20 Nov 1916
My dear Betty
Perhaps it is rather a piece of nonsense to write birthday wishes to you that can’t possibly reach you till three or four days late. Set it down to the fact that I was intent on writing to Ethel first at any rate. Well jogged, oh jogger of elbows! I had no idea I had given Det the dry end of my pen for so long; a thing I wouldn’t willingly do, for though we are pretty differently constituted, I think a lot of Det. And we agree very well “as with a difference” as Lamb says. I hope she does not feel very sore about it; naturally she is rather hurt, I realise.
I could write much more often to the various people at home if letters weren’t passed round there so much. It is reasonable, of course; but if one writes often to the various people there it gives one the same sensation as does repeating oneself in conversation. It is a very “circumscribing” influence – to borrow Tony Weller's – no it was Sam’s use – of the word. You can’t get into the letter anything of the personality at the other end, which should enter into it if it is a decent letter. It is like writing to a Committee.
When you quote me any “obiter dicte” of my foolish youth, have the goodness to quote me correctly young woman! Or, rather, not to misapply the dictum. I still hold that we are not a singing family. I still hold (by your good leave) that you have not a singing voice. That does not imply any disapproval of your taking a course of singing lessons. There are two uses of singing lessons. One to discover, develop and train a voice to be a pleasure to the owner and others. The other to satisfy the owner that there is not sufficient quality in the voice to arouse such pleasure.
My only quarrel is with those who have failed to make the first of those uses and who refuse to submit to the logic of facts. They are a large class; audible (far too audible) in any street in any town on a summer's evening. Best wishes that you may be able to cause other windows to open when you open yours and sing. But if you cause the windows of others to refrain from opening, remember that good ventilation should be preferred to bad vocalisation. There is virtue in a crow admitting his crowship: vice in the misbelief that he is a throstle. I have spoken!
You wrote your last letter in a mood when the weight of the world and all its affairs was bearing very heavily on you. It was the sort of letter that Atlas might have written when troubled by a touch of rheumatism in his shoulder. As for that feeling of encroaching age, it is perennial. As early as my sixth (or it may have been my seventh) birthday I can remember pondering that the springtime of youth was behind me and that I was getting on in years. Personally I have given up all alarm at the progress of the years. All I know is that if I see the war through to the end I shall drop a great many years at the close of it. When I cast my memory back to August 1914 I feel that I have lived for ages.
Sorry people are spreading a gloomy atmosphere. I think it is not merely local. I have noticed a widespread tendency thereto of late. I take it to be chiefly a re-active tendency. People expected impossible visible results, first from the Somme battle and secondly from the intervention of Roumania. When these things duly failed to occur the expectant folk naturally got wind up.
It is jolly late, I must finish.