Tom Hodgkinson ponders post-lockdown life
I’ve been getting busy again and I’m not sure if I like it. During the last seven days I’ve travelled on the London Underground twice, following a gap of about a year. I changed at Oxford Circus, and even ran for a train. It was most peculiar.
A couple of Idlers ago we ran an extract from a short story by Dickens about Mr Mopes the hermit. Mr Mopes was based on the real-life hermit Mad Lucas, who lived alone in squalour in a filthy cell on his dead parents’ country estate. Dickens hated him and was pretty clear why: life was to be lived, not avoided. He describes the hermit thus:
“A compound of Newgate, Bedlam, a debtors’ prison in the worst time, a chimney sweep, a mudlark, and the Noble Savage!”
After arguing with this curious fellow for a while, Dickens gets to the nub of the matter: “we must arise and wash our faces and do our gregarious work,” he says, in admonition to the filthy hermit’s way of life.
Yes, but can’t we keep a little bit of the hermit’s ways? Dickens, after all, was absurdly restless, producing not only 15 of the greatest novels ever written but also editing and publishing weekly magazines, hurling himself into amateur dramatics, going on 15-mile walks, touring the theatres with his one-man show, running a battered wives’ refuge. He probably worked himself to death: he died at the age of 58 after a gruelling speaking tour of America. We could speculate that he worked and produced at an amazing rate in order to rub out the stain of his miserable childhood.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m looking forward to doing my gregarious work. But there’s always that part of us which wants to go to Innisfree and live alone in a bee-loud glade.