A book by Palinurus
, pen-name of the critic Cyril Connolly
. A meditation
, on talent
and on wasted talent, on depression
, and on many other topics. It was published in 1944.
It covers about a year of the writer's life and his changing moods. There are three parts to it, Ecce Gubernator, Te Palinure Petens, and La Clé des Chants; with an epilogue entitled "Who was Palinurus?". -- Actually Palinurus was the pilot in the Aeneid, who was swept overboard and whose manes (ghost) dwelt unquiet in the Underworld until his body was found and reburied. But Connolly weaves this story elaborately into his personal mythology.
He quotes extensively, especially from the writers whose genius he admired most: Pascal, De Quincy, Sainte-Beuve, Chamfort, Flaubert. The opening sentence sets the tone: "The more books we read, the clearer it becomes that the true function of a writer is to produce a masterpiece and that no other task is of any consequence."
Then he names a few masterpieces: the Odes and Epistles of Horace, the Eclogues and Georgics of Virgil, the Testament of Villon, the Essays of Montaigne, the Fables of La Fontaine, the Maxims of La Rochefoucauld and La Bruyère, the Poems of Pope and Leopardi, the Illuminations of Rimbaud, and Byron's Don Juan. He discusses what these share, and what the compilation of the list says about him. Many of them are reflective, contemplative, or melancholic, with a sense of our nearness to the Abyss.
He moves on to Love and Anxiety: "The object of Loving is a release from Love. We achieve this through a series of unfortunate love affairs or, without a death-rattle, through one that is happy."
Palinurus is bitter, he is bored, he frets about his wasted life. His previous incarnations were: a melon, a lobster, a lemur, a bottle of wine, Aristippus. He lived in Augustan Rome, in Restoration and Augustan London and Paris, and in the times and circles of Walpole, Stendhal, Flaubert.
From one paragraph to the next he skips to the personality of Jesus, to chemical stimulations to creativity, to nostalgia brought on by fruit and exotic pets, the teachings of Buddha and Chuang Tzu, and the difficulties and pain of relationships with women.
It is impossible to re-create much of the feel of a book that is itself made up of quotes, of snippets, of musings, of flickering and changing thoughts, of tears and renunciation and laziness: but this is a superb book, one that any budding writer, any lover of fine old literature, any depressive, any hedonist, anyone struggling with a tormented soul, should appreciate.