The other day I ran into a lovely quote from T. H. White's 1938 novel The Sword in the Stone. Which reminded me that I read that book a long, long time ago—and that I might benefit from reading it again. So I went on a little Amazon shopping spree (I know: I should be boycotting Amazon . . . next time I'll make it a Powell's shopping spree, promise). And today my new books arrived! Among them, the tetralogy (of which The Sword in the Stone is book one) The Once and Future King (1958).
White, Wikipedia tells me, was born in India in 1906 and had a troubled childhood, with an alcoholic father and an emotionally distant mother who divorced when he was fourteen. He attended public (i.e., private) school in Gloucestershire, then Cambridge University, graduating in 1928 with a degree in English (his thesis was on Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur); he taught for a few years, spent the war years in Ireland, and finally settled on Alderney, one of the Channel Islands. He may have been a closet homosexual, and toward the end of his life he was a heavy drinker. His biographer said of him, "Notably free from fearing God, he was basically afraid of the human race." He died of heart failure in 1964 aboard a ship in Piraeus (Athens), returning home from a lecture tour in the United States. He was fifty-seven; he is buried in Athens.
But he is of course best known for The Once and Future King, and perhaps especially The Sword in the Stone (in part because of the 1963 Disney treatment, not to mention the musical play and movie Camelot). Ursula K. Le Guin, in her blurb on the copy I received today, says, "A fierce and damaged man, T. H. White wrote about fierce and damaged people—and children, and animals—with a brilliant, painful innocence that has no equal in literature. He is so good at hurt and shame—how did he also manage to be so funny? I have laughed at his great Arthurian novel and cried over it and loved it all my life."
Here's the quote that elicited this post. Read it and see if you don't think it's lovely too.
"The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn."