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.