The Quest of the Simple Life eBook

William Johnson Dawson
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 172 pages of information about The Quest of the Simple Life.

  Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons;
  It is to grow in the open air, and to eat and sleep with the earth.

To create the best persons is to accomplish a service for society which is durable, and therefore is the only real good.  I claim that this is what I have tried to do in my own case, and in no other way could I discharge my obligation to society so well.  Economically considered I am now a profitable asset to society.  I do a man’s work every day, and I earn my keep.  When the time comes for my children to go out into life they will take with them good thews and muscles, sound bodies, and well-furnished minds.  I imagine that this is about as good a contribution to the cause of Progress, the service of Commerce, and the maintenance of Empire, as any one man can make.



After four years’ experiment in Quest of the Simple Life I am in a position to state certain conclusions, which are sufficiently authoritative with me to suggest that they may have some weight with my readers.  These conclusions I will briefly recapitulate.

The chief discovery which I have made is that man may lead a perfectly honourable, sufficing, and even joyous existence upon a very small income.  Money plays a part in human existence much less important than we suppose.  The best boon that money can bestow upon us is independence.  How much money do we need to secure independence?  That must depend on the nature of our wants.  Becky Sharp thought that virtue might be possible on 5000 pounds a year; and, apart from the question of whether money has anything to do with virtue at all, it is obvious that she put her figure absurdly high.  Most of us put the figure at which independence may be purchased too high.  If our idea of independence is the possession of an income that allows extravagance, if life would be intolerable to us without the gratification of many artificial wants, if our notion of a lodge in the wilderness is the

        Cottage, with a double coach-house,
  The pride that apes humility,

at which Coleridge sneered, then only a very few of us can ever hope for our emancipation.  The first step toward independence is the limitation of our wants.  We must be fed, clothed, and lodged in such a way that a self-respecting life is possible to us; when we have ascertained the figure at which this ideal can be realised, we have ascertained the price of independence.

My experiment I regard as successful, but there are two features in it which diminish its general application.  One is that I took with me into my solitude certain tastes and aptitudes, which I may claim without the least egoism to be not altogether common.  I had an intense love of Nature, a delight in physical exertion, and a vital interest in literature.  I was thus provided with resources in myself.  It would be the height of folly for a person wholly destitute of these aptitudes to venture upon such a life as mine.  He would find the country unutterably wearisome, its pursuits a detestable form of drudgery, and the unoccupied hours of his life tedious beyond expression.

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The Quest of the Simple Life from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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