by Orison Swett Marden
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'Every Man builds his own world,makes his own atmosphere.He can fill it with difficulties,fears,doubts and despair and gloom,so that the whole life will be influenced to gloom and disaster:or he can keep the atmosphere clear,transparent and sweet by dispelling every gloomy,envious malicious thought.
Hold the enduring,the immortal thought in the mind,and discord will disappear.'
This is the train of
running through out this Book,seeking
in every word and every page of the Book,Investment in one's own
Self.As valid today as it was seventy years back when the Book was
If You Can Talk Well
A good conversationalist is one who has ideas, who reads thinks, listens, and who has therefore something to say. —SIR WALTER SCOTT
WHEN Charles W. Eliot was President of Harvard, he said, "I recognize but one mental acquisition as an essential part of the education of a lady or gentleman, namely an accurate and refined use of the mother-tongue."
There is no other one thing which enables us to make so good an impression, especially upon those who do not know us thoroughly, as the ability to converse well.
To be a good conversationalist, able to interest people, to rivet their attention, to draw them to you naturally, by the very superiority of your conversational ability, is to be the possessor of a very great accomplishment, one which is superior to all others. It not only helps you to make a good impression upon strangers, it also helps you to make and keep friends. It opens doors and softens hearts. It makes you interesting in all sorts of company. It helps you to get on in the world. It sends you clients, patients, customers. It helps you into the best society, even though you are poor.
A man or woman who can talk well, who has the art of putting things in an attractive way, who can interest others immediately by their power of speech, has a very great advantage over one who may know more than them, but who cannot express themselves with ease or eloquence.
No matter how expert you may be in any other art or accomplishment, you cannot use your expertise always and everywhere as you can the power to converse well. If you are a musician, no matter how talented you may be, or how many years you may have spent in perfecting yourself in your specialty, or how much it may have cost you, only comparatively few people can ever hear or appreciate your music.
You may be a fine singer, and yet travel around the world without having an opportunity of showing your accomplishment, or without anyone guessing your specialty. But wherever you go and in whatever society you are, no matter what your station in life may be, you talk.
You may be a painter, you may have spent years with great masters, and yet, unless you have very marked ability so that your pictures are hung in the salons or in the great art galleries, comparatively few people will ever see them. But if you are an artist in conversation, everyone who comes in contact with you will see your life-picture, which you have been painting ever since you began to talk. Everyone knows whether you are an artist or a bungler.
In fact, you may have a great many accomplishments which people occasionally see or enjoy, and you may have a very beautiful home and a lot of property which comparatively few people ever know about; but if you are a good converser, everyone with whom you talk will feel the influence of your skill and charm.
A noted society leader, who has been very successful in the launching of debutantes in the society, always gives this advice to her protégés, "Talk, talk. It does not matter much what you say, but chatter away lightly and gaily. Nothing embarrasses and bores the average man so much as a girl who has to be entertained."
There is a helpful suggestion in this advice. The way to learn to talk is to talk. The temptation for people who are unaccustomed to society, and who feel diffident, is to say nothing themselves and listen to what others say.
Good talkers are always sought after in the society. Everybody wants to invite Mrs. So-and-So to dinners or receptions because she is such a good talker. She entertains. She may have many defects, but people enjoy her society because she can talk well.
Conversation, if used as an educator, is a tremendous power developer; but talking without thinking, without an effort to express oneself with clearness, conciseness, or efficiency, mere chattering, or gossiping, the average society small talk, will never get hold of the best thing in a man. It lies too deep for such superficial effort.
Thousands of young people who envy such of their mates as are getting on faster than they are keep on wasting their precious evenings and their half-holidays, saying nothing but the most frivolous, frothy, senseless things—things which do not rise to the level of humor, but the foolish, silly talk which demoralizes one's ambition, lowers one's ideals and all the standards of life, because it begets habits of superficial and senseless thinking. On the streets on the cars, and in public places loud, coarse voices are heard in light, flippant, slipshod speech, in coarse slang expression.
"You're talking through your hat"; "Search me"; "You just bet"; "Well, that's the limit", "I hate that man; he gets on my nerves," and a score of other such vulgarities we often hear.
Nothing else will indicate your fineness or coarseness of culture, your breeding or lack of it, so quickly as your conversation. It will tell your whole life's story. What you say, and how you say it, will betray all your secrets, will give the world your true measure.
There is no other accomplishment or acquirement which you can use so constantly and effectively, which will give so much pleasure to your friends as fine conversation. There is no doubt that the gift of language was intended to be a much greater accomplishment than the majority of us have ever made of it.
Most of us are bunglers in our conversation, because we do not make an art of it; we do not take the trouble or pains to learn to talk well. We do not read enough or think enough. Most of us express ourselves in sloppy, Slipshod English, because it is so much easier to do so than it is to think before we speak, to make an effort to express ourselves with elegance, ease and power.
Poor conversers excuse themselves for not trying to improve by saying that "good talkers are born, not made". We might as well say that good lawyers, good physicians, or good merchants are born, not made. None of them would ever get very far without hard work. This is the price of all achievement that is of value.
Many a man owes his advancement very largely to his ability to converse well. The ability to interest people in your conversation, to hold them, is a great power. The man who bungles in his expression, who knows a thing, but never can put it in logical, interesting, or commanding language, is always placed at a great disadvantage.
I know a businessman who has cultivated the art of conversation to such an extent that it is a great treat to listen to him. His language flows with such liquid, limpid beauty, his words are chosen with such exquisite delicacy, taste and accuracy, there is such a refinement in his diction that he charms everyone who hears him speak. All his life he has been a reader of the finest prose and poetry, and has cultivated conversation as a fine art.
You may think you are poor and have no chance in life. You may be situated so that others are dependent upon you, and you may not be able to go to school or college, or to study music or art, as you long to; you may be tied down to an iron environment; you may be a tortured with an unsatisfied, disappointed ambition; and yet you can become an interesting talker, in every sentence you utter you can practice the best form of expression. Every book you read, every person with whom you converse, who uses good English, can help you.
Few people think very much about how they are going to express themselves. They use the first words that come to them. They do not think of forming a sentence so that it will have beauty, brevity, transparency, power. The words flow from their lips helter-skelter, with little thought of arrangement or order.
Now and then we meet a real artist in conversation, and it is such a treat and delight that we wonder why then most of us should be such bunglers in our conversation, that we should make such a botch of the medium of communication between human beings, when it is capable of being made the art of arts.
I have met a dozen persons in my lifetime who have given me such a glimpse of its superb possibilities that it has made all other arts seem comparatively unimportant to me.
I was once a visitor at Wendell Philips' home in Boston, and the music of his voice, the liquid charm of his words, the purity, the transparency of his diction, the profundity of his knowledge, the fascination of his personality, and his marvelous art of putting things, I shall never forget. He sat down on the sofa beside me and talked as he would to an old schoolmate, and it seemed to me that I had never before heard such exquisite English. I have met several English people who possessed that marvelous power of "soul in conversation which charms all who come under its spell."
Mrs. Mary A. Livermore, Julia Ward Howe, and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward had this wonderful conversational charm, as has ex-President Eliot of Harvard.
The quality of the conversation is everything. We all know people who use the choicest language and express their thoughts in fluent, liquid diction, who impress us by the wonderful flow of their conversation; but that is all there is to it. They do not impress us with their thoughts, they do not stimulate us to action. We do not feel any more determined to do something in the world, to be somebody, after we have heard them talk than we felt before.
We know other people who talk very little, but whose words are so full of meat and stimulating brain force that we feel ourselves multiplied many times by the power they have injected into us.
In olden times the art of conversation reached a much higher standard than that of today. The deterioration is due to the complete revolution in the conditions of modern civilization. Formerly people had almost no other way of communicating their thoughts than by speech. Knowledge of all kinds was disseminated almost wholly through the spoken word. There were no great daily newspapers, no magazines or periodicals of any kind.
The great discoveries of vast wealth in the precious minerals, the new world opened up by inventions and discoveries, and the great impetus to ambition have changed all this. In this lightning-express age, in these strenuous times, when everybody has the mania to attain wealth and position, we no longer have time to reflect with deliberation and to develop our powers of conversation. In these great newspaper and periodical days, when everybody can get for a few pennies the news and information which it has cost thousands of dollars to collect, everybody sits behind the morning sheet or is buried in a book or magazine. There is no longer the same need of communicating thought by the spoken word, as there was formerly.
Oratory is becoming a lost art for the same reason. Printing has become so cheap that even the poorest homes can get more reading for a few dollars than kings and noble men could afford in the Middle Ages.
It is a rare thing to find a polished conversationalist today. So rare is it to hear one speaking exquisite English, and using a superb diction, that it is indeed a luxury.
Good reading, however, will not only broaden the mind and give new ideas, but it will also increase one's vocabulary, and that is a great aid to conversation. Many people have good thoughts and ideas, but they cannot express them because of the poverty of their vocabulary. They have not words enough to clothe their ideas and make them attractive. They talk around in a circle, repeat and repeat, because, when they want a particular word to convey their exact meaning, they cannot find it.
If you are ambitious to talk well, you must be as much as possible in the society of well bred cultured people. If you seclude yourself, though you are a college graduate, you will be a poor converser.
We all sympathize with people, especially the timid and shy, who have that awful feeling of repression and stifling of thought, when they make an effort to say something and cannot. Timid young people often suffer keenly in this way in attempting to declaim at school or college. But many a great orator went through the same sort of experience when they first attempted to speak in public, and was often deeply humiliated by their blunders and failures. There is no other way, however, to become an orator or a good conversationalist than by constantly trying to express oneself efficiently and elegantly.
If you find that your ideas fly from you when you attempt to express them, that you stammer and flounder about for words which you are unable to find, you may be sure that every honest effort you make even if you fail in your attempt, will make it all the easier for you to speak well the next time. It is remarkable, if one keeps on trying, how quickly he or she will conquer their awkwardness and self-consciousness, and will gain ease of manner and facility of expression.
Everywhere we see people placed at a tremendous disadvantage because they have never learned the art of putting their ideas into interesting, telling language. We see brainy men and women at public gatherings, when momentous questions are being discussed, sit silent, unable to tell what they know, when they are infinitely better informed than those who are making a great deal of display of oratory or smooth talk.
People with a lot of ability, who know a great deal, often appear like a set of dummies in company, while some superficial, shallow-brained person holds the attention of those present simply because they can tell what they know in an interesting way. They are constantly humiliated and embarrassed when away from those who happen to know their real worth, because they cannot carry on an intelligent conversation up on any topic. There are hundreds of these silent people at our national capital—many of them wives of husbands who have suddenly and unexpectedly come into political prominence.
Many people—and this is especially true of scholars—seem to think that the great desideratum in life is to get as much valuable information into the head as possible. But it is just as important to know how to give our knowledge in a palatable manner as to acquire it. You may be a profound scholar, you may be well read in history and in politics, you may be wonderfully well-posted in science, literature, and art, and yet, if your knowledge is locked up within, you will always be placed at a great disadvantage.
Locked-up ability may give the individual some satisfaction, but it must be exhibited, expressed in some attractive way, before the world will appreciate it or give credit for it. It does not matter how valuable the rough diamond may be, no explaining, no describing its marvels of beauty within, and its great value, would avail; nobody would appreciate it until it was ground and polished and the light let into its depths to reveal its hidden brilliancy. Conversation is to the man what the cutting of the diamond is to the stone. The grinding does not add anything to the diamond. It merely reveals its wealth.
How little parents realize the harm they are doing their children by allowing them to grow up ignorant of or indifferent to the marvelous possibilities in the art of conversation! In the majority of homes, children are allowed to mangle the English language in a most painful way.
Nothing else will develop the brain and character more than the constant effort to talk well, intelligently, interestingly, upon all sorts of topics. There is a splendid discipline in the constant effort to express one's thoughts in clear language and in an interesting manner. We know people who are such superb conversers that none would ever dream that they have not had the advantages of the higher schools. Many a college graduate has been silenced and put to shame by people who have never even been to a high school, but who have cultivated the art of self-expression.
The school and the college employ the student comparatively a few hours a day for a few years; conversation is a training in a perpetual school. Many get the best part of their education in this school.
Conversation is a great ability discoverer, a great revealer of possibilities and resources. It simulates thought wonderfully. We think more of ourselves if we can talk well, if we can interest and hold others. The power to do so increases our self-respect, our self-confidence.
No man knows what he really possesses until he makes his best effort to express to others what is in him. Then the avenues of the mind fly open, the faculties are on the alert. Every good converser has felt a power come to them from the listener which they never felt before, and which often stimulates and inspires to fresh endeavor. The mingling of thought with thought, the contact of mind with mind develops new powers, as the mixing of two chemicals produces a new third substance.
To converse well one must listen well also. This means one must hold oneself in a receptive attitude.
We are not only poor conversationalists, but we are poor listeners as well. We are too impatient to listen. Instead of being attentive and eager to drink in the story or the information, we have not enough respect for the talker to keep quiet. We look about impatiently, perhaps snap our watch, play a tattoo with our fingers on a chair or a table, hitch about as if we were bored and were anxious to get away, and interrupt the speaker before they reach their conclusion. In fact, we are such an impatient people that we have no time for anything except to push ahead, to elbow our way through the crowd to get the position or the money we desire. Our life is feverish and unnatural. We have no time to develop charm of manner, or elegance of diction. "We are too intense for epigram or repartee. We lack time."
Nervous impatience is a conspicuous characteristic of the American people. Everything bores us which does not bring us more business or more money, or which does not help us to attain the position for which we are striving. Instead of enjoying our friends, we are inclined to look upon them as so many rungs in a ladder, and to value them in proportion as they furnish readers for our books, send us patients, clients, customers, or show their ability to give us a boost for a coveted position.
Before these days of hurry and drive, before this age of excitement, it was considered one of the greatest luxuries possible to be a listener in a group surrounding an intelligent talker. It was better than most modern lectures, than anything one could find in a book; for there was a touch of personality, a charm of style, a magnetism which held, a superb personality which fascinated. For the hungry soul yearning for an education, to drink in knowledge from those wise lips was to be fed with a royal feast indeed.
But today everything is "touch and go." We have no time to stop on the street and give a decent salutation. It is: "How do?" Or "Morning" accompanied by a sharp nod of the head, instead of a graceful bow. We have no time for the graces and the charms. Everything must give way to the material.
We have no time for the development of a fine manner; the charm of the days of chivalry and leisure has almost vanished from our civilization, A new type of individual has sprung up. We work like Trojans during the day, and then rush to a theater or other place of amusement in the evening. We have no time to make our own amusement or to develop the faculty of humor and fun making as people used to do. We pay people for doing that while we sit and laugh. We are like some college boys, who depend upon tutors to carry them through their examinations—they expect to buy their education ready made.
Life is becoming so artificial, so forced, so diverse from naturalness, we drive our human engines at such a fearful speed, that our finer life is crushed out. Spontaneity and humor, and the possibility of a fine culture and a superb charm of personality in us are almost impossible and extremely rare.
One cause for our conversational decline is a lack of sympathy. We are too selfish, too busily engaged in our own welfare and wrapped up in our own little world, too intent upon our own self-promotion to be interested in others. No one can make a good converser who is not sympathetic. You must be able to enter into another's life, to live it with the other person, in order to be a good talker or a good listener.
Walter Besant used to tell of a clever woman who had a great reputation as a conversationalist, though she talked very little. She had such a cordial, sympathetic manner that she helped the timid and the shy to say their best things and made them feel at home. She dissipated their fears, and they could say things to her which they could not say to anyone else. People thought her an interesting conversationalist because she had this ability to call out the best in others.
If you would make yourself agreeable you must be able to enter in to the life of the people with whom you converse, and you must touch them along the lines of their interest. No matter how much you may know about a subject, if it does not happen to interest those to whom you are talking your efforts will be largely lost.
It is pitiable, sometimes, to see men standing around at the average reception or club gallery, dumb, almost helpless, and powerless, to enter heartily into the conversation because they are in a subjective mood. They are thinking, thinking; thinking business, business, business; thinking how they can get on a little faster—get more business, more clients, more patients, or more readers for their books, or a better house to live in; how they can make more show. They do not enter heartily into the lives of others, or abandon themselves to the occasion enough to make good talkers. They are cold and reserved, distant, because their minds are somewhere else, their affections on themselves and their own affairs. There are only two things that interest them, business and their own little world. If you talk about these things, they are interested at once; but they do not care a snap about your affairs, how you get on, or what your ambition is, or how they can help you. Our conversation will never reach a high standard while we live in such a feverish, selfish and unsympathetic state.
Great conversationalists have always been very tactful—interesting without offending. It does not do to stab people if you would interest them, nor to drag out their family skeletons. Some people have the peculiar quality of touching the best that is in us; others stir up the bad. Every time they come in to our presence they irritate us. Others allay all that is disagreeable. They never touch our sensitive spots, sore spots, and they call out all that is spontaneous and sweet and beautiful.
Lincoln was master of the art of making himself interesting to everybody he met. He put people at ease with his stories and jokes, and made them feel so completely at home in his presence that they opened up their mental treasures to him without reserve. Strangers were always glad to talk with him because he was so cordial and quaint, and always gave more than he got.
A sense of humor such as Lincoln had is, of course, a great addition to one's conversational powers. But not everyone can be funny; and, if you lack the sense of humor, you will make yourself ludicrous by attempting to be so.
A good conversationalist, however, is not too serious. He does not deal too much with facts, no matter how important. Facts, statistics, weary. Vivacity is absolutely necessary. Heavy conversation bores.
Therefore, to be a good conversationalist you must be spontaneous, buoyant, natural, sympathetic, and must show a spirit of good will. You must feel a spirit of helpfulness, and must enter heart and soul into things which interest others. You must get the attention of people and hold it by interesting them, and you can only interest them by a warm sympathy—a real friendly sympathy, If you are cold, distant, and unsympathetic you cannot hold their attention.
You must be broad, tolerant. A narrow, stingy soul never talks well. A man or woman who is always violating your sense of taste, of justice, and of fairness, never interests you. You lock tight all the approaches to your inner self, every avenue is closed to them. Your magnetism and your helpfulness are thus cut off, and the conversation is perfunctory, mechanical and without life or feeling.
You must bring your listener close to you, must open your heart wide, and exhibit a broad, free nature, and an open mind. You must be responsive, so that they will throw wide open every avenue of their nature and give you free access to their heart of hearts.
If a man is a success anywhere, it ought to be in his personality, in his power to express himself in strong, effective, interesting language. He should not be obliged to give a stranger an inventory of his possessions in order to show that he has achieved something. A greater wealth should flow from his lips, and express itself in his manner.
No amount of natural ability or education or good clothes, no amount of money, will make you appear well if you cannot express yourself in good language.
Put Beauty Into Your life
WHEN the barbarians overran Greece, desecrated her temples and destroyed her beautiful works of art, even their savageness was somewhat tamed by the sense of beauty which prevailed everywhere. They broke her beautiful statues, it is true; but the spirit of beauty refused to die, and it transformed the savage heart and awakened even in the barbarian a new power. From the apparent death of Grecian art, Roman art was born. "Cyclops forging iron for Vulcan could not stand against Periciles forging thought for Greece." The barbarian's club which destroyed the Grecian statues was no match for the chisel of Phidias and Praxiteles.
There was no art in Italy until the Romans conquered Greece and carried her art treasures back to Rome.
It was the famous "Horse's Head", the "Farnese Bull," the "Marble Faun," the "Dying Gladiator," the "Boy Taking a Thorn From His Foot" that were practically the basis of the whole wonderful Italian art. These, aided by the marvelous Italian marbles, were the first to arouse the slumbering artistic faculties in the Italian people.
"What is the best education?" someone asked to Plato, many centuries ago. "It is" he replied, "that which gives to the body and to the soul all the beauty and all the perfection of which they are capable."
The life that would be complete; that would be sweet and sane, as well as strong, must be softened and enriched by a love of the beautiful.
Man is a very broad, omnivorous animal, and his harmonious development demands a great variety of food, both mental and physical. No matter what element we omit in his bill of fare, there is a corresponding loss, omission or weakness in his life. You cannot get a full complete man on half a bill of fare. You cannot nourish his body and starve his soul, and expect him to be symmetrical, well-balanced, poised; nor you can you starve his body and nourish his soul, and expect him to be a giant on the physical as well as on the spiritual plane.
When children do not get a sufficient or proper variety of food, when they are deprived of any element necessary for the nourishment of brain, nerve or muscle, there is a corresponding lack in their development. For want of a properly balanced diet they grow up lop-sided, unbalanced and unsymmetrical.
If, for instance, a child does not get enough phosphate of lime in his food. Nature cannot build strong, firm bone; the framework of the body is weak, the bones are soft, and the child is liable to have "rickets". If his diet is lacking in nitrogenous or muscle-making material, his muscles will be weak and flabby, he will never have "the wrestling thews that throw the world". If the phosphoric elements, the builders of brain and nerves, be deficient, his whole organism will suffer,—brain and nerves will be incomplete, lacking in energy, undeveloped.
Just as the body of a growing child requires a wide variety of physical food to make him strong, beautiful and healthy, so man requires many kinds of mental food to nourish his mind and make it grow strong, active and healthy.
The marvelous material resources of our country have so stimulated the national ambition for wealth that we are in danger of over-developing the material faculties at the expense of the higher and finer ones.
It is not enough for us to cultivate mere physical and intellectual strength. If the esthetic side of one's being—an appreciation of all that is beautiful in nature and art— is not fostered, the life will be like a country without flowers or birds, sweet scents or sounds, color or music. It may be strong, but it will lack the graces that would adorn its strength and make it attractive.
The Creator has not covered the world with loveliness, filled it with music, and spread the beauties of earth and sea on every hand for nothing. Man is the explanation of this lavishness of beauty.
If you would be a man in the larger sense of the word, you must not be content to make one small clearing in the forest of your nature and let all the rest remain unreclaimed. The pursuit of merchandise, of material gain in any form, develops only a very small part of one's being, and that often the selfish and coarser side.
There is a lack in the make up of a person who has no appreciation of beauty, who does not thrill before a great picture or an entrancing sunset, or a glimpse of beauty in nature.
Savages have no appreciation of beauty. They have a passion for adornment, but there is nothing to show that their esthetic faculties are developed. They merely obey their animal instincts and passions.
But as civilization advances, ambition grows, wants multiply, and higher and higher faculties show themselves, until in the highest expression of civilization, we find aspiration and love of the beautiful, most highly developed. We find it manifested on the person, in the home, in the environment.
The late Professor Charles Eliot Norton of Harvard University, one of the finest thinkers of his day, said that beauty has played an immense part in the development of the highest qualities in human beings; and that civilization could be measured by its architecture, sculpture, and painting.
A love for the beautiful has a refining, softening, enriching influence upon character which nothing else can supply. It is most unfortunate for a child to be brought up in an atmosphere in which it is missing, and where only a money-loving spirit is manifested, where he is trained to think that the most important thing in life is to get more money, more houses and lands, instead of more manhood, more nobility, more sweetness, more beauty.
It is cruel to twist a young life out of its God-intended orbit by such false training, to wrench it from its spiritual center and set it towards a material goal, while the mind is plastic and capable of being molded to any impression, good or evil.
Children should live in the midst of beauty, in art and nature, as much as possible. No opportunity to call their attention to a beautiful object should be lost. In this way their whole lives may be enriched by treasures which no amount of money in after years can purchase for them.
What an infinite satisfaction comes from beginning early in life to cultivate our finer qualities, to develop higher sentiments, purer tastes, and more delicate feelings, the love of the beautiful in all its varied forms of expression!
One can make no better investment than the cultivation of a taste for the beautiful, for it will bring rainbow hues and enduring joys to the whole life. It will not only greatly increase one's capacity for happiness, but also one's efficiency.
A remarkable instance of the elevating, refining influence of beauty has been demonstrated by a Chicago school-teacher, who fitted up in her school a "beauty corner" for her pupils. It was furnished with a stained glass window, a divan covered with an Oriental rug, and a few fine photographs and paintings, among which was a picture of the Sistine Madonna. Several other esthetic trifles, artistically arranged, completed the furnishings of the "beauty corner". The children took great delight in their little retreat, especially in the exquisite coloring of the stained glass window. Insensibly their conduct and demeanor were affected by the beautiful objects with which they daily associated. They became more gentle, more refined, more thoughtful and considerate. A young Italian boy in particular, who had been incorrigible before the establishment of the "beauty corner", became, in a short time, so changed and softened that the teacher was astonished. One day she asked what it was that had recently made him so good. Pointing to the picture of the Sistine Madonna the boy said," How can a fella do bad things whom she's looking at him?"
Character is fed largely through the eye and ear. The thousand voices in nature of bird and insect and brook, the soughing of the wind through the trees, the scent of flower and meadow, the myriad tints in earth and sky, in ocean and forest, mountain and hill, are just as important for the development of a real man as the education he receives in the schools. If you take no beauty into your life through the eye or the ear to stimulate and develop your esthetic faculties, your nature will be hard, juiceless, and unattractive.
Nothing else can ever quite take the place in life of the development of the faculty for appreciating the beautiful. It is a connecting link between man and the Great Author of the beautiful. At no other time do our spirits come into such close touch with the divine as when we are lost in the contemplation of the sublimity, the grandeur and perfection of the universe. Then we actually seem to see the creative processes of the Infinite Mind.
Just try the effect of putting beauty into your life,— a little every day. You will find it magical. It will broaden and light up your outlook upon the world as the acquisition of money or fame never can. Put variety into your mental bill of fare as well as into your physical.
It will pay you rich returns. No matter if you are strong and rugged and able to work every day in the year, your mind needs a change even if your body does not. If you feed upon the same mental food, if you have practically the same experiences every day of the three hundred and sixty-five, year in and year out, there will be disaster somewhere in your life.
Unfoldment of the esthetic faculties is one of the most important factors in our success and happiness, in the ennobling and uplifting of our lives. Ruskin's love of the beautiful gave his whole life an indescribable charm and loftiness. It kept him looking upward as well as outward. It purified and exalted, while it held him spell-bound. It was the constant reaching out after the beautiful in nature and art, in his divine interpretation of all that man and nature mean which gave zest and enthusiasm, earnestness and divine significance to his great life work.
Beauty is a quality of divinity, and to live much with the beautiful is to live close to the Divine. "The more we see of beauty everywhere; in nature, in life, in man and child, in work and rest, in the outward and the inward world, the more we see of God (good)".
There are many evidences in the New Testament that Christ was a great lover of the beautiful, especially in nature. Was it not He who said: "Consider the lilies of the field; they toil not, neither do they spin; yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these"?
Back of the lily and the rose, back of landscape, back of all beautiful things that enchant us, there is the great Lover of the beautiful and great beauty Principle.
Every star that twinkles in the sky, every flower, bids us look behind it for its source, points us to the Great Author of the beautiful.
The love of beauty plays a very important part in the poised, symmetrical life. We little realize how much we are influenced by beautiful people and things. We may see them so often that they become common in our experience and fail to attract much of our conscious attention, but every beautiful picture, every beautiful sunset and bit of landscape, every beautiful face and form and flower—beauty in any form, wherever we encounter it—ennobles, refines and elevates character.
There is everything in keeping the soul and mind responsive to beauty. It is a great refreshner, recuperator, life-giver, health-promoter. Our American life tends to kill the finer sentiments; to discourage the development of charm and grace as well as beauty; it over emphasizes the value of material things and underestimates that of esthetic things which are far more developed in countries where the dollar is not the God.
As long as we persist in sending all the sap and energy of our being in to the money-making gland or faculty and letting the social faculty, the esthetic faculty, and all the finer, nobler faculties lie dormant, and even die, we certainly cannot expect a well-rounded and symmetrical life, for only faculties that are used, brain cells that are exercised, grow; all others atrophy. If the finer instincts in man and the nobler qualities that live in the higher brain are under-developed, and the coarser instincts which dwell in the lower brain close to the brute faculties are over-developed, man must pay the penalty of animality and will lack appreciation of all that is finest and most beautiful in life.
Isn't it pitiable, shameful, almost criminal that we give practically all our efforts to the useful, and allow the beautiful to play such an unimportant part in our life; that we should take so little pains to read God's handwriting in every created thing?
"The vision that you hold in your mind, the ideal that is enthroned in your heart, this you will build your life by, this you will become". It is the quality of mind, of ideals, and not mere things, that make a man.
It is as essential to cultivate the esthetic faculties and the heart qualities as to cultivate what we call the intellect. The time will come when our children will be taught, both at home and in school, to consider beauty as a most precious gift, which must be preserved in purity, sweetness and cleanliness, and regarded as a divine instrument of education.
There is no investment which will give such returns as the culture of the finer self, the development of the sense of the beautiful, the sublime and the true, the development of qualities that are crushed out or strangled in the mere dollar-chaser.
There are a thousand evidences in us that were intended for temples of beauty, of sweetness, of loveliness, of beautiful ideas, and not mere storehouses for vulgar things.
There is nothing else which will pay so well as to train the finest and truest, the most beautiful qualities in us in order that we may see beauty everywhere and be able, to extract sweetness from everything.
Everywhere we go there are a thousand things to educate the best there is in us. Every sunset, landscape, mountain, hill, and tree has secrets of charm and beauty waiting for us. In every patch of meadow or wheat, in every leaf and flower, the trained eye will see beauty which would charm an angel. The cultured ear will find harmony in forest and field, melody in the babbling brook, and untold pleasure in all Nature's songs.
Whatever our vocation, we should resolve that we will not strangle all that is finest and noblest in us for the sake of the dollar, but that we will put beauty into our life at every opportunity.
Just in proportion to your love for the beautiful will you acquire its charms and develop its graces. The beauty thought, the beauty ideal, will out picture themselves in the face and manner. If you are in love with beauty you will be an artist of some kind. Your profession may be to make the home beautiful and sweet, or you may work at a trade; but whatever your vocation, if you are in love with the beautiful, it will purify your taste, elevate and enrich your life, and make you a true artist instead of a mere artisan.
There is no doubt that in the future beauty will play an infinitely greater part in civilized life than it has thus tar. It is becoming commercialized everywhere. The trouble with us is that the tremendous material prizes in this land of opportunity are so tempting that we have lost sight of the higher man. We have developed ourselves along the animal side of our nature: the greedy, grasping side. The great majority of us are still living in the basement of our beings. Now and then one ascends to the upper stories and gets a glimpse of the life beautiful, the life worthwhile.
There is nothing on earth that will so slake the thirst of the soul as the beauty which expresses itself in sweetness and light.
An old traveling man relates that once when on a trip to the West he sat next to an elderly lady who every now and then would lean out of the open window and pour some thick salt—it seemed to him—from a bottle. When she had emptied the bottle she would refill it from a hand-bag.
A friend to whom this man related the incident told him he was acquainted with the lady, who was a great lover of flowers and an earnest follower of the precept: "Scatter your flowers as you go, for you may never travel the same road again." He said she added greatly to the beauty of the landscape along the railroads on which she traveled, by her custom of scattering flower seeds along the track as she rode. Many roads have thus been beautified and refreshed by this old lady's love of the beautiful and her effort to scatter beauty wherever she went.
If we would all cultivate a love of the beautiful and scatter beauty seeds as we go through life, what a paradise this earth would become!
What a splendid opportunity a vacation in the country offers to put beauty into the life; to cultivate the esthetic faculties, which in most people are wholly undeveloped and inactive! To some it is like going into God's great gallery of charm and beauty. They find in the landscape, the valley, the mountains, the fields, the meadows, the flowers, the streams, the brooks and the rivers, riches that no money can buy; beauties that would enchant the angels. But this beauty and glory cannot be bought; they are only for those who can see them, appreciate them - who can read their message and respond to their affinity.
Have you ever felt the marvelous power of beauty in nature? If not, you have missed one of the most exquisite joys in life. I was once going through the Yosemite valley, and after riding one hundred miles in a stage coach over rough mountain roads, I was so completely exhausted that it did not seem as though I could keep my seat until we traveled over the ten more miles which would bring us to our destination. But on looking down from the top of the mountain I caught a glimpse of the celebrated Yosemite Falls and the surrounding scenery, just as the sun broke through the clouds; and there was revealed a picture of such rare beauty and marvelous pictur- esqueness that every particle of fatigue, brain fag, and muscle weariness departed in an instant. My whole soul thrilled with a winged sense of sublimity, grandeur and beauty, which I had never before experienced, and which I never can forget. I felt a spiritual uplift which brought tears of joy to my eyes.
No one can contemplate the wonderful beauties of Nature and doubt that the Creator must have intended that man, made in His own image and likeness, should be equally beautiful.
Beauty of character, charm of manner, attractiveness and graciousness of expression, a god-like bearing, are our birthrights. Yet how ugly, stiff, coarse, and harsh in appearance and bearing many of us are! No one can afford to disregard their good looks or personal appearance.
But if we wish to beautify the outer, we must first beautify the inner, for every thought and every motion shapes the delicate tracings of our face for ugliness or beauty. Inharmonious and destructive attitudes of mind will warp and mar the most beautiful features.
Shakespeare says: "God has given you one face and you make yourselves another". The mind can make beauty or ugliness at will.
A sweet, noble disposition is absolutely essential to the highest form of beauty, it has transformed many a plain face. A bad temper, ill nature, jealousy, will ruin the most beautiful face ever created. After all, there is no beauty like that produced by a lovely character. Neither cosmetics, massage, nor drugs can remove the lines of prejudice, selfishness, envy, anxiety, mental vacillation that are the results of wrong thought habits.
Beauty is from within. If every human being would cultivate a gracious mentality, not only would what they expressed be artistically beautiful, but also their body. There would in deed be grace and charm, a superiority about them, which would be even greater than mere physical beauty.
We have all seen even very plain women who because of the charm of their personality impressed us as transcendently beautiful. The exquisite soul qualities expressed through the body transformed it into their likeness. A fine spirit speaking through the plainest body will make it beautiful.
Someone, speaking of Fanny Kemble, said: "Although she was very stout and short, and had a very red face, yet she impressed me as the supreme embodiment of majestic attributes. I never saw so commanding a personality in feminine form. Any type of mere physical beauty would have paled to insignificance by her side."
Antoine Berryer says truly: "There are no ugly women. There are only women who do not know how to look pretty."
The highest beauty—beauty that is far superior to mere regularity of feature or form—is within reach of everybody. It is perfectly possible for one, even with the homeliest face, to make herself beautiful by the habit of perpetually holding in mind the beauty thought—not the thought of mere superficial beauty, but that of heart beauty, soul beauty—and by the cultivation of a spirit of kindness, hopefulness, and unselfishness.
The basis of all real personal beauty is a kindly, helpful bearing and a desire to scatter sunshine and good cheer everywhere, and this, shining through the face, makes it beautiful. The longing and the effort to be beautiful in character cannot fail to make the life beautiful, and since the outward is but an expression of the inward, a mere outpicturing on the body of the habitual thought and dominating motives, the face, the manners, and the bearing must follow the thought and become sweet and attractive. If you hold the beauty thought, the love thought, persistently in the mind, you will make such an impression of harmony and sweetness wherever you go that no one will notice any plainness or deformity of person.
There are girls who have dwelt upon what they consider their unfortunate plainness so long that they have seriously exaggerated it. They are not half so plain as they think they are; and, were it not for the fact that they have made themselves very sensitive and self-conscious on the subject, others would not notice it at all. In fact, if they could get rid of their sensitiveness and be natural, they could, with persistent effort, make up in sprightliness of thought, in cheerfulness of manner, in intelligence, and in cheery helpfulness, what they lack in grace and beauty of face.
We admire the beautiful face, the beautiful form, but we love the face illumined by a beautiful soul. We love it because it suggests the ideal of the possible perfect man or woman, the ideal which was the Creator's model.
It is not the outward form of our dearest friend, but our ideal of friendship which he or she arouses or suggests in us that stirs up and brings into exercise our love and admiration. The highest beauty does not exist in the actual. It is the ideal possible beauty, which the person or object symbolizes or suggests, that gives us delight.
Everyone should endeavor to be as beautiful, attractive, as complete a human being as possible. There is not a taint of vanity in the desire for the highest beauty.
Then love of beauty that confines itself to more external form, however, misses its deepest significance. Beauty of form, of coloring, of light and shade, of sound, make our world beautiful; yet the mind that is warped and twisted cannot see all this infinite beauty. It is the indwelling spirit, the ideal in the soul, that makes all things beautiful; that inspires and lifts us above ourselves.
We love the outwardly beautiful, because we crave perfection, and we cannot help admiring those persons and things that most nearly embody or measure up to our human ideal.
But a beautiful character will make beauty and poetry out of the prosiest environment, bring sunshine into the darkest home, and develop beauty and grace amid the ugliest surroundings.
What would become of us if it were not for the great souls who realize the divinity of life, who insist upon bringing out and emphasizing its poetry, its music, its harmony and beauty?
How sordid and common our lives would become but for these beauty-makers, these inspirers, these people who bring out all that is best and most attractive in every place, every situation and condition!
There is no accomplishment, no trait of character, no quality of mind, which will give greater satisfaction and pleasure or contribute more to one's welfare than an appreciation of the beautiful. How many people might be saved from wrong-doing, even from lives of crime, by the cultivation of the esthetic faculties in their childhood! A love of the truly beautiful would save children from things which encoarsen and brutalize their natures. It would shield them from a multitude of temptations.
Parents do not take sufficient pains to develop a love and appreciation of beauty in their children. They do not realize that in impressionable youth, everything about the home, even the pictures, the paper on the wall, affect the growing character. They should never lose an opportunity of letting their boys and girls see beautiful works of art, hear beautiful music; they should make a practice of reading to them or having them read very often some lofty poem, or inspirational passages from some great writer, that will fill their minds with thoughts of beauty, open their souls to the inflow of the Divine Mind, the Divine Love which encompasses us round about. The influences that move our youth determine the character, the success and happiness of our whole lives.
Every soul is born responsive to the beautiful, but this instinctive love of beauty must be fostered through the eye and the mind, must be cultivated, or it will die. The craving for beauty is as strong in a child of the slums as in a favorite of fortune. "The physical hunger of the poor, the yearning of their stomach," says Jacob A. Riis, "is not half so bitter, or so little likely to be satisfied as the esthetic hunger, their starving for the beautiful."
Mr. Riis has often tried to take flowers from his Long Island home to the "poors" in Mulberry Street, New York. "But they never got there," he says, "Before I had gone half a block from the ferry I was held up by a shrieky mob of children who cried for the posies and would not let me go another step till I had given them one. And when they got it they ran, shielding the flower with the most jealous care, to some place where they could hide and gloat over their treasure. They came dragging big, fat babies and little weazened ones that they might get a share, and the babies' eyes grew round and big at the sight of the golden glory from the fields, the like of which had never come their way. The smaller the baby and the poorer, the more wistful was its look, and so my flowers went. Who could have said them no?
"I learned then what I had but vaguely understood before, that there is a hunger that is worse than that which starves the body and gets into the newspapers. All children love beauty and beautiful things. It is a spark of the divine nature that is in them and justifies itself! To that ideal their souls grow. When they cry out for it they are trying to tell us in the only way they can that if we let the slum starve the ideal, with its dirt and its ugliness and its hard-trodden mud where flowers were meant to grow, we are starving that which we little know. A man, a woman, may grow a big body without a soul; but as a citizen, as a mother, he or she is worth nothing to the commonwealth. The mark they are going to leave upon it is the black smudge of the slum.
"So when in these latter days we invade that slum to make homes there and teach the mothers to make them beautiful; when we gather the children into kindergartens, hang pictures in the schools; when we build beautiful new schools and public buildings and let in the light, with grass, flower and bird, where darkness and foulness were before; when we teach the children to dance and play and enjoy themselves — alas! That it should ever be needed — we are trying to wipe off the smudge, and to lift the heavy mortgage which it put on the morrow, a much heavier one in the loss of citizenship than any community, even the republic, can long endure. We are paying arrears of debt which we incurred by our sad neglect, and we could be about no better business."
There are many poor children in the slums of New York, Mr. Millionaire, who could go into your drawing-room and carry away from its rich canvases, its costly furnishings, a vision of beauty which you never perceived in them because your esthetic faculties, your finer sensibilities, were early stifled by your selfish pursuit of the dollar.
The world is full of beautiful things, but the majority have not been trained to discern them. We cannot see all the beauty that lies around us, because our eyes have not been trained to see it; our esthetic faculties have not been developed. We are like the lady who, standing with the great artist, Turner, before one of his wonderful landscapes, cried out in amazement: "Why, Mr. Turner, I cannot see those things in nature that you have put in your picture."
"Don't you wish you could, madam?" He replied.
Just think what rare treats we shut out of our lives in our mad, selfish, insane pursuit of the dollar! Do you not wish that you could see the marvels that Turner saw in a landscape, that Ruskin saw in a sunset? Do you not wish that you had put a little more beauty into your life instead of allowing your nature to become encoarsened, your esthetic faculties blinded, and your finer instincts blighted by the pursuit of the coarser things of life; instead of developing your brute instincts of pushing and elbowing your way through the world for a few more dollars, in your selfish effort to get something away from somebody else?
Fortunate is the person who has been educated to the perception of beauty; he possesses a heritage of which no reverses can rob him. Yet it is a heritage possible to all who will take the trouble to begin early in life to cultivate the finer qualities of the soul, the eye, and the heart.
"Self-Investment" by Orison Swett Marden
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