THE DESIRE TO EXCEED ONE'S PROGRAMME





"But," someone may remark, with the English disregard of everything

except the point, "what is he driving at with his twenty-four hours

a day? I have no difficulty in living on twenty-four hours a day. I

do all that I want to do, and still find time to go in for newspaper

competitions. Surely it is a simple affair, knowing that one has

only twenty-four hours a day, to content one's self with twenty-four

hours a day!"



To you, my dear sir, I present my excuses and apologies. You are

precisely the man that I have been wishing to meet for about forty

years. Will you kindly send me your name and address, and state

your charge for telling me how you do it? Instead of me talking to

you, you ought to be talking to me. Please come forward. That you

exist, I am convinced, and that I have not yet encountered you is my

loss. Meanwhile, until you appear, I will continue to chat with my

companions in distress--that innumerable band of souls who are

haunted, more or less painfully, by the feeling that the years slip

by, and slip by, and slip by, and that they have not yet been able

to get their lives into proper working order.



If we analyse that feeling, we shall perceive it to be, primarily,

one of uneasiness, of expectation, of looking forward, of

aspiration. It is a source of constant discomfort, for it behaves

like a skeleton at the feast of all our enjoyments. We go to the

theatre and laugh; but between the acts it raises a skinny finger at

us. We rush violently for the last train, and while we are cooling

a long age on the platform waiting for the last train, it promenades

its bones up and down by our side and inquires: "O man, what hast

thou done with thy youth? What art thou doing with thine age?" You

may urge that this feeling of continuous looking forward, of

aspiration, is part of life itself, and inseparable from life

itself. True!



But there are degrees. A man may desire to go to Mecca. His

conscience tells him that he ought to go to Mecca. He fares forth,

either by the aid of Cook's, or unassisted; he may probably never

reach Mecca; he may drown before he gets to Port Said; he may perish

ingloriously on the coast of the Red Sea; his desire may remain

eternally frustrate. Unfulfilled aspiration may always trouble him.

But he will not be tormented in the same way as the man who,

desiring to reach Mecca, and harried by the desire to reach Mecca,

never leaves Brixton.



It is something to have left Brixton. Most of us have not left

Brixton. We have not even taken a cab to Ludgate Circus and

inquired from Cook's the price of a conducted tour. And our excuse

to ourselves is that there are only twenty-four hours in the day.



If we further analyse our vague, uneasy aspiration, we shall, I

think, see that it springs from a fixed idea that we ought to do

something in addition to those things which we are loyally and

morally obliged to do. We are obliged, by various codes written and

unwritten, to maintain ourselves and our families (if any) in health

and comfort, to pay our debts, to save, to increase our prosperity

by increasing our efficiency. A task sufficiently difficult! A

task which very few of us achieve! A task often beyond our skill!

Yet, if we succeed in it, as we sometimes do, we are not satisfied;

the skeleton is still with us.



And even when we realise that the task is beyond our skill, that

our powers cannot cope with it, we feel that we should be less

discontented if we gave to our powers, already overtaxed, something

still further to do.



And such is, indeed, the fact. The wish to accomplish something

outside their formal programme is common to all men who in the

course of evolution have risen past a certain level.



Until an effort is made to satisfy that wish, the sense of uneasy

waiting for something to start which has not started will remain to

disturb the peace of the soul. That wish has been called by many

names. It is one form of the universal desire for knowledge. And

it is so strong that men whose whole lives have been given to the

systematic acquirement of knowledge have been driven by it to

overstep the limits of their programme in search of still more

knowledge. Even Herbert Spencer, in my opinion the greatest mind

that ever lived, was often forced by it into agreeable little

backwaters of inquiry.



I imagine that in the majority of people who are conscious of the

wish to live--that is to say, people who have intellectual

curiosity--the aspiration to exceed formal programmes takes a

literary shape. They would like to embark on a course of reading.

Decidedly the British people are becoming more and more literary.

But I would point out that literature by no means comprises the

whole field of knowledge, and that the disturbing thirst to improve

one's self--to increase one's knowledge--may well be slaked quite

apart from literature. With the various ways of slaking I shall

deal later. Here I merely point out to those who have no natural

sympathy with literature that literature is not the only well.





THE DANGERS OF SENTIMENTALITY THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE REASONING POWER facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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