Comments 24

Quotation: Aldous Huxley, 1916

“…Summon the staff in my study – quickly. No not you – you. Huxley, you come with us too – quickly, quickly, he’s below.’ So, swept along, wafting down the gallery, I was given to realise that Muir Fisher and myself were an advance welcome party for unexpected dignitary. But what kind? Royalty? a business man with an ambition to have a pavilion named after himself? These little prostitutions I was already adept at completing. We clattered down the stairs. A thin wire-taut young man was standing in the hall. He was wearing a great coat with a 2nd Lieutenant’s insignia and was examining our brave new plaque for the honouring of the Repton war dead. The noise of our advance made him turn his head. Even without the coat and the careful scanning of the names, one could have told what he was. You could see them evrywhere, our scapegoats, translucent beings through whom a diffuse despair seemed to phosphoresce. When they were your brothers or your friends you hid the awkwardness of imminent death with high strung laughter, and when they were strangers you tried to find dormant gratitude. But today we were apparently going to offer this one school sherry in congratulation for his coming immolation.

Fisher squeezed his hand and endeavoured to pull him towards the staircase and our assembling staff up above. But he was bird-nervous and wise to us. He did not want to play caesar in our vicarious pageant, discovered other engagements and urgent trains. But how nakedly they wanted him; how they wanted him their pipped sacrifice to drink their sherry and so carry their sins of complacency out of the old stones.

I was pushed forward as last and desperate bait – ‘meet mr Huxley, who is in your old house’. I extended a helpless hand, he took it fleetingly. I was overwhlemed by the need to apologise for myself, and for this absurdity. I wanted to tell him I was all but blind otherwise I would be about to absorb bullets and horror too. I wanted to tell this putative war hero the story of my life and beg him to absolve me. I wanted him to know i didn’t think sherry a suitable recompense. His desperateness to be gone was contagious. I wanted to go with him, to run madly out of those doors and reclaim a little dignity. For a moment the mad thought of catching his khaki slipstream, but then he was gone and I remained, with Fisher and Muir and their bitter disappointment. It happened so quickly I did not even know the name behind the eyes until long afterwards, when I discovered it on our other (smaller) plaque of living war heroes. ‘Rathbone – Phlip St. John Basil. MC (1918)’. His little brother John died in that war. It was our first meeting, but in later years he had entirely forgotten my part in the obscene little drama…”

Aldous Huxley, 1943


  1. Carolyn says

    Basil must have been reading that plaque (just another dusty faded thing on a wall somewhere to us today) but he was scanning it for names of his friends and kids he knew at his school! Remembering playing games with them, picking kids when choosing up sides for teams, or running with them in races at track meets. That was the first “modern war” in which regular people got torn out of their lives and thrown into war, France and England and many other countries losing an entire generation of young men, including Basil’s brother John. That sadness was always there in Basils eyes, Huxley saw it I think in this sketch. Just another soldier home on leave.


  2. AnnaPindurka says

    I have just found an online link to The Gioconda Smile, a short story by Aldous Huxley. It feels a bit like fanfiction in that Mr. Hutton in the first page reads like the writeup of a character played by Basil. I’m sure it is just a type that is not so common anymore and is embodied for me by him.
    Marcia has a page about the production of the play that was adapted from this story:


  3. Hally says

    I read this out in my English class and before I said any names my teacher said ‘That’s Aldous Huxley” and everyone was like “woah cool” which was nice! 🙂


  4. cinegeek says

    Huxley was also in Hollywood while Basil was there. And he famously experimented with drugs and wrote ‘the doors of perception’ while stoned off his ass 🙂


  5. Hot Chick says

    Beautiful quote. I want to watch this scene in a movie you know? His prose lets you picture it so vividly you can see the scene already, replete with camera angles!


  6. Thanks to Cherryice Very interesting. All I know of Aldous Huxley is Brave New World, which I constantly confuse with 1984


  7. Nanny Gog says

    Poor young Basil! Poor Huxley. And poor Fisher too in a way. Apparently he became Archbishop of Canterbury according to his Wiki


  8. roesbette says

    I find this quote so moving. It paints a picture of the young Basil that we don’t knowas seen by an observer, but that portrait is already touched by loss and the poignancy of the nearness of death.. How much of those wartime memories, that sense of loss lingered throughout Rathbone’s life, I wonder. Could that fear of loss explain so many of his later decisions — staying in a flawed marriage for the sake of stability, enjoying the high life in Hollywood and sharing one’s munificence with others because who knows how long life will last… One wonders.


  9. It’s a marvelous quote – Huxley captures so concretely the undercurrents of this situation, the awkwardness on both sides and the conflicting desires – from Huxley, a deep embarrassment and yet a kind of repressed relief that he’s not facing what Rathbone will face; and on Rathbone’s part, just a need to be away from these people who have no idea what he’s going through. And Rathbone looks so melancholy and beautiful in his early photo; there’s a haunting spirituality on his face, as if part of the encumbering flesh has been scraped away, baring the sadness beneath.


    • Margaret G says

      What a splendid description of what I wasn’t eloquent enough to find words for! I hope you are using that talent! And what you say is so true. His face ha a strange ethereal-sad quality in a lot of his early photos, and I am sure it’s to to with the war “translucent beings through whom a diffuse despair seemed to phosphoresce” what a master of language !


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