THE HURRY OF MODERN LIFE.
THE description which Mr. Greg, in his lecture of Friday se'nnight before the Royal Society, gave of the hurry of modern life is very true and very good, but we fail entirely to see the force of the remedy he suggests. He says, and says justly, that the desire for speed merely as speed is becoming too powerful afactor in modern life; our trains are too swift for human spines, and our anxiety to be in time for them destroys the nerves ; our Atlantic steamers are driven through fogs which one day's additional southing would avoid, and our risks in the business of daily life are multiplified purely to save hours, till anxiety has a direct and softening influence on the brain. Leisure is surrendered until we have no time either to plan or to reflect, to think either what our lives are or what we want them to be, and until the poison of continued excitement enfeebles the subtle organisation of the mind. Life becomes a mere journey in an express train, a journey pursued by all men, and by most men with the single object of accumulating riches quickly. So severe are now the exactions life on all except those who labour with the hands, that the pursuit of " practice " must now be unrelaxing, and when the pro- fessional road to success is open it must be travelled to exhaustion. " The barrister must make hay while the sun shines, because for him it generally shines so late, and his career is so often- divided
into two unequal portions,—waiting wearily for work, and groan- ing and sinking under its excess. The physician cannot in middle- life refuse or select among the crowding patients whom he has looked and longed for through the years of his youth, while the statesman or the member of Parliament in office has constantly to undergo a degree of prolonged pressure which it is astonishing that so many can endure. ' There is little reason, in my opinion,' says Macaulay, to envy a pursuit in which the most its devotees can expect is that by relinquishing liberal studies and social comfort, by passing nights without sleep, and summers without one glimpse of the beauties of nature, they may attain that laborious, that in- vidious, that closely-watched slavery which is mocked by the name of power." The man who desires to avoid being crushed by the immense demands of the labouring class for wages or by the lavishness of the opulent is compelled to accumulate much, and to accumulate it fast, till life becomes a headlong race, a scene of toil under which the working section of head-workers, the best middle-class, may, as Mr. Greg fears, disappear altogether. They may be worked out by the strain of getting, the fatigue of spend- ing, and the burden of that " society " which ought to be the greatest alleviation of intellectual toil, and is only too frequently an aggravation.
All that is very true and very wise, even in its occasional exaggeration—Mr. Greg putting the great law of the survival of the fittest a little too completely out of sight—and frequently as some of it has been said, it cannot be repeated too often. The pace of life is too fast-for all but the picked men, and they lose half its attainable enjoyments. It is not only that they forfeit leisure—that is, the power of making the best of themselves— but they forfeit the capacity of enjoying leisure when they have secured it. The pace has accustomed them to pace till steady advance seems a jog-trot, and standing still or walking to enjoy the prospect a spendthrift waste of time. They have lost in habitual tumultuousness and effort the supreme capacity of being serene. We not only do not follow, but we cannot even under- stand those wise ancients to whom the word signified at once that which is placid and that which is celestial, and fail entirely to recognise that in serenity is the charm in which the unprogressive, stupid, "bovine" classes of the world, and more especially of Great Britain, find the compensation for half the sorrows of their lot. We have not only substituted, as everybody says, wealth for happi- ness, but enjoyment for serenity, and in losing the latter have lost also unconsciously the main element of the former. To regain for modem man the power of being serene would be to double his faculties and remove half his burdens, but we doubt if Mr. Greg's advice will help us much to regain it. He seems to think that if the rich and highly placed would but lead simpler lives, would make society less costly, and establishments less ruinous, the effort to vie with them would diminish, and the pace of life would be perceptibly diminished. We doubt it greatly, at least as far as the professional classes and smaller merchants are concerned, and' it is to them, as the hardest head-workers and most anxious of all men, that we understand Mr. Greg to address himself first of all. Their energies are whipped to unhealthy speed, not, we take it, to obtain the means of vying with the really rich, which they know they cannot do, but to obtain for themselves and their children the security without which life must always be so anxious. Education, the habit of the time, perhaps some gradual loss of robust nerve, have all combined to inspire cultivated men with too great an anxiety for the pecuniary future. It is not in any new wish for much in- come; but in the new wish that income should be " solid," that their temptation consists. It is not to make yearly gains, but to accumulate capital the interest of which shall supply an income equal to their expenditure out of those gains, that the men whom Mr. Greg so vigorously describes are sacrificing life to speed, postponing leisure too long, and standing continually in the road of youth. It is not desire, but fear, which haunts them, and a new simplicity among the rich would not exorcise this fear from their minds. They would only the more passionately desire the security which, if all were living much alike, would then be the most dis- tinctive and the sweetest prerogative of the rich, a prerogative not diminished, but increased by the new thriftiness of their lives. We say nothing of the certainty that the advice will be rejected, of the futility of asking the wealthy to give up the primary data of .> expenditure, the double life in country and town—by far the most delightful of all the circumstances which attend wealth—the ex- ' emption from petty cares involved in moderate waste, the exclu- siveness which prevents society from becoming oppressive and secures its easy intimacies, and the privilege of leisurely and easy travel, and say that if they surrendered them all nothing would accrue
to the middle-class except an increased possibility of living like the rich, and an increased desire for the security which can make such life continuous. Grant that a large life in the social sense can be led without great houses, many horses, heavy establishments, and frequent change of residence, and we do but make the leading it securely a more attractive because a more attainable object of desire. The speed would be as great as ever, though the object of the speed might be security, and not ostentation. That is just as engrossing, as all who know English life as Mr. Greg knows it will confess. It is not be who is ignorant that there are thousands of lives led among us by men who have sacrificed all that makes life enjoyable in order to accumulate for security, who scarcely observe what the great ones do, who condemn ostentation and resent expenditure as sinful, who lead lives of utter simplicity as well as of utter dullness, and who have been as worn by the pace they have travelled as the most ambitious among us all. Their goal has allured them like that of others, though their goal has not glittered in the sun. The thirst for competence draws men in this country like the thirst for wealth, and makes the pace quick, even when the runners know what their mark is, and do not set it too far off. Of course they might abandon a goal altogether, but Mr. Greg knows as well as any one that it is useless to cry for the moon, that national character is the first datum of social argument, that an Englishman cannot be an Italian, and that if he ceased to strive forward for some end he would speedily degenerate into a mere animal.
We doubt very greatly whether any rearrangement of habits possible in this country would much alter the tone of life, whether speed is not sought on short journeys as well as long, whether anything, in fact, will alter Englishmen's ways except a discipline of their minds. Leave all the causes for hurry, but diminish the wish for hurry, and half the burden that presses drops from the neck at once. It is not to the self-denial of the few, but to the self-culture of the many that we look for the remedy of an evil which is at last beginning to be recognised, and once fully recognised, can be avoided. The terrible hurry of life can be mitigated most easily by a determination not to be hurried, by a conviction that the dangers of overwork in middle-life are as great as the dangers of idleness, by a resolve to face pecuniary risk as bravely and quietly as any other. There are men in the world who do these things now, and as knowledge extends, there will be more men who regard life with something of the scientific spirit, and are not carried away by the aimless swirls of the rushing current. Freedom has come to society, and with freedom is coming the nerve which it usually develops. A trace, be it of Christianity, or of philosophic stoicism, or only of faint intellectual scorn for pretences, will do more to extinguish hurry, in Mr. Greg's sense of hurry, than any amount of simplicity in the lives of the very rich. The very poor have that stoicism in a comic and externally an objectionable form. The agricultural labourers of the Eastern Counties entertain, we are told, among their many curious traditional ideas, a prejudice in favour of their own slow, slouching gait. When any one of them gives it up, and shows a disposition to run or to walk at the pace and in the way usual in cities, he is solemnly cautioned by the more experienced elders, who remark in his hearing, but through the politer form of an observation to the world at large, " Ah, he'll wear hisself out, Peter will. He take too many steps in a day. At fefty there'll be nothin' of him, nothin." A rebuke of that kind, embodying the hereditary village wisdom of which only labourers and George Eliot are the depositaries, rarely fails of its effect, and a similar, though less quaint form of advice is spreading fast among the cultivated. We see it in the passion for holidays, in the increasing habit of seeking secluded places for outings, in the gravity with which women begin to regard the symptoms of overwork in the men belonging to them. The new generation has caught the idea perhaps too eagerly, and we look to see in a few years a distinct decline in the speed of life, though, no doubt, the pace will remain fastest at the wrong end. It is in the cultivation of this feeling, cultivation in a sensible, and as it were scientific way, and not in any alteration in the habits of the upper classes, that we see grounds for hope. A dread and dislike of hurry can be spread among the cultivated as well as among labourers, and spread as part of mental educa- tion, and it will be spread all the sooner that men like Mr. Greg, who know what work is, are calling attention to the necessity. When men dread a break-down as they dread typhoid, mental sanitation will be cultivated as carefully as drainage, till by degrees the man who quickens the race will be hardly less repro- bated by opinion than the man who in a populous neighbourhood Greg's sense are irreconcilable foes.