A SHAFT OF SUNLIGHT: Memories of a Varied Life by Philip Mason

A SHAFT OF SUNLIGHT: Memories of a Varied Life

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Philip Mason belongs to that last bright, buoyant generation of Britishers who went out to the colonies with confidence and purpose--a purpose, in 1930 India, teetering irreconcilably between maintaining order, the colonizers' traditional role, and preparing a naturally submissive populace for self-rule. It helped, then, to be both decisive and pliant; to adapt to the ""network of hereditary authority"" and to acquire, as ""protector,"" one's own ""henchmen."" Reading Mason's tales of adjudicating murder cases and land claims in dusty northern villages or Himalayan-foothill camps, one recalls the dual heritage of his boyhood: ""the solid background of land and sheep and corn"" and ""the new radical questioning spirit of the industrial North."" Mason, however, writes not to retrace a path but to recapture moments out of time, ""a succession of changing scenes"" now mostly vanished. The loveless confinement of prep school (but, given the chance, he would probably not have left; ""it was proper""--in an Edwardian boy--""to finish what you began""). The sudden joyful ""freedom and friendliness"" of Sedbergh, Mason's public school (""so called not merely to confuse Americans""), where a covey of eccentric, inspiring teachers inculcated contempt for ""the dosed, callous, indifferent mind."" Oxford, his own particular mad exciting Oxford, of short-lived societies and mythical war games; of the Balliol Players touring the countryside in scenes from Aeschylus and Euripides; and, during the 1926 general strike, of the British Independent, a national newspaper--run off, by union agreement, on duplicating machines--""that would tell the truth and express the views of anyone who was on the side of peace."" From this background, it is not really so far--and this Mason would have us know--to leadership in India; his own last great pre-independence duty was to speak for the Government on the delicate problem of punishment for Indian Army defectors to the Japanese. Chock-a-block with personalities and sights, this is a memoir to sink into; but it has much to tell the historian, too, about planning war and waging peace.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1978
Publisher: Scribners