The Training of an American: The Earlier Life and Letters of Walter H. Page, 1855-1913

By Burton J. Hendrick | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX
LITERATURE IN AN INDUSTRIAL DEMOCRACY

I

NOW that the narrative has reached the midway period it may be profitable to pause for an interlude and survey the interest which, above all others, shaped Page's outlook and directed his career. What, after all, is the preeminent reality of human life? On this point Page has spoken with his usual definiteness. The greatest expression of the human spirit is literature, and the greatest literature is that written in the English language. "Of all concerns of men," wrote Page, in 1899, "of all kinds of work to which they turn their minds, of all arts to which they turn their skill, the one thing, the one supreme art, that marks the highest reach made by the intelligence and skill of the race is, of course, the great art of literature. We can never fix our lives right with reference to the things that have gone before, nor with reference to the great forces that shape us while we live and labour, unless we fashion them by the help of the great and wise men who have written our literature. Most of the things that concern us are transitory, most of the things that we worry about pass with us, and most of the things that we do or have, as the Scriptures put it, perish with the using; but, from the very dawn of civilization to our own time, the one great and stable thing whereby we may measure men and civilizations is great literature. Fortunately for us no race of men has ever risen in any land or in any time, that has left so long, so varied, and so noble a literature as the race to which we ourselves belong. The great literature of Greece,

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