I dwell on these obvious characteristics of London life, because in course of time they assumed for me almost terrifying dimensions. After ten years of arduous toil I found myself at thirty-five lonely, friendless, and imprisoned in a groove of iron, whose long curves swept on inevitably to that grim terminus where all men arrive at last. Sometimes I chided myself for my discontent; and certainly there were many who might have envied me. I occupied a fairly comfortable house in a decayed terrace where each house was exactly like its neighbour, and had I told any one that the mere aspect of this grey terrace oppressed me by its featureless monotony, I should have been laughed at for my pains. I believe that I was trusted by my employers, and if a mere automatic diligence can be accounted a virtue, I merited their trust. In course of time my income would have been increased, though never to that degree which means competence or freedom. To this common object of ambition I had indeed long ago become indifferent. What can a few extra pounds a year bring to a man who finds himself bound to the same tasks, and those tasks distasteful? I was married and had two children; and the most distressing thought of all was that I saw my children predestined to the same fate. I saw them growing up in complete destitution of those country sights and sounds which had made my own youth delightful; acquiring the superficial sharpness of the city child and his slang; suffering at times by the anaemia and listlessness bred of vitiated air; high-strung and sensitive as those must needs be whose nerves are in perpetual agitation; and when, in chance excursions to the country, I compared my children with the children of cottagers and ploughmen, I felt that I had wronged them, I saw my children foredoomed, by an inexorable destiny, to a life at all points similar with my own. In course of time they also would become recruits in the narrow-chested, black-coated army of those who sit at desks. They would become slaves without having known the value of freedom; slaves not by capture but by heritage. More and more the thought began to gather shape, Was I getting the most, or the best, out of life? Was there no other kind of life in which toil was redeemed from baseness by its own inherent interest, no life which offered more of tranquil satisfaction and available, if humble, happiness? Day by day this thought sounded through my mind, and each fresh discouragement and disability of the life I led gave it sharper emphasis. At last the time came when I found an answer to it, and these chapters tell the story of my seeking and my finding.
GETTING THE BEST OUT OF LIFE