Sunday, December 10, 2006

Good-bye to All That

I read Good-bye to All That when I was an undergraduate. Robert Graves, who is best known as the author of I, Claudius, writes of his life prior to and shortly after the First World War as well as his service in the trenches.

Once finished, the book remained in one of my storage boxes for years until I uncovered it the other day and started reading, only to become captivated again by a well-told account of an extraordinary life. An excerpt:

A boy whom I had admired during my first year at Charterhouse was the Honourable Desmond O'Brien: the only Carthusian of that time who cheerfully disregarded all school rules. Having cut skeleton-keys for the library, chapel, and science laboratory, he used to break out of the House at night and carefully disarrange things there. O'Brien had the key to the Headmaster's study too and, entering one night with an electric torch, carried off a memorandum which he showed me: 'Must expel O'Brien.' He had a wireless receiving-station in one of the out-of-bounds copses on the school grounds; and discovered a ventilator shaft down which he could hoot like an owl into the library without detection. Once we were threatened with the loss of a half-holiday because some member of the school had catapulted a cow, which died of shock, and nobody would own up. O'Brien was away at the time, on special leave for a sister's wedding. A friend wrote to tell him about the half-holiday. He sent [Headmaster] Rendall a telegram: 'Killed cow sorry coming O'Brien.' At last Rendall did expel him for having absented himself from every lesson and chapel for three whole days. O'Brien was killed, early in the War, while bombing Bruges.

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