When Diogenes of Sinope walked through the streets of Athens with a lit lamp in his hand, he was said to be seeking an honest man. Instead, to his dismay, all he found was scoundrels.
In a rather different way, Hubert J. Watergipridget also sought out virtue and honesty in its purest form. Where he and Diogenes differed was, Watergipridget was not disheartened but delighted when finding the most dishonest humanity had to offer. “I’d rather follow an immoral man than an ignorant one” was a core philosophy of the author’s life. Watergipridget and Diogenes did live similar lives in one aspect: both lived in pots in the middle of cities and spent their time harassing those who were merely trying to do their weekly shop.
Deciphering the feelings and mindset of Watergipridget has been a difficult task for numerous biographers, due in no small part to the author’s reluctance to directly discuss in any meaningful detail his politics or general world views. Those who study Orwell know that all of his works are, in his own words, ‘in support of democratic Socialism as I see it.’ Tolkien’s letters and Lewis’s Mere Christianity inform the reader of the political, social, and religious views of the respective authors. Sassoon and Graves wrote intimate (though partly fictionalised to avoid directly naming comrades) accounts of their lives in the most gruelling of circumstances, pouring out their souls to the readers with every carefully chosen word they put to paper. Conversely, those who study or wish to study Watergipridget are often found desperately searching for the metaphorical needle in the haystack. Much of his work is allegorical, more yet is innuendo. Very rarely does the man ‘shoot straight’. Little can be gleaned from his essays, articles and works of fiction. Less can be found when examining his career, academic or military.
When war broke out in Europe in the late 1930s, Watergipridget could not decide on which side he would fight. As a result, he fought for all. Over the course of World War II Watergipridget served in the British Army, the Luftwaffe, and the Regia Marina. In the Battle of Pantelleria he fought for all three simultaneously, keeping his spare uniforms in a satchel and jumping between ships as the conflict raged on. This caught the ire of many fellow soldiers on all sides, many of whom would become authors in their post-war life and recount the (mis)deeds of Watergipridget. No learned scholar would fail to notice the thinly veiled depiction of Watergipridget as the cowardly, immoral opportunist Colonel Pells in Joseph Threadingham’s acclaimed Memoirs of a One-armed Signaller.
But do the modifiers cowardly, immoral and opportunist truly apply to the man on whom the character is based? Watergipridget himself may agree to some extent with the claim of opportunism. Indeed, Watergipridget would proclaim that anybody who was not an opportunist or was steadfast in their morals was a brazen fool: ‘Consistency,’ he wrote, ‘is nothing but a great iron ball to which we shackle ourselves.’ Opportunism, then, along with the absence of morality, is the freeing of one’s self from that shackle: opportunism is pragmatism in essence, and pragmatism, more so than a misplaced sense of ethics and morals, is far more likely to see about true progress.
Where Watergipridget would wholeheartedly disagree, as he indeed did so in his essay Consistency is for Cowards; Hypocrisy for Heroes, would be on the accusation of cowardice on his part. In Watergipridget’s view a coward is one who does not expand his mind, one who sticks to their pre-conceived notions of right and wrong, good and evil, and dares never to challenge their beliefs. A person who only experiences one half of a topic is not somebody whose opinion is worthwhile, for how can they claim to fully understand an issue if they are not themselves prepared to experience it fully? Watergipridget sums this up succinctly in his essay:
A man who has let no drug befoul his body warning me of the horrors of drug abuse is mere stuff and nonsense. A man who has consumed all drugs and devolved into a hunched and vulgar husk of a man telling me never to take drugs, in between his daily course of drugs, well… there is something to think about.Hubert J. Watergipridget, ‘Consistency is for Cowards; Hypocrisy for Heroes’, The Tinier Compendium of Ridiculousness, I.87, (1932), 13-23 (p. 17).
For Watergipridget to fully know where his loyalties lay during the war, he had to fight on all sides. In his view it was the only way to be sure he truly believed in the cause he was fighting for. To the man on the outside, the sight of a man jumping from ship to ship changing into different uniforms, alternating between friend and foe at the change of his hat may look like the actions of a coward, of a traitor, an opportunist and a cad, but in the inner workings of Watergipridget’s chaotic yet genius brain, these were the acts needed to truly understand his mind and his loyalty. To him, it was an act of seeking knowledge and being honest with himself.
As ever, Hubert J. Watergipridget remains an enigma and a paradox. Like Hesse’s Siddartha or d’Ormesson’s Alexis, Watergipridget’s quest for the true aesthetic of life and truth led him down many paths. British, German, Italian, socialist, fascist, writer, philosopher, Oxford, Cambridge — Watergipridget was simultaneously all and none. Had Watergipridget lived in the age of Diogenes, would the lamp of the Greek philosopher have shone brightly on the man for whom nothing was off-limits, the man for whom the pursuit of all experiences was the only way to truly discover the true essence of being? Watergipridget’s actions often failed to match his words. That would under most definitions constitute a hypocrite. But Watergipridget is a man hard to pin down under any definition of any word known to man. Perhaps that is why he remains a figure on the outside of history, as a mere footnote to others who considered him their literary and philosophical superior. Hubert J. Watergipridget is the most hypocritical man to have ever lived — and yet, one would be hard pressed to find a more honest man in history.
That, in its own way, may be his most hypocritical act.