NOTHING IN LIFE IS HUMDRUM
From: How to Live on 24 Hours a Day
Art is a great thing. But it is not the greatest. The most
important of all perceptions is the continual perception of cause
and effect--in other words, the perception of the continuous
development of the universe--in still other words, the perception of
the course of evolution. When one has thoroughly got imbued into
one's head the leading truth that nothing happens without a cause,
one grows not only large-minded, but large-hearted.
It is hard to have one's watch stolen, but one reflects that the
thief of the watch became a thief from causes of heredity and
environment which are as interesting as they are scientifically
comprehensible; and one buys another watch, if not with joy, at any
rate with a philosophy that makes bitterness impossible. One loses,
in the study of cause and effect, that absurd air which so many
people have of being always shocked and pained by the curiousness of
life. Such people live amid human nature as if human nature were a
foreign country full of awful foreign customs. But, having reached
maturity, one ought surely to be ashamed of being a stranger in a
The study of cause and effect, while it lessens the painfulness of
life, adds to life's picturesqueness. The man to whom evolution is
but a name looks at the sea as a grandiose, monotonous spectacle,
which he can witness in August for three shillings third-class
return. The man who is imbued with the idea of development, of
continuous cause and effect, perceives in the sea an element which
in the day-before-yesterday of geology was vapour, which yesterday
was boiling, and which to-morrow will inevitably be ice.
He perceives that a liquid is merely something on its way to be
solid, and he is penetrated by a sense of the tremendous, changeful
picturesqueness of life. Nothing will afford a more durable
satisfaction than the constantly cultivated appreciation of this.
It is the end of all science.
Cause and effect are to be found everywhere. Rents went up in
Shepherd's Bush. It was painful and shocking that rents should go
up in Shepherd's Bush. But to a certain point we are all scientific
students of cause and effect, and there was not a clerk lunching at
a Lyons Restaurant who did not scientifically put two and two
together and see in the (once) Two-penny Tube the cause of an
excessive demand for wigwams in Shepherd's Bush, and in the
excessive demand for wigwams the cause of the increase in the price
"Simple!" you say, disdainfully. Everything--the whole complex
movement of the universe--is as simple as that--when you can
sufficiently put two and two together. And, my dear sir, perhaps
you happen to be an estate agent's clerk, and you hate the arts, and
you want to foster your immortal soul, and you can't be interested
in your business because it's so humdrum.
Nothing is humdrum.
The tremendous, changeful picturesqueness of life is marvellously
shown in an estate agent's office. What! There was a block of
traffic in Oxford Street; to avoid the block people actually began
to travel under the cellars and drains, and the result was a rise of
rents in Shepherd's Bush! And you say that isn't picturesque!
Suppose you were to study, in this spirit, the property question in
London for an hour and a half every other evening. Would it not give
zest to your business, and transform your whole life?
You would arrive at more difficult problems. And you would be able
to tell us why, as the natural result of cause and effect, the
longest straight street in London is about a yard and a half in
length, while the longest absolutely straight street in Paris
extends for miles. I think you will admit that in an estate agent's
clerk I have not chosen an example that specially favours my
You are a bank clerk, and you have not read that breathless romance
(disguised as a scientific study), Walter Bagehot's "Lombard
Street"? Ah, my dear sir, if you had begun with that, and followed
it up for ninety minutes every other evening, how enthralling your
business would be to you, and how much more clearly you would
understand human nature.
You are "penned in town," but you love excursions to the country and
the observation of wild life--certainly a heart-enlarging diversion.
Why don't you walk out of your house door, in your slippers, to the
nearest gas lamp of a night with a butterfly net, and observe the
wild life of common and rare moths that is beating about it, and
co-ordinate the knowledge thus obtained and build a superstructure
on it, and at last get to know something about something?
You need not be devoted to the arts, not to literature, in order to
The whole field of daily habit and scene is waiting to satisfy that
curiosity which means life, and the satisfaction of which means an
I promised to deal with your case, O man who hates art and
literature, and I have dealt with it. I now come to the case of the
person, happily very common, who does "like reading."
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