’You would say, perhaps, that they are simply sacrificing the finer pleasures of life to the fanaticism of work; ah, but they are also sacrificing them for the good of the community. If the great surgeon or physician bolted from his duties the moment he had acquired money enough to buy a cottage, you would say he had no right to rob mankind of his skill and service to please himself. Have you that right? And if the whole nation acted in this spirit, how long would the nation hold its place of power and influence? In less than a century we should be as the Hottentots. We should be driven out before the advance of more energetic races, just as the Hottentots; who once possessed Southern Europe and Egypt, have been forced back into the African wilderness, where they live a life that is content with the gratification of the most primitive, the most bestial, wants. It is no excuse to say that the action of one man can have but little influence upon the trend of life in a whole nation. The merest unit in the sum, the cipher even, has power to change the total. The strength of wisdom in the majority of a nation may be more than sufficient to-day to counteract the folly of the unit; but there is always the chance that the folly of the individual may in time prevail against the experience of the wise, and pervert the nation. At all events, we ought to consider such possibilities before we hold ourselves free to do as we please in contempt of general custom.
’Do not be angry with me when I say that to me your flight from London appears only an illustration of that cowardice about life which is so common to-day. Men are very much afraid of life to-day; afraid of its responsibilities and duties; afraid of marriage and the burden of children; and not alone for the old are there fears in the way, but even the young men faint and grow weary.
’I can understand Stevenson flying to the South Seas; it was part of his prolonged duel with death. But his heart was in the Highlands, and could he have chosen, his feet would have trodden to old age the grey streets of Edinburgh. Your flight is altogether different. You have no real excuse in ill-health. You have simply fallen sick with a distaste for cities. You have had a bad dream, and you are frightened. I love you still; I count you friend still; but I cannot call you brave.
’O my friend, if I have said anything that sounds unfriendly, do not believe it of me; do not doubt that I love you. I think I should not have written thus but that in your last letter you expressed pity for me, and that stung me, I confess. And so I retort, you see, by pitying you, which is not admirable in me. Therefore let me say, if you care still to please me, do not, in any further letters you may write, ever express the least pity for me. Quite honestly I say I do not need pity, for I am perfectly happy. In giving all the time and money I can spare to the poor in Lucraft’s Row, I have really renounced nothing; or, if I have, I am so unconscious of sacrifice that I can only say with Browning: