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thursday ccxxix

canoeing was easy work. to dip the paddle at the proper inclination, now right, now left; to keep the head down stream; to empty the little pool that gathered in the lap of the apron; to screw up the eyes against the glittering sparkles of sun upon the water; or now and again to pass below the whistling tow-rope of the deo gratias of conde, or the four sons of aymon--there was not much art in that; certain silly muscles managed it between sleep and waking; and meanwhile the brain had a whole holiday, and went to sleep. we took in, at a glance, the larger features of the scene; and beheld, with half an eye, bloused fishers and dabbling washerwomen on the bank. now and again we might be half-wakened by some church spire, by a leaping fish, or by a trail of river grass that clung about the paddle and had to be plucked off and thrown away. but these luminous intervals were only partially luminous. a little more of us was called into action, but never the whole. the central bureau of nerves, what in some moods we call Ourselves, enjoyed its holiday without disturbance, like a government office. the great wheels of intelligence turned idly in the head, like fly-wheels, grinding no grist. i have gone on for half an hour at a time, counting my strokes and forgetting the hundreds. i flatter myself the beasts that perish could not underbid that, as a low form of consciousness. and what a pleasure it was! what a hearty, tolerant temper did it bring about! there is nothing captious about a man who has attained to this, the one possible apotheosis in life, the apotheosis of stupidity; and he begins to feel dignified and longaevous like a tree.

there was one odd piece of practical metaphysics which accompanied what i may call the depth, if i must not call it the intensity, of my abstraction. what philosophers call me and not-me, ego and non ego, preoccupied me whether i would or no. there was less me and more not-me than i was accustomed to expect. i looked on upon somebody else, who managed the paddling; i was aware of somebody else's feet against the stretcher; my own body seemed to have no more intimate relation to me than the canoe, or the river, or the river banks.

nor this alone: something inside my mind, a part of my brain, a province of my proper being, had thrown off allegiance and set up for itself, or perhaps for the somebody else who did the paddling. i had dwindled into quite a little thing in a corner of myself. i was isolated in my own skull. thoughts presented themselves unbidden; they were not my thoughts, they were plainly some one else's; and i considered them like a part of the landscape. i take it, in short, that i was about as near nirvana as would be convenient in practical life; and if this be so, i make the buddhists my sincere compliments; 'tis an agreeable state, not very consistent with mental brilliancy, not exactly profitable in a money point of view, but very calm, golden, and incurious, and one that sets a man superior to alarms. it may be best figured by supposing yourself to get dead drunk, and yet keep sober to enjoy it. i have a notion that open-air labourers must spend a large portion of their days in this ecstatic stupor, which explains their high composure and endurance. a pity to go to the expense of laudanum, when here is a better paradise for nothing!

this frame of mind was the great exploit of our voyage, take it all in all. it was the farthest piece of travel accomplished. indeed, it lies so far from beaten paths of language, that i despair of getting the reader into sympathy with the smiling, complacent idiocy of my condition; when ideas came and went like motes in a sunbeam; when trees and church spires along the bank surged up, from time to time into my notice, like solid objects through a rolling cloudland; when the rhythmical swish of boat and paddle in the water became a cradle-song to lull my thoughts asleep; when a piece of mud on the deck was sometimes an intolerable eyesore, and sometimes quite a companion for me, and the object of pleased consideration;--and all the time, with the river running and the shores changing upon either hand, i kept counting my strokes and forgetting the hundreds, the happiest animal in france.

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