13 September 2013

The Largest and Widest Life

Haldane Macfall (1860-1928), in the forward to The Splendid Wayfaring (London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co., 1914), p. ix:
Men follow after strange gods, and at the end of their little strut upon the stage, as the curtain rings down, they complain bitterly that life is a hollow thing! Aforetime they bowed to the god of war or bent the knee to this thing or another that they set up as their ideal; to-day it is wealth. Men who have built or hoarded vast "fortunes" are solemnly interviewed for the envious, are accepted as great men, and affirm that money-getting is their chief incentive to life. God! what a tragedy for a people!
When all's said, and the worship done, a very vulgar dullard, if he give all his powers to it, can, and often does, hoard great wealth — indeed, he is at times a criminal against society. But even the significance of his wayfaring for himself does not lie in his wealth nor in his lack of wealth — greatness is not wealth nor lack of wealth, whatever else it may be. The significance of a man for himself rests in the largeness of the range of his adventure in living; the significance of his wayfaring for others rests in the amount whereby he has increased the realm of life for his fellows.
We live a little mean day, so petty indeed that most men — honest fellows — deem themselves as having lived who go to their graves the narrow life-long slaves of a paltry wage, content to have earned just that wage, as though earning a wage were life! nay, proud to be able to say as they lie a-dying that they have walked without tripping in a little parish. They are even acclaimed "good citizens"! But the largest and widest life is for him who dares the fullest adventure — who has become partaker in all that life can give. And by the Arts alone shall he know the fullest life; and by lack of the Arts shall he know the meanest.