Nearly all our associations are determined by chance or necessity; and restricted within a narrow circle. We cannot know whom we would; and those whom we know, we cannot have at our side when we most need them. All the higher circles of human intelligence are, to those beneath, only momentarily and partially open... there is a society continually open to us, of people who will talk to us as long as we like, whatever our rank or occupation; — talk to us in the best words they can choose, and of the things nearest their hearts. And this society, because it is so numerous and so gentle, and can be kept waiting around us all day long, — kings and statesmen lingering patiently, not to grant audience, but to gain it! — in those plainly furnished and narrow ante-rooms, our bookcase shelves, — we make no account of that company, — perhaps never listen to a word they would say, all day long!
And observe, you are put to stern choice in this matter. You must either make a tool of the creature, or a man of him. You cannot make both. Men were not intended to work with the accuracy of tools, to be precise and perfect in all their actions. If you will have that precision out of them, and make their fingers measure degrees like cogwheels, and their arms strike curves like compasses, you must unhumanize them. All the energy of their spirits must be given to make cogs and compasses of themselves....On the other hand, if you will make a man of the working creature, you cannot make a tool. Let him but begin to imagine, to think, to try to do anything worth doing; and the engine-turned precision is lost at once. Out come all his roughness; all his dullness, all his incapability; shame upon shame, failure upon failure, pause after pause: but out comes the whole majesty of him also, and we know the height of it only, when we see the clouds settling upon him.
. . . no good work whatever can be perfect, and the demand for perfection is always a sign of a misunderstanding of the ends of art. . . . no great man ever stops working till he has reached his point of failure: that is to say, his mind is always far in advance of his powers of execution, and the latter will now and then give way in trying to follow it; besides that he will always give to the inferior portions of his work only such inferior attention as they require; and according to his greatness he becomes so accustomed to the feeling of dissatisfaction with the best he can do, that in moments of lassitude or anger with himself he will not care though the beholder be dissatisfied also. I believe there has only been one man who would not acknowledge this necessity, and strove always to reach perfection, Leonardo; the end of his vain effort being merely that he would take ten years to a picture and leave it unfinished. And therefore, if we are to have great men working at all, or less men doing their best, the work will be imperfect, however beautiful. Of human work none but what is bad can be perfect, in its own bad way.
For as in nothing is a gentleman better to be discerned from a vulgar person, so in nothing is a gentle nation (such nations have been) better to be discerned from a mob, than in this, - that their feelings are constant and just, results of due contemplation, and of equal thought. You can talk a mob into anything; its feelings may be - usually are - on a whole, generous and right; but it has no foundation for them, no hold of them; you may tease or tickle it into any, at your pleasure; it thinks by infection, for the most part, catching an opinion like a cold, and there is nothing so little that it will not roar itself wild about, when the fit is on; nothing so great but it will forget in an hour, when the fit is past.
But if you can fix some conception of a true human state of life to be striven for — life, good for all men, as for yourselves; if you can determine some honest and simple order of existence; following those trodden ways of wisdom, which are pleasantness, and seeking her quiet and withdrawn paths, which are peace; — then, and so sanctifying wealth into 'commonwealth,' all your art, your literature, your daily labours, your domestic affection, and citizen's duty, will join and increase into one magnificent harmony. You will know then how to build, well enough; you will build with stone well, but with flesh better; temples not made with hands, but riveted of hearts; and that kind of marble, crimson-veined, is indeed eternal.
the only prospect which is really desirable or delightful, is that from the window of the breakfast-room [...] where we meet the first light of the dewy day, the first breath of the morning air, the first glance of gentle eyes; to which we descend in the very spring and elasticity of mental renovation and bodily energy, in the gathering up of our spirit for the new day, in the flush of our awakening from the darkness and the mystery of faint and inactive dreaming, in the resurrection from our daily grave, in the first tremulous sensation of the beauty of our being, in the most glorious perception of the lightning of our life; there, indeed, our expatiation of spirit, when it meets the pulse of outward sound and joy, the voice of bird and breeze and billow, does demand some power of liberty, some space for its going forth into the morning, some freedom of intercourse with the lovely and limitless energy of creature and creation.