Intellectual life (1900) Free PDF self-help Book for Intellectuals by Philip Gilbert Hamerton

Intellectual life (1900) Free PDF self-help Book for Intellectuals by Philip Gilbert Hamerton
Philip Gilbert Hamerton
Philip Gilbert Hamerton

I PROPOSE, in the following pages, to consider the possibilities of a satisfactory intellectual life under various conditions of ordinary human existence. It will form a part of my plan to take into account favorable and unfavorable influences of many kinds; and my chief purpose, so far as any effect upon others may be hoped for, will be to guard some who may read the book alike against the loss of time caused by unnecessary discouragement, and the waste of effort which is the consequence of misdirected energies. 

I have adopted the form of letters addressed to persons of very different positions in order that every reader may have a chance of finding what concerns him. The letters, it is unnecessary to observe, are in one sense as fictitious as those we "find in novels, for they have never been sent to anybody by post. yet the persons to whom they are addressed are not imaginary. I made it a rule, from the beginning, to think of a real person when writing, from an apprehension that by dwelling in a world too exclusively ideal 1 might lose sight of many impediments which beset all actual lives, even the most exceptional and fortunate.

The essence of the book may be expressed in a few sentences, the rest is little more than evidence or illustration. First, it appears that all who are born with considerable intellectual faculties are urged towards the intellectual life by irresistible instincts, as water-fowl are urged to aquatic life; but the lower animals have this advantage over man, that as their purposes are simpler, so they attain them more completely than he does. The life of a wild duck is in perfect accordance with its instincts, but the life of an Intellectual man is never on all points perfectly in accordance with his instincts. Many of the best intellectual lives known to us have been hampered by vexatious impediments of the most various and complicated kinds; and when we come to have accurate and intimate knowledge of the lives led by our intellectual contemporaries, we are always quite sure to find that each of them has some great thwart- ing difficulty to contend against.

Nor is it too much to say that if a man were so placed and endowed in every way that all his work should be made as easy as the ignorant imagine it to be, that man would find in that very facility itself a condition most unfavorable to his intellectual growth. So that, however, circumstances may help us or hinder us, the intellectual life is always a contest or a discipline, and the art or skill of living intellectually does not so much consist in surrounding ourselves with what is reputed to be advantageous as in compelling every circumstance and condition of our lives to yield us some tribute of intellectual benefit and force.

The needs of the intellect are as various as intellects themselves are various: and if a man has got high mental culture during his passage through life it is of little consequence where he acquired it, or how. The school of the intellectual man is the place where he happens to be, and his teachers are the people, books, animals, plants, stones, and earth round about him. The feeling almost always predominant in the minds of intellectual men as they grow older, is not so much one of regret that their opportunities were not more abundant, as of regret that they so often missed opportunities which they might have turned to better account.

Author: Philip Gilbert Hamerton
 Publication Date:1900

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