Absolom’s Place

Finzi wrote Absolom’s place in 1941 as a preface to a catalogue of his works. Here, Finzi summarized his humanistic and artistic beliefs:

It was Thomas Hardy who wrote

‘Why do I go on doing these things?’

and, indeed, if appreciation were a measure of merit and cause for self-esteem, it would long ago have been time for me to shut up shop, class myself as a failure, and turn to something of what the world is pleased to call a more ‘useful’ nature.

Yet some curious force compels us to preserve and project into the future the essence of our individuality, and, in doing so, to project something of our age and civilization. The artist is like the coral insect, building his reef out of the transitory world around him and making a solid structure to last long after his own fragile and uncertain life. It is one of the many proud points of his occupation that, great or small, there is, ultimately, little else but his work through which his country and civilisation may be known and judged by posterity.

(As to stature, it is of no matter. The coral reef, like the mountain peaks, has its ups and downs. ‘If he cannot bring a Ceder, let him bring a shrubbe.’)

It was, then, in no mood of vanity that Henry Vaughan wrote

‘Ad Posteros’

Diminuat ne sera dies praesentis honorem, Quis, qualisque: fui, percipe Posteritas.

(Englished by Blunden thus:

‘To After Ages’

Time soon forgets; and yet I would not have, The present wholly mouldering in the grave. Hear then, posterity:)

Nor was Absalom guilty of mere self-aggrandisement when we read in the second book of Samuel:

Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and reared up for himself a pillar, which is in the King’s dale: For he said, I have no son to keep my name in remembrance: And he called the pillar after his own name, and it is called unto this day, Absalom’s place.

And what of the main-spring of this curious force, this strange necessity?

There is no need here to go into the labyrinths of aesthetics and to discuss whether art is based on the need for communication or the need for organised expression. For me, at any rate, the essence of art is order, completion and fulfillment. Something is created out of nothing, order out of chaos; and as we succeed in shaping our intractable material into coherence and form, a relief comes to mind (akin to the relief experienced at the remembrance of some forgotten thing) as a new accretion is added to that projection of oneself which, in metaphor, has been called ‘Absalom’s place’ or a coral reef or a ‘ceder or shrubbe’.

It must be clear, particularly in the case of a slow worker, that only a long life can see the rounding-off and completion of this projection. Consequently, those few works of mine fit for publication can only be regarded as fragments of a building. The foundations have (perhaps) been laid, odd bricks are lying about, though comparatively little of the end which is envisaged is to be seen. Long may Absalom’s pillar grow, but in the event of my death I am anxious for as much to be finished and fit for publication to be issued, preferably in as uniform an edition as possible. It would be unwise to issue definite instructions; likely as not, with constantly changing conditions, they would soon be out of date or unpractical. I should like the whole question of revised publications, new publications and withdrawals to be dealt with systematically and I suggest that the advice of Howard Ferguson should be asked. Not only does he know my systematised marks of expression etc. but practical advice has always been of the greatest help. That, together with my dear wife’s judgment, should be sufficient.

Gerald Finzi,

July 1941.