25 OCTOBER 1930, Page 39

For the Sad and Lonely

In Defence of Sensuality. By John Cowper Powys. (Gollancz. 7s. Gd.)

Ms. BERTRAND RUSSELL'S new book is beautifully planned and written : it is neither more nor less than a guide to the fuller enjoyment of life. The author knows just what he wants to say, and says it brilliantly : the rest—the cloudland of mysticism and the dubious terrain of physical health— remains unseen. The worth of a guide is in its omissions as mach as in its contents.

We may dismiss at once the question-begging assumption that there are people who do not want to be happy, or that happiness is not our purpose in this world. The word itself is capable of many definitions : that of Mr. Russell is admirable : " the happiness that is genuinely satisfying is accompanied by the fullest exercise of our faculties, and the fullest realization of the world in which we live." No one could quarrel with that, or with this : " the happy man is the man . . . whose personality is neither divided against itself, nor pitted against the world. . . . It is in profound instinctive union with the stream of life that the greatest joy is to be found."

How is this union to be consummated ? The first half of the book is a study in the lack of co-ordination between the conscious and unconscious mind (all leading to misery in some form or other) and the second half is concerned with methods of integration, that is to say, with the ways and means of happiness.

" What can a man or woman, here and now, in the midst of our nostalgic society, do to achieve happiness for himself or

herself ? Mr. Russell answers his question by telling us to acquire, or reacquire, " a natural zest and appetite for possible things." We must learn to look outward, to become absorbed in the world. The happiness which a monk "attributes to religion he could have obtained from becoming a crossing sweeper, provided he were compelled to remain one. External discipline is the only road to happiness for those unfortunates whose self-absorption is too profound to be cured in any other way." Without going as far as the author, we may assent to the general proposition that self- absorption leads to sorrow. Introversion may well be the Devil of to-day. Then there is the competitive life of industrial civilization : that path also leads to wretchedness and sterility. Mr. Russell considers the big business man, who cultivates a firm jaw, a decisive manner of speech, and an air of sagacious reserve calculated to impress everybody except the office boy."

"The working life of this man (he writes) has the psychology of a hundred-yards race, but as the race upon which he is engaged Is one whose only goal is the grave, the concentration, which is appropriate enough for a hundred yards, becomes in the end some- what excessive. What does he know about his children ? On week days he is at his office ; on Sundays he is at the golf links. What does ho know of his wife / When he leaves her in the morning she is asleep. Throughout the evening he and she are engaged in social duties which prevent intimate conversation."

Mr. Russell is far too clever to be afraid of platitudes. Good books, like good lives, must have some dull stretches, and the truth is not always interesting and exciting. The truth about happiness is that there must be a capacity in its enjoyer to withstand boredom.

We come now to the consideration of stumbling-blocks such as fatigue, envy, the sense of sin, persecution mania, and fear of public opinion ; and then of stepping-stones such as zest, affection, family life, work, impersonal interests, and the balance between effort and resignation.

" Tho happy life," says Mr. Russell in conclusion, "is to an extraordinary extent the same as the good life. Professional moralists have made too much of self-denial, and in so doing have put the emphasis on the wrong place. Conscious self-denial leaves a man self-absorbed and vividly aware of what ho has sacrificed . . . it fails often of its immediate object, and almost always of its ultimate purpose.. . . I have written this book as a hedonist., that is to say, as one who regards happiness as the good, but the acts to be recommended from the point of view of the hedonist are on the whole the same as those to be recommended by the sane moralist."

On love and marriage, sexual relationships and family life Mr. Russell has wise and tender things to say-. His philosophy appears to have mellowed as well as deepened, and while remaining a rebel against convention, brilliant and provocative as ever, there is little here which we could not recommend to any modern boy or girl, and nothing whatever which will give a wrong bias to any mind strong enough to think for itself. This is a definitely helpful book, and one that should be kept and consulted in those dark hours that beset us all.

Mr. Powys's path to peace is the very opposite of Mr. Russell's, leading away, as it does, from the world of appearances to that eyrie where the " falcon soul " of man sits fast, lonely and undismayed. He makes a great pother of his cult of sensuality, of a " direct embrace of life," of a " sublimated synthesis of the sex-instinct, the hunger-instinct, the thirst instinct . . . a see-hear-touch-taste-smell complex, with an overtone of psychic imagination " ; but in the end his " iehthyosaurus-ego " lying in the mud and meditating on the " bare, stark, stoically-stripped Life Sensation which is the subject of this book " becomes so choked with words that we can gain no clear concept of the new sense of values that Mr. Powys would describe ; except a general and by no means original idea that there is power and strength and comfort in loneliness, under certain conditions.

That, at any rate, was this reviewer's impression. The author of Wolf Solent has exceptional descriptive powers, a rare feeling for nature, an extraordinary sense of the worlds visible and invisible that surround us with their material and magnetic influences, but in attempting to outline a new philosophy he has perhaps set himself a task beyond his powers. Perhaps, because new philosophies cannot be criticized at first reading. And is this a new philosophy ut all ? Mr. Powys would deny that his " grand secret of cosmic happiness " was the " dark night " of the Christian mystic's soul, or the " isolation " of the Oriental contemplative. But he would find it difficult to convince us out of his book that his thoughts —utterly sincere and spontaneous as they are—had not all been thought before.

However, whether what Mr. Powys has to say is new or true, it is indubitably said with a sustained nobility, some vivid flashes of insight, and a gay enthusiasm which warms the reader's heart, although the enthusiasm leads to a certain amount of reiteration. Let no one be dismayed by the title. We cannot think it well chosen, for sensuality means something as plain as a pikestaff : something which Mr. Powys hardly mentions and certainly does not uphold.