ADVENTURES OF AN UNDER - THIRTY [To the Editor of THE SPECTATOR.]
SIR,—In your article "An Under Thirty Page" in your issue of January 28th, you extol a vaguely defined Life of Adventure.
What is expected of the Under Thirties ? Aged twenty-one, in 5930, without special aptitude, at the incidence of the slump, I began to live a rather silly, squalid existence : I wandered in Europe, a "teacher of English" (any British resident in a European capital knows what that means) ; I had my strange and rather squalid little adventures (comparing unfavourably in every respect with Mr. Edward Shackleton's) ; I approached destitution from time to time ; I burned with zeal for various causes in the countries in which I lived, and wrote silly, tendentious articles of which nobody (quite rightly) took any notice. Then I taught in English prep. schools, threw myself with fatuous zeal into New Education (and then sickened of its fatuity) until I was twenty-six. Now during this period the not-young, friends and relatives, approved : I was "living dangerously " ; my letters were amusing, "so full of news " ; I was "really living," "so keen." I was, in fact, an immature puppy, full of puppyish enthusiasms and goodwill. As long as I did not ask for money it was a Good Thing I " fell on my feet." I was invited to recount my adventures, say amongst the Bulgars, in this or that Freak School. To my not-young relatives and friends I was News.
Then, aged twenty-six, projected marriage and philo- progenitive instinct made me wish to Settle Down. " Lusisti sans" I said to myself. I was almost a jack, certainly a master of no trade. Armed with some of the appropriate qualifications, I entered the travel business (as a clerk). For nearly three years I lived the life of the Honest Apprentice. I Went Through the Mill. My ascetic life, industry and studies in my profession would have delighted Samuel Smiles. Of course, the work proved interesting. But twelve hours daily (from May to September) of office work do not make for a joyful existence. (It is fair to add that at least ten of those daily hours were necessary in order to hold the job.) Wishing to project on my mentors the conception of myself spiritually bowlered, black-coated and umbrella'd, thoroughly settled, mature, balanced and a worthy potential paterfamilias, I stressed the prosaic aspect of my life. (It is true that my work very occasionally took me abroad for a day or two. But, after all, I had fewer holidays than most of my con- temporaries, and less money to spend on them.) "How nice," they said, "to be in Travel, to see places and people, and Go Abroad," I was still a playboy, earnest, perhaps, but not " serieux."
Then, the other day, conceiving myself to have a proportion of the necessary knowledge, I applied for employment to a great transport concern. They viewed me with distrust. Yes, I had the knowledge and ability to prove useful to them, but was I " serieux" ? Would I stay put, knuckle under, submit to routine ? I pleaded. Had I not worked honestly, soberly, regularly, humbly, for little reward, for nearly three years ? Had I not mastered important aspects of a trade ? Ah, yes, 'but that had been "Travel." I had, they said, been "gadding about." I tried to deny this. No, no. I would probably tire of them after three months, and "go waltzing off to South America." As for my not-young mentors, now that I no longer lived dangerously, had, through excess of sedentary work, become bald, fat, and scant of breath, I was a Failure.
The moral of that, Sir, is (I) that Under Thirties should not mind what Over Thirties say, unless they combine sympathy and intelligence to an exceptional degree, (2) that " everyman- . . . who at financial risk cuts loose from some . . . soul- destroying employment in the determination to find a vocation that will give his personality scope" is a fool—unless he gets himself ordained a clergyman of the Church of England, 'where, secure in a living, undisciplined, he can do and say exactly what he pleases in his efforts to ameliorate the world, where he can do much good, living dangerously with a steady income (of from £200 a year upwards), and, if he shouts loudly enough and knows how to use publicity, make quite a splash as well. The world has little use for dangerous livers, unless their dangers are News.
I don't suppose you will publish this .—Yours faithfully,