The Supreme Moment

“But Leonardo,” says one writing upon the genius of the incomparable da Vinci, “will never work till the happy moment comes—that moment of bien-etre (feeling just fit) which to imaginative men is a moment of invention. On this moment he waits; other moments are but a preparation or after-taste of it.”

There are two kinds of work to be done in the world, which may be called routine work and creative work.

By routine work we mean the tending of machines, the discharge of office duties, and the maintenance of the ordinary; which includes care of engines, ploughing, housework, answering letters and keeping accounts, tending the sick, digging mines, building bridges, and the like. All these—and the lives of all of us comprise such functions—are to be done whether we feel like it or not. The trombone-player in the band must go on, though his heart is lead. The servant must sweep the floors, no matter how the listless Spring has got into her blood. And the doctor must make his calls, the policeman walk his beat, and the elevator-boy run his car, for they are cogs in the social wheel.

By creative work we mean the writing of stories, the composition of music, the painting of pictures, the modelling of statues, the singing of songs, and doings of such quality.

These acts should await the supreme moment. Leonardo used to rush clear across Milan, when he was engaged in painting “The Last Supper” in the little out-of-the-way church of S. M. delle Grazie, just to make three or four strokes with his brush, to add a touch that had occurred to him. That is one reason why the picture, now faded, is yet epochal in art.

One trouble with story magazines is that they are issued regularly. The ideal publication would appear “every little while.” One does claim to, but it is a fraud, for it is a regular monthly.

What a blessing if nobody wrote a story unless he had a story to write; if no parson preached unless the fire burned within him; if nobody made a political speech unless he were as white-hot as Patrick Henry when he gave his “Liberty or death” oration; if nobody played the piano or gave forth a song unless the compelling inspiration were there; if nobody built a house except to realize a beautiful dream, nor painted a picture except to grasp and fix an entrancing vision.

Creative work is the scarcest in the world. And the most underpaid. And the amount of hard work a man puts upon a thing is no gauge of its value—often quite the contrary—for it is the same shrewd Leonardo who observed, Quante piu un’ arte porte seco fatica di corpo, tanto piu e vile, or “The more bodily fatigue goes into a work of art, the viler it is.”

Men must work. In the forepart of the Scriptures it is laid down that “in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,” and such labor perhaps will always be the most part of the world’s work.

But in the latter part of the Scriptures it is said that “man shall not live by bread alone,” and that sustenance other than bread, that diviner food that sustains souls, and the ghost-wine that cheers them, is not produced by sweating labor at all, should not be called work, but is a sort of glorious PLAY.

Art, craftsmanship, inspiration—no one can work at such things; they are essentially play, the joy (and not work, the pain) of self-forthputting.

And one supreme moment is worth a lifetime.


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