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With this edition of the weblog, I begin a series of observations on writers and how character, or the lack of same, stamps its mark on their work.
H. W. Tilman
(Born February 14, 1898, Wallasey, England; died 1977, at sea, Atlantic Ocean)
The way one lives colors every aspect of one's behavior. Irresponsibility breeds the accident prone man. Attention to detail fosters the dauntless woman. The athlete's dictum is that one plays as one practices. There is just no escaping the fate that comes when one's character lacks backbone.
Bill Tilman lived a full life through eight decades. He fought in both the first and the second world wars. A Himalayan explorer of the first rank during the 1930s, he summited Nanda Devi (25, 363') in 1936. At that time, the ascent was the highest ever accomplished. By the 1950s, Tilman decided he was too old for the Himalayas, so took to ocean sailing and climbing lower peaks in remote places. All his adult life he wrote.
In his biography of Tilman, author David Glen wrote:
He was a man whose basic shyness and reticence to boast of his astonishing achievements belied a great sense of honor in the way he conducted his life.1
And whether in the mountains or at sea, Tilman was always more than willing to do the hard work. First off in the morning on the trail; first to volunteer for the night watch at sea, he was a man who tolerated no slackness. Ready with praise for those who had done well; upbraiding to those who had succumbed to laziness.
He had this to say about writing:
Apropos of writing books, Dr Johnson's [Samuel Johnson, 1709 - 1784] opinion was that "any blockhead can write if he sets himself doggedly to it." I should like to alter that and say, "any blockhead can write a book if he has something to write about" ...
Tilman had a life well lived; and his books and the style of his writing are obvious reflections of that life. He noted the commonality of sailing and climbing; and his comments on the two apply equally well to writing:
Each is intimately concerned with elemental things, which from time to time demand from men who practice those arts whatever self-reliance, prudence, and endurance they may have.
Next time: The words we write are the life we live: The words of H. W. Tilman
1 David Glen, Warrior, Wanderer (Visual XS, LLC, 2003)