Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Quotes: Strictly Personal (1941) by W. Somerset Maugham


If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.

Ever since I was nearly drowned in Borneo I have had an unreasonable horror of death by drowning: unreasonable, I say, because on that occasion I was so exhausted by the effort of keeping afloat that I wanted nothing more than the rest of death. I felt no fear. I had had a long life, I had done pretty well all the things I wanted to do, and in the few years that remained to me I could look forward only to the gradual failing away of my powers and the gradual decrease of my capacity of enjoyment; I wondered if it was worth while to make a further effort or if it would not be more sensible to call it a day. I had upstairs in my bedroom a little tube of sleeping pills which I knew would bring me the release I sought. But on the other hand there was an even chance of getting through, I knew that my death would grieve one or two persons who were fond of me, I had still several books to write, and I did not really want to lose those last few years of my life when I could sit back, having finished my long labour, and for the first time indulge myself without qualms of conscience in the luxury of leisure. I had borne a good deal of pain in my day, and I didn't suppose it took more than a minute or two to drown. I made up my mind the risk was worth taking.

Altogether four persons went out of their minds. One of them, a man between forty and fifty, was an ex-officer, and I think he lost his reason owing to a sudden and enforced deprivation of alcohol. He was quite harmless and used to wander about in fantastic clothes that he had somehow got hold of. One day he plastered his chest with decorations he had made out of pieces of paper and with a rolled-up sunshade that represented a swagger stick reviewed his regiment. He went up to a startled group sitting on the bulwarks and said:
''Your buttons aren't polished. Perfectly disgraceful''
Then he turned to an imaginary officer behind him and in a barking voice asked him what the devil he meant by not seeing that his men were properly turned out. Once, draped in blankets, he saw himself as an Arab sheik standing proudly on the ramparts of his citadel; he scanned the desert for the oncoming hordes and shouted superbly ''Let'em all come.'' On another occasion he was the squire of dames, and when some woman got up from the deck to change her seat insisted on carrying her knitting for her and with old-world courtesy arranged her cushion when she sat down again. He was probably the happiest man on board, for he lived in a world of illusion. It was a sad day for him when we arrived in Gibraltar and he was able to get a bottle of whiskey; he recovered his wits, such as they were, and re-entered the grim world of reality.


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