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EM Forster: What I Believe

EM Forster by Roger Fry

EM Forster is best known today for novels such as Howards End and A Room with a View, famously transformed into sumptuous Merchant-Ivory films. During his lifetime he achieved fame as a writer and broadcaster, and mixed with many other leading writers and artists, including the Bloomsbury group. His books often explore social issues, and he aligned himself with the Humanist movement, stating that "the humanist has four leading characteristics – curiosity, a free mind, belief in good taste, and belief in the human race." 


In 1938, with a "gathering political storm", he penned an essay called What I Believe, "because these are strenuous and serious days, and one likes to say what one thinks while speech is comparatively free: it may not be free much longer." 


The essay is a wide-ranging one, covering politics, social issues and religion. One theme he keeps returning to throughout, however, is humankind's capacity for decency and optimism - "Well, at all events, I'm still here. I don't like it very much, but how are you?" 


He also highlights the importance of relationships and human connection as "something comparatively solid in a world full of violence and cruelty", "as one can, at all events, show one's own little light here, one's own poor trembling flame, with the knowledge that it is not the only light shining in the darkness, and not the only one which the darkness does not comprehend."


The best-known quote from the essay paints an inspiring picture of humanity at its best:

“I believe in aristocracy, though -- if that is the right word, and if a democrat may use it. Not an aristocracy of power, based upon rank and influence, but an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky. Its members are to be found in all nations and classes, and all through the ages, and there is a secret understanding between them when they meet. They represent the true human tradition, the one permanent victory of our queer race over cruelty and chaos. Thousands of them perish in obscurity, a few are great names. They are sensitive for others as well as themselves, they are considerate without being fussy, their pluck is not swankiness but power to endure, and they can take a joke.”

Wise words for our troubling times.

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