And, after all, we exaggerate the importance of the material rewards. They must often be very much of a bore. As the late Lord Salisbury once said, a man doesn’t sleep any better because he has a choice of forty bedrooms in his house. He can only take one ride even though he has fifty motor-cars. He cannot get more joy out of the sunshine than you or I can. The birds sing and the buds swell for all of us, and in the great storehouse of natural delights there is no money taken and no price on the goods. Mr. Rockefeller’s L100 a minute (if that is his income) is poor consolation for his bad digestion, and the late Mr. Pierpoint Morgan would probably have parted with half his millions to get rid of the excrescence that made his nose an unsightly joke. We cannot count our riches at the bank—even on the material side, much less on the spiritual. As I came along the village this morning I saw Jim Squire digging up his potatoes in the golden September light. I hailed him, and inquired how the crop was turning out. “A wunnerful fine crop,” he said, “and thank the Lord, there ain’t a spot o’ disease in ’em.” And as he straightened his back, pointed to the tubers strewn about him, and beamed like the sun at his good fortune, he looked the very picture of autumn’s riches.
I was in a feminine company the other day when the talk turned on war economies, with the inevitable allusion to the substitution of margarine for butter. I found it was generally agreed that the substitution had been a success. “Well,” said one, “I bought some butter the other day—the sort we used to use—and put it on the table with the margarine which we have learned to eat. My husband took some, thinking it was margarine, made a wry face, and said, ’It won’t do. This margarine economy is beyond me. We must return to butter, even if we lose the war.’ I explained to him that he was eating butter, the butter, and he said, ‘Well, I’m hanged!’ Now, what do you think of that?”
I said I thought it showed that taste was a matter of habit, and that imagination played a larger part in our make-up than we supposed. We say of this or that thing that it is “an acquired taste,” as though the fact was unusual, whereas the fact would seem to be that we dislike most things until we have habituated ourselves to them. As a youth I abominated the taste of tobacco. It was only by an industrious apprenticeship to the herb that I overcame my natural dislike and got to be its obedient servant. And even my taste here is unstable. I needed a certain tobacco to be happy and thought there was no other tobacco like it. But I discovered that was all nonsense. When the war tax sent the price up, I determined that my expenditure should not go up with it, and I tried a cheaper sort. I found it distasteful at first, but now I prefer it to my old brand, just as the lady’s husband finds that he prefers the new margarine to the old butter.