With many men the question of life’s worth is answered
by a temperamental optimism that makes them incapable of
believing that anything seriously evil can exist. Our dear old
Walt Whitman’s works are the standing text-book of this
kind of optimism: the mere joy of living is so immense in
Walt Whitman’s veins that it abolishes the possibility of any
other kind of feeling.
” To breathe the air, how delicious!
To speak, to walk, to seize something by the hand!
To be this incredible God I am! . . .
o amazement of things, even the least particle!
o spirituality of things !. . .
I too carol the Sun, or at noon, or as now setting,
I, too, throb to the brain and beauty of the earth, and of all the growths of the
I sing the equalities, modern or old;
I sing the endless finales of things;
I say Nature continues-Glory continues;
I praise with electric voice;
For I do not see one imperfection in the Universe,
And I do not see one cause or result lamentable at last.”
So Rousseau, writing of the nine years he spent at Annecy,
with nothing but his happiness to tell:
” How tell what was neither said nor done nor even thought, but tasted only
and felt, with no object of my felicity but the emotion of felicity itself. I rose
with the sun and I was happy; I went to walk and I was happy; I saw ‘ Maman’
and I was happy; I left her and I was happy. I rambled through the woods and
over the vine-slopes, I wandered in the valleys, I read, I lounged, I worked in
the garden, I gathered the fruits, I helped at the indoor work, and happiness
followed me everywhere: it was in no one assignable thing; it was all within
myself; it could not leave me for a single instant.”
If moods like this could be made permanent and constitutions
like these universal, there would never be any occasion
for such discourses as the present one. No philosopher would
seek to prove articulately that life is worth living, for the fact
that it absolutely is so would vouch for itself, and the problem
disappear in the vanishing of the question rather than in the
coming of anything like a reply. But we are not magicians.
IS LIFE WORTH LIVING?