A man with no initiative to produce or succeed -- "lazy" regarding his own life's details, though good-natured and always willing to help anyone in need -- wanders through life seemingly content with his lot, except to the extent that he is nagged by a domineering wife.
One day, externally composed but internally desperate to get away from it all, he leaves town and deserts his family, following the old maxim: If the fool would but persist in his folly, he would become wise. He pursues his natural direction, his True Will, and walks up the mountain into a life ruled by his desire for the company of quiet men "amusing themselves".
After twenty years have elapsed, Winkle returns to his village, having undergone some sort of psychogenic fugue -- he recalls only a mild debauchery involving wine and lawn bowling, and a night passed out in the grass. But the town is changed. His wife is barely in her grave (making his timely return a bit too coincidental), and his children are grown. Ultimately he adjusts to this new world and lives out the remainder of his life as a respected member of the community.
The moral of the story would seem to be: Individuality is the Devil, and the Devil is Good.
I guess he didn't sleep through the American Revolution, after all.