Fragments from the Lectures of Professor Lowell.
The Search for Truth.
"undiscovered land whose margin fades Forever and forever as we move,"
for wisdom is not the having learned any particular thing, but the result of many knowledge mutually acting upon and modifying each other. Michael Angelo chose for his emblem the figure of an old man in a child's go-cart with the motto, anchor impair,- I am still learning. Titian, dying of the plague at ninety-nine, exclaimed sadly, "My God, must I die now, just as I had learned to paint an eye!" Indeed the word learning, which we use to express a result, does by its very form imply an unfinished and unfinishable process. What the judgment requires is range, and this is only acquired by trigonometrical exactness in establishing the position and measuring the relations of isolated points. Moreover, what a man has just learned is not to be called knowledge. It continues for a good while yet a foreign substance in the mind and becomes a pearl only by dint of that fretting which proves its alienate, and which compels us to coat it with the substance of our own life and thought and so to assimilate it with ourselves. Wordsworth said that "Poetry was violent emotion remembered in tranquility," that is, when it was no longer the motive but the passive material of thought; and acquirement, then, first becomes knowledge when it is not much a property of memory as a quality of the intellect, making a part of the judgment rather than serving to rectify it.
The stereoscope teaches us that what produces relief and perspective is that we see round the object, and not only that, but also that we have two images of it, each subtending a different angle and so modifying each other as to produce truth in the resultant impression. And even then, it is only repeated experience from different points of view which enables us to see even familiar objects precisely as they are. The same is true, nay, almost more true, of the eyes of the mind, and the defining of transient images into precise and permanent ideas, real possessions of the soul.
Especially is criticism a comparative science demanding the contemporaneous presence in the memory of many conclusions arrived at through much mistake, much change of opinions adopted on a too narrow basis of facts for a true induction. Impartiality of judgment is incompatible with anything but entireness of view, and that entireness is only approximately attainable as the resultant average of divers impressions, the issue of as many moods. It was the many-sidedness of Goethe's culture that made him so sane and sure a judge. Ruskin has been accused of inconsistency only because he has made us partakers of his separate processes of study instead of waiting till he could give us the precipitate of assured wisdom which would deposit itself from the combination of all. Perhaps a certain amount of such inconsistency is inevitable in a mind like his. He is the Demosthenes of criticism, who always has a client to defend or a criminal to attack, and he is perfectly right in saying that he is never illogical, if by that he means that his individual syllogisms are never false in form. Moreover, a man who sets out to discover a theory that shall reconcile all phenomena is very apt unconsciously to construct one and to make the facts conform to it whether they will or no.
I do not believe that truth in its best sense is to be found in any narrow or confined circle of study, but much rather in expatiation over many fields. And we should never forget that fine saying of Lessing's: "Not the truth which one has arrived at, or thinks he has arrived at, but the honest zeal with which he has endeavored to follow truth makes the worth of a man. For it is not through the possession of truth but through the search after it that his powers expand, and in that alone consists his ever-growing perfection. Possession makes us easy, indolent, and proud. If God held all truth shut in his right hand, and in his left the single, inward, pure longing for truth, though with the condition of perpetually erring; I should bow humbly on his left hand and say: "Father, give! pure truth is for Thee alone!"
The truth which men see at the bottom of a well is apt to be nothing more than a reflected image of themselves.
II.Close of Lectures at Cornell University.In bidding you farewell I would once more remind you that while it is no man's duty to read much, it is every scholar's to read well; that is, to read real books and to read them in some sort as their mate. When I say a book, I do not mean so much printed paper held precariously together by two covers, and whose continued existence is only assured to it by a place in one of those almshouses for decayed literary reputations,- a great library-I mean a book which has that immortal soul in it which only the imagination can give, a book