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The Journal of a Disappointed Man – W N P Barbellion
I have only so far read the first few pages, but thanks to Rhys Hughes for recommending this book to me…
1903 – 1906
September 8. Wet all day. Toothache. September 9. Toothache. September 10. Toothache. September 11. Toothache.
Disarming youthful entries of nature study and personal illnesses.
Charming Radio 4 type tweets-of-the-day.
And names as initial letters followed by dashes.
October 13. Down with another cold. Feeling pretty useless. It’s a wonder I don’t develop melancholia.
When I feel ill, cinema pictures of the circumstances of my death flit across my mind’s eye. I cannot prevent them. I consider the nature of the disease and all I said before I died—
the almost audible susurrus of desire—the desire every book has to be taken down and read, to live, to come into being in somebody’s mind. He even hands the volumes over the counter, seeks them out in their proper places or returns them there without once realising that a Book is a Person and not a Thing.
These summer days eat into my being. The sea has been roaring into my ears and the sun blazing down so that even the backs of my hands are sunburnt. And then: those coal-black eyes. Ah! me, she is pretty.
I am beginning to know this young man and his dissections.
1910 up to Oct 14
Why should a snail be twisted round?
“Humph,” said he, “why do we stand upright?”
Thus becomes a battle between positivity and gloom, the positivity of his nature study dissections and rambles, not wanting to go to bed but get on with things, but the gloom or attrition beside this of encroaching illness and too sharp a view of his own character. I feel that I as his sensed image of his typical future reader of his journal am seeping myself into his bones as much as something more mindlessly inimical for which I cannot be responsible.
some skinny-witted speaker like ——; and last, but not least, there are women; all these worries fight over my body like jackals over carrion.
all this will turn me into the most self-conscious, conceited, mawkish, gauche creature in existence.
Oct 22 to end of year
My infant mind even was bitter with those who insisted on regarding me as a normal child and not as a prodigy. Since then I have struggled with this canker for many a day, and as success fails to arrive it becomes more gnawing.
Why should he work at mundane things just for food, when he could achieve far more without this opportunity cost.
Considers the theory that Mankind is not polarised between those with selfishness and those with unselfishness, but each of us somewhere on a whole selfish selfishness spectrum.
I am now trying to compare and contrast this Ever-to-be-Disappointed journal-keeper with Rameau’s Nephew and Jacques The Fatalist
As the years roll on, we get used to the man with the scythe and an acquaintance’s death is only a bit of gossip.
March 16, 1911. No one will ever understand without personal experience that an exceedingly self-conscious creature like myself driven in on himself to consume himself is the unhappiest of men. I have come to loathe myself: my finicking, hypersensitive, morbid nature, always thinking, talking, writing about myself for all the world as if the world beyond did not exist! I am rings within rings, circles concentric and intersecting, a maze, a tangle: watching myself behave or misbehave, always reflecting on what impression I am making on others or what they think of me. Introduce me to a stranger and I swell out as big as Alice. Self-consciousness makes me pneumatic, and consequently so awkward and clumsy and swollen that I don’t know how to converse—and God help the other fellow.
May 19, 1911: “I am so selfishly absorbed in my present self that I have grown not to care a damn about that ever increasing collection of past selves—those dear, dead gentlemen who one after the other have tenanted the temple of this flesh and handed on the torch of my life and personal identity before creeping away silently and modestly to rest.”
On April 22, he also said: “Who will rid me of the body of this death?”
Perhaps relevant – I had cause to use these quotes below earlier today in a concurrent review of an equally inspiring work by John Crowley here:
“And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.” John Donne
“And death shall have no dominion.” Dylan Thomas
“And with strange aeons even death may die.” HP Lovecraft
“There are folk who notice nothing.”
Notice this book, at least, I say.
Our journal-keeper now sort of cavorting with salmon, later feeling ill, dealing with an overtalkative woman, liking zoology but not zoologists, feeling ill again, but then a romance…
“She is a fine sedative. Her movements are a pleasant adagio, her voice piano to pianissimo, her conversation breaks off in thrilling aposiopoeses.”
As we leave Part 1 at the end of 1911, and Part 2 starts in London next time I pick up this book, with his working at the museum in London….
I think I know him better than my best friend. Over time’s distance. They are special people whom one thinks one knows better than in real life through their Internet persona, but here I think I REALLY know this zoologist. But I would not have known him at all without the Internet.
At the age of 23, his various illnesses and dwellings upon death – imaginary or not – make him seem to me to be a sort of aging Dirk Bogarde figure from the film ‘Death in Venice’…
Perhaps he should go and see what he can pick up by staying, in the inadvertent long-term, at Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain sanatorium?
“Sat on a seat overlooking the sand-hills with stick between my legs like an old man, and watched a buxom wench aet. 25 run down the path pursued by “Rough” and two little girls in blue. Later they emerged from a striped bathing tent in the glory of blue bathing dresses. It made me feel quite an old man to see the girl galloping out over the hard level sands to the breakers, a child clinging to each hand. Legs and arms twinkled in the sun which shone with brilliance. If life were as level as those sands and as beautiful as that trio of girls!”
A pre-echo of our times, here dealt with adequately?
15 Feb 1913
“Tried to kiss her in a taxi-cab on the way home from the Savoy—the taxi-cab danger is very present with us—but she rejected me quietly, sombrely. I apologised on the steps of the Flats and said I feared I had greatly annoyed her. “I’m not annoyed,” she said, “only surprised”—in a thoughtful, chilly voice.
We had had supper in Soho, and I took some wine, and she looked so bewitching it sent me in a fever, thrumming my fingers on the seat of the cab while she sat beside me impassive. Her shoulders are exquisitely modelled and a beautiful head is carried poised on a tiny neck.”
May 31 1913
“Few people, except my barber, know how amorous I am. He has to shave my sinuous lips.”
A lesson for life and for one’s hawling in it:
June 5 1913
“Watched some men put a new pile in the pier. There was all the usual paraphernalia of chains, pulleys, cranes, and ropes, with a massive wooden pile swinging over the water at the end of a long wire hawser. Everything was in the massive style—even the men—very powerful men, slow, ruminative, silent men. Nothing very relevant could be gathered from casual remarks. The conversation was without exception monosyllabic: “Let go,” or “Stand fast.” But by close attention to certain obscure movements of the man on the ladder near the water’s edge, it gradually came thro’ to my consciousness that all these powerful, silent men were up against some bitter difficulty. I cannot say what it was. The burly monsters were silent about the matter…. In fact they appeared almost indifferent—and tired, oh! so very tired of the whole business. The attitude of the man nearest me was that for all he cared the pile could go on swinging in mid-air to the crack of Doom. They continued slow, laborious efforts to overcome the secret difficulty. But these gradually slackened and finally ceased. One massive man after another abandoned his post in order to lean over the rails and gaze like a mystic into the depths of the sea. No one spoke. No one saw anything not even in the depths of the sea. One spat, and with round, sad eyes contemplated the trajectory of his brown bolus (he had been chewing) in its descent into the water. The foreman, an original thinker, lit a cigarette, which relieved the tension. Then, slowly and with majesty, he turned on his heel, and walked away. With the sudden eclipse of the foreman’s interest, the incident closed. I should have been scarcely surprised to find him behind the Harbour-master’s Office playing “Shove-ha’penny” or skittles with the pile still swinging in mid-air…. After all it was only a bloody pile.”
June 27, 1913
“Then I stretched my whole length out along a flat plank on the sands, which was as dry as a bone and warm. There was not a soul on the sands. Everything was bare, clean, windswept. My plank had been washed clean and white. The sands—3 miles of it—were hard and purified, level. My eye raced along in every direction—there was nothing—not a bird or a man—to stop it. In that immense windswept space nothing was present save me and the wind and the sea—a flattering moment for the egotist.”
Up to end of 1913
I think our friend is a manic-depressive, more depressive than manic unless upon the rhythmic joy of a train journey, as we follow him through his worry about someone’s thumbs followed by the (connected?) death of his mother, reported in low-key fashion. A game of Ludo. And a metaphor whence he never wakes…
“There is always something which drags me back from the achievement of my desires. It’s like a nightmare; I see myself struggling violently to escape from a monster which draws continuously nearer, until his shadow falls across my path, when I begin to run and find my legs tied, etc.”
April 17, 1914
I wonder if there more to this ‘humble confession’ of an encounter than meets the eye?
“The cotton-wool plug only suggested to me some sort of a plot on the part of a dissolute scion of a noble house to lure me into one of his bad habits, such as smoking opium or taking veronal. I again prepared to light the cigarette at the wrong end.”
“August 12, 1914
We all await the result of a battle between two millions of men. The tension makes me feel physically sick.”
“September 26, 1914
For a long time past my hope has simply been to last long enough to convince others of what I might have done—had I lived. […]
… and as fulfilment recedes ambition obsesses me the more.[…]
But I won’t give in. I go on trying to recollect what I have forgotten, I harry my brain all day to recall a word or name, I attack other folk importunately.”
The apotheosis of an unrequited life. We all feel this, perhaps, but we don’t write down a description of it for posterity?…
“October 7, 1914
To me woman is the wonderful fact of existence.”
“October 14, 1914
Oh, Marie Bashkirtseff! how we should have hated one another! She feels as I feel. We have the same self-absorption, the same vanity and corroding ambition. She is impressionable, volatile, passionate—ill! So am I. Her journal is my journal. All mine is stale reading now. She has written down all my thoughts and forestalled me! Already I have found some heart-rending parallels. To think I am only a replica: how humiliating for a human being to find himself merely a duplicate of another. Is there anything in the transmigration of souls? She died in 1886. I was born in 1889.“
—> October 27, 1914
“They come and look at your bloody plakaard and then passe on.”
“A trance-like condition supervenes in a semi-invalid forced to live in almost complete social isolation in a great whirling city like London. Days of routine follow each other as swiftly as the weaver’s shuttle and numb the spirit and turn palpitating life into a silent picture show. Everywhere always in the street people—millions of them—whom I do not know, moving swiftly along. I look and look and yawn and then one day as to-day I wake up and race about beside myself—a swollen bag ready to burst with hope, love, misery, joy, desperation.”
And on his way to the Albert Hall to attend a performance of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, he witnesses a remarkable contrast between a lively young mother and her child (is she really the child’s mother?) and an old stoical bag-woman busking with a Violin.
“October 28, 1914
Some mechanical means were necessary for sustaining life till bedtime. I sat down and played a game of Patience—no one knows how I loathe playing Patience and how much I despise the people who play it. Tiring of that, sat back in my chair, yawned, and thought of a word I wanted to look up in the Dictionary. This quest, forgotten until then, came like a beam of bright light into a dark room. So looked the word up leisurely, took out my watch, noted the time, and then stood up with elbows on the mantelpiece and stared at myself in the glass…. I was at bay at last. There was simply nothing I could do. I would have given worlds to have some one to talk to. Pride kept me from ringing for the landlady. I must stand motionless, back to the wall, and wait for the hour of my release. I had but one idea, viz., that I was surely beaten in this game of life. I was very miserable indeed. But being so miserable that I couldn’t feel more so, I began to recover after a while. I began to visualise my lamentable situation, and rose above it as I did so. I staged it before my mind’s eye and observed myself as hero of the plot. I saw myself sitting in a dirty armchair in a dirty house in a dirty London street, with the landlady’s dirty daughter below-stairs singing, “Little Grey Home in the West,” my head obscured in a cloud of depression, and in my mind the thought that if life be a test of endurance I must hang on grimly to the arms of the chair and sit tight till bedtime.”
—> November 19, 1914
A mixed up soul torn between unrequited love and his own perceived illnesses…
“But I am not sufficiently fond of alcohol (and it would take a lot to make me forget myself). So I plunge into these literary excesses and drown my sorrows in Stephens’ Blue-black Ink. It gives me a sulky pleasure to think that some day somebody will know….”
…as, ironically, I do.
—> 14 December, 1914
“The Test for True Love
The test for true love is whether you can endure the thought of cutting your sweetheart’s toe-nails—the onychiotomic test. Or whether you find your Julia’s sweat as sweet as otto of roses. I told her this to-night. Probably she thinks I only ‘saw it in a book.’l
A remarkable contrast with his reaction to Beethoven’s 5th!
—> 31 December, 1914
Our ‘hero’ seems more and more to call a Jew a Jew, a Jewess a Jewess, just to make the point that is what they are, even if it is otherwise irrelevant to know this. But not irrelevant in his eyes?
“I can never marvel enough at the ineradicable turpitude of my existence, at my double-facedness, and the remarkable contrast between the face I turn to the outside world and the face my friends know. It’s like leading a double existence or artificially constructing a puppet to dangle before the crowd while I fulminate behind the scenes. If only I had the moral courage to play my part in life—to take the stage and be myself, to enjoy the delightful sensation of making my presence felt, instead of this vapourish mumming—then this Journal would be quite unnecessary.”
And he makes extraordinary safeguards about this journal being destroyed in a fire…
In those days before our modern clouds and back-ups…
“January 19. An Average Day”
which happens to be today, too!
—> March 4, 1915
Asking a harpist to play a section of Schubert’s Unfinished, describing the seeking of lice in a Zoo and of separate selves in the self. Acting as one’s own Boswell….
“I sit here writing this—a mirage! Who am I? No one can say. What am I? ‘A soap-bubble hanging from a reed.’”
—> April 11, 1915
“I waste much time gaping and wondering. During a walk or in a book or in the middle of an embrace, suddenly I awake to a stark amazement at everything. The bare fact of existence paralyses me—“
“It is fortunate I am ill in one way for I need not make my mind up about this War. I am not interested in it—this filth and lunacy. I have not yet made up my mind about myself. I am so steeped in myself—in my moods, vapours, idiosyncrasies, so self-sodden, that I am unable to stand clear of the data, to marshal and classify the multitude of facts and thence draw the deduction what manner of man I am.”
Then an amazing real-time review of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, a masterpiece of fantastical thought alongside art that beats my own real-time reviews into a cocked hat! (I thought I had invented such things!)
“In the Second Movement the man is broken, an unrecognisable vomit. I see a pale youth sitting with arms hanging limply between the knees, hands folded, and with sad, impenetrable eyes that have gazed on unspeakable horrors.”
May 11. 1915
“This mysterious world makes me chilly. It is chilly to be alive among ghosts in a nightmare of calamity. This Titanic war reduces me to the size and importance of a debilitated housefly. So what is a poor egotist to do? To be a common soldier is to become a pawn in the game between ambitious dynasts and their ambitious marshals. You lose all individuality, you become a “bayonet” or a “machine gun,” or “cannon fodder,” or “fighting material.””
—> May 30, 1915
WNPB’s haunting description of a haunting pond. His thoughts on his mixed romantic relationship with E_____ . He even calls himself a “popinjay” from the future with a short interpolation he writes two years hence!
And he talks of the Lunacy of Luxury. Madness being the act of being sane, I infer.
—> June 5, 1915
“….sunlight all along a silken hawser which some Spider engineer had spun between the tops of two tall trees spanning the whole width of a bridle path,…”
Some very striking passages of young love’s kisses in tandem with natural features of the countryside. Unique visions, I suggest. Arguably, worth his keeping this journal just for us, some hundred years later, to be able to read these passages of naivety alongside prose-poetic mental conceits.
June 25, 1915
“If sometimes you saw me in my room by myself, you would say I was a ridiculous coxcomb. For I walk about, look out of the window then at the mirror—turning my head sideways perhaps so as to see it in profile. Or I gaze down into my eyes—my eyes always impress me—and wonder what effect I produce on others. This, I believe, is not so much vanity as curiosity. I know I am not prepossessing in appearance—my nose is crooked and my skin is blotched. Yet my physique—because it is mine—interests me. I like to see myself walking and talking. I should like to hold myself in my hand in front of me like a Punchinello and carefully examine myself at my leisure.”
Compare this book with THE EGOTIST by Philip Fracassi coincidentally being reviewed here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/02/09/the-egotist-philip-fracassi/#comment-11676
A significant comparison?
—> August 7, 1915
“I’ve had such a successful evening—you’ve no idea! The pen simply flew along, automatically easy, page after page in perfect sequence. My style trilled and bickered and rolled and ululated in an infinite variety; you will find in it all the subtlest modulations, inflections and suavities.”
“I am Christ and the Devil at the same time—or as my sister once called me—a child, a wise man, and the Devil all in one.”
Pingback: W. Buhner – WNP Barbellion | DES LEWIS’ GESTALT REAL-TIME REVIEWS
August 7, again
“On a ‘bus the other day a woman with a baby sat opposite, the baby bawled, and the woman at once began to unlace herself, exposing a large, red udder, which she swung into the baby’s face. The infant, however, continued to cry and the woman said,—‘Come on, there’s a good boy—if you don’t, I shall give it to the gentleman opposite.’
Do I look ill-nourished?”
—> September 9, 1915
“I probably know more about Lice than was ever before stored together within the compass of a single human mind!”
Extrapolations upon that theme, and meeting a charming 17 year old girl who gives him the boathouse key. A girl who seemed, when younger, to have received sort of (naïve?) letters from John Ruskin.
WNPB is soon to marry E—- but is his heart in it? Or his coccyx?
A striking description of a Zeppelin’s bombing raid…
I have now reached the end of 1915 alongside WNPB. Although this section
starts with above heading, very little seems to change. The same ailments, even what is called a heart attack, but I doubt it. I think he is a sort of illness-egotist. Talk of Zeppelin raids, and feeling guilty about not fighting in the war overseas like other men. Or is that just said for our benefit?
“Since I last wrote—a month ago—I have recovered my buoyancy after a blow which kept me under water so long I thought I should never come up and be happy again….”
“I called old R——a Rapscallion, a Curmudgeon, and a Scaramouche, and E——a trull, a drab, a trollop, a callet. “You certainly are a unique husband,” said that sweet little lady, and I….”
“The Housefly Problem—1916
For weeks past we have all been in a terrible flutter scarcely paralleled by the outbreak of Armageddon in August, 1914. The spark which fired almost the whole building was a letter to the Times written by Dr. ——,”
Well, what a kerfuffle! A bit tasteless that comparison, though, in hindsight!
May 5, 1916
“Hulloa, old friend: how are you? I mean my Diary. I haven’t written to you for ever so long, and my silence as usual indicates happiness.”
And then the most wonderful description of an occasion when attending a piano recital by a pianist called Pachmann. With the flavour of a real-time reviiew, the applause at its end engulfing its gestalt in your mind.
Hardly a Disappointed Man any more?
May 20, 1916
“Yes, I’m in harbour at last. I’d be the last to deny it but I cannot believe it will last. It’s too good to last and it’s all too good to be even true. E——is too good to be true, the home is too good to be true, and this quiet restful existence is too wonderful to last in the middle of a great war. It’s just a little deceitful April sunshine, that’s all….
Had tea at the ——. A brilliant summer’s evening. Afterwards, we wandered into the garden and shrubbery and sat about on the turf of the lawn, chatting and smoking. Mr. ——played with a rogue of a white Tomcat called Chatham, and E——talked about our neighbour, “Shamble legs,” about garden topics, etc. Then I strolled into the drawing-room where Cynthia was playing Chopin on a grand piano. Is it not all perfectly lovely?
How delicious to be silent, lolling on the Chesterfield, gazing abstractedly thro’ the lattice window and listening to the lulling charities of Nocturne No. 2, Op. 37! The melody in the latter part of this nocturne took me back at once to a cloudless day in an open boat in the Bay of Combemartin, with oars up and the water quietly and regularly lapping the gunwales as we rose and fell. A state of the most profound calm and happiness took possession of me.”
I could do with re-reading that every day for the rest of my life. At least a few times, anyway.
June 3, 1916
“A woman is calmly knitting socks or playing Patience while her husband or sweetheart lies dead in Flanders. However strong the tie that binds them together yet they are insufficiently ‘en rapport’ for her to sense even a catastrophe—and she must wait till the War Office forsooth sends her word. How humiliating that the War Office must do what Love cannot. Human love seems then such a superficial thing. Every person is a distinct egocentric being. Each for himself and the Devil take the hindmost. “Ah! but she didn’t know.” “Yes, but she ought to have known.” Mental telepathy and clairvoyance should be common at least to all lovers.”
August 13, 1916
“I hate elderly women who mention their legs. It makes me shudder.”
But the day ends with an exquisite walk whereby WNPB could have walked all the way home on a tightrope!
Between these two dates, quincunxes, his coming baby’s cradle as a skeleton in the cupboard, a yellow cat, and thoughts on the Great War, not to aggrandise it, be above it, decry the need of mankind to divide up the spoils of geography, or words to that effect.
—> September 10, 1916
“There are moments when I have awful misgivings: Is this blessed Journal worth while? I really don’t know, and that’s the harassing fact of the matter. If only I were sure of myself, if only I were capable of an impartial view! But I am too fond of myself to be able to see myself objectively. I wish I knew for certain what I am and how much I am worth. There are such possibilities about the situation; it may turn out tremendously, or else explode in a soap bubble. It is the torture of Tantalus to be so uncertain. I should be relieved to know even the worst. I would almost gladly burn my MSS. in the pleasure of having my curiosity satisfied. I go from the nadir of disappointment to the zenith of hope and back several times a week, and all the time I am additionally harassed by the perfect consciousness that it is all petty and pusillanimous to desire to be known and appreciated, that my ambition is a morbid diathesis of the mind. I am not such a fool either as not to see that there is but little satisfaction in posthumous fame, and I am not such a fool as not to realise that all fame is fleeting, and that the whole world itself is passing away.”
We reach t(e nub of this ‘Disappointed’ man, in interface with the War and his activity or not within such a War. I begin to think I know him better than he knows himself.
“We are like a nest of frightened ants when someone lifts the stone. That is the world just now.”
Cross-referenced this review twice recently here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/04/11/selected-poems-by-fiona-pitt-kethley/#comment-11911
—> Nov 20, 1916
“Even my mental powers are disintegrating—that’s the rub. Some quite recent incidents I cannot remember even when reminded of them: they seem to have passed clean out of my mind—a remarkable sensation this.
My sensibility is dulled too. It chagrins me to find that my present plight by no means overwhelms me with anguish as it would have done once. It only worries me. I am just a worried ox.”
“There is no mercy in Cause and Effect. It is inhuman clockwork. Every single act expended brings one its precise equivalent in return….”
“Home again with my darling. She is the most wonderful darling woman. Our love is for always. The Baby is a monster.”
“If only I could rest assured that after I am dead these Journals will be tenderly cared for—as tenderly as this blessed infant! It would be cruel if even after I have paid the last penalty, my efforts and sufferings should continue to remain unknown or disregarded. What I would give to know the effect I shall produce when published! I am tortured by two doubts—whether these MSS. (the labour and hope of many years) will survive accidental loss and whether they really are of any value. I have no faith in either.”
At least I might help with this gestalt real-time review, regarding the safeguarding of the text itself, 100 years in his future. The War, too. The self-despair, The hindsight views of his marriage. Very moving. We are our own hindsight?
We serve as hindsight for others.
—> December 14, 1916
“All this pleases me the more for I know to my cost what stubborn, sullen, hephæstian beasts words and clauses can sometimes be. It is nice to see them punished. Hardy’s poetry is Michael Angelo rather than Greek, Browning not Tennyson.”
His health, as he perceives it, seems to worsen. A trip to the seaside by train without his wife or child. And many observations, stoical and otherwise, that will stay with you.
—> End of 1916
“The reason why I do not spend my days in despair and my nights in hopeless weeping simply is that I am in love with my own ruin.”
All mingled with the ghastly war, and thoughts of how, when he was a boy, an errand boy and a servant girl were instigators of his future career in Natural History. A sad paean to toned-down self-glorification. A mixed up kid who seems far more integral than any of us today. Everyone today should learn from such Barbellions: the gym weights of didactic destiny and self-criticism.
—> January 31, 1917
“On the right-hand side was a cottage with the smoke being wrenched away from the chimney top, and on the left a group of stately Firs, chanting a requiem like a cathedral choir.”
Striking contrast between what he considers, perhaps rightly, to be his own diseased moribund state and the new life of his baby. But he has more lightsome moods between, here with Grieg, amid the longer darker passages of his existence.
The winter weather is well-described and I found myself thinking about how our weather is always weather, with the same causes and effects, in his day and mine. But then again, is it, really?
—> Feb 3, 1917
After another bout of illness, WNPB struggles, like a child, with putting a button into its hole. And I cannot avoid quoting this whole ensuing passage he writes…
“This morning how desirable everything seemed to me! The world intoxicated me. Moving again among so many human beings gave me the crowd-fever, and started again all the pangs of the old familiar hunger for a fuller life, that centrifugal elan in which I feared for the disruption and scattering of my parts in all directions. Temporarily I lost the hegemony of my own soul. Every man and woman I met was my enemy, threatening me with the secession of some inward part. I was alarmed to discover how many women I could passionately love and with how many men I could form a lasting friendship. Within, all was anarchy and commotion, a cold fright seized me lest some extraordinary event was about to happen: some general histolysis of my body, some sudden disintegration of my personality, some madness, some strange death…. I wanted to crush out the life of all these men and women in a great Bear’s hug, my God! this sea of human faces whom I can never recognise, all of us alive together beneath this yellow catafalque of fog on the morning of the announcement of world famine and world war!…
To-night, I have lost this paroxysm. For I am home again by the fireside. All the multitude have disappeared from my view. I have lost them, every one. I have lost another day of my life and so have they, and we have lost each other. Meanwhile the great world spins on unrelentingly, frittering away lightly my precious hours (surely a small stock now?) while I sit discomfited by the evening fire and nurse my scraped hands that tingle because the spinning world has wrenched itself out of my feeble grasp.”
—> 2 March, 1917
“For the rest, I live by counting the joints on insects’ legs and even that much effort is almost beyond my strength.”
Thoughts on life and death, the immensity of the universe strung with the sun and moon as alien lights, the scraping together of provender by counting insect integuments even on the brink of death, as he feels he is. One wonders whether to believe some of his thoughts, or whether he actually believes himself, regarding, for example, his unselfishness for E———‘s benefit, all drowned out by the seeming self absorption of this journal that he now thinks remarkable and worthy of publication. At least, on the latter, he is right as well as rightly sincere.
“, I reflected continually on death and hated it bitterly. But now that my end is near and certain, I consider it less and am content to wait and see.”
“In this Journal, my pen is a delicate needle point, tracing out a graph of temperament so as to show its daily fluctuations: grave and gay, up and down, lamentation and revelry, self-love and self-disgust. You get here all my thoughts and opinions, always irresponsible and often contradictory or mutually exclusive, all my moods and vapours, all the varying reactions to environment of this jelly which is I.”
“I wanted everything so I get nothing. I gave nothing so I receive nothing. I am not offering up my life willingly—it is being taken from me piece by piece, while I watch the pilfering with lamentable eyes.”
“Dear old Journal, I love you! Good-bye.”
There were other words in the journal that he wrote following above. Ranging from maudlin to ecstatic. Some very moving passages in these last sections, too numerous to quote. Consideration of his wife and his own self-worth. The same need as mine to be able to preserve experiences and found art on record. This Journal was his blog crystallised on iCloud or Lulu. His Facebook of record. His real-time review of life’s gestalt, clinching such a gestalt at his last minute gasp. His thwarted ambitions. Reminds me of people I know, not only myself, but also, for example, Rhys who recommended this Journal to me. I am sure Rhys saw himself reflected in it, despite many differences between him and WNPB.
WNPB died at the age of 28 neatly on 31 Dec 1917. He wrote the journal up to October that year. Sorry about this plot spoiler on how it all ends. Sorry about another spoiler, i.e. that I am due to die at some stage, with ambitions thwarted, too. As perhaps we all do. Duels of Fame, notwithstanding.