Addendum: “Be Honest with Yourself… ” & Kitchener versus Beckett.

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Just a few days after posting on First World War recruitment posters, (seen at an exhibition in Collins Barrack in Dublin) it is now Saint Patrick’s weekend here in Dublin.  Earlier today, myself and a friend participate in a treasure hunt around the city, and on our tour, we come across this image above.  I felt I had to add it here, as an addendum to the other recruitment posters in that previous post.   It differs slightly from them in one key respect.  The gentle coaxing and bluff chiding is gone.  Instead the psychology behind the wording on this poster is so brutally manipulative, clearly designed to shame men into going to war.

We saw it when directed to the excellent Little Museum of Dublin, a fine, eclectic but well curated display of old images and artifacts tracing the history of the city, housed in a fine 18th century townhouse on Saint Stephen’s Green.  This was not quite my first visit there, but it was the most enjoyable.

There are lots of wonderful objects in the museum, from metal tokens used by Dublins fruit and vegetable market traders, to antique postcards, old maps, theatrical posters and playbills, tram tickets and to portraits.  Among other portraits were spotted painter Francis Bacon, writers Sam Beckett  and Colm Tobin and of course, the inevitable Bono.

One of the nicest items in the museum is a small neatly written postcard from the famous playwright Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) sent from his home in Paris, to a small boy back in Dublin.  Beckett’s childhood, family home was in Foxrock, (a leafy residential area a mile or two south of Dublin city centre)  He spent 6 six years as a boarder at the Portora (Royal) school at Enniskiillen, county Fermanagh, (now in Northern Ireland) before spending another year or two back in the family home during his first couple of years as a university student in Trinity College.  Soon after university of course Beckett moved to Paris, met and worked as literary assistant to James Joyce. Later when the Nazis invaded, he chose to stay Paris and worked for the French Resistance, until his cell was broken up by the Gastapo and Beckett had to flee for his life.  He and his partner, later wife, were hidden in rural France, protected by friends from the Germans and survived the rest of war.   He was later decorated by the French Government for his war work, as well of course as writing works like Krapp’s Last Tapes; Waiting for Godot; Endgame and Malone Dies; becoming one of the major writers of the 20th century and winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.

But what about the postcard?  Well, sometime in the 1980s, when Beckett was elderly, he received a letter from a small boy whose family had moved into the Beckett’s previous family home in Foxrock.  The boy, (who had perhaps been given a project by his English teacher) wanted to know where Beckett had slept in the house, where he went to school and where he’d played locally.  The great man wrote a postcard in reply, detailing his home and school life in brief but precise terms.  I suppose there are some aging and eminent men who may not have found time to reply to a small boy in suburban Dublin, but Beckett did.  His response is a model of precision, detail, gracious good manners and self-deprecating humour.   He answered al the boys questions, lists the schools he went to and where they were located, and which rooms in the house he slept in at various points in life, then signs off, “yours antiquatedly…  Sam Beckett”

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I’m lucky enough to have a very good framed portrait of Beckett hanging in my room here. (above)  It’s an original print from a negative of 1985 of Mr Beckett at his regular Paris cafe, taken by the photographer John Minihan, who had become a friend of his.  The print was a present from my mother. It’s one of my most prized possessions.    If ever I am tempted to give up or to compromise much on quality, honesty or effort, one look up at this photo, and these stern and beaky features usually puts me in my place. It is normally enough to chide one on to better efforts.

“Ever tried.  Ever Failed.  No matter  Try again. Fail again. Fail better. “    (Worstward Ho. Samuel Beckett, 1983)

With respect to Lord Kitchener, and his recruitment drive, that’s the kind of honesty I’m usually prepared to give.

4 thoughts on “Addendum: “Be Honest with Yourself… ” & Kitchener versus Beckett.

  1. Thank you so much, Arran, for this unusual story about war, the great man, little boy and wonderful Mother’s present. I am deeply impressed.

    1. Yes, it is a nice little story isn’t it? about Beckett in Paris, writing his postcard to the boy back here in Dublin. A tiny story of course, and a small artifact. But revealing nonetheless. As you know, Beckett was notoriously reclusive, but simply because he was shy, never because he was arrogant or aloof. In fact, all the anecdotal evidence is that he was an absolute gentleman, and when he felt comfortable speaking, he would speak to anyone, of any age or background always on equal terms, and was always friendly, polite and modest. As i mooted in the post, I suspect he’s an ideal role model, for any writer, established or aspiring, in perfect manners, as in so many other regards!

      1. Thank you once more for your post and reply. Under the influence of your words I decided to reread Beckett’s texts. And I am grateful to him for his protesting against the introduction of martial law in Poland (1981).

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