15 MARCH 1940, Page 34

" Nothing Extenuate . . ."

The Autobiography of Havelock Ellis. (Heinemann. r5s.) To some few men in every generation is given the power to change the mental or moral climate of their time. Such a power is perhaps the truest criterion of greatness ; beside it the holocausts of soldiers and the orations of statesmen show like irrelevancies. By this criterion Havelock Ellis was a very great man indeed ; and it is the truest measure of his great- ness that the moral climate in which we now live seems so natural as to make successive generations less and lets capable of appreciating his achievement.

There is thus a peculiar interest in the story of his life, particularly as told by himself. What influences, personal and external, determined the nature of his life-work? How far did his own personal relationships illustrate the worth of his revolutionary attitude? By what steps did he gain his world- wide audience? What did he think of the sexual tone of the society which he observed at the end of his long life? What of the interweaving of intellectual and emotional forces, the impact of social observation and current events, the cross- fertilisation of ideas, which contributed to his achievement? So asking, one reads the five hundred-odd closely printed pages of his Autobiography—to be intensely interested, often deeply moved, frequently exasperated, occasionally repelled, and con- sistently baffled. For the most part, the answers simply are not there. This is essentially an autobiography of the spirit ; the story is told in terms of personal emotions and illumina- tions, sorrows, stresses and triumph over defeat. The writer was engaged on pioneer intellectual work which he regarded as of supreme importance, which ran counter to accepted social conventions, bringing notoriety before it brought fame, and which yielded him deep satisfaction ; that is all that matters to his story as he tells it. He had certain views about the relationships of men and women, derived apparently from intuition and revelation rather than any more objective source, and these views form the background of his marriage and emotional life generally. Again, that is all we need to know for the purpose in hand. The internal process of revelation, its emotional colouring, its external circumstances, are vividly rendered ; his personal relationships, particularly that with his wife, are lovingly described. The writer himself—the raw material of his own life and work—is delineated down to his digestive habits and style of haircuts. Ancestry, childhood, education, moves from place to place, casual personal and vocational contacts are chronicled like a dossier. But the final impression, for all the bulk and detail of the material, is of a personal lyric, a hymn to life, as independent of social implications as Richard Jefferies' Story of My Heart.

It is no use, then, lamenting that we are not given something like Beatrice Webb's My Apprenticeship—to pass from one extreme to the other. Havelock Ellis knew what he was doing. He offers " not a mere personal revelation . . . I do not come forward to say, ' This was the real Me—that was the

real She.' . . . I say . . . ' This is Life.' . . The narrative that holds a true picture of life should be helpful to many . . ." The Autobiography must be judged in terms of what its author set out to achieve. To this achievement he brings one great asset—an almost miraculous detachment and honesty ; and one great deficiency—a total absence of humour. The detachment becomes at times almost uncanny ; one not merely feels that he cannot be writing about himself or about a personal acquaintance, but that he has no personal link with his subject at all ; he might be chronicling the behaviour of Gamma rays or the structural changes of a colloid at different temperatures. Everything goes into the record, with scientific impartiality, without self-justification, self-excusing or self- abasement—subtle emotional shadings along with notes of height and weight. This, one feels, is indeed life, seen through clear glass and not through the magic crystal of an artist's ego. Such a vision is a rare experience. But how one hankers for an occasional flash of the essentially unscientific quality of humour! Humour, one theory holds, is the delight felt in incongruity ; here are incongruities galore (life being like that), but no sign that they appear as such to the writer, let alone that they afford him delight. It is the book's chief failing as a work of art, and from this there probably spring its secondary failings : the inclusion on the one hand of vast tracts of insignificance, and on the other of certain letters which seem not merely too intimate in their content but (to the outsider) too appallingly silly in their phraseology to reach print. Their story remains significant and moving ; the failure of a marriage too ambitiously conceived, throwing too much strain on ordinary human nature with its atavistic possessive instincts, handicapped by ill-health and alien social judgements, yet whose shipwreck was transmuted little by little into spiritual enrichment and even happiness. Having been given that story, it seems ungenerous to quibble at the manner of its telling— to the teller the only manner—and pointless to ask for a story totally different. But the full account of Havelock Ellis the prophet, the moulder of men's lives, remains unwritten ; and written some day it surely must be. One may hope that the

task will fall into good hands. HONOR CROOME.