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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Search for Happiness
By Walter Bagehot (1826–1877)
 
From ‘William Cowper’

IF there be any truly painful fact about the world now tolerably well established by ample experience and ample records, it is that an intellectual and indolent happiness is wholly denied to the children of men. That most valuable author, Lucretius, who has supplied us and others with an almost inexhaustible supply of metaphors on this topic, ever dwells on the life of his gods with a sad and melancholy feeling that no such life was possible on a crude and cumbersome earth. In general, the two opposing agencies are marriage and lack of money; either of these breaks the lot of literary and refined inaction at once and forever. The first of these, as we have seen, Cowper had escaped; his reserved and negligent reveries were still free, at least from the invasion of affection. To this invasion, indeed, there is commonly requisite the acquiescence or connivance of mortality; but all men are born—not free and equal, as the Americans maintain, but, in the Old World at least—basely subjected to the yoke of coin. It is in vain that in this hemisphere we endeavor after impecuniary fancies. In bold and eager youth we go out on our travels: we visit Baalbec and Paphos and Tadmor and Cythera,—ancient shrines and ancient empires, seats of eager love or gentle inspiration; we wander far and long; we have nothing to do with our fellow-men,—what are we, indeed, to diggers and counters? we wander far, we dream to wander forever—but we dream in vain. A surer force than the subtlest fascination of fancy is in operation; the purse-strings tie us to our kind. Our travel coin runs low, and we must return, away from Tadmor and Baalbec, back to our steady, tedious industry and dull work, to “la vieille Europe” (as Napoleon said), “qui m’ennuie.” It is the same in thought: in vain we seclude ourselves in elegant chambers, in fascinating fancies, in refined reflections.  1
 
 
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