Category Archives: fortitude

W.E. Henley’s toxic stoicism

W.E. Henley: emotional constipation

Dalrymple draws attention to the distressing mental disorder exhibited in ‘Invictus’ (1875):

Out of the night that covers me
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbow’d.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

He notes that the deranged ‘fortitude’ and emotional repression that the poem betrays are deeply problematic, being

part of what is known, including by the American Psychological Association, as toxic masculinity.

‘Fortitude’ is treason to the self

Dalrymple says that

if only Henley had been true to himself, he wouldn’t have bothered with all that captain-of-my-soul stuff.

Instead he would have gone into

  • counselling
  • cognitive behavioural therapy
  • psychotherapy

Courses of treatment of this kind, which might usefully have been accompanied by colectomy, frontal leucotomy, Metrazol-induced convulsion therapy, laxative therapy, and insulin coma therapy (Insulinschockbehandlung),

would really have sorted him out and rid him of the poisonous notion that misfortune was something to be overcome by making the best of things.

Dalrymple points out that in advertising his neurosis by producing verse of such hysterical irrationality, Henley

set a very bad example, for not everyone can overcome misfortune as did he. By becoming famous, by achieving a great deal despite pain and illness all his life, he inhibited myriad others from admitting their vulnerability and victimhood, thereby reinforcing toxic masculinity.

Rather,

it was Henley’s duty to have been angry and resentful at his fate, thereby giving work to psychologists and psychotherapists. If everyone went round being the captain of his soul, what would there be for psychologists to do? They would need counselling about their loss of income.

Henley lived in Woking in the latter part of his life, though he also maintained a flat in this Battersea block

St John the Baptist Churchyard, Cockayne Hatley, Bedfordshire

A patient of Dalrymple’s

Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 23.48.53

From fresco cycle, Cappella degli Scrovegni, Padua. Giotto, c. 1305

She was, writes Dalrymple,

a working-class woman of dignified mien. Her brother died in a submarine sunk during the war, and her sister-in-law was killed in an air raid, leaving her the task of bringing up their orphaned child. Her husband had died comparatively young, and her first son had died of a heart attack at 42. (‘He had just finished a game of football, doctor, and was in the changing rooms. He fell on the floor, and his mates thought he had slipped, and they told him to stop messing about. He just looked up at them—smiled—and he was gone.’)

The bitterest blow

was the death of another son, killed in an accident in which a truck, carelessly driven, crushed his car. He was 50. She brought me his photo, her hand trembling slightly as she gave it to me. He was a businessman who had devoted his spare time to raising money for the Children’s Hospital. ‘It doesn’t seem right, somehow,’ she said, ‘that he should have gone before me.’ Did she still cry? ‘Yes, doctor, but only when I’m on my own. It’s not right, is it, to let anyone see you. After all, life has to go on.’

Could anyone, says Dalrymple,

have doubted either the depth of her feeling or of her character? Could any decent person fail to have been moved by the self-mastery she had achieved, the foundation of her strength?

Yet such fortitude

is the virtue that the acolytes of the hug-and-confess culture wish to extirpate from the British national character as obsolete, in favour of a banal, self-pitying, witless, and shallow emotional incontinence.

What Blair says about the British people

A modern Briton

A modern Briton

One of Blair’s motives for going to war might have been

an eye to his post-retirement value on the very lucrative American lecture circuit.

Blair, Dalrymple notes,

shows a greater avidity for vulgar high living than any recent holder of his office.

Dalrymple says Blair

presents us with a special puzzle. Although by no means an interesting man, in the sense that Doctor Johnson was an interesting man, we all find ourselves thinking about him at frustrating length. He is like a tune, neither loved nor lovely, that one cannot get out of one’s head.

In some ways

he appears to resemble that product of the diseased communist imagination, particularly beloved of Che Guevara, the New Man, at least in the sense that he does not resemble previous generations.

Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 11.06.14Blair

is neither honest nor dishonest: he escapes entirely the criteria by which such a judgment of him could be made. To argue with him that what he says or does now is incompatible with what he said or did yesterday is about as fruitful as arguing a paranoid man out of his belief that the secret services of many countries are after him, or that his neighbours are listening to his thoughts through a screening device that they have invented. In short, Blair, having been born with Original Virtue, suffers from delusions of honesty.

Leaders, Dalrymple notes,

grow out of societies and a social context: they do not fall like bolts from the blue. Blair both represents, and is a cause of an acceleration in, a change in character of the British people. He is far from unique in his ability to find the happy coincidence between his thirst for money and power and the highest moral principles.

Anyone who has had dealings with the British public service, Dalrymple points out, will know that the principal qualities required for advancement within it are

  • unceasing sanctimony
  • brazenness
  • a craven dedication to orders from on high
  • an ability to justify a complete change of direction at a moment’s notice
  • a capacity for bullying those lower down the feeding chain, or those jostling for a place at the trough
  • a rigid self-control, to suppress any independence of mind or a tendency to consider the ethics of orders to be implemented

What is required in the civil servant is the ability, for example,

to present cancelled operations as an inestimable benefit to the patients concerned, while at the same time spotting niches for a little commercial activity of his own, whether it be by using the rules of employment to his own financial benefit or setting up a consultancy to advise his former employers.

Dalrymple recently met a public servant

who had risen up the ranks and had about him the air of a successful revolutionary. He travelled to London on the train first class every week (a ticket costs the equivalent of an annual working-class holiday in the sun), and attended sumptuous functions there attended by others such as himself, under the impression that by so doing he was working.

Here was the voice

of militant mediocrity, who expressed himself even in private in the language of Health Service meetings, believing that his large salary and high living at public expense were all for the good of those who paid for them. Just as the countries of Eastern Europe once had their little Stalins, so every department of every branch of the British public service has its little Blairs.

Today the ruling characteristics of the British are

  • deviousness
  • ruthlessness
  • an eye fixed on the main chance
  • sanctimony in the midst of obvious wrongdoing
  • toadying
  • bullying

As late as 1979, the British people, including administrators in hospitals, were largely upright. Some of the old virtues were seen, such as

  • stoicism
  • honesty
  • fortitude
  • irony
  • good humour

These can still be found,

but only in people who are of no importance,

for in Britain, good people

are like a defeated class.

Dalrymple says that

when words become the test of virtue, they also become the masks of vice. That is why sanctimony and ruthless self-interest are such powerful allies.

Prove you’re a man: burst into tears

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 07.07.28Be a victim, be vulnerable

That, writes Dalrymple, is

the mission statement of many people in the West these days. Fortitude is treason to the self, that most delicate of creatures.

Pull yourself together!

This vice, this treason to the self.