The Quest of the Simple Life eBook

William Johnson Dawson
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 172 pages of information about The Quest of the Simple Life.
thing.  No doubt there is much truth in this putting of the case, though it really begs the main question.  But even if we grant that in the larger operations of commerce a certain type of genius is required, we must remember that the men of this order are few in number.  Every lord of commerce is attended by a vast retinue of slaves.  Very few of these humble servitors of commerce can ever hope to rise from the ranks into supreme command.  They must labour to create the wealth of the successful merchant as a private soldier suffers wounds and hardships that fame may crown his general.  Do these men share the higher privileges of life?  Is not life with them the getting of a living rather than living?  Nay, more; is it not the getting of a living for some one else?

The merchant-prince fulfils himself, for his highest powers of intelligence are daily taxed to the uttermost; but the case is very different with that vast army of subordinates, whom we see marching every morning in an infinite procession to the various warehouses and offices of London.  I have often wondered at their cheerfulness when I have recollected the nature of their life.  For they bring to their daily tasks not the whole of themselves, but a mere segment of themselves; some small industrious faculty which represents them, or misrepresents them, at the tribunal of those who ask no better thing of them.  Few of them are doing the best that they can do, and they know it.  They are not doing it because the world does not ask them to do it; indeed, the world takes care that they shall have no opportunity of doing it.  A certain faculty for arithmetic represents a man who has many higher faculties; and thus the man is forced to live by one capacity which is perhaps his least worthy and significant.  This is not the case in what we call the liberal professions and the arts.  The architect, the barrister, the humblest journalist needs his whole mind for his task, and hence his work is a delight.  The artist, if he be a true artist, does the one thing that he was born to do, and so ’the hours pass away untold, without chagrin, and without weariness,’ nor would he wish them to pass otherwise.  Many times as I took my way to the dreary labours of my desk I stopped to watch, and sometimes to talk with, a smiling industrious little Frenchman, who repaired china and bronzes in a dingy shop in Welbeck Street.  He was an expert at his trade; knew all the distinctive marks of old china, and could assign with certainty the right date of any piece of bronze he handled; and to hear him discourse on these things would have been a liberal education to a budding connoisseur.  I never knew a man so indefatigably happy in his work; his eye lit up at any special glow of colour or delicacy of design; he used his tools as though he loved them; and if he dreamed at night, I doubt not that his canopies were coloured with the hues of Sevres, and that bronze angels from the hand of Benvenuto stood about his bed.  Plainly the man was happy because his work engaged his whole attention; and to every cunning rivet that he fashioned he gave the entire forces of his mind.  Here was a man who not merely got a living but lived; and I, chained to my desk, knew well enough that his life was much more satisfactory than mine.

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The Quest of the Simple Life from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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