QUOTES from The Journal Of A Disappointed Man by W. N. P. Barbellion. Little Toller Books, 2010.
Begun when its author was 13 years old, the Journal at first catalogues Barbellion’s misadventures in the Devon countryside – collecting birds’ eggs, spying girls through binoculars – but evolves into a deeply moving account of his struggle with poverty, his lack of formal education, his flailing attempts at love, and most harrowing of all his slow death from multiple sclerosis.
Yet, for all its excruciating honesty, W.N.P. Barbellion has an extraordinary lust for life. As Zeppelins loomed above the streets of South Kensington, the humour and beauty he found in the world around him – in music, friendship, nature and love – deepens not just the tragedy of his own life, but the millions of lives lost during the First World War.
‘Many people go for a walk and yet are unable to admire nature simply because their power of observation is untrained.’ – p.20, Apr 2.
‘Language cannot express the joy and happy forgetfulness during a ramble in the country. I do not mean all the ins and outs and exact knowledge of a naturalist are necessary to produce such delight, but merely the common objects – Sun, Thrush, Grasshopper, Primrose, and Dew.’ – p.20, Apr 2.
‘A happy half-hour! Alas! I enjoy these moments the more as they recede. Not often do I realise the living present. That is always difficult. It is the mere shades – the ghosts of dead days – that are dearest to me.’ – p.27, Dec 7.
‘There is no fiercer Hell than the failure of a great ambition.’ Quoting John Keats. p.28, Mar 1.
‘Nature with clockwork regularity had all her taps turned on – Larks singing, cherries ripening, and bees humming.’ – p.39, Jun 27.
‘How delicious all this seemed! To be alive – thinking, seeing, enjoying, walking, eating – all quite apart from the amount of money in your purse or the prospects of a career. I revelled in the sensuous enjoyment of my animal existence.’ – p.42, Apr 7.
‘Up to now my life has been one of great internal strife and struggle – the struggle with a great ambition and a weak will – unequal to the task of coping with it. I have planned on too big a scale, perhaps. I have put too great a strain on my talents, I have whipped a flagging will, I have been for ever cogitating, worrying, devising means of escape. Meanwhile, the moments have gone by unheeded and unenjoyed.’ – p.43, Jun 2.
‘Real happiness lies in the little things, in a bit of garden work, in the rattle of the teacups in the next room, in the last chapter of a book.’ – p.55, May 9.
‘Get what you like or you’ll grow to like what you get.’ Quoting Bernard Shaw. p. 72, Jan 21.
‘… 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.’ – p.56, May 19.
‘The life of the Soul is different; there is nothing more changing, more varied, more restless… To describe the incidents of one hour would require an eternity.’ Quoting Eugenie de Guerin. p.103, Jul 14.
‘I have never felt permanently settled in this life – nothing more than a shadowy [i]locum tenens, a wraith, a festoon of mist likely to disappear any moment.’ – p.138, Sep 26.
‘You must carry a chaos inside you to give birth to a dancing star.’ Quoting Nietzsche. p.141, Oct 11.
‘The great thing to be thankful for is that I am alive and alive now, that I was alive yesterday, and even may be tomorrow. What, then, have I to complain of?’ – p.141, Oct 12.
‘The things immediate to be done, I could give them all up to hear this locust sing.’ Quoting Thoreau. p.175, Mar 22.
‘A Woodpecker tapping out its message aloft.’ – p.233, Aug 13.
‘My enthusiasm lay like a watch-spring, coiled up and hidden inside me, until that Thrush’s nest and eggs seized hold of it by the end and pulled it out by degrees in a long silver ribbon.’ – p.256, Dec 31.