The Bradford School Master. J B Priestley Essay. Reintroduced By P S Remesh Chandran, Trivandrum

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The industrial town of Bradford in England had its famous school master in the person of Mr. Jonathan Priestley, whose son John Boynton Priestley later became one of the most famous literary figures in the world, remembered for his scholarly essays, novels, plays, travel books and speeches. 35 years after his father’s passing away, he remembers his father in a radio talk, as a respected village character, teacher, educationalist, socialist and humanist.

When we reminisce our old school days, we unknowingly become little faces sitting there, listening to our teachers.

Reminiscing about our teachers who taught us in our school is a pleasant experience to us all. When we remember them, we unknowingly become our former selves of school children again. The school buildings, the compound and the playground, the class, our beloved teachers standing there teaching us in class, and we, the unruly gang, facing them with our tiny little faces and listening to every word of theirs as if they are pronounced by God, all rushes towards us from past years. Wherever we are and whatever we have become after years, this nostalgic feeling is universal, reminding us that it is a sweet once-in-a lifetime dream.

Education is the golden gateway to the enchanted countries in our own mind.

Jonathan Priestley took delight in instructing people even while travelling in railway carriages. Teaching meant to him the cultural development of a man. Education is the key to understanding life. It saves people from ignorance, prejudice and narrow-mindedness. He considered education as a golden gateway to the enchanted countries in one’s own mind. As Plato pointed out, education is not for benefit, but for delight of the soul. We have heard about the incident in Plato’s Academy when a student, after spending long years in the Academy asked his master: ‘Sir, does all this studying come to any benefit?’ Plato went inside, returned with a gold coin and gave it to the student. And said: ‘Now you have your benefit; never say that your education did not benefit you, and never again make your appearance in this compound. Education is not for benefit but for delight of the soul.’ Education is a glorious end in itself. It works miracles by removing ignorance, stupidity and greed from the mind. Jonathan was an inner-directed, brave and independent ideal socialist who did not like blood-shed. Petty tyrants could not compel him to do something he loathed to do as an ordinary citizen or as a Teachers’ Union leader. He hated others being poor but did not want himself to become a rich man. He had more of Morris and Gandhi in him than some rudimentary Marx.

The father considered Sunday a day to be spent on debates, and reading at home. The son considered it a day devoted to all kinds of outdoor enjoyments, far away from home.

One needn’t think that the father and son did not disagree. In two things they sharply disagreed and fiercely fought each other. Jonathan too much cared, and was anxious about, how their neighbours would think about them. He cared for the public profile of a man, which according to him, had to be cultivated from childhood. Therefore he severely restricted the lives of his children. Where in this world will not children be embarrassed and irritated? The holiday on Sunday was another matter for perpetual disagreement. The teacher thought it a day to be spent on debates and reading at home, and the son took it a day to be devoted to all kinds of outdoor enjoyments, far away from home. World’s literature is full of conservative parents’ views on how a Sunday should be spent and how a family should go to church. Conservative families spent the day in pious involvements and went to church en mass, in their finest Sunday clothes, in a parade, one after the other. In old times, church-going was the only occasion for the gentry for social intercourse. Church-going even emerged as a prominent theme in paintings and literary works. How a family looked on the road when they went to church was a measure of their character, conduct and integrity at home and in society. In every country, in every age, church-going was religious for parents and tedious and un-religious for youngsters and teenagers, except for whom romances budded and bloomed on the way to and back from church. Probably, the case of young J.B.Priestley also might not have been different, for he also had a sweetheart in his village whom he married and who when died of disease, he remarried.

Due to quarrels, hatred and jealousy between nations, our rockets may reach nowhere near another planet ever.

Twenty years before this radio talk, on one occasion of describing the mental strength and wisdom of his father, J.B.Priestley had remarked that ‘if he were to pick up a team for going to and colonizing another planet, he would certainly have chosen his father’s kind of people first.’ Technology had slipped and faltered to the darker side since then and scientific developments man achieved had come to the stage of possibly endangering man and his planet. Due to quarrels, hatred and jealousy between nations and peoples, our rockets may not reach anywhere near another planet. Therefore, colonizing another planet is not even a remote possibility but saving this planet from self-destruction by man’s wayward technology is an urgent need. So, closing this radio talk, J.B.Priestley modifies his 20 years-old remark about his father, commenting that ‘the presence of so many people like Jonathan Priestley in this world alone may save the planet from self-destruction.’ So, now, his father’s mission would be not to go and colonize another planet for man, but to stay in this planet itself to save it from man. He wishes there were more men like his father qualified to colonize and civilize this planet of ours.

The man with a miracle pen, tirelessly working behind his type writers, producing marvels for the world!

After reading an interesting and inspiring article written by J.B.Priestley, if we leave without knowing anything about this man with a miracle pen who tirelessly worked behind his type writers creating marvels for the world to read as essays, speeches, reviews, novels, plays, and biographies, making magnificent books on travels throughout England, France, Russia and America, and humbly declining a Knighthood and a Peerage but accepting the Queen of England’s an Order of Merit with no political commitments, it would be gross injustice to him and to English literature.

This writer considered speaking about war experiences as taboo, and even destroyed writings from that period.

After school, J.B.Priestley worked in a wool selling company for earning money to buy books and spent time as an unpaid writer working for Bradford Pioneer, a local magazine. His writing career started in 1912. In 1914, when the First World War began, he volunteered for the army and spent five years in England and France. He was wounded in 1916 by mortar fire. He feared he would die in the trenches and to ensure survival of at least a few of his writings in case he died, he wrote and sent a few poems and letters during this time. He did not like to talk or write about those years generally and wrote about them only once in a book titled Margin Released. He even destroyed much of his writings pertaining to the war time. After war he left Bradford. War Office helped him with a university grant and he joined Trinity Hall in Cambridge. After graduation, he married his lover from Bradford village and settled in London. Non-fiction works like essays, reviews and biographies and fiction works like novels poured out of his pen these days. Novels The Good Companion and Angel Pavement belong to this period. Then he lost his beloved wife and his father, and something changed in him to incline towards the theatre. In the 1930s, the world found him as a fully-fledged dramatist, immersed deeply in writing and producing plays for the theatre.

The finest radio broadcaster of the 20th century! Jealousy caused cancellation of Priestley’s popular talks on the BBC.

When the Second World War began in 1939, we see Priestly as a radio broadcaster, broadcasting war news with his famous comments regularly from England to America and other countries. In 1945, when the war ended, two unexpected things happened: he contested in the general election as an independent candidate, and failed; his writings against development and deployment of nuclear weapons resulted in the forming of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and he became a famous travelling speaker on nuclear disarmament. In the British Broadcasting Corporation, J.B.Preistley’s talks became such popular that they became the second best, the first best being those of Sir. Winston Churchill, the then British Prime Minister. Finally Churchill’s cabinet interfered and cancelled Priestley’s talks in BBC altogether, alleging that they were pro-left and socialist. We know, communism and socialism were much-feared things in England and in America but this did not prevent Winston Churchill of England or Theodore Roosevelt of America from signing pacts with Joseph Stalin of Russia to defeat Adolph Hitler of Germany. They did not feel guilt in joining hands with communists, to prevent England and America from going red, at the expense of countries in Europe being divided and shared by reds as part of post-war arrangements, but they took J.B.Priestley talking socialism in BBC very seriously. The reason- jealousy!

The literary productions of John Boynton Priestley, stretching five decades.

Quite a number of quotations in the English language belong to J.B.Priestley, for example, ‘Plants restore the air that animals injure.’ He also was a lover of music and a supporter and promoter of the famous London Philharmonic Orchestra in its bad post-war times. The total number of books he authored is not less than sixty. In the midst of a very busy writing career, he also represented England in UNESCO. His novels include Adam in Moonshine, The Good Companions, Angel Pavement, Let the People Sing, Three Men in New Suits, The Magicians, Saturn Over The Water and Lost Empires. The famous plays are Dangerous Corner, I Have Been Here Before, They Came To A City and An Inspector Calls. His literary criticisms include The English Comic Characters and Literature And Western Man. English Journey, The Arts Under Socialism and The Edwardians are political and social writings. He has also written essays and autobiographical collections such as Midnight On The Desert, Journey Down A Rainbow and Margin Released. All these titles are arranged here in their chronological order of appearance. J.B.Priestley said farewell to this world on August 14th of 1984.

(Prepared as a lecture delivered to literature students in May 1990. Slight modifications made since then)

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Pictures Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
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Appreciations, British Writers, English Essayists, English Language And Literature, English Radio Talks, J B Priestley, Jonathan Priestley, P S Remesh Chandran, Re Introductions, Reviews, Sahyadri Books And Bloom Books Trivandrum, Studies, The Bradford School Master

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author avatar PSRemeshChandra
Editor of Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum. Author of several books in English and in Malayalam. And also author of 'Swan, The Intelligent Picture Book'.

Unmarried and single. Born and brought up in Nanniyode, a little village in the Sahy...(more)

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author avatar M G Singh
21st Sep 2014 (#)

Wonderful post !

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author avatar PSRemeshChandra
21st Sep 2014 (#)

My father also was a village school master, but travelled and worked abroad and trained by the British Council. I can understand how Priestley felt about his father. Thank you dear friend Madan G Singh, for caring to read and commenting.

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