I wished that I had by my side a philosopher who could explain to me why it is that man can never remain in one stay. Why is it, I wanted to ask him, that having known the best he should content himself so comfortably with the mediocre? Is it that circumstances – or is it genius, genius of the individual? – raise him for a while to heights at which he cannot breathe easily so that he is content to make his way down again to the homely plain? Is man like water that can be forced to an artificial altitude, but that reverts as soon as the force is removed to its own level? It looks as though his normal condition were the lowest state of civilization compatible with his environment and in this he can remain unchanged from age to age. Perhaps my philosopher would have told me that only a few races are capable of raising themselves above the dust, and then only for a little while; and even they are conscious that their state is extraordinary, and they fall back with relief to the condition that is only a little better than the beasts.
W. Somerset Maugham: The Gentleman in the Parlour, 1930