1 September 2012

Comfort-Loving Vulgarity

A. C. Benson, Where No Fear Was (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1914), pp. 83-85:
Greedy vanity in the more robust, lack of moral courage and firmness in the more sensitive, with a social organisation that aims at a surface dignity and a cheap showiness, are the ingredients of this devil's cauldron [of plodding, conventional home life]. The worst of it is that it has no fine elements at all. There is a nobility about real tragedy which evokes a quality of passionate and sincere emotion. There is something essentially exalted about a fierce resistance, a desperate failure. But this abject, listless dreariness, which can hardly be altered or expressed, this miserable floating down the muddy current, where there is no sharp repentance or fiery battling, nothing but a mean abandonment to a meaningless and unintelligible destiny, seems to have in it no seed of recovery at all. 
The dark shadow of professional anxiety is that it has no tragic quality; it is like ploughing on day by day through endless mud-flats. One does not feel, in the presence of sharp suffering or bitter loss, that they ought not to exist. They are there, stern, implacable, august; stately enemies, great combatants. There is a significance about their very awfulness. One may fall before them, but they pass like a great express train, roaring, flashing, things deliberately and intently designed; but these dull failures which seem not the outgrowth of anyone's fierce longing or wilful passion, but of everyone's laziness and greediness and stupidity, how is one to face them? It is the helpless death of the quagmire, not the death of the fight or the mountain-top. Is there, we ask ourselves, anything in the mind of God which corresponds to comfort-loving vulgarity, if so strong and yet so stagnant a stream can overflow the world? The bourgeois ideal! One would rather have tyranny or savagery than anything so gross and smug. 
And yet we see high-spirited and ardent husbands drawn into this by obstinate and vulgar-minded wives. We see fine-natured and sensitive women engulfed in it by selfish and ambitious husbands. The tendency is awfully and horribly strong, and it wins, not by open combat, but by secret and dull persistence. And one sees too -- I have seen it many times -- children of delicate and eager natures, who would have flourished and expanded in more generous air, become conventional and commonplace and petty, concerned about knowing the right people and doing the right things, and making the same stupid and paltry show, which deceives no one.