Tim Dee discusses his superb new edition of naturalist W.N.P Barbellion’s inimitable diary The Journal of a Disappointed Man.
The life of Bruce Frederick Cummings, who wrote under the name of W. N. P. Barbellion, was short, tragically curtailed by multiple sclerosis. He was born in 1889 and died in 1919.
Started when he was thirteen, this remarkable journal, described by Ronald Blythe as ‘among the most moving diaries ever created’, documents the rest of his life. Filled with devastating frankness, keen observation and a sort of stoicism, it is, in the words of the author ‘a study in the nude’. The journal reflects his passionate interest in the world about him, in natural history, in music and literature.
One of the last entries can act as his epitaph: ‘I am only twenty-eight, but I have telescoped into those few years a tolerably long life: I have loved and married, and have a family; I have wept and enjoyed, struggled and overcome, and when the hour comes I shall be content to die’.