Realization Of One's Hopes And Aims
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
One of the most interesting powers of the mind is the imagination, which philosophers call the creative faculty of the intellect. By its aid the painter clothes lifeless canvas with entrancing form and bewitching beauty. By its aid the sculptor breathes into senseless marble the animate breath of life, and the musician ravishes the ear with strains of delightful music. By its aid the orator holds vast audiences spell-bound with those heavenly-inspired utterances that thrill all hearts and inspire all minds. By its aid deaf Beethoven sits at a stringless instrument and calls into being the grandest harmonies and gives voice to the gentlest strains of sweetest music. By its aid blind old Homer chants loveliest tales of Achilles and Agamemnon and the hosts of valiant warriors. By its aid the puritan Milton " takes a magician's wand, and lo ! there arises before his sightless orbs a vision of that Paradise where man in his primeval innocence walked with God." By its aid the great Demosthenes thundered forth his Philippics in Athens and thrilled a patriotic populace with utterances, whose eloquence is not silent yet. By its aid Cicero saved the Roman state and " blasted the name of Cataline with everlasting infamy." By its aid every man's life is made brighter, happier and better.
Says an eminent writer, "The imagination gives vividness to our conceptions, it raises the tone of our entire mental activity, it adds force to our reasoning, casts the light of fancy over the sombre, plodding steps of judgment, gilds the recollections of the past and the anticipations of the future with a coloring not their own. It lights up the whole horizon of thought, as the sunrise flashes along mountain tops and lights up the world. It would be a dreary world without that light."
In every man's mind there is a bright vision of what he would like to be and what he would like to do. It is his hope and aim, an ideal life of surpassing excellence, a standard of attainment practicable and desirable, but far beyond anything he has yet reached. To create such an ideal and keep it before the mind as an angel of promise and a bow of hope is the specific work of the imagination. And no man ever yet attained success in any field of human labor, who did not have floating before his mind such a vision of what he might become and ought to be. It is in the pursuit of a high and noble aim that a man finds his greatest usefulness and attains his highest successes.
Ideals, says Holland, rule the world.. That self which thinks, and determines, and knows, is always in advance of that other self which acts and does the work of life. Every man, we think, has before him a purpose, more or less defined, to live worthily. In his sober moments, when he is alone with his destiny, one feels an intense longing to get out of present surroundings and live a better life than he has hitherto led. Imagination paints a glorious career, and from such moments of self-examination we go forth to do better work for a time. Limitations of appetite, circumstance or indolence, keep us from carrying out this divine ideal. It floats before, beckoning us on to better things, and with varying degrees of success "we press toward the mark of our high calling." We fall far short of the ideal, but we could never become what we are without that bright vision of glory which inspires our hope, kindles faith, and nerves the arm to endure the strain of life's work.
There is something essentially ennobling in the pursuit of a high ideal. It works a sort of miracle upon a man. Low thoughts and desires are banished from his life, unworthy aims are forsaken. He leaves be-hind him associations that are degrading, and in the strife for attainment he becomes purified in mind and heart. Thus a high ideal becomes a forerunner of high character. A man has made for himself a divinity, worthy of his thought and worship, and by its perfections he is unconsciously led onward and upward to the source of all perfection, to God himself.
In the human race there is a divine instinct of progress. It is felt in varying degrees by individuals. Some are eager for the heat and sweat of battle, some are content to view the strife from a convenient outlook. This instinct of progress has made the history of civilization, and has been worked out piecemeal in the lives of individuals. Great men in whom ideal perfection dwells become from time to time leaders 4f a nation's thought and life. Individuals of lesser prominence follow the same ideals and a revolution is born, liberty is enthroned and the oppressed go free. Loyola was such a Ieader among the Jesuits, Luther was another in the upheavals of the Reformation. Cromwell was, in a similar way, the incarnation of the Puritan movement in England. Washington so led the thought and life of the colonies in Revolution days. Lincoln stood forth again, at a later time, as the evangel of a revolution that had long been gaining strength. In history, these men live not alone for what they were and what they accomplished. A reverent people enshrine their names in grateful memory, and as time goes on these memories are clothed with ideal excellence, to become an inspiration to ages yet unborn. The past acts upon the present and re-acts upon the future, and the great drama of civilization goes on progressively to higher and still higher perfection.
In the pursuit of one's vocation the ideal plays a most important part. No degree of attainment can be higher than that ideal of excellence which inspires all our effort. If that be low, life will be barren of results. If that be high, our success will be correspondingly high. How important, then, that life be ordered by good motives and led on by a high and worthy ambition ! In the realization of our hope and aim lies the measure of success which we are to enjoy, and a man can ill afford to miss the finest opportunities of life by lack of effort and application, when the very incarnation of Divinity invites us to the highest effort and highest success. Oh, men need to follow more closely these glorious perfections with which their own minds clothe every object of human endeavorô It is a noble thing to enter into a useful life-work. It is grand to surround that life-work with excellency divine. It is the sum of all nobility of character to put forth our efforts and realize our hope and aim.
I have said that a high ideal is essential to a completely successful life. But in the realization of our aim it is quite necessary to form an ideal commensurate with our abilities. Many a man has failed in his life-work because his notions of what he ought to do were marvellously beyond his power of execution. Such a man forms so high a conception of what he would like to accomplish that he has no heart to attempt anything in earnest. The great vision of his wishes floats before him like an ignis fatuus, leading him into the face of the greatest and most unexpected difficulties. The accomplishment of his stupendous purposes re-quires the highest powers and the greatest efforts, while his mediocre abilities are too weak for so great a work. It is the dread of mediocrity that has strown the shore of life's ocean with so many priceless wrecks. This intense burning desire on the part of common people to become millionaires, or merchant princes, or railroad kings, or something beyond their powers and opportunities has filled our American communities with hundreds of restless, discontented, useless men. We need to learn anew the forgotten truth that mediocrity may be noble, that a good and useful work may be done in a very humble position in life. To enlist bur fullest powers in the enterprise for which our. abilities fit us, is surely not to fail. It is not our fault that we do not possess talents of the highest order. We cannot with reason question that inscrutable wisdom which made some of us prophets and teachers, some of us vine-dressers and husbandmen, some of us money kings and merchant-princes, some of us great and some small, and all servitors in His Kingdom of universal service.
One of the most valuable lessons for the young to learn is that it takes a great man to accomplish a great undertaking, and that both are necessarily few in one generation. If this lesson were learned and heeded half the heartache of our mature years might be avoided. Effort, and high resolve, and noble purpose are excellent qualities of character ; but they can never enable a man to lift himself by the boot-straps nor accomplish the unattainable. It is at once the weakness and greatness of some to conceive what they attempt to do of so high a degree of excellence that no human power can reach it. The natural effect of this is a restless desire to accomplish something far beyond what is ordinarily attained even by surpassing talent. When such a desire has taken possession of the heart, the usual achievements of men seem poor indeed. With their broad views and far-sighted stretch of thought, it seems trivial to come down to the common affairs of every-day life. It is to them a small thing to do good and get good in the plain old common-sense way. They rush into the world's work with eager enthusiasm, to beat out their brains against a wall of difficulty and to exhaust their energies in the pursuit of an object wholly beyond their reach. As a noted writer has phrased it, "They fail of living a useful life because they are too ambitious of doing something more than that."
As we have seen, no man can live worthily without high hopes and a lofty aim. There is, indeed, a moral grandeur in taking note of our highest powers and framing an ideal that shall enlist all our capabilities to their utmost capacity. When an ideal does this it is eminently useful. It kindles our ardor and stimulates our effort to overcome grave difficulties and surpass all obstacles that lie in the way of our advancement. But when our ideal does not do this it becomes a hindrance and a snare. When the vision of what we may do leads us off the solid ground of useful and laborious lives to an idle longing and feverish striving for the unattainable, then it becomes a positive source of evil and ruin. It is vastly better to realize our aim in a mediocre position than to miserably fail because we cannot accomplish some great and astounding deed to win the world's applause ----
"Honor and shame from no condition rise;