Short Paragraph on Culture is Sweetness and Light

Outline:

  • Distinction between culture and education.
  • Culture Is Contact With the Best That Has Been Said and Thought in the World
  • A harmonious development of the whole personality.
  • Reading the best books brings us under the influence of the most cultured minds.
  • There is a lot of distinction between culture and education.

Culture must not be confused with education. To be cultured, a man must be educated; but not every educated man is cultured. A young man who has got higher university education and has acquired a fair amount of accurate knowledge of various subjects is no doubt, well-educated; yet it may be that he has not a cultured mind.

Culture is a certain refinement of taste, enlargement of mind and mellowing of the whole personality. Mathew Arnold’s phrase for it was “sweetness and light”; meaning by “sweetness” appreciation for beauty in all its forms, and by “light” enlightened intelligence. He spoke of it as “a harmonious perfection, a perfection in which the characters of beauty and intelligence are both present”. He spoke too, of culture’s ideal of human perfection as “an inward spiritual activity, having for its characters increased sweetness, increased light, increased life, increased sympathy”. He described the opposite of culture as “intellectual mediocrity, vulgarity of manners, superficial spirit, lack of general intelligence”; and these are found sometimes in people supposed to be educated!

“Culture”, another writer has said, “means an all round and harmonious development of personality. We have a harmonious and perfected personality when all the faculties of man, intellectual, aesthetic, moral and religious, are adequately developed and refined, and none of these are made to starve”. It is also a continuous growth: “not a having and a resting, but a growing and becoming” as Arnold said: “it is study of harmonious perfection, perfection which consists in becoming something rather than in having something, in an inward condition of mind and spirit, not in outward circumstances”.

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Mathew Arnold’s recipe for culture is “contact with the best that has been said and thought in the world”. Or as he has put it more fully: culture is “a pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all the matters which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world”. This will mean wide and thoughtful reading; for the best that has been thought and said in the world is enshrined for us in books, which are what Ruskin called them, “Kings’ Treasuries” of wisdom and knowledge. How can reading the best books give us culture? Because it brings us into close contact with the minds and souls of the cultured men who wrote them. As we read the best they thought and said, we enter into their thoughts and feelings-into their minds and hearts. We come under the purifying and uplifting influence of highly cultured personalities; and such close contact will result in our gaining something of their lofty culture.

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