16 October 2013

The Secret of Life

A. C. Benson, The House of Quiet (London: John Murray, 1906), pp. 153-154:
It is the fashion now to talk with much affected weariness of the hurry and bustle of modern life. No doubt such things are to be found if you go in search of them; and to have your life attended by a great quantity of either is generally held to be a sign of success. But the truth is, that this is what ordinary people like. The ordinary man has no precise idea what to do with his time. He needs to have it filled up by a good many conflicting and petty duties, and if it is filled he has a feeling that he is useful. But many of these duties are only necessary because of the existence of each other; it is a vicious circle. "What are those fields for?" said a squire who had lately succeeded to an estate, as he walked round with the bailiff. "To grow oats, sir." "And what do you do with the oats?" "Feed the horses, sir." "And what do you want the horses for?" "To plough the fields, sir." That is what much of the bustle of modern life consists of.

Solitude and silence are a great strain; but if you enjoy them they are at least harmless, which is more than can be said of many activities. Such is not perhaps the temper in which continents are explored, battles won, empires extended, fortunes made. But whatever concrete gain we make for ourselves must be taken from others; and we ought to be very certain indeed of the meaning of this life, and the nature of the world to which we all migrate, before we immerse ourselves in self-contrived businesses. To be natural, to find our true life, to be independent of luxuries, not to be at the mercy of prejudices and false ideals — that is the secret of life: who can say that it is a secret that we most of us make our own?