9 September 2013

The Melancholy Truth

A. C. Benson, The Silent Isle (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1910), pp. 140-141:
What we lack is true originality, tranquil force; we are all occupied in trying to startle and surprise, to make a sensation. How little the [ancient] Greeks cared for that! It was beauty and charm, delicate colour, fine subtlety of which they were in search; they held all things holy, yet nothing solemn. Their dignity was not a pompous dignity, but the dignity of high tragedy, of unconquerable courage and ruthless fate; not the dignity of the well-appointed house and the tradition of excellent manners.
Of course our love of wealth and comfort is to a certain extent responsible for this. We have been thrown off our balance by the vast and rapid development of the resources of the earth, the binding of natural forces to do our bidding; it is the most complicated thing in the world nowadays to live the simple life; and not until we can gain a rich simplicity, not until we can recover an interest in ideas rather than an appetite for comforts, will our force and vitality return to us.
We are all too anxious to do the right thing and to be known to the right people; but unfortunately for us the right people are not the people of vivacity and intellectual zest, but the possessors of industrial wealth or the inheritors of scrupulous traditions and historical names. The sad fact, the melancholy truth, is that we have become vulgar; and until we can purge ourselves of vulgarity, till we can realise the ineffable ugliness of pomposity and pretension and ostentation, we shall effect nothing.
A related post: Comfort-Loving Vulgarity