Souls yearn

A November 2004 photo of a bedroom at Colonial Williamsburg

A November 2004 photo of a bedroom at Colonial Williamsburg.
Was life really simpler for our ancestors?

“When the fever-stricken patient is undermined with heat and craving with thirst, he dreams in his dozing of a fresh brook where he might bathe or a clear spring where he might drink in long drafts.  In the same way, in the complex agitation of modern existence, our wearied souls yearn for simplicity.” Charles Wagner

The most remarkable thing about today’s quote is that it was written in May 1895, as part of the author’s preface to his book A Simple Life which is now available for free downloads at Project Gutenberg. I found the quote in one of the original editions of the book, a lovely antique (published in 1905) which was a gift  from my Aunt Peggy, to whom it belonged for many years.

I have to wonder what could have been complex about life before electricity, telephones or automobiles were widely available, not to mention smart phones, iPads, DVRs or other trappings of our times.  Yet the term “complex agitation” was applied to life over 100 years ago.  Could it be that this tendency toward over-stimulated frustration is more a function of human nature than of any particular era or location?  If so, then its opposites, serenity and simplicity, would seem to be traits that require cultivation regardless of external circumstances.

Today, whatever our day is like, I hope we realize we can choose between serenity or agitation no matter what comes our way.  Contented simplicity is probably no more easy or difficult than it has ever been.  The good news is that it surely lies within our reach.  Given the multitude of advantages we enjoy compared to the audience to whom Wagner was writing, we have the perfect opportunity to choose wisely.

This post was originally published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. Judy from Pennsylvania

    Hi Julia,

    I’m catching up on reading a few of your posts. I love your work and I know it all comes straight from your heart. This one is thought provoking. A lot of us seem to be forced into a life of greater simplicity right now. In many ways, it’s a good opportunity for slowing down and paying closer attention to what’s important and what isn’t.

    The photo of the bed, the quote and our own time of confinement go together perfectly.

    A newsletter from Ephrata Cloister came today and its greeting closed with, “Stay healthy, stay calm, and stay hopeful”. I send it on to you and hope you’re doing well, my friend.

    • Thank you Judy! Matt and I have done very well during this shutdown and hope you have too. For us, it has been a great opportunity to just enjoy each other and delight in the more relaxed pace of life. I am hopeful that many of us will somehow bring a bit of our slowed-down existence back into whatever passes for “normal” in the post-covid world. It has been interesting to figure out what I don’t miss, and what I do miss, about the way life was before everybody was forced to suddenly halt business as usual. Even some of those things I do miss, I think I will need less of in the future. Time will tell. Thanks for being here!

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