Solitude and the Private Life

“As often as I have been among men, I have returned home a lesser man.”—Seneca (Epist.VII)

One doesn’t have to be a sage to understand the need for detachment. As novelist Honoré Balzac wrote:

Solitude has charms comparable only to those of savage life, which no European has ever really abandoned after once tasting them. This may seem strange at an epoch when every one lives so much to be seen by others that all the world concern themselves in their neighbor’s affairs…. Nevertheless, it is a truth which rests on the authority of the first six Christian centuries, during which no recluse ever returned to social life. Few are the moral wounds it will not heal (The Brotherhood of Consolation).

Central to the private life of the layman is the home. It should be more than just a place where we sleep or store things. Along those lines, I recall the Victorian childhood described in Douglas Jerrold’s memoir Georgian Adventure. What struck me as surprising (and enviable) was the degree of domestic seclusion. Nor was there any embarrassment or boredom attached to domesticity. A man’s home is his castle. It should also be his cloister. True solitude is more than reclusiveness. It is a quality of spiritual calm we first make within ourselves.

Silence is not anti-social because when [properly] trained… we can speak with greater effect and greater utility for our neighbours (Edward Leen, Progress Through Mental Prayer).

At the same time, the man who cannot conduct himself properly abroad will find no solace by himself. When faced with being alone, some people seek not retirement but oblivion. It is the opposite of that spiritual rest that makes us more bearable to ourselves, and to others.

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