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THE ANSWER OF LIFE.
THE short December afternoon was already fading in a clear white light on the low hills, and the shadows were creeping stealthily from point to point, alert to seize every advantage and follow the retreating steps of day without break or pause. It was that most delightful of all hours, when work is done and the active enjoyment or companionship of the evening has not begun. Rosalind had come in from a long walk with a charming air of vigor and vitality, which seemed to impart itself to the whole room. She gave the fire an energetic stirring, which brought its glow to a focus and kindled its latent flame into a sudden and fiery splendor. Then she drew up a low ottoman, and sat down to enjoy the cheer and warmth which she had evoked. It was not the first time that something which had smoldered in my hands had caught life and beauty in hers. I was in a somber mood. I had spent the morning, and, for that matter, a good many mornings, re-reading the Greek plays, and striving by a patient and persistent use of the imagination to possess myself of the secret of those masterly and immortal creations. To me they had long ceased to be dead, and to-day
especially they were more vital and palpable than anything that I saw in the world around me. I had finished again that splendid trilogy in which Æschylus unfolds the doom of the house of Atreus. I had seen the flashing fires which lighted Agamemnon home to his death; I had heard Cassandra's awful monody; I had heard, too, that appalling cry which seemed to run through the world like the shudder of a doomed soul when the great leader fell in his own palace; I had witnessed the vengeance of the offended gods through the hands of Orestes; and I had followed the Fury-haunted steps of the unwilling executioner of the eternal law from the temple at Delphi to the judgment seat at Athens. All these things were still in my memory, and the room had caught a solemn and awful quietude in the overshadowing presence of these vast and terrible representations of antique life.
Rosalind's coming broke the spell of memories that pressed too heavily on heart and mind; she seemed to reunite me with the movement of present life, and to lead me out of the subterranean depths where the springs of the great drama of history are concealed, to the sunlight and bloom of the upper world. In her I suddenly found the key to the mystery which I had sought in vain to solve by process of thought, for in her I saw the harmony of law with beauty and joy, the rounded circle of right action, and a temperament akin with light and song and the sweetness of nature.
"You are thinking," she said at last, as she turned toward me, as if to carry further a line of thought which she seized by the mingled intuition of long affection and intimate fellowship-"you are thinking that—"
"I was thinking that you are often a better answer to my questions than I can ever hope to frame for myself. I was thinking that the deepest mysteries of life are explained, and the deepest problems of life are solved, not by thinking but by living. When I see a man who has broken a fundamental law, and by patience, penitence, and labor has regained the harmony which he lost, I no longer sorrow that Eschylus's 'Prometheus Bound' is a fragment. I see before me in actual realization the solution which the dramatist undoubtedly presented in the two plays of the Trilogy which are lost. Genius can do much, but even genius falls short of the actuality of a single human life. I have been among my books all day, and they have confused and overpowered me with doubts and questions which start in books but are rarely answered there; you have come in, fresh, buoyant, and full of hope, from contact with life, where these questions find their answers if we are only willing to keep an open mind and heart."
"But don't you think," Rosalind interrupted, "that the problems of living are more dramatically and clearly stated in books than in the lives of the men and women we know in this village?"
"Yes," I said, holding a newspaper before my
face to shield it from the glow of the ambitious fire; "yes, more dramatically stated, because all the irrelevant details are omitted. There is the material for a drama in the career of almost every person that we know, but the movement is overlaid and concealed by all kinds of trivial matter. A dramatist would seize the dramatic movement and bring it into clear view by casting all this aside. would disentangle the thread from the confused web into which every life runs to a casual observer. The problems are more clearly stated in books than in life, but they are not so clearly answered."
Here the children rushed in with some request, which they whispered in solemn secrecy to their common confidant, and then, receiving the answer they hoped for, rushed out again. It was a detached. segment of life which they brought in and took out of the study in such eager haste. I knew neither the cause of the glow on their cheeks, nor of the light in their eyes, nor of the deep mystery which surrounded them as with an atmosphere.
"There is more to be learned from those children concerning the mysteries of life," I said, after they had gone, "than from any book which it has ever been my fortune to happen upon. The mysteries which perplex me are not so much in the appearance of things, and in their definite relations, as in the processes through which we are all passing. I have always had a secret sympathy with those old Oriental religions which deified the processes of
nature the births and deaths and growth of things. The festivals which greeted the return of spring, with overflowing life in its train, and the sad processionals which lamented the departure of summer and the incoming of death, had a large element of reality in them. They appeal to me more than the worship of the serene gods whose faces and forms are so perfectly defined in art.
"I do not believe," I added, laying down the newspaper and stirring the fire for the sake of the glow on the deepening shadows in the room-"I do not believe that the deeper problems of living ever can be answered by the processes of thought. I believe that life itself teaches us either patience with regard to them, or reveals to us possible solutions when our hearts are pressed close against duties and sorrows and experiences of all kinds. I believe that in the thought and feelings and sufferings of children, for instance, an observer will often catch, as in a flash of revelation, some fruitful suggestion of his own relation to the universe, some far-reaching analogy of the processes of his own growth. This wisdom of experience, which often ripens even in untrained minds into a kind of clairvoyant vision, is the deepest wisdom after all, and books are only valuable and enduring as they include and express it."
I was just about to illustrate by saying that for this reason "The Imitation of Christ" has survived all the great volumes of learning and philosophy of its age, when the bell rang, and a visitor robbed me of my audience.