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Days Off
by [?]

“I suppose that was one way of seeing Venice: but I would much rather sit at a little table on the Riva degli Schiavoni, with a plate of bread and cheese and a mezzo of Chianti before me, watching the motley crowd in the street and the many-coloured sails in the harbour; or spend a lazy afternoon in a gondola, floating through watery alley-ways that lead nowhere, and under the facades of beautiful palaces whose names I did not even care to know. Of course I should like to see a fine picture or a noble church, now and then; but only one at a time, if you please; and that one I should wish to look at as long as it said anything to me, and to revisit as often as it called me.”

“That is because you have no idea of the educational uses of a vacation, Uncle Peter,” said I. “You are an unsystematic person, an incorrigible idler.”

“I am,” he answered, without a sign of penitence, “that is precisely what I am,–in my days off. Otherwise I should not get the good of them. Even a hobby, on such days, is to be used chiefly for its lateral advantages,–the open doors of the sideshows to which it brings you, the unexpected opportunities of dismounting and tying your hobby to a tree, while you follow the trail of something strange and attractive, as Moses did when he turned aside from his shepherding on Mount Horeb and climbed up among the rocks to see the burning bush.

“The value of a favourite pursuit lies not only in its calculated results but also in its by-products. You may become a collector of almost anything in the world,–orchids, postage-stamps, flint arrowheads, cook-books, varieties of the game of cat’s cradle,–and if you chase your trifle in the right spirit it will lead you into pleasant surprises and bring you acquainted with delightful or amusing people. You remember when you went with Professor Rinascimento on a Della Robbia hunt among the hill towns of Italy, and how you came by accident into that deep green valley where there are more nightingales with sweeter voices than anywhere else on earth? Your best trouvaille on that expedition was hidden in those undreamed-of nights of moonlight and music. And it was when you were chasing first editions of Tennyson, was it not, that you discovered your little head of a marble faun, which you vow is by Donatello, or one of his pupils? And what was it that you told me about the rare friend you found when you took a couple of days off in an ancient French town, on a flying journey from Rome to London? Believe me, dear boy, all that we win by effort and intention is sometimes overtopped by a gift that is conferred upon us out of a secret and mysterious generosity. Wordsworth was right:

“‘Think you, ‘mid all this mighty sum
Of things forever speaking,
That nothing of itself will come,
But we must still be seeking?'”

“You talk,” said I, “as if you thought it was a man’s duty to be happy.”

“I do,” he answered firmly, “that is precisely and definitely what I think. It is not his chief duty, nor his only duty, nor his duty all the time. But the normal man is not intended to go through this world without learning what happiness means. If he does so he misses something that he needs to complete his nature and perfect his experience. ‘Tis a poor, frail plant that can not endure the wind and the rain and the winter’s cold. But is it a good plant that will not respond to the quickening touch of spring and send out its sweet odours in the embracing warmth of the summer night? Suppose that you had made a house for a child, and given him a corner of the garden to keep, and set him lessons and tasks, and provided him with teachers and masters. Would you be satisfied with that child, however diligent and obedient, if you found that he was never happy, never enjoyed a holiday, never said to himself and to you, ‘What a good place this is, and how glad I am to live here’?”