School; Monovian Editorials

Editorials - 1949



No. 54 Spring, 1949


Editors: C. O. MORGAN, R. E. DURGNAT

THE famous Roman philosopher Seneca discussing in one of his Epistles the tendency of people to do the same thing over and over again, remarks that a man may desire to die "nor so much from bravery or misery as from surfeit and weariness." 1 do not apologise for quoting Seneca, because he expresses so aptly the thought that one hears often in the School, this idea of "What are we working for? Why should we work when we're only doing the same things over and over again? Why not do something new?" The same view was taken by some at the recent War Memorial ceremony: "Is it any good working like mad to pass examinations when we might soon be like them-dead, with nothing but a stone plaque to show that we have lived and loved? Why can't we enjoy ourselves while we have time? Like Edmund in King Lear they say in effect: "This policy and reverence of age keeps the world better to the best of our times. It holds our fortunes from us till our oldness cannot relish them.' We do the same things over and over again: we comment on the weather at least five times a day: we complain about food, the Government, the prefects, the staff in practically the same words every day; we go on the same journey to and from School; we take the dog out over the same dreary stretch of road night after night. "Why should we?" we often ask: "why should we work five and a half hours a day doing the same dreary subjects with the same dreary masters, who don't hesitate to tell us that they are as sick of the sight of us as we are of them? If we could enjoy ourselves we wouldn't become 'cloyed and weary.'" But we fail to see that, though life is after all a ' petty round of irritating duties ' and though we all do the same things over and over again, we do them in a different way. We comment on the weather every day: but the weather itself changes every day, it has infinite variety. We work at the same subjects day in, day out; but every lesson brings a new discovery, a new approach. If our minds are fresh, if they are not 'cloyed and weary,' even the daily journey to School can take on a colour arid an interest of its own, to see the same people every day, but there is always some new quality to discover in their characters. Perhaps this is because, though we are still often doing the same things, our minds, the world in which we really live, can invest these ordinary, mundane things with a glamour and romance of quite astonishing power. The world and the people moving in it have as little connection with our real life as the cinema screen. They may influence it, but all the time they can never truly change it. Our imagination, possibly the greatest talent we have, can alone keep us from becoming petty and small-minded in a petty, small-minded community. Those who have little or no imagination are those who make up the petty, small-minded communities; but they are in the minority. We who live in what modern novelists so scathingly term 'drab suburbia' can, even in doing the same things over and over again, keep free from becoming 'cloyed and weary' by the constant exercise of- what? Imagination? Will-power? Call it what you like-that force which builds in our minds an indestructible world of dreams and yet of reality, its boundaries stretching into the infinite, unrestricted by the daily rounds and the 'common task.' And so we work at the same subjects every day, every week. But we work not only because the knowledge gained is valuable for this or that examination, but because we are enlarging our minds, gaining fresh experiences, even if only at second-hand from great works of art, which we weld and shape into the world of our imagination, the world of our mind. For only there do we live. There we suffer more than the world could ever imagine; there we are happier than the world has ever been. To live without that inner world would be a prolonged agony. The pettiness, the monotony of the ' same things over and over again' would become unbearable. Or, if we throw away that sublime gift of imagination for material benefits, we can become utterly bound up by the small, meaningless details of life and quite fail to see beyond them. In either case, we would become so 'cloyed and weary' that life would have no significance, no interest no adventure. Then indeed it would not be worth living. But we have imagination. We can overcome pettiness, we can overlook malice and spitefulness. With that 'inward eye, the bliss of solitude ' we see so much more clearly. It is a pity that we don't use it more often.




No. 55 Summer, 1949


Editors CO Morgan, RE Durgnat
It is often wondered what the most interesting study in life really is, what it is that makes life not only bearable but even interesting. It might be said that the study of literature, or history, or geography, or science is interesting; but all aren't interesting at the same time to each of us. The arts, while they may appeal to some, do not carry a message to all; sport has a wide appeal, but not wide enough to embrace humanity. Is there any study wide enough in its scope to interest all of us-and an absorbing study at that? I think there is. It is not a subject found in school curricula or taught in universities, because it has no fixed rules and no postulates. It is the study of people. The pageant of human life is ever changing, ever-colourful, and it makes the most wonderful spectacle in the world. Simply to watch other people, the way they dress, the way they keep wicket, the way they speak and act, is in itself fascinating. It is so to all of us. I refuse to believe that there is anybody who has never craned his neck to watch someone else's retreating back, someone he has never seen before and is never likely to see again. But simply to watch other people is not to study them. To study something is to apply one's mind to it. And it is only when we begin to apply our minds to other people that we find what an absorbing study they are. Even in the people we see day in, day out, our friends, our enemies, people we think we know inside out, there is always something we suddenly find we hadn't noticed before, some chance remark that shows a good or bad characteristic we hadn't known to exist. If we train our minds to observe and reflect on people and the motives for their actions, we will see, sometimes with pleasure, sometimes with pain, far more interest and excitement in life. We will notice touches of jealousy, of pride, of ignorance: a glimpse of unexpected beauty, like a rose in a grimy suburban garden; a bedrock of stability under a superficiallv volatile cover; the lie more truth-revealing than truth itself. This study of people must be differentiated from psychology. The study of people calls into play our own emotions and feelings, those instinctive likes or dislikes we have for certain people that when our mental make-up reacts to somebody else's. The cold abstractions of psychology make the psychologists relation to his patient resembles that of a scientist to new virus. The people with whom we come into contact influence our lives, and we influence theirs. Thus the study of people involves, besides the interaction of character on character, the modifications resulting from that interaction. Let us see how, in life, most of the things we do are but forms of that universal study. In sport it is the human element that makes for enjoyment in the game. If cricket were played by a team of robots, it would loose all interest, for robots have no personality, no human failings, no human virtues. The human (and therefore unstable and unpredictable) element makes every game of cricket different, even if played by the same teams. When we see Dennis Compton, we generally speaking know a great deal about him: whether he's on form all season or not; whether his batting average compares favourably or unfavourably with that of Len Hutton; and so on. See all the time how it is people, and what people say and dothat add much to ones appreciation of the game. We all know the boy is a bad sport, if he's a boy who lets the team down by grasping an opportunity for "showing off," the referee who is deaf, dumb, blind and stupid. They are all human beings, and the most interesting study in creation. As in sport, how much more so is it the human element, the human study, that predominates in Art, the supreme expression of man's genius. In drama it is the characters, that interest us; in poetry it is the soul of the poet that we examine: in music it is the composer that speaks to us; in painting it is again the soul of the artist that we observe. Some may say, with truth, that it is only in subjective creation we see the artist himself: but, even if an artist creates objectively, we see other people through his eyes - and the eyes of an artist are the most soul-searching in the world. People, people all the time, interest us in Art. Throughout Barrie's comedies we see the playwright, a lover of children, delightfully humorous, whimsically pathetic at times mawkish and sentimental. In Wilde's writings we can read the author's brilliant wit and command of le mot juste, and again that strange shadow that clouded his life and led to his downfall. O'Sheas magnificent but terrifying dramas show the writer's preoccupation with the primeval instincts of man, and his intense love, verging at times on hate, of the sea. Tchaikovsky's music reveals the composer's lyrically- changing moods of bitter depression and fierce, almost hysterical, exaltation. Rameau's music shows the flattering courtier, eager to gain royal favour. Shakespeare, our supreme poet, reveals little of himself except in the sonnets, and even there not much; but he has observed and analysed and reported others with meticulous care. By this I mean not that he gives LIS it series of caricatures of people he knew, but that he fused his knowledge of mankind, gathered by studying all types of men and women, into the greatest and most vital characters the stage has seen. The artist, then, is generally found to express himself in terms his art, or to report on other people. He may treat of abstractions like Spring or Nature, but always what he or other people feel or think about Spring and Nature. And, to a great extent, the personalities in Art, whether of the artist or those he has observed, are what appeal most to all of us. The artist realises the Fundamental importance of the study of mankind: a warm, whole-hearted study. Not a cold, abstract, psychological observation. It is this study of people that makes life interesting, makes it, in fact, completely fascinating. It is a study we are all able to undertake, most of us have, in fact, already undertaken it, though not perhaps so acutely as we might, and arc all able to enjoy. The study of people-the really acute study-is not easy. As it involves our own emotions, we have to start by getting to know something about ourselves, never either a very pleasant or a complete process. It means, too, spiritual suffering, unless, of course, we choose to remain on the fringe of life, merely observing, never "applying our minds" to, humanity. The latter course involves no great suffering, but neither any great joy. Deep happiness comes only to one who has suffered deeply. There is something of joy in pain, and much of pain in joy. The study of people, like all other studies, has results solely when the effort is wholehearted; and to be really whole- hearted in this particular study demands almost all we have. We must be prepared to trust others, even if our trust is sometimes misplaced: we must be prepared to lose much in an effort to gain more, what some people would call "experience." What is the purpose of this often-advocated study of people? Possibly to gain "experience"; probably also to gain the end of all studies-a desire to study more; but certainly to give us, that collective love of humanity without which our life is as a wilderness. Wilde said that " to understand is to love." The most we can hope for in this study, the most we can ask of life, is that, through an under-standing of our fellow-men, we may learn to  love them.

C. O. Morgan.

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