Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Summer 2003

Blackham’s Best, edited by Barbara Smoker

reviewed by Andy Armitage

This is something of a small dictionary of quotations – but quotations all from the same mind. H. J. Blackham celebrated his century earlier this year. His mind is still sharp. This gem of a potpourri was originally put together by the humanist campaigner and writer Barbara Smoker – who is also a GALHA vice-president – fifteen years ago for his 85th. This slightly expanded edition celebrates his one hundredth.

He’s not a philosopher in the professional sense – but that does not seem to detract from the philosophy in his writing, if this compilation is anything to go by.

“Harold Blackham claims to be epicurean in his personal philosophy – though in practice he often seems, to those who know him, to be more of a stoic,” she writes in the introduction to this 52-page booklet.

She reminds us that he’s known in humanist circles “chiefly as the progenitor of modern humanism in Britain, as an activist in progressive causes, and as a compassionate counsellor”.

She writes of his “compulsion not only to probe ideas and think things out, but unremittingly to write them out”, but this “can have little to do with reward or recognition”, she adds.

He has a thirst for Pope’s Pierian spring, and to drink deep thereof (no little learning for Harold Blackham, it would seem), and she writes of his “desire to meet the minds of great historical thinkers and pay them homage”.

He wrote widely, and Smoker – who looks upon him as her mentor – draws on all sources here, bringing quotations under various headings, including life, knowledge, society, religion, humanism, literature, the future, values and morality. Consider this one on pleasure from “Values”: “Is pleasure innocent? Literally, if it harms no one, including oneself: a good rule, though not fail-safe. How much pleasure to go in the cocktail? No question to answer, but notice that it comes in two bottles labelled Elixir and Poison.” That is taken from his unpublished A Thinker’s Dictionary.

And, under “Humanism”, he writes (of reason): “The great prize of reason is reciprocity between human vitality and reflection, by means of which the intellectual animal becomes a human being. When we practise reason and make it our test and guide in the attempt to interpret and to complete our experience, we set out to be distinctively and consummately human. The life of reason in this sense is the highest aspiration of the humanist.”

URI of this page :
Created : Sunday, 2003-07-27 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
Brett Humphreys :