"On being Content"


“He could not quite remember how old he was, my neighbour of the long white beard, who inhabited one of the pleasant houses looking out on the long village street.

 He though he was seventy-eight, but his cheerful daughter corrected him.  “No father” said she “you are eighty-six and soon going to be eighty-seven.”   “Ay ay” he said “it is so.”  We relapsed into silence for a moment and the daughter, who was cooking some eminently delicious scones on a girdle offered to go.  But I would not consent to this.  It is not every day that one can sit in a small cosy kitchen and watch a spectacle so pleasing, the rounded flour cake becoming by degrees almost imperceptible tinged with a faint brown, when it was quietly taken off, and another put in its place.

“What was the house like in which you were brought up?”  I asked.  “It was in Scotland, in one of the Highland counties, a two-roomed farm-house,”  he replied “and the beds were box beds, entirely closed in the day, entered by a door through which the air came, at night.  The mattresses were filled with chaff.”  But the conditions of the eighteen-fifties were so entirely different from those of to-day that the old man was simply incapable of describing them.  “And yet,” he said “no one thought of them as hardship”.

We talked of Sir Walter Scott whose poetry he liked, but he was quick to add that Robert Burns was the real idol of the peasantry of Scotland.

It was now time for me to leave my venerable friend, and as I walked home I pondered over his words “and yet no one thought of them, (the austere conditions of the old man’s youth) as hardships, for we knew of nothing better,” and it was in the mind that we are thus and thus.  The real truth is that we may be content with very little and that too much simply distracts.  (Could this be Thomas Wylie Mr Beresford was talking to?)

Let me tell you, scholar, that Diogenes walked on a day with his friend to see a country fair, where he saw ribbons and looking-glasses and nutcrackers and fiddles, and hobby horses, and many other gimcracks, and having observed them, and all the other finnimbrans that make a complete country fair he said to his friend, “Lord, how many things are there in this world, of which Diogenes hath no need.”

But there is one very important though it may not be essential element in being content, which even Diogenes found necessary, I mean, books or their equivalent.  My old friend had mentioned Scott and Burns, and I do not doubt that his faculty of reading by the fireside, now that he can no longer stride forth into the fields helps to maintain his tranquillity of mind.


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