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Goodbye to All That

Robert Graves


  Goodbye to All That

  Robert Graves was born in 1895 in Wimbledon, son of Alfred Perceval Graves, the Irish writer, and Amalia Von Ranke. He went from school to the First World War, where he became a captain in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. His principal calling was poetry, and his Selected Poems have also been published in Penguin. Apart from a year as Professor of English Literature at Cairo University in 1926 he earned his living by writing, mostly historical novels which include: I, Claudius; Claudius the God; Count Belisarius; Wife to Mr Milton; Sergeant Lamb of the Ninth; Proceed, Sergeant Lamb; The Golden Fleece; They Hanged My Saintly Billy; and The Isles of Unwisdom. He wrote his autobiography, Goodbye to All That, in 1929, and it rapidly established itself as a modern classic. The Times Literary Supplement acclaimed it as ‘one of the most candid self-portraits of a poet, warts and all, ever painted’, as well as being of exceptional value as a war document. His two most discussed non-fiction books are The White Goddess, which presents a new view of the poetic impulse, and The Nazarine Gospel Restored (with Joshua Podro), a re-examination of primitive Christianity. He translated Apuleius, Lucan, and Suetonius for the Penguin Clsassics, and compiled the first modern dictionary of Greek Mythology, The Greek Myths. His translation of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (with Omar Ali-Shah) was also published in Penguin. He was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 1961, and made an Honorary Fellow of St John’s College, Oxford, in 1971.

  Robert Graves died on 7 December 1985 in Majorca, his home since 1929. On his death The Times wrote of him, ‘He will be remembered for his achievements as a prose stylist, historical novelist and memorist, but above all as the great paradigm of the dedicated poet, “the greatest love poet in English since Donne”.’


  Goodbye to All That



  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  Penguin Putnam Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

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  Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  First published by Jonathan Cape 1929

  Revised edition, with new Prologue and Epilogue, published by Cassel 1957

  Published in Penguin Books 1960

  Reprinted in Penguin Classics 2000


  Copyright 1929 by Robert Graves

  Copyright © Robert Graves, 1957

  All rights reserved

  Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject

  to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent,

  re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s

  prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in

  which it is published and without a similar condition including this

  condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser


  1. Robert Graves in Majorca. (Tom Weedon)

  2. Robert Graves, from a portrait by Eric Kennington. (By kind permission of the artist)

  3a. Charterhouse School in 1914

  3b. Béthune before the shelling, 1915. (Imperial War Museum)

  4a. The brickstacks at Cuinchy. (Imperial War Museum)

  4b. Somme Battle. The First Royal Welch Fusiliers attacking near Mametz, 1 July 1916. (Imperial War Museum)

  5. Somme trench map: Martinpuich section. (Imperial War Museum)

  6a. Waterlogged mine crater. (Imperial War Museum)

  6b. Somme Battle. Scene in a communication trench before an attack. (Imperial War Museum)

  7a. Royal Welch Fusiliers at rest, 28 June 1916. (Imperial War Museum)

  7b. Mametz village, July 1916. (Imperial War Museum)

  8. The Second Royal Welch Fusilier Goat and Band at the 33rd Division Horse Show, July 1917. (Imperial War Museum)


  I partly wrote, partly dictated, this book twenty-eight years ago during a complicated domestic crisis, and with very little time for revision. It was my bitter leave-taking of England where I had recently broken a good many conventions; quarrelled with, or been disowned by, most of my friends; been grilled by the police on a suspicion of attempted murder; and ceased to care what anyone thought of me.

  Reading Goodbye to All That over again, for the first time since 1929, I wonder how my publishers escaped a libel action.

  Domestic crises are always expensive, but the book sold well enough in England and the United States, despite the Depression which had just set in, to pay my debts and leave me free to live and write in Majorca without immediate anxiety for the future. The title became a catch-word, and my sole contribution to Bartlett’s Dictionary of Familiar Quotations.

  A good many changes have been made in the text – omission of many dull or foolish patches; restoration of a few suppressed anecdotes; replacement of the T. E. Lawrence chapter by a longer one written five years later; correction of factual misstatements; and a general editing of my excusably ragged prose. Some proper names have been restored where their original disguise is no longer necessary.

  If any passage still gives offence after all those years, I hope to he forgiven.

  Deyá, Majorca, Spain, 1957 R.G.

  Goodbye to All That


  As a proof of my readiness to accept autobiographical convention, let me at once record my two earliest memories. The first is being loyally held up at a window to watch a procession of decorated carriages and waggons for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 (this was at Wimbledon, where I had been born on July 24th, 1895). The second is gazing upwards with a sort of despondent terror at a cupboard in the nursery, which stood accidentally open, filled to the ceiling with octavo volumes of Shakespeare. My father had organized a Shakespeare reading circle. I did not know until long afterwards that this was the Shakespeare cupboard but, apparently, I already had a strong instinct against drawing-room activities. And when distinguished visitors came to the house, such as Sir Sidney Lee with his Shakespearean scholarship, or Lord Ashbourne, not yet a peer, with his loud talk of ‘Ireland for the Irish’, and his saffron kilt, or Mr Eustace Miles the English real-tennis champion and vegetarian with his samples of exotic nuts, I knew all about them in my way.

  Nor had I any illusions about Algernon Charles Swinburne, who often used to stop my perambulator when he met it on Nurses’ Walk, at the edge of Wimbledon Common, and pat me on the head and kiss me: he was an inveterate pram-stopper and patter and kisser. Nurses’ Walk lay between ‘The Pines’, Putney (where he lived with Watts-Dunton), and the Rose and Crown public house, where he went for his daily pint of beer; Watts-Dunton allowed him twopence for it and no more. I did not know that Swinburne was a poet, but I knew that he was a public menace. Swinburne, by the way, when a very young man, had gone to Walter Savage Landor, then a very old man, and been given the poet’s blessing he asked for; and Landor when a child had been patted on the head by Dr Samuel Johnson; and Johnson when a child had been taken to London to be touched by Queen Anne for scrofula, the King’s evil; and Queen Anne when a child….

  But I mentioned the Shakespeare reading c
ircle. It went on for years, and when I was sixteen, curiosity finally sent me to one of the meetings. I remember the vivacity with which my utterly unshrewish mother read the part of Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew to my amiable father’s Petruchio. Mr and Mrs Maurice Hill were two of the most popular members of the circle. This meeting took place some years before they became Mr Justice Hill and Lady Hill, and some years, too, before I looked into The Shrew. I remember the lemonade glasses, the cucumber sandwiches, the petits fours, the drawing-room knick-knacks, the chrysanthemums in bowls, and the semicircle of easy chairs around the fire. The gentle voice of Maurice Hill as Hortensio admonished my father: ‘Thou go thy ways, thou hast tamed a cursed shrew.’ I myself as Lucio ended the performance with: ‘’Tis a wonder by your leave she will be tamed so.’ I must go one day to hear him speak his lines as Judge of the Divorce Courts; his admonitions have become famous.

  After ‘earliest memories’, I should perhaps give a passport description of myself and let the items enlarge themselves. Date of birth…. Place of birth…. I have already given those. Profession…. In my passport I am down as ‘University Professor’. That was a convenience for 1926, when I first took out a passport. I thought of putting ‘Writer’, but passport officials often have complicated reactions to the word. ‘University professor’ wins a simple reaction: dull respect. No questions asked. So also with ‘army captain (pensioned list)’.

  My height is given as six feet two inches, my eyes as grey, and my hair as black. To ‘black’ should be added ‘thick and curly’. I am untruthfully described as having no special peculiarity. For a start, there is my big, once aquiline nose, which I broke at Charterhouse while foolishly playing rugger with soccer players. (I broke another player’s nose myself in the same game.) That unsteadied it, and boxing sent it askew. Finally, it was operated on by an unskilful army surgeon, and no longer serves as a vertical line of demarcation between the left and right sides of my face, which are naturally unassorted – my eyes, eyebrows, and ears being all set noticeably crooked, and my cheekbones, which are rather high, being on different levels. My mouth is what is known as ‘full’, and my smile is tight-lipped: when I was thirteen I broke two front teeth and became sensitive about showing them. My hands and feet are large. I weigh about twelve stone four. My best comic turn is a double-jointed pelvis; I can sit on a table and tap like the Fox sisters with it. One shoulder is distinctly lower than the other, because of a lung wound. I do not carry a watch because I always magnetize the main-spring; during the war when an order went out that officers should carry watches and synchronize them daily, I had to buy two new ones every month. Medically, I am a good life.

  My passport gives my nationality as ‘British subject’. Here I might parody Marcus Aurelius, who begins his Golden Book with the various ancestors and relatives to whom he owes the virtues of a worthy Roman Emperor: explaining why I am not a Roman Emperor or even, except on occasions, an English gentleman. My mother’s father’s family, the von Rankes, were Saxon country pastors, not anciently noble. Leopold von Ranke, the first modern historian, my great-uncle, introduced the ‘von’. I owe something to him. He wrote, to the scandal of his contemporaries: ‘I am a historian before I am a Christian; my object is simply to find out how the things actually occurred,’ and when discussing Michelet the French historian: ‘He wrote history in a style in which the truth could not be told.’ That Thomas Carlyle decried him as ‘Dry-as-Dust’ is no discredit. To Heinrich von Ranke, my grandfather, I owe my clumsy largeness, my endurance, energy, seriousness, and my thick hair. He was rebellious and even atheistic in his youth. As a medical student at a Prussian university he took part in the political disturbances of 1848, when students demonstrated in favour of Karl Marx at the time of his trial for high treason. Like Marx, they had to leave the country. My grandfather came to London, and finished his medical course there. In 1854, he went to the Crimea with the British Army as a regimental surgeon. All I know about this is a chance remark that he made to me when I was a child: ‘It is not always the big bodies which are the strongest. At Sevastopol in the trenches I saw the great British Guards crack up and die by the score, while the little sappers took no harm.’ Still, his big body carried him very well.

  He married, in London, my grandmother, a tiny, saintly, frightened Schleswig-Dane, daughter of Tiarks, the Greenwich astronomer. Before her father took to astronomy the Tiarks family had, it seems, followed the Danish country system – not at all a bad one – of alternate professions for father and son. The odd generations were tinsmiths, and the even generations were pastors. My gentler characteristics trace back to my grandmother. She had ten children; the eldest of these, my mother, was born in London. My grandfather’s atheism and radicalism sobered down. He eventually returned to Germany, where he became a well-known children’s doctor at Munich, and about the first in Europe to insist on clean milk for his child patients. Finding that he could not get clean milk to the hospitals by ordinary means, he started a model dairy-farm himself. His agnosticism grieved my devoutly Lutheran grandmother; she never ceased to pray for him, but concentrated more particularly on saving the souls of her children.

  My grandfather did not die entirely unregenerate; his last words were: ‘The God of my fathers, to Him at least I hold.’ I do not know what he meant by that, but it was a statement consistent with his angry patriarchal moods, with his acceptance of a prominent place in Bavarian society as Herr Geheimrat Ritter von Ranke, and with his loyalty to the Kaiser, with whom once or twice he went deer-shooting. It meant, practically, that he considered himself a good Liberal in religion as in politics, and that my grandmother need not have worried. I admire my German relatives; they have high principles, are easy, generous, and serious. The men have fought duels not for cheap personal honour, but in the public interest – called out, for example, because they have protested against the scandalous behaviour of some superior officer or official. One of them lost seniority in the German consular service, because he refused to use the consulate in London as a clearing-house for secret service reports. They are not heavy drinkers either. My grandfather, as a student at the regular university ‘drunks’, had a habit of pouring superfluous beer into his eighteen-fortyish riding-boots, when nobody was watching. He brought up his children to speak English at home, and always looked to England as the centre of culture and progress. The women were noble and patient, and used to keep their eyes on the ground when out walking.

  At the age of eighteen, my mother went to England as companion to Miss Britain, a lonely old woman who had befriended my grandmother as an orphan, and waited hand and foot on her for seventeen years. When she finally died, under the senile impression that my mother, her sole heiress, would benefit hardly at all from the will, it turned out that she had been worth £100,000. Characteristically, my mother divided the inheritance among her four younger sisters, keeping only a fifth share. She was determined to go to India, after a short training as a medical missionary. This ambition was presently baulked by her meeting my father, a widower with five children; it became plain to her that she could do as good work on the home-mission field.

  The Graves family have a pedigree that goes back to a French knight who landed with Henry VII at Milford Haven in 1485. Colonel Graves the Roundhead is claimed as the founder of the Irish branch of the family. He was once wounded and left for dead in the market-place at Thame, afterwards had charge of King Charles I’s person at Carisbrooke Castle, and later turned Royalist. Limerick was the centre of this branch. The occasional soldiers and doctors in it were mainly collaterals; the direct male line had a sequence of rectors, deans, and bishops, apart from my great-grandfather John Crosbie Graves, who was Chief Police Magistrate of Dublin. The Limerick Graves’s have no ‘hands’ or mechanical sense; but a wide reputation as conversationalists. In those of my relatives who have the family characteristics most strongly marked, unnecessary talk is a nervous disorder. Not bad talk as talk goes: usually informative, often witty, but it goes on
and on and on. The von Ranke’s seem to have little mechanical aptitude either. I find it most inconvenient to be born into the age of the internal-combustion engine and the electric dynamo and to have no sympathy with them: a bicycle, a Primus stove, and an army rifle mark the bounds of my mechanical capacity.

  My paternal grandfather, the Protestant Bishop of Limerick, had eight children. He was a remarkable mathematician – he first formulated some theory or other of spherical conics – and also the leading authority on the Irish Brehon Laws and Ogham script, but by reputation, far from generous. He and O’Connell, the Catholic Bishop, lived on the very best of terms. They cracked Latin jokes at each other, discussed fine points of scholarship, and were unclerical enough not to take their religious differences too seriously.

  While in Limerick as a soldier of the garrison, some nineteen years after my grandfather’s death, I heard stories about him from the townsfolk. Bishop O’Connell had once rallied him on the size of his family, and my grandfather had retorted warmly with the text about the blessedness of the man who has his quiver full of arrows; to which O’Connell answered briefly: ‘The ancient Jewish quiver only held six.’ My grandfather’s wake, they said, was the longest ever seen in the town of Limerick: it stretched from the Cathedral right down O’Connell Street and over Sarfield Bridge, and I do not know how many miles Irish beyond. He had blessed me as a child, but I do not remember that.