I sometimes think the man who first said that "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" must have said it in November. The autumn is full of good intentions — just as spring is full of holiday and hope, and summer of heat and dolce far niente. But, just as the first warm day in June fills you with a physical vitality which you feel convinced that you must live for ever, so autumn makes you realise that life is fleeting and the mind has not yet reached its full development, nor intellectual ambition its complete fruition. Perhaps it is the touch of winter in the air which braces your mind and soul and gives you the impression that, given the long autumn evenings over the fire undisturbed, your brain will soon be capable of tackling the removal of mountains. If you are unutterably silly (as so many of us are — alas ! for the world's sanity; but thank heaven for the world's humour!) you will plan a whole curriculum of intellectual labour for the quiet evenings over the fireside. Oh, the books — good books, I mean — you will read! Oh, the subjects you will study! Perhaps you will learn Russian, or maybe something strange and out-of-the-ordinary, like Arabic! You dream of the moment when, speaking quite casually, you will inform your friends that you are reading the whole of the novels of Balzac; that you are studying for the law and hope to pass your "Final" "just for the fun of the thing"; that you are learning Persian, and intend to retranslate the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and discover other Eastern philosophers. In fact, there is no end to the things you intend to do in the autumn evenings over the fireside when your labours of the day are over. Briefly, you are going to "cultivate your mind" ; and when people talk about "cultivating their minds," they usually regard the mind as a kind of intellectual allotment which anyone can till — given determination, an easy-chair near a big fire, and the long, long autumn evenings.
30 October 2014
Long Autumn Evenings
Richard King (pseudonym of Richard King Huskinson, 1879-1947), Over the Fireside with Silent Friends (London: Bodley Head, 1921), pp. 60-61: