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THE NATURE OF LITERATURE.
The most searching question about an object always calls for its nature. The word 66 nature has reference to the birth of the object, as when we speak of one's nativity. The nature of a thing is its productive energy. When the mathematician wishes to give the most fundamental idea of a mathematical concept he presents it in the act of genesis ; as, a line is a moving point, a plane is a moving line, a solid is a moving surface, etc. All mathematical demonstrations are based in movement. A fallacy is revealed in a contradiction of mental activities.
There is an energy which produces maple-trees, and this productive energy is their nature. All things in the world have come to be, under a force that makes them what they are.
Such is the essence of the thing. In forming a concept the mind is seeking the nature or energy which multiplies itself indefinitely in individuals. The productive energy and the individuals produced are taken together; hence the application of the word “concept,” — to take together.
What, then, should be our concept of literature ? Here are countless selections which must have a common nature, — nativity, - a common genesis. They are all unified in that nature, just as all triangles are
unified in an energy and form of motion which can produce triangles indefinitely. Broadly conceived, the answer seems simple enough. Literature is born of a desire to communicate thought; it is language in the process of making such communication. Literature is based on the relation of two minds to each other, desire of each to participate in the life and thought of the other. Literature is not the only means of such participation, but it is such means limited to language as the participating medium. Hence the word “litera
the life of man recorded in letters. This, however, makes literature synonymous with discourse, which includes all that is recorded in writing; as an almanac, a college catalogue, a show-bill, a poem, or an encyclopedia. When we speak of the literature of a nation or of a people we include all their life and thought which has found lodgment in language.
But in the present discussion we are to use the word in a much narrower sense, - a sense synonymous with poetry, — poetry in its true meaning. It will be helpful at this point for the reader to compare the definitions of poetry and literature from various sources, and to note that in the closest statement of either the other is included. It is well to use the words “literature” and “poetry” interchangeably, in order to hold ourselves to the fundamental conception involved. The two are one in essence; the popular distinction as to form has little value. Thus we are confronted by the question as to what literature is in the narrow sense,
the sense in which the word will be used in the following discussion.
The abiding consciousness in life is that of bondage ; the constant effort of life is to remove such bondage.
Man feels the limits of time and space, and this prompts the effort to remove these limitations. His physical environment enslaves him, and he enters the combat for victory. He strives to subdue the earth and obtain mastery over the forces that limit him. In social life he may be ruled by masters; and, chafing under the oppressive yoke of civil bondage, he strikes a blow for civil freedom and helps to make the history of the world.
But the bondage to nature and to fellow-man is slight as compared with that imposed by himself. The demands of his physical nature are imperious. Passions and appetite prey upon him. His lower nature is a constant weight against his upward tendency. He is in constant struggle for victory over himself. And this is not a struggle merely against the limitations imposed by his lower and sensuous nature. temptation allure him and no appetite prey upon him, he is still conscious of limitations within the realm of his own being. His infinite spiritual nature has a sense of, its finiteness, and his finite nature has a sense of its infinite possibilities. The soul knows itself to be illimitable, and yet limited. Its ideal possibilities are limited in the reality ; just as every individual object has a universal truth within it, and its individuality is a limit to its universality. The individual strives to be the universal which it embodies, and the universal makes war with the individual which constrains it. It is the conflict between the real and the ideal. The ideal is a disturbing principle in every real. The freedom which every rational being seeks is that of the ideal within the real. Such is rational or spiritual freedom. Life is a conscious effort for the realization of spiritual freedom. Hu