QOTD (2011-05-10), part deux

Because Symonds is just that good. Here are some passages from his essay “Culture: Its Meaning and Its Uses,” which appears in In the Key of Blue and Other Essays (1893) and is one of my favorite things in the Symonds corpus.

I have no wish to enter here into the controversy which has been carried on between scientific men and humanists as to the relative educational value of their methods. Nor do I want to touch upon the burning question as to whether the classics will have to be abandoned in our schools…. Ideal culture involves both factors; and this ideal was to some extent realised in Goethe. Few men—none, indeed—can hope now to exercise themselves completely in both branches. We have to choose between the alternatives of a literary or a scientific training. Still, the points of contact between humanism and science are so numerous that thorough study compels us to approach literature scientifically and also to pursue science in a humane spirit. The humanist remembers that his department is capable of being treated with something like the exactitude which physical research demands. The man of science bears in mind that he cannot afford to despise imagination and philosophy. Both poetry and metaphysic, upon the one hand, contributed to the formation of the evolutionary hypothesis. Without habits of strict investigation, on the other hand, we should not possess the great historical works of the nineteenth century, its discoveries in comparative philology, its ethnological theories and inquiries into primitive conditions of society.

I must repeat that culture is not an end in itself. It prepares a man for life, for work, for action, for the reception and emission of ideas. Life itself is larger than literature, than art, than science. Life does not exist for them, but they for life.

True culture is never in a condescending attitude. It knows that no kind of work, however trivial, ought to be regarded with contempt. People who carve cherry-stones, dance ballets, turn rondeaux, are as much needed as those who till the soil, construct Cabinets, or fabricate new theories of the universe. True culture respects hand-labour upon equal terms with brain-labour, the mechanic with the inventor of machinery, the critic of poetry with the singer of poems, the actor with the playwright. The world wants all sorts, and wants each sort to be of the best quality.

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