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The Silent Isle   By: (1862-1925)

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Fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge


Nec prohibui cor meum.



There are two ways of recording and communicating to others an impression, say, of a building or a place. One way is to sit down at a definite point, and make an elaborate picture. It is thus perhaps that one grasps the artistic significance and unity of the object best; one sees it in a chosen light of noon or eve; one feels its dominant emotion, its harmony of proportion and outline. Or else one may wander about and take sketches of it from a dozen different points of view, record little delicacies of detail, tiny whims and irregularities; and thus one learns more of the variety and humours of the place, its gestures and irritabilities, its failures of purpose or design. The question is whether you like a thing idealised or realised. As to the different methods of interpretation, they can hardly be compared or subordinated. An artist does not choose his method, because his method is himself.

The book that follows is an attempt, or rather a hundred attempts, to sketch some of the details of life, seen from a simple plane enough, and with no desire to conform it to a theory, or to find anything very definite in it, or to omit anything because it did not fit in with prejudices or predilections. The only unity of mood which it reflects is the unity of purpose which comes from a decision. I had chosen a life which seemed to me then to be wholesome, temperate, and simple, in exchange for a life that was complicated, restless, and mechanical. The choice was not in the least a revolt against conventions; it was only the result of a deliberate belief that conventions were not necessary to contentment, and that if one never ventured anything in general, one would never gain anything in particular. It was not, to speak with absolute frankness, intended to be an attempt to shirk my fair share of the natural human burden. If I had believed in my own power of bearing that burden profitably and efficiently, I hope I should not have laid it down. It was rather that I thought that I had carried a burden long enough, without having the curiosity to see what it contained. When I did untie it and inspect it, it seemed to me that a great part of what it contained was not particularly useful, but designed, like the furniture of the White Knight's horse, in Through the Looking Glass , to provide against unlikely contingencies. I thought that I might live life, of the brevity and frailty of which I had become suddenly aware, upon simpler and more rational lines.

I was then, in embarking upon this book, in what may be described as a holiday making frame of mind, as a man might be who, after a long period of sedentary life, finds himself at leisure, strolling about on a sunny morning in a picturesque foreign town, in that delicious mood when the smallest sights and sounds and incidents have a sharpness and delicacy of flavour which brings back the untroubled and joyful passivity of childhood, when one had no need to do anything in particular, because it was enough to be. It seemed so futile to go on consuming stolidly and grimly the porridge of life, when one might take one's choice of its dainties! I had no temptation to waste my substance in riotous living. I had no relish for the passionate and feverish delights of combat and chase. It did not seem to be worth while to pretend that I had, merely for the sake of being considered robust and full blooded. To speak the truth, I did not particularly care what other people thought of my experiment. It seemed to me that I had deferred to all that too long; and though I had no wish to break violently with the world or to set it at defiance, I thought I might venture to find a little corner and a little book, and see the current spin by. It seemed to me, too, that most of the people who waxed eloquent about the normal duties and responsibilities of life chose them not reluctantly and philosophically, but because, on the whole they preferred them, and felt dull without them; and I imagined that I had my right to a preference too, particularly if it was not pursued at the expense of other people... Continue reading book >>

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