Memoirs of an Epicurean

BY Henry Dwight SedgwickBOBBS-MERRILL
“ A MAN,” Mr. Sedgwick observes toward the end of his short record of a long life, “is but a consciousness, and a memory, into which the wanton Spirit of Life, having sorted, according to whimsical patterns, the miscellaneous mess of experience that consciousness catches, stows it away in the pigeon-holes of remembrance.” The sentence contains the substance of what he means by an Epicurean — one who discharges the moral obligation to ensue happiness by cultivating the pleasures of refined spectatorship and avoiding the more passionate forms of self-identification with collective interests, ideas, causes. To a reader of this book, or of any of his books, there is a strangeness, almost a shock, in the discovery that he spent his young manhood drudging at the law, was an assistant district attorney, had (and won) a legal tilt with Tammany Hall over a barefaced election fraud, actually patrickhenried this word) from soapboxes on street corners in the interest of civic reform, and denounced Andrew Carnegie as one who “had become a multimillionaire upon the labor of thousands and thousands of underpaid workmen, kept in order by Pinkerton detectives,” These matters he would presumably classify now among the whimsies in the pattern. Its prevailing figure is a graceful detachment with, alas, a much too graceful modesty. His many volumes of exquisite, sometimes profound interpretation he dismisses as the work of a dilettante biographer and a mere means of keeping himself pleasantly occupied. His innumerable contacts with Grade A celebrities he leaves unexploited, almost unhinted. And in the upshot it comes over us that these reticent memoirs have come astonishingly close to suppressing the fact of his own existence and have given us, not the story of his life, but the successive stages of a mobile outlook upon affairs and institutions, persons and places, books and pictures and the changing times. W. F.