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William Johnson Dawson
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 147 pages of information about The Quest of the Simple Life.

From this exalted prelude I will at once descend to more prosaic matter, leaving my reader, in his charity, to devise for me an apology which I have neither the wit nor the desire to invent for myself.  With the best will in the world to speak in praise of cities it must be owned that the epic and lyric moments of London are infrequent.  As a casual resident in London, a student and spectator, free to leave it when I willed, I could have been heartily content; but I, in common with some insignificant millions of my fellow-creatures, was bound to live in London as a means of living at all.  He is no true citizen who merely comes up to town ‘for the season,’ alternating the pleasures of town with those of the country; he alone is the true citizen who must live amid the roar of the street all the year round, and for years together.  If I could choose for myself I would even now choose the life of pleasant alternation between town and country, because I am persuaded that the true piquancy and zest of all pleasures lies in contrast.  But fate orders these things for us, and takes no account of our desires, unless it be to treat them with habitual irony.  At five-and-twenty the plain fact met me—­that I must needs live in London, because my bread could be earned nowhere else.  No choice was permitted me; I must go where crowds were, because from the favour or necessities of such crowds I must gather the scanty tithes which put food upon my table and clothes upon my back.  When eminent writers, seated at ample desks, from which they command fair views of open country, denounce with prophetic fervour the perils which attend the growth of cities, they somewhat overlook the fact that the growth of cities is a sequence, alike ineluctable and pitiless, of the modern struggle for existence.  One cannot be a lawyer, or a banker, a physician or a journalist, without neighbours.  He can scarce be a literary man in perfect sylvan solitude, unless his work is of such quality—­perhaps I should have said such popularity—­that it wins for him immediate payment, or unless his private fortune be such that he can pursue his aims as a writer with entire indifference to the half-yearly statements of his publisher.  In respect of the various employments of trade and commerce, the case is still plainer.  Men must needs go where the best wages may be earned; and under modern conditions of life it is as natural that population should flow toward cities, as that rivers should seek the sea.  These matters will be more particularly discussed later on; it is enough for me to explain at present that I was one of those persons for whom life in a city was an absolute necessity.

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