Ideas of Dignity and Generosity

We read Goodbye Mr. Chips by James Hilton, ©1934, when we were in the seventh grade, and it was wasted on us. In the autumn of life things resonate that have little meaning to those still in their spring.  His novella is really aimed at older people, who have lived a bit.

In this excerpt it has fallen on Mr. Chip’s shoulders to announce at the weekly church service the names of the alumni, his former students, who were killed that week in the first world war:

On Sundays in Chapel it was he who now read out the tragic list, and sometimes it was seen and heard that he was in tears over it. Well, why not, the School said; he was an old man; they might have despised anyone else for the weakness.

One day he got a letter from Switzerland, from friends there; it was heavily censored, but conveyed some news. On the following Sunday, after the names and biographies of old boys, he paused a moment and then added:–

“Those few of you who were here before the War will remember Max Staefel, the German master. He was in Germany, visiting his home, when war broke out. He was popular while he was here, and made many friends. Those who knew him will be sorry to hear that he was killed last week, on the Western Front.”

He was a little pale when he sat down afterward, aware that he had done something unusual. He had consulted nobody about it, anyhow; no one else could be blamed. Later, outside the Chapel, he heard an argument:–

“On the Western Front, Chips said. Does that mean he was fighting for the Germans?”

“I suppose it does.”

“Seems funny, then, to read his name out with all the others. After all, he was an enemy.”

“Oh, just one of Chips’s ideas, I expect. The old boy still has ’em.”

Chips, in his room again, was not displeased by the comment. Yes, he still had ’em– those ideas of dignity and generosity that were becoming increasingly rare in a frantic world.

Goodbye Mr. Chips is in the public domain in most of the world, but not the United States.  If you live outside of the United States, you can download a free copy HERE.

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