This I Believe

Simon, John Allsebrook Simon, Viscount

  • Viscount Simon describes his belief that life is like a train which must come to an end at some point during the journey, but we should not view life with dread, even if he does not believe in an afterlife.
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And now, This I Believe, the living philosophies of thoughtful men and women, presented in the hope they may strengthen your beliefs so that your life may be richer, fuller, happier. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. It is generally acknowledged that in a generation of great British lawyers, Viscount Simon had one of the finest legal brains of them all. Yet, he prefers to be judged upon his record for statesmanship, a sphere in which he has been exposed to much more criticism. Among the posts he has held are the Home Secretaryship, the Chairmanship of Indian Statutory Commission and the Foreign Secretaryship. In 1940, he crowned this career by becoming Lord Chancellor, the highest legal office in Great Britain. This is Viscount Simon's creed.
I do not believe in individual immortality, in the orthodox or conventional sense. Such a belief may afford consolation to the bereaved and comfort to the disappointed, but I would rather repeat the credo of Albert Hubbard: “I believe in brains that think, in hands that work, and hearts that love.” That, I feel, is enough to strengthen and sustain the human spirit. The poet Meterlink, in his beautiful fantasy of The Blue Bird, tells us that, “the dead are roused from their long sleep and live again only while the living are thinking and speaking of them with affection.” I feel that of those whom I loved and who are no longer here. And when the time comes, I wish for no other immortality for myself. I venture to repeat the concluding passage in the autobiography which I wrote, which I call Retrospect.
“The cost of a busy human life resembles a journey in an express train. You choose the carriage and start with the keenest interest in all you see. As you proceed, you scan the features of your fellow travelers and watch the panorama from the window. Presently the scene loses its freshness as the train gathers speed, mileposts and wayside stations flash past you, laborious terms of work and periods of occasion follow one another in uncounted succession. You have long since settled yourself in your corner and there seems no reason why the journey should be ending. But presently you note that the train is slowing down. Signs that you are approaching the terminus multiply. You look up and, lo, here is the inexorable official coming along to collect your ticket.”
Ought this view of the matter to make one feel dejected and hopeless? I do not think so. It is not necessary to regard death as the release from the troubles and anxieties of this wicked world. But it is an end of life, and fortunately for humanity we, none of us, know when it is coming. It seems no more difficult to believe that the end of life is death than that the beginning of life is birth. But life itself is an opportunity for service and kindness, the two things which make life worth living. And the right judgment on this topic may be expressed in two epitaphs, which are often in my mind. One is inscribed
over the grave of John Richard Green, the English historian, in three simple words: “He died learning.” The other I have read on the tomb of Henry Lawrence at Lucknow: “He tried to do his duty.”
To make the best of your powers and equipment and to do your utmost for your day and generation—-these I think sum up my notion of the object of life, and this is what I believe.
That was Viscount Simon, British lawyer and statesman. He is well known in England for his acute, critical brain, his persuasive tongue and a stringent wit.