Discontent, they say, is divine; I am quite sure anyway that discontent is human.
The monkey was the first morose animal, for I have never seen a truly sad face in
animals except in the chimpanzee.
And I have often thought such a one a philosopher, because sadness and thoughtfulness are so akin. There is something in such a face which tells me that he is thinking. Cows don't seem to think, at least they don't seem to philosophize, because they look always so contented, and while elephants may store up a terrific anger, the eternal swinging of their trunks seems to take the place of thinking and banish all brooding discontent. Only a monkey can look thoroughly bored with life. Great indeed is the monkey !
Perhaps after all philosophy began with the sense of boredom. Anyway it is characteristic of humans to have a sad, vague and wistful longing for an ideal. Living in a real world, man has yet the capacity and tendency to dream of another world. Probably the difference between man and the monkeys is that the monkeys are merely bored, while man has boredom plus imagination. All of us have the desire to get out of an old rut, and all of us wish to be something else, and all of us dream. The private dreams of being a corporal, the corporal dreams of being a captain, and the captain dreams of being a major or colonel. A colonel, if he is worth his salt, thinks nothing of being a colonel. In more graceful phraseology, he calls it merely an opportunity to serve his fellow men. And really there is very little else to it. The plain fact is, Joan Crawford thinks less of Joan Crawford and Janet Gaynor thinks less of Janet Gaynor than the world thinks of them. " Aren't you remarkable ?" the world says to all the great, and the great, if they are truly great, always reply, "What is remarkable ?" The world is therefore pretty much like an a. la carte restaurant where everybody thinks the food the next table has ordered is so much more inviting and delicious than his own. A contemporary Chinese professor has made the witticism that in the matter of desirability, "Wives are always better if they are others', while writing is always better if it is one's own. " In this sense, therefore, there is no one completely satisfied in this world. Everyone wants to be somebody so long as that somebody is not himself.
This human trait is undoubtedly due to our power of imagination and our capacity for dreaming. The greater the imaginative power of a man, the more perpetually he is dissatisfied. That is why an imaginative child is always a more difficult child; he is more often sad and morose like a monkey, than happy and contented like a cow. Also divorce must necessarily be more common among the idealists and the more imaginative people than among the unimaginative. The vision of a desirable ideal life companion has an irresistible force which the less imaginative and less idealistic never feel. On the whole, humanity is as much led astray as led upwards by this capacity for idealism, but human progress without this imaginative gift is itself unthinkable.
Man, we are told, has aspirations. They are very laudable things to have, for aspirations are generally classified as noble. And why not? Whether as individuals or as nations, we all dream and act more or less in accordance with our dreams. Some dream a little more than others, as there is a child in every family who dreams more and perhaps one who dreams less. And I must confess to a secret partiality for the one who dreams. Generally he is the sadder one, but no matter; he is also capable of greater joys and thrills and heights of ecstasy. For I think we are constituted like a receiving set for ideas, as radio sets are equipped for receiving music from the air. Some sets with a finer response pick up the finer short waves which are lost to the other sets, and why, of course, that finer, more distant music is all the more precious if only because it is less easily perceivable.
And those dreams of our childhood, they are not so unreal as we might think. Somehow they stay with us throughout our life. That is why, if I had my choice of being any one author in the world, I would be Hans Christian Andersen rather than anybody else. To write the story of The Mermaid, or to be the Mermaid ourselves, thinking the Mermaid's thoughts and aspiring to be old enough to come up to the surface of the water, is to have felt one of the keenest and most beautiful delights that humanity is capable of.
And so, out in an alley, up in an attic, or down in the barn or lying along the waterside,a child always dreams, and the dreams are real. So Thomas Edison dreamed. So Robert Louis Stevenson dreamed. So Sir Walter Scott dreamed. All three dreamed in their childhood. And out of the stuff of such magic dreams are woven some of the finest and most beautiful fabrics we have ever seen. But these dreams are also partaken of by lesser children. The delights they get are as great, if the visions or contents of their dreams are different. Every child has a soul which yearns, and carries a longing on his lap and goes to sleep with it, hoping to find his dream come true when he wakes up with the mom. He tells no one of these dreams, for these dreams are his own, and for that reason they are a part of his innermost growing self. Some of these children's dreams are clearer than others, and they have a force which compel their own realization; on the other hand, with growing age, those less clear dreams are forgotten, and we all live through life trying to tell those dreams of our childhood, and "sometimes we die ere we find the language. "
And so with nations, too. Nations have their dreams and the memories of such dreams persist through generations and centuries. Some of these are noble dreams, and others wicked and ignoble. The dreams of conquest and of being bigger and stronger than all the others are always bad dreams, and such nations always have more to worry about than others who have more peaceful dreams. But there are other and better dreams, dreams of a better world, dreams of peace and of nations living at peace with one another, and dreams of less cruelty, injustice, and poverty and suffering. The bad dreams tend to destroy the good dreams of humanity, and there is a struggle and a fight between these good and bad dreams. People fight for their dreams as much as they fight for their earthly possessions. And so dreams descend from the world of idle visions and enter the world of reality, and become a real force in our life. However vague they are, dreams have a way of concealing themselves and leave us no peace until they are translated into reality, like seeds germinating under ground, sure to sprout in their search for the sunlight. Dreams are very real things.
There is also a danger of our having confused dreams and dreams that do not correspond to reality. For dreams are escapes also, and a dreamer often dreams to escape from the present world, hardly knowing where. The Blue Bird always attracts the romanticist's fancy. There is such a human desire to be different from what we are, to get out of the present ruts, that anything which offers a change always has a tremendous appeal to average humanity. A war is always attractive because it offers a city clerk the chance of donning a uniform and wearing puttees and a chance for travel gratis, while an armistice or peace is always desirable after three or four years in the trenches because it offers the soldier a chance to come back home and wear civilian dress and a scarlet necktie once more. Some such excitement humanity evidently needs, and if war is to be avoided, governments may just as well recruit people between twenty and forty-five under a conscript system and send them on European tours to see some exposition or other, once every ten years. The British Government is spending five billion pounds on its Rearmament Program, a sum sufficient to send every Englishman on a trip to the Riviera. The argument is, of course, that expenditures on war are a necessity while travel is a luxury. I feel inclined to disagree: travel is a necessity, while war is a luxury.
There are other dreams too. Dreams of Utopia and dreams of immortality. The dream of immortality is entirely human note its universality although it is vague like the rest, and few people know what they are going to do when they find eternity hanging on their hands. After all, the desire for immortality is very much akin to the psychology of suicide, its exact opposite. Both presume that the present world is not good enough for us. Why is the present world not good enough for us? We should be more surprised at the question than at any answer to the question if we were out on a visit to the country on a spring day.
And so with dreams of Utopia also. Idealism is merely that state of mind which believes in another world order, no matter what kind of an order, so long as it is different from the present one. The idealistic liberal is always one who thinks his own country the worst possible country and the society in which he lives the worst of all possible forms of society. He is still the fellow in the a la carte restaurant who believes that the next table's order of dishes is better than his