one aim, one business, one desire

My Macintosh has a list of recently accessed files, but when I want to re-visit a file I have used earlier in the day it is never there. I have many folder windows open, but again the folder I was earlier working on is never one of them. This seems a sad measure of not multi-tasking but over-tasking, too many interruptions upon interupptions, too many disparate things and a singular lack of single purpose.

When I was in school we studied the Scholar Gypsy by Matthew Arnold. It is a tale of an Oxford scholar who foresakes his studies and joins the gypsies. As I always admired and desired the gypsy life this combination of the intellectual and nomadic appealed immediately. When Arnold writes it is 200 years since the scholar started his wanderings, but there are still occasional reports of sightings and Arnold concludes that his longevity is the result of his singleness of purpose, he has “one aim, one business, one desire”.

The stanza I still recall almost word perfect comes near the end as Arnold expresses his wish for this simpler life … and remember he is writing in 1850, not the days of email and IM:

O born in days when wits were fresh and clear,
And life ran gaily as the sparkling Thames;
Before this strange disease of modern life,
With its sick hurry, its divided aims,
Its heads o’ertax’d, its palsied hearts, was rife