The 1923 Arnold Bennett book How to Make the Best of Life has some rather dated aspects (mostly related to the position of women in society — though in other ways Bennett was far ahead of his time) but it also includes splendid musings and solid advice ... all written in the highly entertaining Bennett style. I won't try to summarize the book, with its discussions of education, work, love, marriage, growing old, charity, society, etc. — but some amusing quotes out of context include:
- "The over-cautious will certainly exclaim here: 'But this is dangerous advice you are giving!' It is. All advice, however, is dangerous, both to the giver and to the taker. And to be alive at all is a highly dangerous experience." (see Tolkien in DangerousSelves)
- "The object of education is to prepare us for complete living."
- "The trouble about discussing how to make the best of life is that one is forced to make so many excursions into the obvious. The failure to make the best of life is due, as often as not, to the neglect of the conspicuously obvious — to the omission to do some perfectly simple thing which everybody agrees ought to be done, or to the commission of some perilous imprudence which everybody agrees ought to be very carefully avoided."
- "Savings are a weapon which no one can afford to disdain. The world is a dark forest infested by brigands and tigers; savings are the gun of defence."
- "The biggest things in life depend on the smallest things. That is why the smallest things, the prosaic and humdrum things, the things that superior spirits are so apt impatiently to scorn, need to be handled with the same efficiency as the greatest things." (see Mother Theresa in OnComfort)
- "Good manners were devised to act as a buffer between individualities in collision, and every meeting of individualities is a collision. They soften the crudity of human intercommunication. They are the buttons on the foils. They are the veil which hides certain secret places of the mind. No mind, however loving, could bear to see plainly into all the recesses of another mind. And the reader has only to lay bare his own mind in order to admit the truth of this statement. A society, whether of two or of many, is and must be organised on the basis of a thousand concealments. Good manners are a convention, and conventions are the preservatives of society. Without them blood would soon metaphorically or actually flow and the social fabric would fly apart. And further, good manners are a symbol of real or supposed good feeling. If the good feeling exists they serve hourly to illustrate it — and good feeling is effective only in so far as it is illustrated. If it doesn't exist, they in some measure take its place. At worst they cannot impair the good feeling: they always strengthen it."
- "The parent who snubs curiosity and argumentativeness is unrighteously shirking his duty for his own relief. The parent who ends an argument by the mere exercise of authority is despicable — and despicable, too, in the sight of the child. For the youngest child is well aware that a man who stands on his dignity must be a man of short moral stature. The insight of children into the psychology of parents is uncanny, — in all probability superior to the insight of parents into the psychology of children."
- "I am far off old age, but old age is approaching daily. The terrors of old age are solitude, neglect, boredom, lack of suitable activity, utter dependence on others, and the consciousness of wasted opportunities, of having achieved less than one might have achieved. What am I doing now to destroy those terrors, or even to minimise them? Am I sufficiently providing for the final years? Am I keeping my old friendships in repair and constructing new ones? Am I, in the intervals of satisfying my greatest interest, creating minor interests which will serve me later? Am I digging my groove so deep that I shall never be able to climb out of it? Am I slacking?"
- "The ridiculous self-sufficient prig lurks in all of us, a dangerous microbe. And it behooves us to keep a careful eye on him and crush him vigorously at short intervals. Otherwise he is capable of undoing most of the improvements in ourselves achieved by our high aspirations and our desperate struggles towards the light."
- "I willingly admit that you may have been unfortunate. You may have been born too soon. It may well be that you would have felt more at home a thousand years hence, after the community had had ten centuries in which to improve itself up to your level. And what then? What are you going to do about it? Bear a grudge against the eternal purpose? Don't attempt it. Nothing could be more absurd. Abnormally great and wise though you may be, the eternal purpose will beat you if you cross it. Accept it. Fall in with it. Go further and you will fare worse. Your natural community is the community for you, and the more you study it and the better you understand it, the more comfortable you will be. Also, if you are so much superior to your environment, is not your duty all the more plain and urgent to do what you can to ameliorate your environment?"
- "No corner of the field is too small to occupy. No effort is too humble to produce an effect worth producing. No effort is wasted. And there will never be any millennium, you know! The millennium is a chimera. A millennium involves perfection. A hundred centuries hence the citizens of those days-to-come, regarding us of the twentieth century somewhat as we regard the inhabitants of the stone age, will still be yearning towards the millennium and still be shocked by the scandalous imperfections of their humanity and the inefficiency of their communities. There can be no finality except death. The dream of a millennium is a device of nature's, and a very effective and agreeable device, for encouraging us to be persistent."
Sunday, March 19, 2000 at 18:36:23 (EST) = 2000-03-19