17 July 2013

The Basic Query

Arnold Bennett, The Plain Man and His Wife (New York: G. Doran, 1913), pp. 23-24:
All fundamental questions resolve themselves finally into the following assertion and inquiry about life: "I am now engaged in something rather tiresome. What do I stand to gain by it later on?" That is the basic query. It has forms of varying importance. In its supreme form the word "eternity" has to be employed. And the plain man is, to-day, so sensitive about this supreme form of the question that, far from asking and trying to answer it, he can scarcely bear to hear it even discussed — I mean discussed with candour. In practise a frank discussion of it usually tempts him to exhibitions of extraordinary heat and bitterness, and wisdom is thereby but obscured. Therefore he prefers the disadvantage of leaving it alone to the dissatisfaction of attempting to deal with it. The disadvantage of leaving it alone is obvious. Existence is, and must be, a compromise between the claims of the moment and the claims of the future — and how can that compromise be wisely established if one has not somehow made up one's mind about the future? It cannot. But — I repeat — I would not blame the plain man. I would only just hint to him, while respecting his sensitiveness, that the present hour is just as much a part of eternity as another hour ten thousand years off.