Wednesday, December 30, 2015

`The Want of Superfluities'

We’re in Austin for a few days, mostly to visit my oldest son and his wife. The Christmas glut is over, though when we walked through a sprawling mall bookstore which didn’t seem to have in stock a single volume I might actually want to own, the lines were still long and the arms of customers still burdened with books and book-related products. I feel immunity in such places, a sense fortified by the knowledge that three books awaited me in my suitcase. I was reminded of something a friend said in a shopping mall in Toledo, Ohio, about thirty-five years ago: “There’s a lot of stuff here I wish I needed.” It’s reassuring to know Dr. Johnson shared similar sentiments on this date, Dec. 30, in 1758, in The Idler #37: 

“Thus plenty is the original cause of many of our needs; and even the poverty, which is so frequent and distressful in civilized nations, proceeds often from that change of manners which opulence has produced. Nature makes us poor only when we want necessaries; but custom gives the name of poverty to the want of superfluities. 

“When Socrates passed through shops of toys and ornaments, he cried out, `How many things are here which I do not need!’ And the same exclamation may every man make who surveys the common accommodations of life.”

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