’I remember walking by the lake just this time last year, with the story of my life singing in my head, and you in the background beating the time. You know, we had a shop in Tinnick, and I had seen my father standing before a high desk by a dusty window year after year, selling half-pounds of tea, hanks of onions, and farm implements, and felt that if I married my cousin, Annie McGrath, our lives would reproduce those of my father and mother in every detail. I couldn’t undertake the job, and for that began to believe I had a vocation for the priesthood; but I can see now that it was not piety that sent me to Maynooth, but a certain spirit of adventure, a dislike of the commonplace, of the prosaic—that is to say, of the repetition of the same things. I was interested in myself, in my own soul, and I did not want to accept something that was outside of myself, such as the life of a shopman behind a counter, or that of a clerk of the petty sessions, or the habit of a policeman. These were the careers that were open to me, and when I was hesitating, wondering if I should be able to buy up the old mills and revive the trade in Tinnick, my sister Eliza reminded me that there had always been a priest in the family. The priesthood seemed to offer opportunities of realizing myself, of preserving the spirit within me. It offered no such opportunities to me. I might as well have become a policeman, and all that I have learned since is that everyone must try to cling to his own soul; that is the only binding law. If we are here for anything, it is surely for that.
’But one does not free one’s self from habits and ideas, that have grown almost inveterate, without much pain and struggle; one falls back many times, and there are always good reasons for following the rut. We believe that the rutted way leads us somewhere: it leads us nowhere, the rutted way is only a seeming; for each man received his truth in the womb. You say in your letter that our destinies got entangled, and that the piece that was being woven ran out into thread, and was rewound upon another spool. It seemed to you and it seemed to me that there is no pattern; we think there is none because Nature’s pattern is undistinguishable to our eyes, her looms are so vast, but sometimes even our little sight can follow a design here and there. And does it not seem to you that, after all, there was some design in what has happened? You came and released me from conventions, just as the spring releases the world from winter rust.