Thoughts in a Dry Season
by Gerald Brenan
Cambridge University Press, 177 pp., $14.95
There is a moment in the old age of a writer when he finds the prospect of one more long haul in prose intimidating and when he claims the right to make utterances. We grow tired of seeing our experience choked by the vegetation in our sentences. We opt for the pithy, the personal, and the unapologetic. For years we have had a crowd of random thoughts waiting on our doorstep, orphans or foundlings of the mind that we have not adopted: the moment of the aphorism, the epigram, the clinching quotation has come. So, in his eighties, Gerald Brenan has sat in his Spanish house, ignoring the fame that has gathered around him as the unique interpreter of Spanish history, politics, and literature, his energetic past as a sort of scholar-gypsy in Europe, Morocco, his previous hopes as a poet and novelist, and his interest as a confessional biographer, and has set about polishing his pensées in this miscellany which he has called dismissively Thoughts in a Dry Season. (Dry is the wrong word: the juices are very active in him.)
Brenan has always been a man of vast reading in many languages, interested in everything from religion, politics, literature, men, women, animals, down to flowers, trees, birds, and insects: he has lived for inquiry and discovery. Although he left school young and is innocent of the university, he cannot be called an autodidact. Greek and Latin came easily to him, he is not a dogmatic “knower” but, as he says, a “learner,” and he has had the advantage of rarely having reviewed a book or given a lecture. A Chair has not allured him. None of his sayings is therefore a regurgitation. He confesses to having kept a commonplace book earlier in his life, but he did not keep it up. His only regret is that the exigencies of modern publishing have made him cut out his longer reflections on history, philosophy, politics, and the phases of the revolution we are now passing through and which have been his passionate pre-occupation since, I suppose, the Spanish Civil War.
Since Brenan, or Don Geraldo as the Spaniards call him, has been my closest friend for the last forty years, I cannot look at the present volume with detachment. I have sat by his blazing wood fire in his Spanish house listening to him talk this book into existence. I see and hear him rather than read it. The tall man whose glasses flash as if he were sending out signals, as he slippers about the room talking fast and softly while he looks above my head into a vast distance, or looks down suddenly as if puzzled by my existence, pops up between the lines of the printed page.
He is an egoist, a performer, who invites one into the upper air of his fantasies and insights. He is one of the excited conversationalists who at once defines and transforms the people, places, and ideas that have set him …