11 June 2012

The Depth of My Ambition

C. H. Middleton, Village Memories (London: Cassell and Company, 1941), pp. 162-4:
There is surely something wrong with a system which drives every intelligent youth away from the country village, because there is no longer a living there for him. But isn't there also something wrong with a philosophy that teaches us to measure success by monetary values only, rather than by the happiness attained? I have never despised money, I have never known enough about it to do that, but surely it is but the means to an end; and if the end can be attained without the means, why worry? I never could see the sense of spending three-quarters of a lifetime in a feverish struggle to get money to spend in the last quarter, which, as often as not, never arrives. I want to enjoy life now, not wait until I'm seventy. I have known several village lads who have left home and got on in the world, and have been successful, but I am not convinced that they finished up any happier than their rosy-cheeked brothers who stayed at home. 
Perhaps if I had swotted and worked hard years ago, I, too, might have been successful. I might have invented a new form of high explosive or poison gas and become famous. I might have made so much money that by this time perhaps I should have been undergoing a cure for something or other at a foreign spa; and perhaps I should have earned this little epitaph, which would surely be appropriate on many a marble tombstone:
He squandered health in search of wealth
To gold became a slave
Then spent his wealth in search of health
But found only a grave.
As it is, I suppose I must be counted one of life's -- I won't say failures, but mediocrities; but a very contented one. I am one of those lucky people who are satisfied with their lot, and know when they are well off. I enjoy a good breakfast every morning, and I've got a pleasant job which suits me very nicely, and I wouldn't change it for the directorship of a soap factory at ten thousand a year. I suppose I ought to be ashamed to say it, but the height, or shall I say depth, of my ambition is a pension of two or three hundred a year, and the time and opportunity to enjoy my garden, where I can grow roses and sweet peas and live close to Nature, and perhaps help a few others to appreciate the real good things in life, and to make the most of this brief stay on earth.
To put Mr. Middleton's aspirations in context: £250 in 1941 would be about £10,500 today, or $16,700 Canadian.