Aldous Huxley, on “the error of speaking about certain categories of persons as though they were mere embodied abstractions” (Words and Behavior):

Foreigners and those who disagree with us are not thought of as men and women like ourselves and our fellow-countrymen; they are thought of as representatives and, so to say, symbols of a class. In so far as they have any personality at all, it is the personality we mistakenly attribute to their class — a personality that is, by definition, intrinsically evil. We know that the harming or killing of men and women is wrong, and we are reluctant consciously to do what we know to be wrong. But when particular men and women are thought of merely as representatives of a class, which has previously been defined as evil and personified in the shape of a devil, then the reluctance to hurt or murder disappears. Brown, Jones and Robinson are no longer thought of as Brown, Jones and Robinson, but as heretics, gentiles, Yids, niggers, barbarians, Huns, communists, capitalists, fascists, liberals — whichever the case may be. When they have been called such names and assimilated to the accursed class to which the names apply, Brown, Jones and Robinson cease to be conceived as what they really are — human persons — and become for the users of this fatally inappropriate language mere vermin or, worse, demons whom it is right and proper to destroy as thoroughly and as painfully as possible. Wherever persons are present, questions of morality arise. Rulers of nations and leaders of parties find morality embarrassing. That is why they take such pains to depersonalize their opponents. All propaganda directed against an opposing group has but one aim: to substitute diabolical abstractions for concrete persons. The propagandist’s purpose is to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human. By robbing them of their personality, he puts them outside the pale of moral obligation. Mere symbols can have no rights — particularly when that of which they are symbolical is, by definition, evil.

Politics can become moral only on one condition: that its problems shall be spoken of and thought about exclusively in terms of concrete reality; that is to say, of persons. To depersonify human beings and to personify abstractions are complementary errors which lead, by an inexorable logic, to war between nations and to idolatrous worship of the State, with consequent governmental oppression. All current political thought is a mixture, in varying proportions, between thought in terms of concrete realities and thought in terms of depersonified symbols and personified abstractions. In the democratic countries the problems of internal politics are thought about mainly in terms of concrete reality; those of external politics, mainly in terms of abstractions and symbols. In dictatorial countries the proportion of concrete to abstract and symbolic thought is lower than in democratic countries. Dictators talk little of persons, much of personified abstractions, such as the Nation, the State, the Party, and much of depersonified symbols, such as Yids, Bolshies, Capitalists. The stupidity of politicians who talk about a world of persons as though it were not a world of persons is due in the main to self-interest. In a fictitious world of symbols and personified abstractions, rulers find that they can rule more effectively, and the ruled, that they can gratify instincts which the conventions of good manners and the imperatives of morality demand that they should repress. To think correctly is the condition of behaving well. It is also in itself a moral act; those who would think correctly must resist considerable temptations.

New at IWP Books: G. Lowes Dickinson, 1907, Justice and Liberty: A Political Dialogue. Books by GLD at IWP Books:

  • 1901, The Meaning of Good: A Dialogue
  • 1903, Letters from a Chinese Official
  • 1905, A Modern Symposium
  • 1907, Justice and Liberty: A Political Dialogue
  • 1914, Appearances: Being Notes of Travel
  • 1920, The Magic Flute
  • 1930, After Two Thousand Years

And: E. M. Forster, 1934, Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson.

E. M. Forster wrote that A Modern Symposium, might be called the “Bible of Tolerance.” The same might be said of Justice and Liberty: A Political Dialogue.

New at IWP Books: Thomas Raucat (1924) The Honorable Picnic. One of Jacques Barzun’s Favorite Books: “A novel of Japan that is hilarious through much of its span and turns beautifully tragic in a brief scene at the end. Expertly translated from the French.”

New at IWP Books: Hugh Edwards (1933) All Night at Mr. Stanyhurst’s. One of Jacques Barzun’s “Favorite Books”:

A strange, short novel that has been rediscovered more than once, been called a masterpiece by James Agate and Ian Fleming, and became popular as a BBC broadcast. In my experience it never fails to grip those to whom I recommend it, though its power, like its plot, is hard to explain.

Review at the Neglected Books Page.

New at IWP Books: Bernard Berenson (1952) Rumour and Reflection. On April 19, 1944:

London and New York send missionaries to China, to Africa, to the remotest and wildest parts of the earth, to inculcate the Gospel by the example of their own standard of life. Likewise we send expeditions to study the manners, customs, folkways of Trobriand, Easter Islands and other fashionable haunts of over-excited anthropological curiosity.

Many, myself included, question whether missionaries are not wasting our money, and their energies not doing the objects of their zeal more harm than good. We believe there are no end of Trobrianders, Easter Islanders and other neolithics, not to speak of palaeolithics, in our midst: in our slums as well as in every grade of society, the fashionable not least. We should prefer our missionaries to sacrifice themselves rather in humanizing these savages or barbarians, these fetish worshippers in our own ranks.

Anthropology should begin at home.

By anthropology I mean the study of usages, practices, manners, customs, beliefs, superstitions, etc., etc., that do not readily submit to rational treatment but remain as they are, mobile or fixed, and find brilliant defenders armed with all the learning that up-to-date research can apply.

I could wish that our anthropologists grew serious, and forgoing aquatic picnics among Pacific Islands would devote laborious years to the study of all that is naively taken for granted and no less tenaciously than irrationally held, by the average matron, the average business man, the average cleric, the average lawyer, the average soldier, sailor, administrator, butcher, baker, etc., etc., in our own societies, high and low, low and high.

Something of this kind must have been in the mind of the late Prof. Sumner of Yale with his sociological investigation and publications. Far from being a Philistine as Van Wyck Brooks designated him, we should honour him as the great scholar and pioneer that he was. What he meant to initiate was an inquiry as to what in our own people was too fixed, too immovable to yield to immediate philanthropic effort or legislative decree. What among “the heirs of all the ages in the foremost ranks of time” remains as little subject to persuasion and even to force as any other irrational energy, say a certain volume of water in motion or turning to steam.

You know enough about the nature of water not to argue with it, preach to it, or appeal to its better instincts. You let it alone; or if you must deal with it and want it to take a more convenient turn, you provide ample space for its career by canals, sluices, safety-valves and other devices.

Human nature in a given moment, at a given place is scarcely more subject to reason or persuasion.

From Jacques Barzun, “Berenson and the Boot” (The Griffin, 1952, @ IWP Articles).

The title, which appears perfect as one looks back on it, does not disclose ahead of time the character of the work. It is a diary kept in wartime, yet it is by no means a war diary. It is a journal in the grand manner of Gide — full of observations of men, art, and society; yet it is not simply a stream of thought accompanying work in progress. No life goes on in it but that of rumor and reflection, linked with the hope of survival. The sequence of intermittent jottings does show a dramatic shape, but this comes from the time and the events. We meet the author in January 1941 and he drops us in November 1944, immediately after we have endured with him the suspense of liberation under bombs and gunfire and the marauding acts of a retreating army. We pass, in short, from peace to war and reach as a climax the chaos that precedes the return of peace.

Except toward the end of the book, it is not our feelings that are harrowed but our minds that are engaged, for Mr. Berenson is a reflector in the active and the passive senses of the word, and the interlude in his career which the present pages record finds him fully and uncommonly equipped to sort out impressions and attach meanings to the madness around him.

New at IWP Books: G. Lowes Dickinson, 1901, The Meaning of Good: A Dialogue.

From G. Lowes Dickinson’s Recollections (cited in E. M. Forster’s biography):

To me the worst kind of disillusionment was that connected with universities and historians. Hardly a voice was raised from those places and persons to maintain the light of truth. Like the rest, moved by passion, by fear, by the need to be in the swim, those who should have been the leaders followed the crowd down a steep place. In a moment, as it were, I found myself isolated among my own people. When I say isolated, I do not mean in any sense persecuted. I suffered nothing in Cambridge except a complete want of sympathy. But I learned once for all that students, those whose business it would seem to be to keep the light of truth burning in a storm, are like other men, blindly patriotic, savagely vigilant, cowardly or false when public opinion once begins to run strong. The younger dons and even the older ones disappeared into war work. All discussion, all pursuit of truth ceased as in a moment. To win the war or to hide safely among the winners became the only preoccupation. Abroad was heard only the sound of guns, at home only the ceaseless patter of a propaganda utterly indifferent to truth.

New at IWP Books: G. Lowes Dickinson (1914) Appearances: Being Notes of Travel (in India, China, Japan, America). From “In the Rockies”:

Walking alone in the mountains to-day I came suddenly upon the railway. There was a little shanty of a station 8000 feet above the sea; and, beyond, the great expanse of the plains. It was beginning to sleet, and I determined to take shelter. The click of a telegraph operator told me there was some one inside the shed. I knocked and knocked again, in vain; and it was a quarter of an hour before the door was opened by a thin, yellow-faced youth chewing gum, who looked at me without a sign of recognition or a word of greeting. I have learnt by this time that absence of manners in an American is intended to signify not surliness but independence, so I asked to be allowed to enter. He admitted me, and resumed his operations. I listened to the clicking, while the sleet fell faster and the evening began to close in. What messages were they, I wondered, that were passing across the mountains? I connected them, idly enough, with the corner in wheat a famous speculator was endeavouring to establish in Chicago; and reflected upon the disproportion between the achievements of Man and the use he puts them to. He invents wireless telegraphy, and the ships call to one another day and night, to tell the name of the latest winner. He is inventing the flying-machine, and he will use it to advertise pills and drop bombs. And here, he has exterminated the Indians, and carried his lines and his poles across the mountains, that a gambler may fill his pockets by starving a continent. “Click — click — click — Pick — pick — pick — Pock — pock — pockets.” So the west called to the east, and the east to the west, while the winds roared, and the sleet fell, over the solitary mountains and the desolate iron road.

New at IWP Books:

New at IWP Books: E. M. Forster (1923) Pharos & Pharillon.

The career of Menelaus was a series of small mishaps. It was after he had lost Helen, and indeed after he had recovered her and was returning from Troy, that a breeze arose from the north-west and obliged him to take refuge upon a desert island. It was of limestone, close to the African coast, and to the estuary though not to the exit of the Nile, and it was protected from the Mediterranean by an outer barrier of reefs. Here he remained for twenty days, in no danger, but in high discomfort, for the accommodation was insufficient for the Queen. Helen had been to Egypt ten years before, under the larger guidance of Paris, and she could not but remark that there was nothing to see upon the island and nothing to eat and that its beaches were infested with seals. Action must be taken, Menelaus decided. He sought the sky and sea, and chancing at last to apprehend an old man he addressed to him the following winged word:

“What island is this?”

“Pharaoh’s,” the old man replied.


“Yes, Pharaoh’s, Prouti’s” — Prouti being another title (it occurs in the hieroglyphs) for the Egyptian king.



As soon as Menelaus had got everything wrong, the wind changed and he returned to Greece with news of an island named Pharos whose old man was called Proteus and whose beaches were infested with nymphs. Under such misapprehensions did it enter our geography.

New at IWP Books: E. M. Forster (1953) The Hill of Devi. Jacques Barzun, “The Secretary’s Turban and the Story Behind It” (The Griffin, November 1953):

In his biography of that unjustly neglected writer G. Lowes Dickinson, E. M. Forster records a moment in their friendship: “On October 11th, 1912, I hung over the edge of a ship at Port Said — my first glimpse of the East or of Dickinson in a sun-helmet. He bobbed far below me in a little boat, looking dishevelled and tired. He had been stopping at Cairo, and he was joining R. C. Trevelyan and myself to visit India.”

It was this first visit of Forster’s that led to his return in 1921, his serving for eight months as secretary to a maharajah, his finishing A Passage to India, begun after the earlier voyage, and finally his publishing just this year, under the title of The Hill of Devi, a remarkable account of all these episodes.

The book starts innocently with some letters of 1912 written to Forster’s family in England. It winds up with a tale of despair and disaster that is historically of our age, and yet forces the mind back to late Roman times to find an analogue, for it is a tragedy of state, of love, and of character. Between the quietly humorous start and the last irrevocable word occur the characteristic incidents of a Forster novel — extraordinary, ludicrous, touching, unbelievable — and all marked with the stamp of truth. Here at last no critic can pit his sense of probability against the novelist’s: it all happened “on oath,” it is a slice of modern Anglo-Indian history; and if the detail sounds fishy to the imprehensile ears of Suburbia, it is not because Forster has invented or distorted, nor is it because the scene is India; it is simply because Suburbia’s categories for life are a size too small.

Barzun’s review is available at IWP Articles.

New at IWP Books: E. M. Forster (1934) Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson. W. H. Auden (Foreword to the Abinger Edition, 1973):

I read this book when it came out in 1934. Rereading it now, it seems to me even better than I remembered… That this biography should be the great book it is, seems to me a miracle. To begin with, it is not easy to write justly and objectively about a personal friend, a situation which, Goldie wrote, when asked to review a book by Forster, “leads us Cambridge people to under-estimate virtues and gifts for fear of being too partial”. Then nothing is more difficult than writing an interesting book about a really nice person. The biographer of a monster, like Wagner, has a far easier task. Bad behaviour always has a dramatic appeal. Forster imagines Mephistopheles asking him why a memoir of Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson needs to be written, and when he answers, “My friend was beloved, affectionate, unselfish, intelligent, witty, charming, inspiring,” the devil says, “Yes, but that is neither here nor there, or rather it was there but it is no longer here.” Forster can only reply:

“These qualities in Goldie were fused into such an unusual creature that no one whom one has met with in the flesh or in history the least resembles it, and no words exist in which to define it. He was an indescribably rare being, he was rare without being enigmatic, he was rare in the only direction which seems to be infinite: the direction of the Chorus Mysticus. He did not merely increase our experience: he left us more alert for what has not yet been experienced and more hopeful about other men because he had lived. And a biography of him, if it succeeded, would resemble him; it would achieve the unattainable, express the inexpressible, turn the passing into the everlasting. Have I done that? Das Unbeschreibliche hier ist’s getan? No. And perhaps it only could be done through music. But that is what has lured me on.”

New at IWP Books: Leo Stein (1947) Appreciation: Painting, Poetry and Prose. From the Introduction:

Conventional thinking uses conventional classifications that are taken to be natural and inevitable, although in great part they lead to confusion. People speak as though they mean one thing when they really intend something else. A typical instance is that of the British Constitution, which even such clever politicians as the Founding Fathers did not really understand because the words used to describe it were fictitious. Not till Bagehot, well on in the nineteenth century, described it in terms which actually fitted it, did people stop thinking and speaking of it in terms that did not fit. It is a misfortune of our present culture that so much of our creative energy goes into our enormously available propaganda and so little into the precising of meanings, which is for the most part left to the men of science. Veracity means not lying, and nothing more stands in the way of veracity than words like democracy, liberty, good will, liberal culture, ideals and hundreds of other words, which sound as though they mean something particular but really mean anything or nothing. Instead of talking with detailed precision, which would show one’s hand, or more precisely, one’s mind and morals, one uses these inspirational, but to the critical mind, depressing words. There is no flattering unction laid to the soul more damning than holy words that cover realities with which holiness has nothing to do, and the first need of a substantial education is to learn the relation of words to things.

Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence:

Ortega y Gasset died at mid-century, but in his treatment of the arts, education, psychology, and social theory, this aptest observer of his period delineated the leading features of the next. That he was not much cited or quoted after his death does not amount to a settled judgment upon him. [The book to read is: Ortega y Gasset: A Pragmatic Philosophy of Life by John T. Graham.] Sooner or later he will have to be heard as a witness — and not alone. To know the whole century adequately, historians will have to listen to the words of several others who also belong to its formative time. To cite only three Americans: John Jay Chapman, Albert Jay Nock, and Leo Stein.

Books by Ortega y Gasset, John Jay Chapman, Albert Jay Nock and Leo Stein at IWP Books.

Leo Stein on William James (American Mercury, 1926). Soon at IWP Books: Stein’s (1947) Appreciation: Painting, Poetry and Prose.

From E. M. Forster (1940/1951), “Tolerance” (Two Cheers for Democracy):

Tolerance, I believe, will be imperative after the establishment of peace. It’s always useful to take a concrete instance: and I have been asking myself how I should behave if, after peace was signed, I met Germans who had been fighting against us. I shouldn’t try to love them: I shouldn’t feel inclined. They have broken a window in my little ugly flat for one thing. But I shall try to tolerate them, because it is common sense, because in the post-war world we shall have to live with Germans. We can’t exterminate them, any more than they have succeeded in exterminating the Jews. We shall have to put up with them, not for any lofty reason, but because it is the next thing that will have to be done.

Two Cheers for Democracy at IWP Books. Review by Jacques Barzun at IWP Articles.

New at IWP Books: E. M. Forster (1951) Two Cheers for Democracy. From Jacques Barzun, “Why Not the Third Cheer?” (The Griffin, 1951, volume I, no. 1):

Reading E. M. Forster’s new book makes it perfectly clear that he is first and foremost a novelist. Two Cheers for Democracy is a book of essays that constitute an affirmation of political faith, but it is the characteristic affirmation of an author who can scarcely keep from writing fiction.

Do not mistake me: I do not mean that his facts are false. I mean that the strongest impression left by the book is of dialogue, dramatis personae, vivid settings, and that confident hand of the master showman to which the novels have accustomed us. Whether the author describes in exquisite slow motion how a chicken casserole was spilled over his only good suit in South Africa, or whether he brings to life the figures of T. E. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf, he is unmistakably there, contriving to exhibit to its best advantage the contours of a reality that his clear imagination seeks and grasps. We se things all the better because he himself is so tangibly present, and also, of course, because he has no thought of showing himself of. On the contrary, he dismisses himself over and over again with the irresistible humor of one who prefers to be less important than his scene or subject, of one who expects to have the sauce spilled on his trousers and rejoices that he can make so much more of it than anyone else.

This atmosphere and this technique may seem far removed from politics but they are not actually so. The combination of being present and being unobtrusive is what Mr. Forster means by being an individual and a democrat. It is the point of his definition, which one will not discover in any single passage of the book but which arises unmistakably from the sum of his statements. These statements concern a great variety of subjects, ranging from general discussion of the arts and criticism to particular treatments of T. S. Eliot, Voltaire, Gibbon, Milton, Edward Carpenter, Auden, Stefan George, Tolstoy, and a number of obscurer men; from excellent pieces on war aims to sketches of travel in America, India, Africa, and Europe; from autobiography to obituaries and full-dress reviews of major writers. But because the democratic faith is truly in Mr. Forster, and because he has endlessly examined its grounds, he can impart it and show its relevance to whatever he touches. This power is in fact the result of what he means by “being an individual,” that is to say being not perfect but complete. And this in turn is what makes Two Cheers for Democracy a Portrait of the Liberal in Stubborn Mood.

George Santayana (Selected Critical Writings, 1968) on Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson:

My other friend at King’s [was] Lowes Dickinson. His classicism was not of the rough, coarse, realistic Roman kind, but Greek, as attenuated and Platonized as possible, and seen through Quaker spectacles. I liked his Greek View of Life, but it wasn’t Greek life as depicted by Aristophanes or by Plutarch; it was what a romantic Puritan of our time would wish Greek life to have been. War, lust, cruelty and confusion were washed out of it. Dickinson was super-sensitive, hard-working, unhappy, and misguided. His gift was for form; his privately printed poems seemed to me admirable; but his subject-matter was perverse, even in those poems, and much more, I think, in his philosophy and politics. He prayed, watched, and laboured to redeem human life, and began by refusing to understand what human life is. Too weak to face the truth, he set himself a task too great for Titans: to shatter this world to bits, and put it together again on a moralistic plan. If at least that plan had been beautiful, he might have consoled himself for his practical impotence by being an avowed poet; but his plan was incoherent, negative, sentimental. It was that no one should suffer, and that all should love one another: in other words, that no one should be alive or should distinguish what he loved from what he hated.

Poor Dickinson came once or twice to America, the first time to give some Lowell Lectures in Boston. It was winter, and he suffered from the cold, as well as from the largeness and noise of the town. I remember his horror when the electric car we were in got into the subway, and the noise became deafening; also his misery when one evening we walked across the Harvard bridge, and he murmured, shivering: “I have never been so cold in my life.” The cocktail, he said, was the only good thing in America. He hated the real, bumptious, cordial democracy that he found there; he would have liked a silent, Franciscan, tender democracy, poor, clean, and inspired. If he could have visited New England sixty years earlier he might have found sympathetic souls at Concord or at Brook Farm. He wouldn’t have liked them, reformers don’t like one another; but at least he might have imagined that the world was moving towards something better. As it was, he found that it was sliding hellwards with a whoop of triumph.

G. Lowes Dickinson at IWP Books.

New at IWP Books: E. M. Forster, 1936, Abinger Harvest. Which, according to Aldous Huxley, “contains some of the most delicately witty writing of our century.” From the Chapter on Wilfrid Blunt:

Which side are you on, Gog or Magog? O solemn question. Behold the two worthies, each a little moth-eaten but still hale and trailing a venerable beard. Fine work can be done under either banner, but which is it to be? Choose. Gog stands for — well you can see what he stands for, and Magog stands for opposition to Gog. So choose, and having chosen, stick, for such is the earthly destiny of man.

Hypnotized by the appeal, we choose. Sometimes we choose without thinking, sometimes sort our memories, prejudices, interests, and ideals into two heaps, call one Gog and the other Magog, and plump for the larger. In the first case our choice is known as instinctive, in the second as rational, but in either we are duly enrolled under one of the banners. It is seldom, very seldom, that a dreadful thing happens — an almost unmentionable scandal — and one of us refuses to choose at all, says: “I don’t understand,” or “Dummies don’t interest me,” and strolls away. He might, at all events, have the decency to keep away. But sometimes he will not even do that. He strolls back and begins interfering, just as if he had never forsworn his birthright. He sees what shouldn’t be seen and says what shouldn’t be said, he taps Magog’s head and, lo! it sounds hollow; he slits Gog’s breeches and out pours the bran. “Go away,” everyone shrieks, but he won’t go away. There is a flower he wants to pick, and a friend he wants to help irrespective of banners, and menaced by such an intruder Gog and Magog relinquish their hoary feud and make alliance. Here is the real enemy — the man who does not know how to take sides — and they agree that such a man shall never become powerful. He never does — giants can effect thus much. But he may be the salt of his age.

On Wilfrid Blunt, see, too, “Shooting with Wilfrid Blunt,” in Desmond MacCarthy’s Memories (PDF).

From Jacques Barzun, “Beliefs for Sale: 1900–1950” (2001/2002, The Georgia Review, v. 55/56):

I was reminded just a few days ago when Lord Lindsay died, of an address that he gave at Columbia shortly after he had become master of Balliol College. He began his remarks by saying, “Gentlemen, I should tell you that I am a liberal, a conservative, and a socialist.” Some of the audience were naturally bewildered, but Lord Lindsay went on to explain that he meant something which should by now be perfectly obvious… He meant that as a free man endowed with independence and originality — gifts of nature — he wanted a liberal regime; as a propertied man, a student of history, and a political philosopher, he wanted to conserve some of the great institutions and great traditions that his own country and Western culture generally put at his disposal; while as a man of the twentieth century he recognized the needs created by technology and the rise everywhere of popular states, of universal democracy. He knew that new institutions — whether called socialist or democratic or anything else — must arise to meet the demands of community life. The occasion for them may be public hygiene or flood control or the regulation of the airways: one need not specify here (nor be systematic anywhere) as regards the purview of the new collective institutions. The important thing is rather to recognize that the three traditions of the Western world can no longer be taken as mutually exclusive choices. The problem is not whether to stay a liberal and fight the conservatives, or else join hands between liberals and conservatives to fight the socialists. The problem is to find a way of compounding what is livable in all three so that a stupid, doctrinaire socialism will not down the liberal individual; so that a stupid, doctrinaire liberalism will not let the nation and the economy fritter itself away; and so that a stupid, doctrinaire conservatism will not sulk and dream, and resist the forward-moving reality.

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Christmas Album

Update: Aldous Huxley at IWP Books:

  • 1923, On the Margin
  • 1925, Along the Road
  • 1926, Jesting Pilate
  • 1927, Proper Studies
  • 1929, Do What You Will
  • 1930, Music at Night
  • 1934, Beyond the Mexique Bay (NEW!)
  • 1936, The Olive Tree
  • 1937, Ends and Means
  • 1941, Grey Eminence
  • 1947, Science, Liberty and Peace
  • 1950, Themes & Variations
  • 1956, Adonis and the Alphabet
  • 1958, Brave New World Revisited (NEW!)

From “Books for the Journey” (Aldous Huxley, 1925, Along the Road: Notes and Essays of a Tourist):

India paper and photography have rendered possible the inclusion in a portable library of what in my opinion is the best traveller’s book of all — a volume (any one of the thirty-two will do) of the twelfth, half-size edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. It takes up very little room (eight and a half inches by six and a half by one is not excessive), it contains about a thousand pages and an almost countless number of curious and improbable facts. It can be dipped into anywhere, its component chapters are complete in themselves and not too long. For the traveller, disposing as he does only of brief half-hours, it is the perfect book, the more so, since I take it that, being a born traveller, he is likely also to be one of those desultory and self-indulgent readers to whom the Encyclopaedia, when not used for some practical purpose, must specially appeal. I never pass a day away from home without taking a volume with me. It is the book of books. Turning over its pages, rummaging among the stores of fantastically varied facts which the hazards of alphabetical arrangement bring together, I wallow in my mental vice. A stray volume of the Encyclopaedia is like the mind of a learned madman — stored with correct ideas, between which, however, there is no other connection than the fact that there is a B in both; from orach, or mountain spinach, one passes directly to oracles. That one does not oneself go mad, or become, in the process of reading the Encyclopaedia, a mine of useless and unrelated knowledge is due to the fact that one forgets. The mind has a vast capacity for oblivion. Providentially; otherwise, in the chaos of futile memories, it would be impossible to remember anything useful or coherent. In practice, we work with generalizations, abstracted out of the turmoil of realities. If we remembered everything perfectly, we should never be able to generalize at all; for there would appear before our minds nothing but individual images, precise and different. Without ignorance we could not generalize. Let us thank Heaven for our powers of forgetting. With regard to the Encyclopaedia, they are enormous. The mind only remembers that of which it has some need. Five minutes after reading about mountain spinach, the ordinary man, who is neither a botanist nor a cook, has forgotten all about it. Read for amusement, the Encyclopaedia serves only to distract for the moment; it does not instruct, it deposits nothing on the surface of the mind that will remain. It is a mere time-killer and momentary tickler of the mind. I use it only for amusement on my travels; I should be ashamed to indulge so wantonly in mere curiosity at home, during seasons of serious business.

Aldous Huxley at IWP Books:

  • 1923, On the Margin
  • 1926, Jesting Pilate
  • 1927, Proper Studies
  • 1929, Do What You Will
  • 1930, Music at Night
  • 1936, The Olive Tree
  • 1937, Ends and Means
  • 1941, Grey Eminence
  • 1947, Science, Liberty and Peace
  • 1950, Themes & Variations
  • 1956, Adonis and the Alphabet

More on the way.

Aldous Huxley Interviewed by Mike Wallace.