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THE SIMPLE LIFE

By CHARLES WAGNER
_Author of The Better Way_

_Translated from the French by Mary Louise Hendee_


GROSSET & DUNLAP
Publishers, New York


Copyright, 1901, by
McCLURE, PHILLIPS & CO.




CONTENTS

Page

I. OUR COMPLEX LIFE 1

II. THE ESSENCE OF SIMPLICITY 15

III. SIMPLICITY OF THOUGHT 22

IV. SIMPLICITY OF SPEECH 39

V. SIMPLE DUTY 52

VI. SIMPLE NEEDS 68

VII. SIMPLE PLEASURES 80

VIII. THE MERCENARY SPIRIT AND SIMPLICITY 96

IX. NOTORIETY AND THE INGLORIOUS GOOD 111

X. THE WORLD AND THE LIFE OF THE HOME 128

XI. SIMPLE BEAUTY 139

XII. PRIDE AND SIMPLICITY IN THE INTERCOURSE OF MEN 151

XIII. THE EDUCATION FOR SIMPLICITY 167

XIV. CONCLUSION 188




THE SIMPLE LIFE

I

OUR COMPLEX LIFE


At the home of the Blanchards, everything is topsy-turvy, and with
reason. Think of it! Mlle. Yvonne is to be married Tuesday, and to-day
is Friday!

Callers loaded with gifts, and tradesmen bending under packages, come
and go in endless procession. The servants are at the end of their
endurance. As for the family and the betrothed, they no longer have a
life or a fixed abode. Their mornings are spent with dressmakers,
milliners, upholsterers, jewelers, decorators, and caterers. After that,
comes a rush through offices, where one waits in line, gazing vaguely at
busy clerks engulfed in papers. A fortunate thing, if there be time when
this is over, to run home and dress for the series of ceremonial
dinners--betrothal dinners, dinners of presentation, the settlement
dinner, receptions, balls. About midnight, home again, harassed and
weary, to find the latest accumulation of parcels, and a deluge of
letters--congratulations, felicitations, acceptances and regrets from
bridesmaids and ushers, excuses of tardy tradesmen. And the
_contretemps_ of the last minute--a sudden death that disarranges the
bridal party; a wretched cold that prevents a favorite cantatrice from
singing, and so forth, and so forth. Those poor Blanchards! They will
never be ready, and they thought they had foreseen everything!

Such has been their existence for a month. No longer possible to
breathe, to rest a half-hour, to tranquillize one's thoughts. _No, this
is not living!_

Mercifully, there is Grandmother's room. Grandmother is verging on
eighty. Through many toils and much suffering, she has come to meet
things with the calm assurance which life brings to men and women of
high thinking and large hearts. She sits there in her arm-chair,
enjoying the silence of long meditative hours. So the flood of affairs
surging through the house, ebbs at her door. At the threshold of this
retreat, voices are hushed and footfalls softened; and when the young
_fiancÚs_ want to hide away for a moment, they flee to Grandmother.

"Poor children!" is her greeting. "You are worn out! Rest a little and
belong to each other. All these things count for nothing. Don't let them
absorb you, it isn't worth while."

They know it well, these two young people. How many times in the last
weeks has their love had to make way for all sorts of conventions and
futilities! Fate, at this decisive moment of their lives, seems bent
upon drawing their minds away from the one thing essential, to harry
them with a host of trivialities; and heartily do they approve the
opinion of Grandmamma when she says, between a smile and a caress:

"Decidedly, my dears, the world is growing too complex; and it does not
make people happier--quite the contrary!"

* * * * *

I also, am of Grandmamma's opinion. From the cradle to the grave, in his
needs as in his pleasures, in his conception of the world and of
himself, the man of modern times struggles through a maze of endless
complication. Nothing is simple any longer: neither thought nor action;
not pleasure, not even dying. With our own hands we have added to
existence a train of hardships, and lopped off many a gratification. I
believe that thousands of our fellow-men, suffering the consequences of
a too artificial life, will be grateful if we try to give expression to
their discontent, and to justify the regret for naturalness which
vaguely oppresses them.

Let us first speak of a series of facts that put into relief the truth
we wish to show.

The complexity of our life appears in the number of our material needs.
It is a fact universally conceded, that our needs have grown with our
resources. This is not an evil in itself; for the birth of certain needs
is often a mark of progress. To feel the necessity of bathing, of
wearing fresh linen, inhabiting wholesome houses, eating healthful food,
and cultivating our minds, is a sign of superiority. But if certain
needs exist by right, and are desirable, there are others whose effects
are fatal, which, like parasites, live at our expense: numerous and
imperious, they engross us completely.

Could our fathers have foreseen that we should some day have at our
disposal the means and forces we now use in sustaining and defending our
material life, they would have predicted for us an increase of
independence, and therefore of happiness, and a decrease in competition
for worldly goods: they might even have thought that through the
simplification of life thus made possible, a higher degree of morality
would be attained. None of these things has come to pass. Neither
happiness, nor brotherly love, nor power for good has been increased.
In the first place, do you think your fellow-citizens, taken as a whole,
are more contented than their forefathers, and less anxious about the
future? I do not ask if they should find reason to be so, but if they
really are so. To see them live, it seems to me that a majority of them
are discontented with their lot, and, above all, absorbed in material
needs and beset with cares for the morrow. Never has the question of
food and shelter been sharper or more absorbing than since we are better
nourished, better clothed, and better housed than ever. He errs greatly
who thinks that the query, "What shall we eat, and what shall we drink,
and wherewithal shall we be clothed?" presents itself to the poor alone,
exposed as they are to the anguish of morrows without bread or a roof.
With them the question is natural, and yet it is with them that it
presents itself most simply. You must go among those who are beginning
to enjoy a little ease, to learn how greatly satisfaction in what one
has, may be disturbed by regret for what one lacks. And if you would see
anxious care for future material good, material good in all its
luxurious development, observe people of small fortune, and, above all,
the rich. It is not the woman with one dress who asks most insistently
how she shall be clothed, nor is it those reduced to the strictly
necessary who make most question of what they shall eat to-morrow. As an
inevitable consequence of the law that needs are increased by their
satisfaction, _the more goods a man has, the more he wants_. The more
assured he is of the morrow, according to the common acceptation, the
more exclusively does he concern himself with how he shall live, and
provide for his children and his children's children. Impossible to
conceive of the fears of a man established in life--their number, their
reach, and their shades of refinement.

From all this, there has arisen throughout the different social orders,
modified by conditions and varying in intensity, a common agitation--a
very complex mental state, best compared to the petulance of a spoiled
child, at once satisfied and discontented.

* * * * *

If we have not become happier, neither have we grown more peaceful and
fraternal. The more desires and needs a man has, the more occasion he
finds for conflict with his fellow-men; and these conflicts are more
bitter in proportion as their causes are less just. It is the law of
nature to fight for bread, for the necessities. This law may seem
brutal, but there is an excuse in its very harshness, and it is
generally limited to elemental cruelties. Quite different is the battle
for the superfluous--for ambition, privilege, inclination, luxury. Never
has hunger driven man to such baseness as have envy, avarice, and thirst
for pleasure. Egotism grows more maleficent as it becomes more refined.
We of these times have seen an increase of hostile feeling among
brothers, and our hearts are less at peace than ever.[A]

After this, is there any need to ask if we have become better? Do not
the very sinews of virtue lie in man's capacity to care for something
outside himself? And what place remains for one's neighbor in a life
given over to material cares, to artificial needs, to the satisfaction
of ambitions, grudges, and whims? The man who gives himself up entirely
to the service of his appetites, makes them grow and multiply so well
that they become stronger than he; and once their slave, he loses his
moral sense, loses his energy, and becomes incapable of discerning and
practicing the good. He has surrendered himself to the inner anarchy of
desire, which in the end gives birth to outer anarchy. In the moral life
we govern ourselves. In the immoral life we are governed by our needs
and passions. Thus little by little, the bases of the moral life shift,
and the law of judgment deviates.

For the man enslaved to numerous and exacting needs, possession is the
supreme good and the source of all other good things. It is true that in
the fierce struggle for possession, we come to hate those who possess,
and to deny the right of property when this right is in the hands of
others and not in our own.



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