“Exertion more dreadful than death”

Chap. II: Of the origin of Ambition and of the distinction of Ranks

It is because mankind are disposed to sympathize more entirely with our joy than with our sorrow, that we make parade of our riches, and conceal our poverty. Nothing is so mortifying as to be obliged to expose our distress to the view of the public, and to feel, that though our situation is open to the eyes of all mankind, no mortal conceives for us the half of what we suffer. Nay, it is chiefly from this regard to the sentiments of mankind, that we pursue riches and avoid poverty. For to what purpose is all the toil and bustle of this world? what is the end of avarice and ambition, of the pursuit of wealth, of power, and preheminence? Is it to supply the necessities of nature? The wages of the meanest labourer can supply them. We see that they afford him food and clothing, the comfort of a house, and of a family. If we examined his oeconomy with rigour, we should find that he spends a great part of them upon conveniencies, which may be regarded as superfluities, and that, upon extraordinary occasions, he can give something even to vanity and distinction. What then is the cause of our aversion to his situation, and why should those who have been educated in the higher ranks of life, regard it as worse than death, to be reduced to live, even without labour, upon the same simple fare with him, to dwell under the same lowly roof, and to be clothed in the same humble attire? Do they imagine that their stomach is better, or their sleep sounder in a palace than in a cottage? The contrary has been so often observed, and, indeed, is so very obvious, though it had never been observed, that there is nobody ignorant of it.

Sadly there are moments when the enterprise of fecundity is more debilitating than the punishment of utter indolence. Today is one of those days for me. I feel positively shiftless; and, I chastise myself for being so. I despise being feckless.  Normally every moment of every day is for me an opportunity for fruitfulness of one order or another no matter how unrefined or lacking in distilled blend. Especially at my advanced age I view the day as a latitude not to be diminished in the least. It is far more than mere perseverance or an idle wish. It is a universal mandate of existence. In spite of limitations and qualifications I preserve the faintest expectation that I may contribute to both myself and others by modest application. Yet today I have dissolved that ambition by submitting instead to the overwhelming surge of lethargy.

I attribute my lifelessness to a culmination of months of drill and focus surrounding our residential alterations on both sides of the border. We are now in the centre of what is a predictable two-year future having not only settled our affairs back home but also diagnosed them until 2024. It is by no small measure an important conclusion. Following a lifetime of unparalleled habit, commitment and investment it naturally pleases me to have prepared myself accordingly. But the settlement has come at a cost. My being has been tranquillized by the seemingly abrupt shift from energy to listlessness. Wisps of former anxiety are swept from view like dust in the air.

The winnowing of our agenda has however strengthened my resolve to capture not what I can give life but instead what life can give me. It is an unusual prescription with an equally off-beat remedy.