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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.

      Piety and fear,
  Religion to the gods, peace, justice, truth,
  Domestic awe, night-rest, and neighbourhood,
  Instruction, manners, mysteries, and trades,
  Degrees, observances, customs, and laws.

The congregated life of man, many-coloured, intricate, composed of numerous interwoven interests, was never painted with a higher skill.  The word that is most expressive in this description is ‘neighbourhood.’  It strikes the note of cities.  Uttering it, one is aware of the pleasant music of bustling streets, greetings in the market-place, whispered converse in the doorways, gay meetings and laughter, lighted squares and crowds, the touch of kind hands, evening meals and festivals, and all the reverberation of man’s social voice.  A man may grow sick for such scenes as a sailor grows sick with longing for the sea.  There were times when this sickness came on me, this nostalgia of streets.  It was only by degrees I came to see that neighbourhood has a significance apart from cities.

The first sensation of the man suddenly exiled from cities is a kind of bewildering homelessness in Nature.  He is confronted with a spaciousness that knows no limit.  He treads among voids.  He experiences an almost unendurable sense of infinity.  He can put a bound to nothing that he sees; it is a relief to the eye to come upon a wall or a hedge, or any kind of object that implies dimension.  There is something awful in the glee or song of birds; it seems irrational that with wings so slight they should dare heights so profound.  All sense of proportion seems lost.  After being accustomed for many years to think of himself as in some sense a figure of importance in the universe, a man finds himself unimportant, insignificant, a little creature scarce perceptible a mile away.  I came once upon some human bones lying exposed on the side of an old earthwork on the summit of a hill; heavy rains had loosened the soil, and there lay these painful relics in the cold eye of day.  Two thousand years ago, or more, spears had clashed upon this hillside, living men had gone to final rest amid their blood; and it came upon me with a sense of insult how little man and all his battles counted for in the limitless arena of the world.  The brute violence of winds and tempests had swept these hills for centuries; and he whose lordship of the world is so loudly trumpeted, had lain prone beneath this violence, unremembered even by his fellows.  I understood in that moment that affecting doctrine of the nothingness of man, which coloured mediaeval thought so strangely:  like the monk of the cloister I also had before me my memento mori.  But in truth I did not need the bones of dead warriors to humble me; the mere space and stillness of the world sufficed.  My ear ached for some sound more rational than the cry of blind winds, my eye for some narrower stage than this tremendous theatre, where an army might defile unnoticed.  In such a mood

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