what is this simplicity of life for which we sigh? We
speak of the simplicity of a flower, but surely nothing
is more wonderfully complex than all the beautiful products
of the natural world. A leaf, for instance- one single
fresh, green maple leaf, from the myriads of the forest
to-day- seems at first glance simplicity itself. Yet
its symmetry is not geometrical, but only artistic.
It conforms but roughly, though inexorably, to its type.
It has no perfect fellow in all the whole earth full
of green companions. It is not a machine product. It
hasn't the simplicity of straight line and circle. It
cannot be reproduced, can hardly be imitated. It has
individuality, properties, parts, functions, growth,
color, vitality and a period of its existence. That
is no simple matter.
in the scale of nature there is greater simplicity.
Inorganic is simpler than organic. Last of all comes
primal cosmos (or chaos); which is simplicity itself.
On the other hand, the farther you go ahead in the development
of nature the more complex does it become. Simplicity,
truly, means life reduced to its lowest terms, But that
is not what we actually desire, I fancy.
tell me you love the simplicity of nature, you are glad
to get away from the complications of city life. Yes,
that is the phrase we commonly use, but I think there
is a good deal of error in it. What is it that wearies
us in town? Not the work we have to do so much as the
strain of unnatural ugliness and noise in which we allow
ourselves to dwell. For work is not a burden, but a
pleasurable activity, a natural function of the healthy
and happy; but noise and ugliness are against the trend
of spirit as it passes from the lower to the finer life.
Noise and ugliness are primitive and simple; music and
beauty are complex, and we only reach them in our progress
toward ideal perfection. To take a single instance;
you will admit that many of the gongs on the street
cars make a hideous din; they contribute not a little
to the dissonance of city noises. But suppose that we
should go to the trouble and expense of making our gongs
musical. Suppose they were all made of the finest bell-metal,
carefully attuned, how much pleasanter that would be.
And then, further suppose that each bell were made to
strike its own musical note, and that all were harmonized,
how much more pleasant to the jaded nerves! And in each
improvement, you will observe, we should be making a
step away from the simplicity of noise and towards the
complexity of music. We should be discarding machinery
in favor of art.
again, think of the hideousness of our streets- our
rows and rows of brownstone fronts, as you look down
the side streets on the way up- town-every house exactly
like its neighbor, and every street almost exactly like
the next. There is monotonous simplicity for you, and
the result is deadly. Now if every house were given
a beautiful and individual character of its own, and
that character so modified as to conform to its neighbors,
how fine a block you might have! And, further, if each
block were made to harmonize to some extent with those
about it, how fine a city! Again, in each step of improvement
we should be advancing from the simple to the complex,
from chaos to art. For art is not the antithesis of
nature; but nature and art are both the antithesis of
chaos. It is when we give up thought and put our trust
in machinery that we begin to move backward to monotony,
simplicity, ugliness and death.
if we would remedy the annoyance of city life we must
be willing to take thought for it. We must be willing
to spend time and trouble and money in order to have
music instead of noise in our car bells, in order to
have beauty instead of simplicity in our architecture.
if you think you can solve the problem of modern life
for yourself by withdrawing from the fray, you are mistaken.
You may set up your studio in the top of a twenty-story
building, and moon there over your emasculate daubs,
while the twentieth century is racing to hell beneath
your feet; but you will never lay on a brushful of paint
that will stay. There is a lot of dirty work to be done
in the world yet, and if we are not fitted to help in
it we must at least stand by and give it our sympathy.
in the realm of art itself, it is not simplicity we
admire, but harmonious unity, the complex blending of
colors and tones. Simplicity would mean the crude juxtaposition
of one raw color by another, the striking of one note
without regard to its fellow. And in poetry, when you
pass from the regularity of the school of Pope to the
apparently freer metrical usage of Wordsworth and Tennyson
and Keats, you fancy at first that you are returning
to simpler methods; and when you come to Emerson and
Whitman, you say you have reached simplicity itself.
But that is exactly the reverse of truth. The cadences
of "Leaves of Grass" are far more intricate
than those of "The Essay on Man."
only simplicity that is desirable is simplicity of soul,
a certain singleness of aim and quiet detachment of
vision, a mood of enduring repose not at variance with
constant endeavor, a habit of content, contemplation
and peace, that abides undistracted in harmony with
other habits of activity and toil. This is not the simplicity
of chaos, but the simplicity of order, the assurance
that comes from the perception of law and the triumph
of beauty. This is the higher simplicity, the simplicity
of nature and mathematics, which comprehends their many
complexities in a unity of being.