22 MAY 1964, Page 21

The Search for Enlightenment

A Message in Code : The Diary of Richard Rumbold 1932-61. Edited by William Plomer. (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 36s.) MUTUAL friends tell me that Richard Rumbold had charm, but this quality is not revealed in his diary. I read with increasing sadness the arid memories of the airman whose young, inquiring face leads us to expect so much more.

Richard Rumbold's father was a domineering egoist who inspired terror in his wife and hatred in his children. The mother lost her reason, but was not segregated from the children; she later took her own life. Rumbold's sister followed her mother's example. An unhappy childhood is the stock-in-trade of most creative writers, but in Rumbold's case the fertiliser worked on a mind that was more aspirant than creative. Such originality as he displays here seems to be of temperament rather than of intellect. He seeks to be a writer whose work would 'inspire a kind of reverence for life,' but he gives himself to 'expensive, time-wasting journeys in search of one knows not what.' The early pages have little of interest. Why so many names had to be omitted I do not know, for the comingS and goings are dull enough. He is. interested only in himself.

Some vitality is infused into the diary when the author reaches Ceylon and considers Theravada Buddhism as a possible way through his frustra- tions. But, fatally caught in the web of Samsara, he goes on to Japan to consider Zen, the facetious knockabout philosophy which has been seized on as an escape-route by many of our harassed generation. Rumbold brought to Zen the sort of logical naivety which characterises many English minds—presented with the Zen riddle about one-hand clapping, he was, he tells us, 'absolutely stumped'—and it is doubtful whether he ever experienced Satori; yet even after he has wan- dered off to India, to the south of France, to Greece, to North Africa, to Rome—at times, so bemusing are these peregrinations, we do not even know where he is—he looks back to Zen for a solution of the 'message in code.'

Much must be excused any person oppressed by continual ill-health, but the reader, too, must be excused if it seems to him that we have here a man blessed with riches, freedom, good looks and many distinguished friends, who is devoured with dissatisfaction because he is not also a genius. Seldom has a minor talent received more encouragement, but it was G, a friend of a different class, who did not know how to handle a wine list, 'myself manqué, myself in embryo,' who answered with simple truth. Travelling luxuriously, attended by a devoted woman friend, acquiring beautiful houses and then rejecting them, accepting more literary assistance than any real writer would need or want, Rumbold began to wonder if, after all, it might not be more blessed to give than to receive. One friend had learnt through Zen how to love without being loved back. Might this be the heart of the mystery? But 'when I mentioned it to G, he replied rather curtly that my mind "had lost access to this feeling." ' Whether he died by his own hand or not—there is a doubt—one feels that for him death was release from a prison-house of humourless egocentricity.

Taken after the Rumbold diary, Joyce Cary's first piece of writing reads like a jolly, manly, adventurous serial from an Edwardian Boy's Own. In 1912, Cary, fresh from Oxford, fearing that there would be no more wars (as the old song threatened), took himself to the first Balkan rising against 'the sick man of Europe.' Cary later described his six months with the Red Cross in Montenegro as 'a holiday.'. It was certainly all good fun, from the brave old warrior whose toes were dropping off with gangrene to the foundling puppy who misbehaved in the blankets. There are passages which suggest a writer in the making, but not many. Mr. Allen, in his fore- word, has pinpointed most of them.