Triumph and Disaster – Five Historical Miniatures
By Stefan Zweig
Pushkin Press – £9.99
Enthusiasm, unlike a pickle/Does not keep well, but may prove fickle.
Hmm, now there’s food for thought; or should I say, enthusiasm?
Although, whichever way one decides to look at it, the all round philosophical comprehension of this fine book ought to serve as some sort of sign – rather like so much of Stefan Zweig’s work.
Indeed, to quote Clive James: ”Zweig’s accumulated historical and cultural studies remain a body of achievement almost too impressive to take in.”
What accounts for Triumph and Disaster – Five Historical Miniatures being such a formidable read, is the acute degree to which Zweig grapples, and then ultimately comes to terms with the five very differing subject matters at hand – the titles of which are: ‘The Field of Waterloo,’ ‘The Race to Reach the South Pole,’ ‘The Conquest of Byzantium,’ The Sealed Train’ and ‘Wilson’s Failure.’ All of which are written so deftly and so remarkably well, James’s words linger with all the literary aroma of a fine wine.
For instance, writing of Captain Scott in the second short story, Zeig states: ”Scott writes English as Tacitus writes Latin, as if carving it in unhewn stone. You sense that he is a man who does not dream, fanatically objective, in fact a true blue Englishman in whom even genius takes the crystalline form of a pronounced sense of duty. Men like Scott have featured hundreds of times in British history, conquering India and nameless islands in the East Indian archipelago, colonizing Africa and fighting battles against the whole world, always with the same iron energy, the same collective consciousness and the same cold, reserved expression.”
Herein is a mere tip of Zweig’s investigative clarity, which, if (objective) truth be known, still roundly resonates today.
The following words being the perfect and most pristine example: ”A single Yes, a single No, a Too Soon or a Too Late makes that hour irrevocable for hundreds of generations while deciding the life of a single man or woman, of a nation, even the destiny of all humanity.”