Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/512

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SEVERAL years ago, Dr. Bellows delivered an able address at an annual meeting of the Mercantile Library Association of New York, in which he claimed that literary culture had increased the business capacity of the clerks who used the library. This will be readily admitted. But the question of improvement has moral significance aside from the advantage of a certain quickness or readiness of thought due to mental discipline. It is a law of the mind as well as of the physical structure that repetition of original or skillful action results in increased strength and efficiency, or in a stronger tendency to follow higher forms of thought and amusement. It is true that the proportion of moral action—that which is sane and proper to the mind—can not be represented arithmetically. Nevertheless, the higher kinds of thought may occupy in a general way an increasingly large proportion of the available time. But, as we can not set a definite limit, it is evident that at the present stage of development we are not justified in concluding that any system for displacing immorality can result in anything like perfection; all we can claim is that—taking a vast general average—higher tastes lessen the action of lower. The question of proportion is not so important, however, as the supremacy of a tendency, which in nature sometimes results in immense accumulations of power.

Men are at present in a state of imperfect self-control, and it is necessary that recreation should involve improvement, not only by keeping them out of mischief, but by establishing higher tastes. It is a gratifying fact that there is pleasure in any exercise of skill in art, in its subdivisions of sculpture, music, literature, or in the wonderful manifestations of natural phenomena inadequately grasped by the sciences. The enthusiasm with which art and science are usually followed is like that seen in children who carry out an original idea during play. The higher forms of action are thus spontaneous, and involve originality and force. This applies to small accomplishments as well as great—from the construction of ingenious devices for exhibition at a country fair to the work of Shakespeare, Beethoven, and Michael Angelo.

The great names of the world must not induce us to lose sight of the seemingly trifling manifestations of this force seen in original work followed according to liking, and known as accomplishments. It is to be regretted that this spontaneous action so rarely finds that full expression observed in men of genius in whom it overflows all bounds or obstacles. Some conditions can not be modified, so that