24 July 2020

Really Worth a Life

Stephen MacKenna, entry for January 15, 1908 (his 36th birthday),  Journal and Letters , ed. E. R. Dodds (London: Constable & Company Ltd, 1936), pp. 117-118:
I feel that my life is one long series of beginnings: I am always planning for next year, always working towards something, never at something. The one clear reason — whether 'tis an excuse or not, I don't know — is that nothing that is within my power interests me or seems worth doing. I am interested in Plotinus: to translate him into beautiful English and then to interpret him and press him into the use of this century seems to me, has always seemed to me, really worth a life — but I have not been able to give the work all my time and thought: I must write bosh and run about the world on stupid people's tracks.... I utterly lack the power many or most men have of working indifferently well at some one trade for livelihood while keeping two or three passionate efforts always marching quietly but surely on towards the great ends that are the real meaning and use of life. And, deep down, I cannot find in myself, in power or vision, any reason for believing that I can really add anything to the world, do any service: and anything less than such an effective service as will reach far beyond myself seems to me utterly unworthy. I have no interest in trifles, in trifling things or trifling people, and, being below or outside of the serious, I become trifling myself. The others I quietly scorn; myself I scorn bitterly, angrily.
MacKenna did manage to escape from journalism: He endured poverty, but completed his translation of Plotinus in 1930. He died four years later. May the earth rest lightly upon him!

All five volumes of his translation of the Enneads are on Archive.org:

They are lovely books. There's a full set available on Abe for $255.



Left: Title Page from Vol. 1                Right: Portrait of Plotinus from the Museo Ostiense, Inv. 68 (c. 205–270 AD)