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    Loafing

    by Kenneth Grahame
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    When the golden Summer has rounded languidly to his close, when Autumn
    has been carried forth in russet winding-sheet, then all good fellows
    who look upon holidays as a chief end of life return from moor and
    stream and begin to take stock of gains and losses. And the wisest,
    realising that the time of action is over while that of reminiscence
    has begun, realise too that the one is pregnant with greater pleasures
    than the other -- that action, indeed, is only the means to an end of
    reflection and appreciation. Wisest of all, the Loafer stands apart
    supreme. For he, of one mind with the philosopher as to the end, goes
    straight to it at once; and his happy summer has accordingly been
    spent in those subjective pleasures of the mind whereof the others,
    the men of muscle and peeled faces, are only just beginning to taste.

    And yet though he may a little despise (or rather pity) them, the
    Loafer does not dislike nor altogether shun them. Far from it: they
    are very necessary to him. For ''Suave mari magno'' is the motto of
    your true Loafer; and it is chiefly by keeping ever in view the
    struggles and the clamorous jostlings of the unenlightened making
    holiday that he is able to realise the bliss of his own condition and
    maintain his self-satisfaction at boiling-point. And so is he never
    very far away from the track beaten by the hurrying Philistine hoof,
    but hovers more or less on the edge of it, where, the sole fixed star
    amidst whirling constellations, he may watch the mad world ''glance,
    and nod, and hurry by.''

    There are many such centres of contemplation along the West Coast of
    Scotland. Few places are better loafing-ground than a pier, with its
    tranquil ''lucid interval'' between steamers, the ever recurrent throb
    of paddle-wheel, the rush and foam of beaten water among the piles,
    splash of ropes and rumble of gangways, and all the attendant hurry
    and scurry of the human morrice. Here, tanquam in speculo, the Loafer
    as he lounges may, by attorney as it were, touch gently every stop in
    the great organ of the emotions of mortality. Rapture of meeting,
    departing woe, love at first sight, disdain, laughter, indifference --
    he may experience them all, but attenuated and as if he saw them in a
    dream; as if, indeed, he were Heine's god in dream on a mountain-side.
    Let the drowsy deity awake and all these puppets, emanations of his
    dream, will vanish into the nothing whence they came. And these
    emotions may be renewed each morning; if a fair one sail to-day, be
    sure that one as fair will land to-morrow. The supply is
    inexhaustible.

    But in the South perhaps the happiest loafing-ground is the gift of
    Father Thames; for there again the contrast of violent action, with
    its blisters, perspiration, and the like, throws into fine relief the
    bliss of ''quietism.'' I know one little village in the upper reaches
    where loafing may be pushed to high perfection. Here the early hours
    of the morning are vexed by the voices of boaters making their way
    down the little street to the river. The most of them go staggering
    under hampers, bundles of waterproofs, and so forth. Their voices are
    clamant of feats to be accomplished: they will row, they will punt,
    they will paddle, till they weary out the sun. All this the Loafer
    hears through the open door of his cottage, where in his shirt-sleeves
    he is dallying with his bacon, as a gentleman should. He is the only
    one who has had a comfortable breakfast -- and he knows it. Later he
    will issue forth and stroll down in their track to the bridge. The
    last of these Argonauts is pulling lustily forth; the river is dotted
    with evanishing blazers. Upon all these lunatics a pitiless Phoebus
    shines triumphant. The Loafer sees the last of them off the stage,
    turns his back on it, and seeks the shady side of the street.

    A holy calm possesses the village now; the foreign element has passed
    away with shouting and waving of banners, and its natural life of
    somnolency is in evidence at last. And first, as a true Loafer should,
    let him respectfully greet each several village dog. Arcades ambo --
    loafers likewise -- they lie there in the warm dust, each outside his
    own door, ready to return the smallest courtesy. Their own lords and
    masters are not given to the exchange of compliments nor to greetings
    in the market-place. The dog is generally the better gentleman, and he
    is aware of it; and he duly appreciates the loafer, who is not too
    proud to pause a moment, change the news, and pass the time of day. He
    will mark his sense of this attention by rising from his dust-divan
    and accompanying his caller some steps on his way. But he will stop
    short of his neighbour's dust-patch; for the morning is really too hot
    for a shindy. So, by easy stages (the street is not a long one: six
    dogs will see it out), the Loafer quits the village; and now the world
    is before him. Shall he sit on a gate and smoke? or lie on the grass
    and smoke? or smoke aimlessly and at large along the road? Such a
    choice of happiness is distracting; but perhaps the last course is the
    best -- as needing the least mental effort of selection. Hardly,
    however, has he fairly started his first daydream when the snappish
    ''ting'' of a bellkin recalls him to realities. By comes the
    bicyclist: dusty, sweating, a piteous thing to look upon. But the
    irritation of the strepitant metal has jarred the Loafer's always
    exquisite nerves: he is fain to climb a gate and make his way towards
    solitude and the breezy downs.

    Up here all vestiges of a sordid humanity disappear. The Loafer is
    alone with the south-west wind and the blue sky. Only a carolling of
    larks and a tinkling from distant flocks break the brooding noonday
    stillness; above, the wind-hover hangs motionless, a black dot on the
    blue. Prone on his back on the springy turf, gazing up into the sky,
    his fleshy integument seems to drop away, and the spirit ranges at
    will among the tranquil clouds. This way Nirvana nearest lies. Earth
    no longer obtrudes herself; possibly somewhere a thousand miles or so
    below him the thing still ''spins like a fretful midge.'' The Loafer
    knows not nor cares. His is now an astral body, and through golden
    spaces of imagination his soul is winging her untrammelled flight. And
    there he really might remain for ever, but that his vagrom spirit is
    called back to earth by a gentle but resistless, very human summons,
    -- a gradual, consuming, Pantagruelian, god-like, thirst: a thirst to
    thank Heaven on. So, with a sigh half of regret, half of anticipation,
    he bends his solitary steps towards the nearest inn. Tobacco for one
    is good; to commune with oneself and be still is truest wisdom; but
    beer is a thing of deity -- beer is divine.

    Later the Loafer may decently make some concession to popular taste by
    strolling down to the river and getting out his boat. With one paddle
    out he will drift down the stream: just brushing the flowering rush
    and the meadow-sweet and taking in as peculiar gifts the varied sweets
    of even. The loosestrife is his, and the arrow-head: his the distant
    moan of the weir; his are the glories, amber and scarlet and silver,
    of the sunset-haunted surface. By-and-by the boaters will pass him
    homeward-bound. All are blistered and sore: his withers are unwrung.
    Most are too tired and hungry to see the sunset glories; no corporeal
    pangs clog his æsthesis -- his perceptive faculty. Some have
    quarrelled in the day and are no longer on speaking terms; he is at
    peace with himself and with the whole world. Of all that lay them down
    in the little village that night, his sleep will be the surest and the
    sweetest. For not even the blacksmith himself will have better claim
    to have earned a night's repose.
    If you're writing a Loafing essay and need some advice, post your Kenneth Grahame essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

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