Saturday, 16 July 2011

A Unique Glimpse into the Edwardian Age: The Journal of a Disappointed Man

I recently came across a reference to The Journal of a Disappointed Man, largely a story of the Edwardian years, written by a humane, witty, wise, and ultimately deeply insightful man named Bruce Frederick Cummings (1889 - 1919) who published under the hilariously inventive non-de-plume of Wilhelm Nero Pilate Barbellion.Who could resist "among the most moving diaries ever created," as it was once deemed by Ronald Blythe. The description for the UK Kindle version states that: "In short, the beauty of 'The Journal of a Disappointed Man' is Barbellion's personality shining through every aspect of his writing... Most importantly, what emerges is a complex, rounded picture of the 'disappointed man' himself -- to whose company you become accustomed, warts and all..." His portrait of the Edwardian age, ending with the cataclysm of the First World War also gives us a unique insight into this era.

 Cummings died young, suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. About his impending demise he wrote:
To me the honour is sufficient of belonging to the universe -- such a great universe, and so grand a scheme of things. Not even Death can rob me of that honour. For nothing can alter the fact that I have lived; I have been I, if for ever so short a time. And when I am dead, the matter which composes my body is indestructible -- and eternal, so that come what may to my 'Soul,' my dust will always be going on, each separate atom of me playing its separate part -- I shall still have some sort of a finger in the pie. When I am dead, you can boil me, burn me, drown me, scatter me -- but you cannot destroy me: my little atoms would merely deride such heavy vengeance. Death can do no more than kill you.
I have download a free copy here of the work (which has fallen out of copyright). (Copy digitized by Robarts Library at the University of Toronto.) Even a cursory glance through some of the entries reveals a diarist of great humour and sensitivity. I believe that one cannot be disappointed by The Journal of a Disappointed Man.*

*From a 1919 Daily Herald review of the book: "… Barbellion had a faculty for seeing what other people miss, for deductions that were free of conventional control, and for expressing his intuitive perceptions in a lively and illuminating manner, which is what we call genius."

Read more reflections on history, idleness, and the art of living from the Idle Historian in To The Idler The Spoils 
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