sleep for cold I had fire enough in my brain, And builded with roofs of gold My beautiful castles in Spain."
And, if his thoughts and tendencies run to advertising, his genius will find in the coldness and deadliness of business poverty the brain-fire that will build figments of imaginative thought into the product he makes, showing qualities that are there, but which ordinarily are not seen, in a light that will cause them to glitter and glow and attract.
That man will give prosaic things like soaps and powders and fabrics a halo of fancy that will endear them to the hearts of millions and bring them into millions of homes, lifting him to the golden throne of independence and wealth in the process.