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The Hero in Man   By:

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The Orpheus Series No. 1




A. E.

[Transcriber's note: "A.E." is a pseudonym of George William Russell]

The Orpheus Press, 1910

First Edition (1,000 copies), May, 1909.

Second Edition (1,000 copies), September, 1910.


[Greek: lampadia echontes diadôsousin allêlois .] PLATO.

We who live in the great cities could not altogether avoid, even if we would, a certain association with the interests of our time. Wherever we go the minds of men are feverishly debating some new political measure or some new scheme for the reconstruction of society. Now, as in olden times, the rumours of an impending war will engulf the subtler interests of men, and unless we are willing to forego all intercourse we find ourselves involved in a hundred sympathies. A friendly group will gather one evening and open their thoughts concerning the experiences of the soul; they will often declare that only these matters are of profound interest, and yet on the morrow the most of them regard the enthusiasms of the mind as far away, unpractical, not of immediate account. But even at noon the stars are above us and because a man in material difficulties cannot evoke the highest experiences that he has known they have not become less real. They pertain to his immortal nature and if in the circumstance of life he loses memory of them it is because he is likewise mortal. In the measure that we develop our interior selves philosophy becomes the most permanent of our interests and it may well be that the whole aim of Man is to acquire an unbroken and ever broadening realisation of the Supreme Spirit so that in a far off day he may become the master of all imaginable conditions. He, therefore, who brings us back to our central selves and shows us that however far we may wander it is these high thoughts which are truly the most real he is of all men our greatest benefactor.

Now those who thus care for the spiritual aspect of life are of two kinds, the intellectual and the imaginative. There are men of keen intellect who comprehend some philosophic system, who will defend it with elaborate reasonings and proclaim themselves its adherents, but the earth at their feet, the stars in the firmament, man himself and their own souls have undergone no transfiguration. Their philosophies are lifeless, for imagination is to the intellect what breath is to the body. Thoughts that never glow with imagination, that are never applied to all that the sense perceives or the mind remembers thoughts that remain quite abstract, are as empty husks of no value.

But there are those who have studied by the light of imagination and these know well that the inner life of thought, of experiment, and of wonder, though it may often be over clouded, is the only life which can henceforth give them content. They know that it was not when they were most immersed in the affairs of the day but rather when the whole world appeared for a little while to be pulsating with an almost uncontainable splendour, that they were most alive. For the best mood we have ever known, though it be lost for long, is yet the clearest revelation of our true selves, and it is then that we learn most nearly what marvels life may hold.

If we read with imagination the Dialogues of Plato we dwell for a while among those ardent Greeks for whom the universe was changed by the words of the poet philosopher. So too when we read the letter that was written by Plotinus to Flaccus, perhaps the serenest height the human soul has ever attained, we become ourselves the recipients. In either case we feel that we have lived in the presence of a princely soul. It is an inspiration to realise that we are of the one race with these and may look out on the same beauty of earth and heaven.

Yet the magic of the mind is not enduring and to dream overlong of a bygone beauty is to make sorrowful the present. What imaginative reader of Plato but has desired with a fruitless ardour that he might in truth have been numbered with those who walked on the daisied lawns of the Academy, might in truth have heard the voice of the hardly human initiate, have seen him face to face, have responded to the influence of his presence? who but would willingly translate his life to another century if he could but hear Plotinus endeavouring to describe in human language an ecstasy which makes of man a god?

I know that one may easily injure whatever one most loves by speaking of it in superlative praise to those who as yet remain aloof with interest unaroused, but for me it is hard to refrain from an expression of that admiration, and I would fain say also that affection, which burns up within me when I read the writings of A... Continue reading book >>

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