glyph 572: Charles Morgan, English novelist, essayist, critic . words, their use, degradation, and restoration ... freeorder (see last sentences of the essay)


"Serenity," an essay by Charles Morgan

from The Writer and his World: Lectures and Essays (London: Macmillan, 1960)

The first paragraphs of Morgan's essay:


    At the heart of the unease of the world as it moves on into the second half of the twentieth century is our sense that the tragedy in which we live is, as tragedy, bad. It is as though Phèdre were being written by a garage-boy or Antony and Cleopatra by an idiot. The lines do not scan, the structure is confused, no form is felt to be completing itself. The purgative effect of tragedy is absent.

    One of the reasons is that, in each man's mind, events have become more and more widely separated from his sense of personal responsibility. Good and evil befall him like thunderbolts from the sky. He works hard, he prospers in his trade or profession, he saves money, he looks forward to independence in the future or to a holiday now, and suddenly one morning he awakes to find that a new series of arbitrary controls or a manipulation of the currency has ruined him. The explanations offered are jargon in his ears. He does not understand them and gravely suspects that the so-called 'experts', who contradict one another and whose prophecies are continually falsified, understand them little better than he. Of one thing only is he certain: that what has happened has happened independently of his conscious will. He is visited by a sense of the irrational, the arbitrary and the formless in human affairs. He begins to feel like a wasp trapped in a jam-jar half-filled with beer and honey. He has begun to climb out of the trap, to scale the glassy wall through which he can see sunshine and freedom, when suddenly someone picks up the jar and swirls it around; he is thrown back into the trap again.

    A second reason for the conversion of the human drama from high tragedy to a species of irrational farce is that it is continually interrupted and dominated by teams of clowns and robots, committees, councils, assemblies, conferences, societies, who run about the stage in criss-cross patterns, shouting in all the tongues of Babel that they have come to save the world and issuing communiqués elaborately designed to conceal meaning.

The full essay, and an introduction to Charles Morgan:
April 28, 2017; edited/updated December 1, 2019

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