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BennettOnStoicism

Arnold Bennett was a British novelist (1867-1931) who also wrote some fascinating books of advice on self-improvement (or, perhaps equivalently, on Stoic philosophy). Some brief, thought-provoking excerpts follow.

From Chapter VII of How to Live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day (1907)

I do not care what you concentrate on, so long as you concentrate. It is the mere disciplining of the thinking machine that counts. But still, you may as well kill two birds with one stone, and concentrate on something useful. I suggest—it is only a suggestion—a little chapter of Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus.

Do not, I beg, shy at their names. For myself, I know nothing more 'actual,' more bursting with plain common-sense, applicable to the daily life of plain persons like you and me (who hate airs, pose, and nonsense) than Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus. Read a chapter—and so short they are, the chapters!—in the evening and concentrate on it the next morning. You will see.

Yes, my friend, it is useless for you to try to disguise the fact. I can hear your brain like a telephone at my ear. You are saying to yourself: 'This fellow was doing pretty well up to his seventh chapter. He had begun to interest me faintly. But what he says about thinking in trains, and concentration, and so on, is not for me. It may be well enough for some folks, but it isn't in my line.'

It is for you, I passionately repeat; it is for you. Indeed, you are the very man I am aiming at.

Throw away the suggestion, and you throw away the most precious suggestion that was ever offered to you. It is not my suggestion. It is the suggestion of the most sensible, practical, hard-headed men that have ever walked the earth. I only give it to you at second-hand. Try it. Get your mind in hand. And see how the process cures half the evils of life—especially worry, that miserable, avoidable, shameful disease—worry!

From Chapter XIII of The Human Machine (1908)

I suppose there are some thousands of authors who have written with more or less sincerity on the management of the human machine. But the two which, for me, stand out easily above all the rest are Marcus Aurelius Antoninus and Epictetus. Not much has been discovered since their time. 'The perfecting of life is a power residing in the soul,' wrote Marcus Aurelius in the ninth book of 'To Himself,' over seventeen hundred years ago. Marcus Aurelius is assuredly regarded as the greatest of writers in the human machine school, and not to read him daily is considered by many to be a bad habit. As a confession his work stands alone. But as a practical 'Bradshaw' of existence, I would put the discourses of Epictetus before M. Aurelius. Epictetus is grosser; he will call you a blockhead as soon as look at you; he is witty, he is even humorous, and he never wanders far away from the incidents of daily life. He is brimming over with actuality for readers of the year 1908. He was a freed slave. M. Aurelius was an Emperor, and he had the morbidity from which all emperors must suffer. A finer soul than Epictetus, he is not, in my view, so useful a companion. Not all of us can breathe freely in his atmosphere. Nevertheless, he is of course to be read, and re-read continually. When you have gone through Epictetus—a single page or paragraph per day, well masticated and digested, suffices—you can go through M. Aurelius, and then you can return to Epictetus, and so on, morning by morning, or night by night, till your life's end."

And finally, an entry from Arnold Bennett's personal journal, dated Friday April 3, 1908

Every morning just now I say to myself: Today, not tomorrow, is the day you have to live, to be happy in. Just as complete materials for being happy today as you ever will have. Live as though this day your last of joy. 'How obvious, if thought about'—yet it is just what we forget. Sheer M. Aurelius, of course.

Thursday, April 29, 1999 at 18:01:45 (EDT) = Datetag19990429

TopicBennett - TopicLife - TopicStoicism - TopicThinking


(correlates: EatTheOrange, PoeticLines, SecondHand, ...)