George Dibbern: His Life and Quest
Adventurer ~ Sailor-Philosoper ~ Free Thinker ~ Self-declared Citizen of the World
Circle 7-8, 1946
Excerpts from Henry Miller’s essay which first appeared in Circle 7-8, 1946, later in Stand Still Like the Hummingbird (New York: New Directions, 1962).
QUEST BY GEORGE DIBBERN
by Henry Miller
[…] Break out or die! That is the decision we all have to make some time or other. Man does not live by bread alone. George Dibbern obeys the inner voice, leaves his wife and children whom he loves, and sets sail. It is an act of desperation, but it is an act! and he is not a man who shuns the consequences of his acts.
[…] The importance of this book, which is really the log of an inner voyage, is in the example it sets forth. Relying solely upon himself, his own inner resources, Dibbern discovers the value of dependency. Out in the middle of the ocean, sitting at the tiller in utter silence for long hours, this man thinks everything out for himself. “One needs distance and aloneness,” he says. At sea few books stand the test. Everything but the Bible goes overboard. “I find that my own thoughts are quite as interesting as the thoughts in books.” As a matter of fact, the reader will discover as he goes along, that George Dibbern’s thoughts are more interesting than the thoughts of most authors. George Dibbern really thinks. And the more be thinks for himself, the more I find him in agreement with all great thinkers. But George Dibbern is greater than most thinkers in that he puts words to act. In this he approaches the religious figures. “I can find truth only through sin,” he soliloquizes. “Not trying is equal to not moving, which is equal to living death. Death is the penalty of sin; therefore not moving is sin.”
The long voyage is not an escape but a quest. The man is seeking for a way to be of service to the world. Towards the end he realizes what his mission in life is — “it is to be a bridge of goodwill.” Un homme de bonne volont! He is all that, George Dibbern, and more. He is a veritable crusader. If he does nothing more than give us this book, he will have performed a great service to humanity. This is the sort of book which truly stimulates, which inspires. The physical adventures, the physical hazards, which alone would make it an exciting book, are nothing compared to the moral and spiritual struggles which he tells about. He is always truthful and revealing, and the more he strips himself the more he finds himself in harmony with his fellow man. In the wildest storms he is ecstatic, at one with the whole universe. To him the sea is like a protective mother; it is on land that real ugliness commences. He never fears the sea, no matter how frail the boat; it is the land which to him appears fraught with perils. At Las Palmas, Columbus’ last port before he set sail for America, Dibbern visits the little church where Columbus knelt to ask a blessing for his voyage. “What went through the soul of this man, Columbus?” he asks himself. “What a destiny, what a responsibility, lie on the road of a first one. Well it is to call on the help of all good spirits, that they may unite themselves with the power of the pioneer. . . The one who is consciously a pioneer — what courage he needs, what faith!” Reflecting thus, he finally comes to the conclusion that “our trip is only a means to an end; the adventure lies in the sail through the ocean of the spirit, to find a sea (see) way to God. No fear must I have. I must sail into the unknown, and as crew I have law-breakers, criminals — my passions, lusts, lies, laziness, and many other handicaps; but one power I have also, a heart full of warm love, love for man, for the world, for beauty, purity, truth, which we call God. Thus it is; and so let come what will…”
The entire essay can be read on line or in Stand Still Like the Hummingbird, a collection of essays by Henry Miller, still in print, published by New Directions, New York, 1962.
If the enclosed link doesn’t work for you, google: googlebooks.com “George Dibbern” and this should lead to page 68 of Stand Still Like the Hummingbird.