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Be What You Are, Vulgar Little Man
On spending some time in the garden
Having little else to do, I have spent the last few days rolling around in muck in the garden, and have come to the conclusion that it is a better use of my time than reading.
I am extremely comfortable in the muck, perhaps more than my liberal education and reputation as a man of letters should permit. My theory is that it awakens some sort of ancestral memory. In truth, my family only stopped rolling around in the muck a few hundred years ago, which is not nearly long enough to get it out of the blood.
My parents raised me to do better things than to roll about in the garden, yet I am inexplicably drawn to it. I had such a good time that, while I was down there, I decided to plant a few flowers, hollow out the earth to create a wood-chip path, and trim the grass with some kitchen scissors. The pleasure this brought me was as great as that which I have only pretended to experience while reading Paradise Lost.
It is fashionable now to live, or to pretend to live, as one imagined one’s ancestors did. This is a positive development, but it requires recognising one’s place in the world. The trouble with most people is that they hold great delusions about where they come from. A recent trend is to follow the Ancestral Diet, which consists principally of tripe and egg, and which makes the flattering assumption that one is descended from warriors. This, however, is impossible: The warrior class was bred out a long time ago, their gene pool being entirely destroyed during the Enlightenment. This is because they were unable to do their accounts.
Despite their pretensions to the contrary, the lineage of these supposed warriors is more likely to resemble mine. And no ancestor of mine lived on milk, beef and eggs. First they lived on grain, and then around the 18th century they got exceptionally lucky and started living on goose meat and wine. In both cases they suffered health complications and died at age thirty-five.
I am no good at cultivating the land, but neither am I any good at performing my duties as a minor civil servant. Gardening, at least, gives me some pleasure. The tragedy of the vulgar middle class child is that he has been taught that he was meant to enjoy office work, accounting, or academia more than he enjoys swilling around in a bog. Our blood cries out against it, and every attempt to educate us only alienates us further from ourselves. We are not the progeny of great thinkers, aristocrats or Kings, but the children of Peasants who fell into money.
O, what pity is it That he had not so trimmed and dressed his land As we this garden! We at time of year Do wound the bark, the skin of our fruit trees, Lest, being overproud in sap and blood, With too much riches it confound itself. Had he done so to great and growing men, They might have lived to bear and he to taste Their fruits of duty.