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While I Remember

While I Remember

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
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WHILE I REMEMBER

BY

STEPHEN McKENNA

NEW YORK
GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY

COPYRIGHT, 1921,
BY GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

TO

THOSE WHO MAY FORGET

"Two men I honour, and no third. First, the toil-worn Craftsman that with earth-made Implement laboriously conquers the Earth, and makes her man's. Venerable to me is the hard Hand; crooked, coarse; wherein notwithstanding lies a cunning virtue, indefeasibly royal as of the Sceptre of this Planet. Venerable too is the rugged face, all weather-tanned, besoiled, with its rude intelligence; for it is the face of a Man living manlike. O, but the more venerable for thy rudeness, and even because we must pity as well as love thee! Hardly-entreated Brother! For us was thy back so bent, for us were thy straight limbs and fingers so deformed: thou wert our Conscript, on whom the lot fell, and fighting our battles wert so marred. For in thee too lay a god-created Form, but it was not to be unfolded; encrusted must it stand with the thick adhesions and defacements of Labour: and thy body, like thy soul, was not to know freedom. Yet toil on, toil on: thou art in thy duty, be out of it who may; thou toilest for the altogether indispensable, for daily bread.

"A second man I honour, and still more highly: Him who is seen toiling for the spiritually indispensable; not daily bread, but the bread of Life. Is not he too in his duty; endeavouring towards inward Harmony; revealing this, by act or by word, through all his outward endeavours, be they high or low? Highest of all, when his outward and his inward endeavour are one: when we can name him Artist; not earthly Craftsman only, but inspired Thinker, who with heaven-made Implement conquers Heaven for us! If the poor and humble toil that we have Food, must not the high and glorious toil for him in return, that he have Light, have Guidance, Freedom, Immortality? These two, in all their degrees, I honour: all else is chaff and dust, which let the wind blow whither it listeth."

Thomas Carlyle: Sartor Resartus.

[viii]
[ix]

"People who are old enough to write memoirs," says my friend Shane Leslie in The End of a Chapter, "have usually lost their memory." They have always, he might have added, lost the enthusiasm which once inspired and is alone able to explain their part in what they are trying to remember. Going farther, he might have challenged in words, as his book challenged by implication, the belief that there is any day in a man's life on which—though not an hour before—he is entitled to set down his reminiscences; yet one page from the journal of Alcibiades at twenty might well be more instructive than three volumes of the wisdom of Socrates at seventy.

My reason for writing the present book is that I wish to record certain impressions of a vanished generation while I remember them clearly and sympathetically; my excuse for publishing it is that the opinions and recollections of middle life are so seldom articulate. Reminiscences of childhood, where they survive undimmed, find their place in fiction and in autobiography; reminiscences of youth and manhood, collected and chastened from the sober angle of old age, are compressed into one patronising chapter of every standard life; but we are hardly ever allowed to look through the spectacles of thirty at the world as it appears to the eyes of thirty. Sometimes we are, indeed, admitted to the intimacy of a diary; but, if it has been composed with a view to publication, we may suspect that behind the pretext of self-communing the author is striking an attitude; if it was never intended for publication, we may wonder whether it should ever have been published. Possibly there is still room for recollections that have frankly been written for publication before age has too greatly blurred the outline of memory or distance eliminated too ruthlessly the unimportant.

As the art of the novelist demands of him that he should first and foremost be a spectator of life, so the accident of race makes of him an involuntary critic if his lot be cast amid alien surroundings, however congenial; and the further accident of health not always robust may remove him a yet greater distance from the active life of his generation. In so far as this detachment gives him a separate standard of comparison, it may be not without value in the review of past manners and ideals.

It is with the life of that generation and not with gossip about this or that member of it that I am concerned. A new and inexcusable terror is added to social intercourse when the confidence, the indiscretion or the malice of a dinner-table is industriously recorded and published; and it is still believed by some who were trained in a tradition of reticence that intimate portraits and studies should be withheld so long as the originals or their friends can be offended or hurt by unsought publicity. While a man of even thirty-three, spending most of his life in London, may have met more than a few of the statesmen and financiers, the sailors and soldiers, the artists, authors and actors who have now chief place in the interest of their countrymen, I feel that it would be impudent for him publicly to scatter his unsolicited opinion on those whom he has been invited to meet privately. This book will therefore be free from what has been called an "index of improper names."

It would be no less impudent for him to assume that anyone is interested in the insignificances of his private life. I venture to write of this epoch because I hope to present some aspects of it which might elude the historian who ranges over a wider field, preeminently the aspect from the standpoint of youth. Any autobiographical matter deserves no more honourable place than a footnote and is included only to explain how and why one super was found at certain times on a certain stage.

The generation which ended with the Peace of Versailles in 1919 is likely to be cut off from all that follows more completely than any of which we have record: a higher proportion of its youth has been destroyed, and of those who remain hardly one has been left in the place that he filled before the war; the standard and distribution of wealth have changed; and former lines of social demarcation have been obliterated. Though the old forms continue, the life that inspires them is new: the schools and universities, the learned professions and public services, the government itself are manned from a different class and actuated by different ideals. It may be not altogether wasted labour to sketch a corner of that old world as it was known to the men who were reared in time to be sacrificed in the late war.

Impelled by a common interest in changing fashions, Professor Sir Denison Ross, Mr. Hugo Rumbold and I once agreed to compile an encyclopædia of the catch-words and cant phrases, the popular songs and popular dances, the endearments and greetings of the last twenty years; though the work has not yet been begun, I am not without hope that there may be published in our lifetime a social survey of England which shall contain some few of the things commonly considered to be below the dignity of history, for the change in manners during the last generation is worthy of

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