Cyril Connolly: A Definition of Civilisation in Threatening Times


Vineyard Haven, MA:  Planter 6/22/13
Vineyard Haven, MA: Planter 6/22/13

For 40 years, I’ve seen Enemies of Promise cited, quoted and (often, but not always) admired.  I have finally bought a copy.

Cyril Connolly wrote this memoir of growing up a very British critic from July 1937 to August 1938 and published it the week of the Munich Agreement (Sept. 30, 1938).  So says his foreword to the 1948 edition.

In the hot, anxious summer of 2013, I could not be undisturbed by these lines from Connolly’s last two paragraphs:

…in spite of the slow conversion of progressive ideas into the fact of history, the Dark Ages have a way of coming back.  Civilisation – the world of affection and reason and freedom and justice – is a luxury which must be fought for, as dangerous to possess as an oil-field or an unlucky diamond.

          Or so I think now…, a man as old as his Redeemer, meditating at this time of the year when wars break out, when Europe trembles and dictators thunder, inglorious under the plane [tree].

A close friend of George Orwell’s at St. Cyprian’s and Eton (which I wrote about here), Connolly will feature in several posts in the weeks to come.