The fact that a copy of Notes should have been returned to you is really no reason for despair. Though in this particular case it seems to have been due simply to a misunderstanding, it is conceivable that someone might send back his copy as a gesture of strong disapproval with the contents. At least this would show that he had read the book, and also that he had understood enough of it to provoke a strong reaction: and this is really more than we can hope from the majority of the people we have sent it to. In fact, if the entire edition were returned with contumely, we should be able to congratulate ourselves on having produced a profound effect—and remember that hate and love are very close. As it is, however, I fear that the book will be 'much treasured', but not 'much read'. (After all, if people do start sending back their copies, we shall be able to send them out to an entirely fresh set of people.)
I find it a little discouraging that, in no less than four replies, the title of the book is given as 'Notes on the Dhamma'. This carelessness in such an obvious matter makes one wonder if it really is worth the trouble of spending perhaps an entire morning working on a single sentence to get it exactly right, with the necessary and sufficient degree of qualification, not too much and not too little, to guard against all possible misinterpretation. If readers are going to add and subtract words to suit themselves, all this seems to be so much wasted effort (apart, of course, from the satisfaction one derives from actually getting a recalcitrant sentence to express one's meaning precisely—but then this is at least half the pleasure of writing).
Palinurus is Cyril Connolly, who edited the highbrow magazine Horizon throughout the last war. It maintained a persistently high standard, when standards everywhere else were deteriorating, but it ran at a loss and was kept in being by a wealthy and disinterested patron (I forget whom). Connolly is of interest as a particularly articulate and well-read example of the despairing modern European intellectual (Camus was another). He has lost all faith in religion (his ideas about the Dhamma, which he puts together with Christianity, are quite mistaken), and yet sees no hope outside religion. Connolly, who is quite as cultured as Huxley, lacks Huxley's missionary zeal for the salvation of mankind (on a modest scale) through mysticism for the few and mescalin for the masses, and consequently sees nothing for it but continuation of the 'book-bed-bath defence system'. And, after all, Europe actually has nothing better to offer than despair, together with a number of elaborate and fairly efficacious—but strictly temporary—devices for concealing despair. The only permanent defence against despair—sīla-samādhi-paññā—is quite unknown in the West (and, alas! it is becoming almost unknown in the East).
You will have noticed that my interpretation of The Trial as the account of a man who, at a certain point in his life, suddenly asks himself why he exists, and then considers various possible justifications for his existence until he is finally obliged to admit honestly to himself that there is no justification, corresponds to what I have said in the Preface to the Notes:
Every man, at every moment of his life, is engaged in a perfectly definite concrete situation in a world that he normally takes for granted. But it occasionally happens that he starts to think. He becomes aware, obscurely, that he is in perpetual contradiction with himself and with the world in which he exists.The Trial describes what happens to a man when he starts to think: sooner or later he condemns himself as unjustified, and then despair begins (K.'s execution, the execution of hope, is the beginning of despair—henceforth he is a dead man, like Connolly and Camus and so many other intelligent Europeans, and do what he may he can never quite forget it). It is only at this point that the Buddha's Teaching begins to be intelligible. But it must be remembered that for Connolly and the others, death at the end of this life is the final death, and the hell of despair in which they live will come to an end in a few years' time—why, then, should they give up their distractions, when, if things get too bad, a bullet through their brain is enough? It is only when one understands that death at the end of this life is not the final end, that to follow the Buddha's Teaching is seen to be not a mere matter of choice but a matter of necessity. Europe does not know what it really means to despair.