The Power to Deal with Life

From The Secret of Self Development (1926), by John Cowper Powys.

One of his very greatest dangers, when a youth sets out to become cultivated, is the danger of allowing his reason to run riot at the expense of all other human faculties. Logic is an invaluable method of capturing the secret of life, but it is not the only one. Undiluted by instinct, reason can become a ferocious wild beast whose savage delight it is to rend and tear at its own vitals. What a deeper culture seems to suggest is that there is a certain equilibrium, a certain balance of his faculties possible to man–call it perhaps his “imaginative reason”–by which he can follow the evasive fluidity of Nature, of that Nature who herself cherishes certain basic illusions, and by throwing the force of his mind outward toward the flow of the world save himself from this Rational Beast bred in his vitals and feeding upon his heart’s blood.

Soon enough, when our youth has acquired the trick of this mellower, gentler more gracious philosophy, will that terrible job of his, that scolding wife–or to put it the other way round, her selfish husband, her cantankerous children–grow mellow, transparent, insubstantial, like things seen far off, seen through some lovely flowing vapor, as such an individual surveys them through the quivering luminosity of the thoughts of Plato or the subtle humor of the genius of Charles Lamb.

In particular cases a person will find that it is from the art of painting or the art of music rather than from literature that he will draw his power to deal with life, but I cannot help feeling that there are certain advantages possessed by literature which renders that art more potent than the others in the general stream of things.

Concentrating Upon the Great Humanists

From The Secret of Self Development (1926), by John Cowper Powys.

The most uneducated peasant or factory-hand, if he has developed an original and sensitive response to life, is in reality more cultivated in the truest sense of that term than many a college-bred professor. And the more deeply cultivated a person is the fewer will be the books he will read. For he will gather the great select spirits of the ages about him and meddle very little with contemporary fashions. He will carry the Sonnets of Shakespeare in his pocket as he goes to his office. Secreted in his desk in his office itself will be found Bayard Taylor’s translation of Faust, or Lang, Butcher and Leaf’s translation of Homer; and, who knows, if on his way home he will not debouch down some side-street to a second-hand book-shop and purchase there some stray volume of Matthew Arnold’s poetry.

I am inclined to think that one definite result of such a person’s concentration upon the great humanists of the world will be the development in him of a certain philosophical skepticism which will be turned just as frequently upon the latest dogmas of science as upon the oldest dogmas of religion! I am inclined to think that although he will love to skim over the gnomic pages of the great metaphysicians he will treat each particular thinker rather as an artist than as a discoverer of pure truth. I think he will visualize his “hard facts” for a month or so, shall we say, according to the vision of Hegel, and then, for another month, transform them according to the vision of Spinoza or of Schopenhauer!

How to Resemble God in Everything

From The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647), by Baltasar Gracian, translated in 1892 by Joseph Jacobs.

CXXXVII. The Sage should be Self-sufficing.

He that was all in all to himself carried all with him when he carried himself. If a universal friend can represent to us Rome and the rest of the world, let a man be his own universal friend, and then he is in a position to live alone. Whom could such a man want if there is no clearer intellect or finer taste than his own? He would then depend on himself alone, which is the highest happiness and like the Supreme Being. He that can live alone resembles the brute beast in nothing, the sage in much and God in everything.