To the townsman the simple dwellers on the soil seem almost as incapable of intercourse as the creatures of the field and pasture. Because they do not know the kind of things the townsman knows, they are supposed to know nothing. I have already said enough to show how absurd and insolent is this assumption. My neighbours were few, and simple-minded; but they possessed many kinds of skill necessary to their life, they had wisdom and virtue, and upon the whole a kind of fundamental dignity of nature. They were as shy as woodland creatures to a stranger’s voice; they were highly sensitive to the mere shadow of a slight, and both suspicious and resentful of patronage; but they met trust with trust, and where they gave their trust they gave their full loyalty of friendship. In my youth, as I have said elsewhere, I often passed a whole day in a forest. I would choose some solitary glade, where my intrusion was audibly resented by the unseen creatures of the wood, who fled before me; but when an hour had passed, and the signal had run through the forest that I meant no harm, those scattered and astonished creatures reassembled. The whole life of the wood then went on before my eyes; the birds sang their best for me, the squirrel performed his innocent gymnastics with an eye to my applause, the very snake moved less shyly through the grass, as though the word had gone forth that I was a guest, who must be entertained and made to feel at home. This experience often recurred to me in my early days at Thornthwaite. It was some time before I was admitted to the free-masonry of the scanty social life around me; when at last I had paid my footing I found that here also was a commonwealth; here also might be found upon a narrow scale, but in authentic forms,
Piety and fear,
Instruction, manners, mysteries, and trades,
Degrees, observances, customs, and laws.
THE WOUNDS OF A FRIEND
Those who have been friendly enough to follow me so far in my little story will scarcely push their friendship so far that they will refrain from criticism upon myself and my doings. On one point, viz. the social morality of my conduct, I am so sure of criticism that I will anticipate it with self-criticism. Had I the moral right to desert the city, and to ignore the social obligations of the city, in order to find a life that was more pleasurable to myself? A city which presents a depressing variety of social needs can hardly afford to spare any good citizen, however humble, who is capable of social service, and for such a citizen to contract himself out of his obligations is very like skulking. I confess that this consideration occasioned me some uneasiness, and the questions which it raised have been treated with such admirable lucidity by a friend of mine, who still resides in London, that I will let him put the case against me.