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Section III.

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There was a softness in the November air that brought back memories of summer, and a few belated daisies were blooming in the old clearing, as Keene and I passed by the ruins of the farm-house again, early on Sunday morning. He had been talking ever since we started, pouring out his praise of knowledge, wide, clear, universal knowledge, as the best of life's joys, the greatest of life's achievements. The practical life was a blind, dull routine. Most men were toiling at tasks which they did not like, by rules which they did not understand. They never looked beyond the edge of their work. The philosophical life was a spider's web--filmy threads of theory spun out of the inner consciousness--it touched the world only at certain chosen points of attachment. There was nothing firm, nothing substantial in it. You could look through it like a veil and see the real world lying beyond. But the theorist could see only the web which he had spun. Knowing did not come by speculating, theorising. Knowing came by seeing. Vision was the only real knowledge. To see the world, the whole world, as it is, to look behind the scenes, to read human life like a book, that was the glorious thing--most satisfying, divine.

Thus he had talked as we climbed the hill. Now, as we came by the place where we had first met, a new eagerness sounded in his voice.

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"Ever since that day I have inclined to tell you something more about myself. I felt sure you would understand. I am planning to write a book--a book of knowledge, in the true sense--a great book about human life. Not a history, not a theory, but a real view of life, its hidden motives, its secret relations. How different they are from what men dream and imagine and play that they are! How much darker, how much smaller, and therefore how much more interesting and wonderful. No one has yet written--perhaps because no one has yet conceived--such a book as I have in mind. I might call it a 'Bionopsis.'"

"But surely," said I, "you have chosen a strange place to write it--the Hilltop School--this quiet and secluded region! The stream of humanity is very slow and slender here--it trickles. You must get out into the busy world. You must be in the full current and feel its force. You must take part in the active life of mankind in order really to know it."

"A mistake!" he cried. "Action is the thing that blinds men. You remember Matthew Arnold's line:

In action's dizzying eddy whurled.

To know the world you must stand apart from it and above it; you must look down on it."

"Well, then," said I, "you will have to find some secret spring of inspiration, some point of vantage from which you can get your outlook and your insight."

He stopped short and looked me full in the face.

"And that," cried he, "is precisely what I have found!"

Then he turned and pushed along the narrow trail so swiftly that I had hard work to follow him. After a few minutes we came to a little stream, flowing through a grove of hemlocks. Keene seated himself on the fallen log that served for a bridge and beckoned me to a place beside him.

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The Blue Flower
Henry van Dyke

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