The Failure to Prize the Chance

The failure to prize the chance to spend time in a cosmopolitan city highly enough to refrain from giving it up in favor of an upstart one-horse town. Friends whispered into his metropolitan ear: "You'll be a fool if you don't set off at once for this backwater. Each and every inhabitant of this clod-and-furrow municipality (well furnished with nice places to go for a stroll) is awaiting your immediate arrival, the thought of which fills them with genuine pleasure." "Are you telling me this would be an opportune moment to swap metropolis for hamlet?" asked the problematic character. "Yes," they replied in chorus, whereupon he prepared himself for the journey with an alacrity utterly in keeping with his rural longings. With incomparable uprightness he resolved to become an honest cobbler or farmer. All at once he struck himself as so problematic as to be in every respect in need of repair, and while he sat in the railway carriage he thought of the beauty that lies in solidity and the solidness of beauty. His friends had doltishly sent telegraphic inquiries to the charmingly situated hamlet as to whether the moment was opportune for the arrival of their protégé, and the representatives of respectability had wired back with surprising speed: "Why, of course!" Privately, however, they were saying: "We'll show him a thing or two." Might he in fact have made a miscalculation concerning the character of this small town? Meadows, fields, trees, houses, the town gates, streets and street urchins -- as all these neatly enumerated objectivities watched him ingenuously, trustingly approach -- smiled. Straightaway they were seized by the far from pleasant feeling: "He is impertinent, and why? Because he has faith in our uprightness. And for what reason is his trust in us clodhoppers so boundless? Because he doesn't take us terribly seriously. He assumes we are simpletons one and all. Shall we demonstrate to this shiny, spiritual, well-travelled fellow that he has misjudged us? Yes -- that's what we'll do." After they had reached an agreement on this score, they asked him: "Do you consider this an opportune moment to join forces with us?" "Yes," he replied. Hearing this guileless, incautious reply, they started laughing and said: "In that case, you would appear always to have taken us quite seriously. It turns out that you have posed yourself all sorts of questions on our account. To convince you of our fickleness, that is, of the fact that we are not entirely without intelligence, we declare to you that you have made on us the impression that you don't deserve that this moment might be opportune for you to endear yourself to us. You turned up here -- because you were waiting with the utmost caution for a sign of our favor -- at the most inopportune possible moment, and so we are informing you that we hold you, on account of your upright longing to become our esteemed fellow citizen, in contempt. We thought you were strong, and now you stand as a weakling before our eyes, which mock you." And in fact this is just how matters stood. I hope that many a deracinated soul will take a lesson from this essay and acknowledge that putting down roots is not so easily done. Besides which, people the least bit considerate of the need to preserve the orderliness of things are more likely to court disfavor than favor.

-- Robert Walser, Microscripts (New Directions Publishing and the Christine Burgin Gallery, 2010), 95-96.

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