Tuesday, 31 March 2015

not done by calculation nor defined by reason

".. I remember, during the last war, with what pleasure I welcomed The Spirit Of Man, the anthology by Robert Bridges which was published in 1916. The thin-paper edition of this book was thereafter my constant companion. But even that admirable anthology had, as time went on, noticeable defects. the very highness of its purpose, its sustained tone of moral seriousness, a certain abstractness in its idealism, failed to satisfy completely the realistic standards of our daily life.

I felt that I wanted, at any rate in a good part of my moods, something more objective, something more aware of material things, of flesh and blood, of action and experience. At least, I wanted the dialectic of life, the contradictions on which we have to meditate if we are to construct a workable philosophy. And in war, and in the daily struggle of everyday life, it is a workable philosophy that each man has to construct for himself if he is to preserve a serene mind.

The need for variety is , therefore, my excuse for the extreme constraints which the reader will find in this anthology. I do deliberately affirm that the average lively mind can stretch over a range which includes, at one extreme, Plato and Spinoza, and at the other, Edward Lear and the anonymous authors of "She was poor but she was honest" - can, and does, and should.

At the same time I must admit that my anthology is not without its argument. I hope it is too objective to seem to have a "palpable design" on the reader. But in my choice I have been guided by certain convictions. One is that the love of glory, even in our materialistic age, is still the main source of virtue. The real good is not done by calculation nor defined by reason ;  it is an act of courage or of grace. I have therefore given a certain prominence to great deeds and noble characters ; and here objectivity demands that we make no distinction of creeds - the persecuted anarchist like Nicola Sacco achieves absolutely the same kind of nobility as the Christian saint.

Another conviction I might mention, which is perhaps not so explicit though perfectly illustrated by the conduct of the Black Prince at Poitiers, is that even in action it is the virtue of humility that finally triumphs ; and that this same virtue is the secret of all human happiness."

Herbert Read in the preface to his Anthology 'The Knapsack'. First published in 1939 as a companionable book for those engaged in active service.

(some paragraph breaks added by me)

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