GETTING A LIVING, AND LIVING
Getting the best and most out of life, I take to be the most rational object of human existence. Even religion, although it affects to scorn the phrase, admits the fact; for no man would be religious unless he were convinced that he thereby added something to his store of happiness. It is a matter of temperament whether a man treats religion as a panacea for his mortal troubles, or the ‘Open Sesame’ of brighter worlds, but it is quite certain that he regards it as a means of happiness. I cannot doubt that the anchorites, ascetics, and cloistered nuns of mediaeval times were happy in their own way, although it was in a fashion that appears to us highly foolish and absurd. Even a St. Stylites had his consolations; he was kept warm upon his pillar by the comfortable sense of his superiority to his wicked fellow-creatures.
To get the best out of life there must be some adequate fulfilment of one’s best self. Man is a bundle of tastes and appetites, some lofty, and some ignoble, but all crying out for satisfaction. Wisdom lies in the discernment of essentials; in just discrimination between false and true tastes. Man has been a long time upon the earth, and he has spent his time for the most part in one ceaseless experiment, viz., how he may become a satisfactory creature in his own eyes. All civilisations converge upon this point; and we maybe sure that, in their lonely hours of meditation, the fantastic warder on the great wall of China, and the Roman soldier pacing to and fro in the porticoes of the Palatine, had much the same thoughts. Whosoever speaks to man on the art of becoming happy is secure of a hearing; even though he be the vilest of quacks he will have his following, even though he were the worst of scoundrels some will take him for a prophet. In short, we are all the dupes of hope, and it needs some experience to assure us that our only real hope is in ourselves. In our own hearts lies the Eldorado which we scour the world to find; could we but fulfil our best selves we should ask no other happiness.
The question that soon comes to obtrude itself upon the mind of a thoughtful man in a great city, is this old persistent question of whether his method of life is such as to answer to the ideal of fulfilling his best self? It seemed to me that the inhabitants of cities were too busy getting a living to have time to live.
Let us take the life of the average business man by way of example. Such a man will rise early, sleep late, and eat the bread of carefulness, if he means to succeed. He will probably live—or be said to live—in some suburb more or less remote from the roaring centre of affairs. The first light of the winter dawn will see him alert; breakfast is a hurried passover performance; a certain train must be caught at all hazard to digestion, and