Part of a Journey by Philip Toynbee (Collins 19.95) THIS IS an extremely moving book by a contemporary poet and thinker of first importance.
It is almost embarrassingly frank about the despair into which a sensitive soul can be plunged by the mere business or living, let alone the bearing of tragedy.
There are few types of despair more poignant than that which seems to have no reason or possibly national explanation. This diary of a two-year period tells how Toynbee found salvation in his own way.
It all began in 1975 when the author was coming to the end of the writing Of gigantic "tragiccomic" epic Pantaloon. on which he had been working for a quarter of a century.
Perhaps he felt a bit like Gibbon who longed to be rid of Roman Empire before he himself declined and fell, but then found that he could scarcely live without the daily grind that its composition demanded.
Toynbee very slowly, very vividly, brings the reader with him through the two years of suf
lering, working, thinking and advancing into faith with so many, perhaps not always conscious. insights into life and human nature.
The middle aged person who may feel like making a "new Start" but is afraid it might b e too late can. from these pages. gain enormous hope.
What Toynbee did was to give up trying to find the causes and roots of his depression — the Freudian technique — in order, rather, to look for their purpose — the Christian approach. His final resolution of his problems which must in so many ways reflect the problems of many others, were original, practical and immensely encouraging.
There are two rather surprising errors, one minor the other major. Volter face appears instead of mite face.
But more disconcerting is the sentence (page 396) "I could amend what was said of Maria Teresa '11 prend et il pleure toujours'." Grammar and history seem both to have here been thrown overboard. What was actually said (by Voltaire) of the Empress of Austria was that "elle pleurait mais elle prenait toujours."
Overall, however, and from an unlikely wadge of raw material. this book is a work of art in its way and a sort of minor masterpiece.