Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Quotes: The Merry-go-round (1904) by W. Somerset Maugham

An extremely reserved man, few knew that Frank Hurrell's deliberate placidity of expression masked a very emotional temperament. In this he recognised a weakness and had schooled his face carefully to betray no feeling; but the feeling all the same was there, turbulent and overwhelming, and he profoundly mistrusted his judgement, which could be drawn so easily from the narrow path of reason. He kept over himself an unceasing watch, as though a dangerous prisoner were in his heart ever on the alert to break his chains. He felt himself a slave of a vivid imagination, and realised it stood again the enjoyment of life which his philosophy told him was the only end of existence. Yet his passions were of the mind rather than of the body, and his spirit urged his flesh constantly to courses wherein it found nothing but disillusion. His chief endeavour was the search for truth, and he strove after certainty with an eagerness which other men reserve for love or fame or opulence. But all his studies were directed at last to another end; convinced that the present life is final, he sought to make the complete use of its every moment; and yet it seemed preposterous that so much effort, such vast time and strange concurrence of events, the world and man, should tend toward nothing. He could not but think that somewhere a meaning must be discernible, and to find this examined science and philosophy with an anxious passion that to his colleagues in St Luke's, worthy craftsmen who saw no further than the slide on their microscopes, would have seemed extraordinary and almost insane.

Rising from his chair, Frank walked restlessly up and down the room. On a sudden he stopped short in front of Miss Ley.
'D'you remember your friend Mr Farley telling us the other day that pain ennobles a man? I should like to conduct him through the wards of a hospital.'
'I have no doubt that when he has a tooth drawn Mr Farley takes care that the gas should be properly administered.'
'I suppose divines can only justify pain by ascribing to it elevation of character,' cried Frank savagely. 'If they weren't so ignorant they'd know it requires no justification. You might as well assert that a danger-signal elevates a train; for, after all, pain is nothing more than an indication by the nerves that the organism is in circumstances hurtful to it.'
'Don't lecture me, Frank, there's a dear!' murmured Miss Ley mildly.
'But if that man had seen as much pain as I have he'd know that it doesn't refine; it brutalizes. It makes people self-absorbed and selfish - you can't imagine the frightful egoism of physical suffering - querulous, impatient, unjust, greedy, I could name a score of petty vices that it engenders, but not a single virtue. ... Oh, Miss Ley, when I look at all the misery of the world I am so thankful I don't believe in God.'
'For years I've toiled night and day to distinguish truth from falsehood; I want to be clear about my actions, I want to walk with sure feet; but I find myself in a labyrinth of quicksands. I can see no meaning in the world, and sometimes I despair; it seems as senseless as a madman's dream. After all, what does it tend to, the effort and the struggle, hope, love, success, failure, birth, death? Man emerged from savagery merely because he was fiercer than the tiger and more cunning than the ape; and nothing seems to me less probable than that humanity advances to any ideal condition. We believe in progress, but progress is nothing but change!'
'Where is the use of it? For all my labour I haven't the shadow of an answer. And even yet I don't know what is good and what is evil, what is high and what is low; I don't even know if the words have any sense in them. Sometimes men seem to me cripples ever seeking to hide their deformity, huddled in a stuffy room, lit by one smoky taper; and they crowd together to keep warm, and they tremble at every unexpected sound. And d'you think in the course of evolution it was the best and noblest who survived to propagate their species? It was merely the shrewd, the hard, and the strong.'

I was certain then that no God existed; but now I make a point of being certain of nothing: it saves trouble. Besides, each time you make up your mind you rob yourself of a subject for cogitation. But theoretically I cannot help thinking that for a quite reasonable view of life it is necessary to be convinced that no immortality of the soul exists.
When man is assured that the insignificant planet on which he lives, and the time, are everything so far as he is individually concerned, he can look about him and order himself according to the surroundings. He is a chess-player with his definite number of pieces, capable of definite moves; and none asks why the castle must run straight, but the bishop obliquely. These things are to be accepted, and with these rules, careless of what may befall when the game is finished, the wise man plays - not to win, for that is impossible, but to make a good fight of it. And if he is wise indeed he will never forget that, after all, it is but a game, and therefore not to be taken too seriously.
I think the most valuable thing I have learnt in my life is that there is so much to say on both sides of every question that there is little to choose between them. It has made me tolerant... [...] My art and science is to live. It is an argument of weak men to say that all things are vanity because the pleasure of them is ephemeral: it may console the beggar to look upon the tomb of kings, but then he must be a fool as well. The pleasures of life are illusion, but when pessimists complain that human delights are negligible because they are unreal, they talk absurdly; for reality none knows, and few care about: our only interest is with illusion. How foolish is it to say that the mirage in the desert is not beautiful merely because it is an atmospheric effect!'
I aimed at happiness, and I think, on the whole, I've found it. I lived according to my instincts, and sought every emotion my senses offered; I turned away deliberately from what was ugly and tedious, fixing my eyes with all my soul on Beauty - seen, I hope, with a discreet appreciation of the Ridiculous. I never troubled myself with current notions of good and evil, for I knew they were merely relative, but strove always to order my life so that to my eyes at least it should form a graceful pattern on the dark inane.

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