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The Inconvenience of Ideas, etc.
“The Gentler View,” Harper’s Weekly (Advertiser; August 13, 1910) : 21 : link

      It is only of recent years that the inconvenience of ideas has been felt with its full weight. It is not to be forgotten that the years before we came to consciousness are always known to be, and ardently called, the “good old days,” while the time in which we live is dubbed from personal experience a depraved age. Still, the impression remains that fifteen years ago ideas did not have their present unpleasant trick of coming home to one. Ideas used to be long-distance pleasures bearing entirely on things that concerned us only remotely, if at all. They were kept like a collection of alpine sticks in the hat-rack. We glanced at them frequently, but had no nearer connection with them than occasionally taking an umbrella from their midst, and at very rare intervals finding that the most trustworthily ornamental of the alpine sticks had poked a hole in a new silk sun- shade.
      The things we did we did for private reasons of our own, and from motives that even we never looked at, much less explained to cold-blooded people with opposing points of view! A comfortable radius within which we could move fairly actively was permitted us, while just beyond this region of helpful murkiness shone the bright glamour of ideas. The line dividing the two was never permitted to become blurred.
      Now our most intimate actions are riddled with ideas — horrid, far-reaching things that bear on the good of the whole and are dimly related to political economy, and civic interests, and other matters that are invading the privacy of the home. It makes one so fidgety and nervous. The unexpected connection between a large impersonal subject and a small personal preference of our own renders us liable to a whole series of shocks and jars. It is a constant question of changing your actions or ideas, compromising between the two, or else slinking about in the way of your fathers, exhausted by the continual upbraiding of those dratted affairs that have penetrated to your brain. It is all so wearing. That glad, free sweep of behavior is all gone. Cautious adjustments of one’s liking to one’s learning leave a dry taste in the mouth, and the morality of the result does not make up for the mustiness of the process.
      Somehow the pleasure of being advanced is not what one might expect. That sense of staunch militancy, of striding along at the head of the procession, which ought to be so invigorating, is in reality rather weakening. Instead of glorying in the vigor of modern thought there is a gone feeling in the pit of their delicacy forbids the brazen writing out of the word abhorred by the British; and the decision is reached that the children must be brought up according to your most pitiless ideas, but you, having got on so far, will just continue to the end in peaceful conservatism. Education is, perhaps, the vicious insistence that your children shall do the things that you believed in doing in the days of your austere youth, but shamefully evaded later on. It is so obviously right that women should work. Work itself is so admirable, its dozen consequences are of the happiest. The parasitic, idle, restless woman will be cured of all her ills, and the woes of the world righted, when men and women work hand in hand. This is always said with a stern glance into the future, a flashing, inciting brow, and is generally followed by a wistful look backward that, interpreted, means, “There were some awful pleasant points about the old state of things!”
      Ideas are invariably too far ahead of the times. They would do beautifully if they bore a little more relation to us, and our sense of disgruntled formality toward them shows how unacclimated they remain, how persistent we are in treating them like distressingly foreign and barely welcome guests. We are ashamed not to have them, but we might be publicly disgraced if we carried them out. They do not get on well with one’s prejudices and comforts and instincts. They are trouble-breeders, and any one who has permitted them to install themselves in his personal affairs has no need to be told of their inconvenience, but is solemnly and sincerely condoled with.

      Peace and quiet are active employments when one has them after a long winter of grinding actively. They are almost violent exercise, and the more marked the fearful quiet is, the more it enthralls, absorbs, and, one might almost say, excites. Bustle produces in an accustomed bustler a leaden indifference; rural silence is so restful that he sits up stiff with excitement, too amazed at the blissful blankness of life to relax. If he does relax it, it is in an ecstasy of relaxation. He keeps repeating, “Never have I been so relaxed. I am an inert rag, this perfect lassitude is the most heavenly thing I have ever known,” until his bubbles of relaxation reach such a pitch that he cannot sit still another minute, and is forced to walk about and pat the roses on their heads. Quiet is much more noticeable than noise. Sound deadens nerves until they cease consciously to register the hurly-burly; but quiet, even if forgotten, presents itself afresh every time a cricket chirps. Every lark draws glaring attention to the silence it broke into, and its notes seem to ripple away on the quiet like widening circles on the water, so that it is the disturbed quiet one realizes, not the sound dropped in. Every breath drawn says, “It is so quiet, it is so quiet.” One’s pulses beat to the absolute, heavy silence. Perhaps heaviness is the very word wanted. Quiet sits on one’s eyelids and weighs on one’s hands, and the burden of it is so narcotically noticeable that one staggers about drunken and demoralized until, when one is unable to bear the crushing weight any longer, a noisy game of tennis is played, and a little rest in this way secured.

26 August 2023