THE HAPPY MAN
By Somerset Maugham
William Somerset Maugham (1874-1966), a well-known English novelist, short-story writer, playwright and essayist, was the son of a British diplomat. He was educated at King's School in Canterbury, studied painting in Paris, went to Heidelberg University in Germany and studied to be a doctor at St. Thomas Hospital in England, Although Somerset Maugham did not denounce the contemporary social order, he was critical of the morals, the narrow-mindedness and hypocrisy of bourgeois society. It was his autobiographical novel "Of Human Bondage" (1915) and the novel "The Moon and Sixpence" (1919) based on the life of the French artist Paul Gauguin, that won him ...view middle of the document...
But there are men who flounder at the journey's start, the way before them is confused and hazardous, and on occasion, however unwillingly, I have been forced to point the finger of fate. Sometimes men have said to me, what shall I do with my life? and I have seen myself for a moment wrapped in the dark cloak of Destiny.
Once I know that I advised well.
I was a young man, and I lived in a modest apartment in London near Victoria Station.1 Late one afternoon, when I was beginning to think that I had worked enough for that day, I heard a ring at the bell. I opened the door to a total stranger. He asked me my name; I told him. He asked if he might come in.
I led him into my sitting-room and begged him to sit down. He seemed a trifle embarrassed, I offered him a cigarette and he had some difficulty in lighting it without letting go off his hat. When he had satisfactorily achieved this feat I asked him if I should not put it on a chair for him. He quickly did this and while doing it dropped his umbrella.
"I hope you don't mind my coming to see you like this," he said. "My name is Stephens and I am a doctor. You're in the medical, I believe?"
"Yes, but I don't practise."
"No, I know. I've just read a book of yours about Spain and I wanted to ask you about it."
"It's not a very good book, I'm afraid."
"The fact remains that you know something about Spain and there's no one else I know who does. And I thought perhaps you wouldn't mind giving me some information."
"I shall be very glad."
He was silent for a moment. He reached out for his hat and holding it in one hand absent-mindedly stroked it with the other. I surmised that it gave him confidence.
"I hope you won't think it very odd for a perfect stranger to talk to you like this." He gave an apologetic laugh. "I'm not going to tell you the story of my life."
When people say this to me I always know that it is precisely what they are going to do. I do not mind. In fact I rather like it.
"I was brought up by two old aunts. I've never been anywhere. I've never done anything. I've been married for six years. I have no children. I'm a medical officer at the Camberwell Infirmary.2 I can't stick it any more."
There was something very striking in the short, sharp sentences he used. They had a forcible ring. I had not given him more than a cursory glance, but now I looked at him with curiosity. He was a little man, thick-set and stout, of thirty perhaps, with a round red face from which shone small, dark and very bright eyes. His black hair Was cropped close
to a bullet-shaped head. He was dressed in a blue suit a good deal the worse for wear. It was baggy at the knees and the pockets bulged untidily.
"You know what the duties are of a medical officer in an infirmary. One day is pretty much like another. And that's all I've got to look forward to for the rest of my life. Do you think it's worth it?"
"It's a means of livelyhood," I answered.
"Yes. I know....