Friday, August 17, 2012

The Peaceable Kingdom

There are a lot of smart people out there.

    "Old General Ansell, who sat on one of his boards, had a metaphor which he was never tired of using.   It was drawn from the Western Front in the war.  He said it had been like a great pyramid with its point directed to the enemy.  Behind the lines was a vast activity -- factories like Birmingham, a network of railway lines like Crewe, camps, aviation grounds, square miles of dumps, hospitals, research laboratories, headquarters full of anxious staff officers.  But as one went forward, the busy area narrowed, and the resources of civilisation grew more slender.  And then at the apex of the pyramid you were back in barbarism, a few weary human beings struggling in mire and blood to assert the physical superiority which had been the pride of the cave-dweller.

You didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.

     The General had usually applied his parable in a far-fetched way, for he was a little sceptical of the plenary power of science and harped on human quality."



This short section from John Buchan's sad, artistically unsuccessful 1933 novel, A Prince of the Captivity, made me laugh a little at first because I love fusty old British general characters and Old General Ansell (who is introduced here but immediately disappears from the plot) seemed to be such a personage.  However, I also recognize the tragic truth in Ansell's observation. 

Caroline always says that if you're seeking an accurate picture of life, just switch on the Discovery Channel and view one of the many animal survival shows (the "prohibitive favorite" being BBC's  terrifying but stunning Killing For A Living), which some years ago became the ratings rage, replacing the older wildlife programs which mixed scientific description with gentle, cuddly animal depiction. 

I myself tend toward distraction and nervousness. Formerly I only felt trepidation leaving the house and then trying to cross tricky (actual or imagined) thoroughfares.  At home I felt safe.

Now between the wrong hour ringing telephone followed by whirrs and clicks, the unfamiliar email with the misleading subject line, and social media sucker punches, it's almost impossible to avoid daily stranger assertions of dominance, larceny (actual or figurative) and bloodletting.  

Buchan put all the pieces together in his final novel, Sick Heart River, by the way. A Prince of the Captivity, although enjoyable, is best viewed as a hasty, energetic study for that masterwork.

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