There is an exact spiritual parallel for this incident or parable of the screw-pencil in innumerable ideas, at which well-nigh everybody in the hurrying stream of life has glanced, yet no one has ever examined, until someone with a poetic spirit of curiosity, or inspired by quaint superstition, pauses, picks one up, looks into it, and finds that It has ingenious use, and is far more than it appeared to be. Thus, if I declare that by special attention to a subject, earnestly turning it over and thinking deeply into it, very remarkable results may be produced, as regards result in knowledge, every human being will assent to it as the veriest truism ever uttered; in the fullest belief that he or she assuredly knows all that.
Yet it was not until within a very few years that I discovered that this idea, which seemed so commonplace, had within it mysteries and meanings which were stupendously original or remarkable. I found that there was a certain intensity or power of attention, far surpassing ordinary observation, which we may, if we will, summon up and force on ourselves, just as we can by special effort see or hear far better at times than usually. The Romans show by such a phrase as animum adjicere, and numerous proverbs and synonyms, that they had learned to bend their attention energetically. They were good listeners, therefore keen observers.
Learning to control or strengthen the Will is closely allied to developing Attention and Interest, and for reasons which will soon be apparent, I will first consider the latter, since they constitute a preparation or basis for the former. And as preliminary, I will consider the popular or common error to the effect that everyone has alloted to him or to her just so much of the faculty of attention or interest as it has pleased Nature to give—the same being true as regards Memory, Will, the Constructive or Artistic abilities, and so on—when in very truth and on the warrant of Experience all may be increased ad infinitum.Therefore, we find ignorant men complacently explaining their indifference to art and literature or culture on the ground that they take no interest in such subjects, as if interest were a special heaven-sent gift. Who has not heard the remark, "He or she takes such an interest in so many things—I wish that I could." Or, as I heard it very recently expressed, "It must be delightful to be able to interest one's self in something at any time." Which was much the same as the expression of the Pennsylvania German girl, "Ach Gott! I wisht I hat genius und could make a pudden!"
It will be readily understood that a race holding such opinions would undertake no voyage of discovery, and attempt no conquests. Not a single instance occurs daring the entire four thousand years of the history of Eastern Asia, of an individual who had travelled in foreign lands for the purpose of adding to his own information or that of others. The journey of Lao-tse--the founder of the religion of the Taosse-- to the West appears to be a tale deliberately invented for the purpose of connecting his doctrine of the Primitive and Infinite 'Wisdom with that of "The Western Mountain of the Gods," or with Buddhism. The campaigns beyond those limits which Nature has assigned to the Chinese Empire, were undertaken merely through the impulse of self-preservation. Men were compelled, in Central as in Eastern Asia, in Thibet as well as on the banks of the Irawaddy, to anticipate the dangers and invasions which, at a later period, threatened the freedom of the Central Empire, and were frequently obliged to send ambassadors or spies into different Asiatic or European countries to obtain information relating to their situation and nature, as well as the condition of their inhabitants, which could guide them in their subsequent warlike or diplomatic relations with the enemies of the Empire.
This land, so blessed by Nature, attracted not only the barbarian desirous of plunder, but also the merchant, since certain productions, such as silk, tea, and true rhubarb, were found only there. The Chinese Government as well as people, influenced by the precepts of their wise men, received strangers graciously so long as they implicitly obeyed, or in any manner evinced fear and submission, and returned the presents which were offered according to Oriental custom with others of still greater value. All the discoveries and experiences, all the knowledge and information which they thus obtained in their peaceful or warlike relations with foreign nations, were generally recorded in the last division of the "Year-Books" of their own chronicles, forming, in an historical point of view, an inestimable treasure.