Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Middle of the Road

The following is a quote from my common-place book from 1996. I still like it.

[He] was the true incarnation of the obvious and natural young man, and it was far better to be exactly like that, to walk and skip down the very middle of the road, than peer and sidle away into the shadowed margin....Wasn't it rather this host of perfectly normal people, who had by their sheer weight kept back all chance of enlightenment? There they all marched along in the middle of the road, singing "Onward, Christian Soldiers" without any notion of what Christianity or fighting meant, except that you were kind and bluff and hearty and taught the village boys to resist the temptations to which you had yourself succumbed. But anyone who imagined that there were strange little-known districts in the hinterland of the human spirit, who ventured on the dubious and secluded places, was to them an object of slightly contemptuous pity. They were quite certain of themselves: they knew that there were no shy wild beasts which lived in the forests, just as they knew that there were no unicorns....

E. F. Benson, The Inheritor, page 56-57


Hilarius said...

I'm not familiar with this work - but interesting quote!

Does the author in the end suggest that we should despise the middle of the road sort for not investigating the dark forests of the soul, or?

John said...

E. F. Benson was an early 20th-C English author. He was a contemporary of E. M. Forster, and was in many ways a similar type writer. I suppose his best known work remains the "Mapp and Lucia" series. This selection from "The Inheritor," references a particular subtext to that novel, but I believe the passage has a wider application as well.

I'm not sure Benson is saying that we should despise the middle of the road. Rather, he seems to be observing the crush of humanity who with absolute certainty trudges hurriedly down the path, with never a lingering thought to, or acknowledgment of those "shadowed margins" and the "shy wild beasts" residing there in the "dark forests of the soul."

This imagery resonates with me, and I see all sorts of applications to what passes for popular culture and popular religion.

One of my favorite quotes from Benson comes from the same book, where he described a gathering of Oxford professors, thusly: "like aged lambs in well-nibbled pastures."