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Modern Prejudice

SIR: I yield to none in admiration for the great contribution to the social and economic history of the ancient world made by Sir Moses Finley, which, as he himself acknowledges, I have more than once praised in print: so that when I saw the titles of two books of mine and that of a third in which I had some part prefaced to an essay of his printed in your columns (LRB, 2 December 1982), I was gratified by the expectation that he would turn out to have reviewed them. But instead of a review, I found a sketch of my own development, followed by a complaint that I had not adequately discussed the question as to how we may be able to understand the ancient world without importing prejudices of our own. Since I do not feel that a person unacquainted with my aims and methods would get an adequate account of them from the picture drawn by Sir Moses, and since I feel that his reproach is undeserved, I have a word or two to say about his essay.

First, I hope that readers unaware of the nature or the importance of textual criticism in the study of Classical texts will not too readily accept the account of it given by Sir Moses, who would not, I think, deny that he is more at home in the world of sociology and economics than in that of language or literature. Sir Moses deprecates the value of attempts made to purge the texts of their corruptions, citing the opinion of two well-known papyrologists, expressed just after the First World War, that the discovery of many papyri from Egypt earlier than the Byzantine manuscripts on which our knowledge of the Classical texts that have come down to us principally depends has, on the whole, confirmed the reliability of the Byzantine manuscripts we have. The scholars in question were undoubtedly correct, and their judgment is endorsed in a good modern discussion of the question by E.G. Turner, Greek Papyri: An Introduction (1968): but Turner draws attention to many instances in which the papyri have shown the manuscript tradition to be wrong.

Even if texts were less liable to corruption than they are, however, there would be a far better case for the kind of detailed scrutiny of a text which an editor must carry out than Sir Moses seems to realise. The modern editor of a text is not, or should not be, allured by the hope of perpetuating his name as the author of brilliant emendations. After centuries of effort, the law of diminishing returns has naturally set in: so far as the main Classical texts preserved in Byzantine manuscripts are concerned, almost every possible alteration, as well as many that are not possible, has already been proposed. The editor of such texts must study the conjectures of innumerable predecessors; much of his editorial activity will consist in a dialogue with them; and he will also be able to utilise new material and new research. But the chief reward of his efforts will lie not so much in the correction of the text as in the improved understanding of it which will accrue to himself and others from the intensive study which the editorial task will have demanded. The first duty of scholarship is to explain the texts, and textual criticism is a difficult but rewarding part of the task of explanation. We no longer need to purge the most obvious corruptions from the chief Classical texts: but we do need scholars who would be capable of doing so if we did need to, and we would need them even if new material which requires critical attention were not constantly being discovered.

Housman was a very great scholar, and I revere him: but when Sir Moses says that he was my model during the early part of my career he is mistaken. Housman chose authors in which striking emendations could still be made, and restricted himself to the work necessary for the establishment of the correct text of the authors whom he edited; his knowledge of their subject-matter was consummate, but was used only for this purpose Wilamowitz thought that the explanation of a Classical text ideally required some knowledge of all the various disciplines that together made up the study of Classical Antiquity. In Oxford as an undergraduate, I came into contact with more than one pupil of Wilamowitz.

Sir Moses tells us that I was ‘converted’ from my youthful Housmania by the influence of Nietzsche, whom he believes me to have discovered during the Sixties. At Oxford during the Forties I had encountered E.R. Dodds, whose work, like that of Erwin Rohde much earlier, owes an obvious debt to Nietzsche. When Sir Moses complains that the evidence I have given for the claim that Nietzsche’s work ‘began a new era in the understanding of Greek thought’ is ‘thin and insufficient’, persons able to understand the allusions in Blood for the Ghosts will not echo his complaint, even if, like Sir Moses, they find my own remarks inadequate.

Sir Moses reproaches me with not having discussed, with reference to Dilthey and Collingwood, the question as to how far we can understand the ancient world without importing into it prejudices of our own. Anyone who, unlike Sir Moses, will pay attention to the contents of my books will form a better notion of how I would set about dealing with this problem than I could have furnished by attempting the philosophical mode of discourse, complete with references to Dilthey and to Collingwood.

Wilamowitz’s History of Classical Scholarship, which first appeared in 1927 and not as I carelessly implied in 1921, has certain deficiencies, as readers of my introduction will have seen that I am aware of. But it also displays the great qualities of its author; and since, because of his unrivalled knowledge of scholars and their work, it is still the best concise account of the subject in any language, it seems to me that any scholar who petulantly dismisses it, as Sir Moses does, as being of interest only to professional scholars thereby convicts himself of a certain narrowness of range. The reader who may look into it will find that I have furnished the new translation with notes containing chronological and other data that I hope may help him.

When Sir Moses and I were young, we both used to enjoy ragging some of our respected elders, whom we suspected of a tendency to pontificate, not always about things that they completely understood; it was more fun if they were knights, and it still is. I prefer the blandness of the old pontiffs, irritating though it sometimes was, to the sour and disagreeable note which so often spoils my enjoyment of Sir Moses Finley’s brilliant writing.

Hugh Lloyd-Jones
Wellesley, Massachusetts


SIR: Philip Booth’s review of Stravinsky Seen and Heard (LRB, 30 December 1982) is demonstrably incompetent: he literally does not know what he is talking about, with the result that he dispenses factual misinformation throughout his piece. Thus he talks about my ‘functional analysis of the central section of Stravinsky’s In Memoriam Dylan Thomas’. I hope none of your readers was rash enough to buy himself a copy of the book in order to examine this functional analysis, for it doesn’t exist. Any recent dictionary could have enlightened Mr Booth about the nature of functional analysis – a new method of musical analysis which I have introduced and named, and whose practitioners, apart from myself, are some of my pupils and followers. The analysis which Mr Booth so describes has absolutely nothing to do with it: it is a simple serial analysis of the kind every interested musician must have practised before I came in. In its purest form, I may add, functional analysis is written in notes, and therefore played, whereas a serial analysis cannot renounce the visual dimension.

About Mr Booth’s criticism of my conclusions we need not bother – for eminently functional reasons. Much of what he criticises was shown to Stravinsky long before his death; he responded speedily, in longhand: ‘Mr Keller is absolutely right.’

Hans Keller
London NW3

Philip Booth writes: I must apologise to Hans Keller for taking the name of functional analysis in vain. Perhaps he would care to point out further examples of the misinformation which he claims I have dispensed throughout my review. At the same time he could clarify for us exactly what Stravinsky believed him to be ‘absolutely right’ about; or was the composer merely indulging in a further display of that ‘hypocritical enthusiasm’ with which he patronised Keller on the occasion of their meeting – an occasion vividly described in Keller’s review of the Stravinsky correspondence? Hans Keller’s conclusions are in the nature of a subjective reconstruction of Stravinsky’s creative unconscious, and if he supposes that a hasty word from Stravinsky can place these conclusions beyond all criticism then he is absolutely wrong.

SIR: Anyone with a serious concern for music and musical criticism over the last thirty-odd years in Britain must feel an immense indebtedness to Hans Keller. But unfortunately, like many people who are, or think of themselves as, isolated voices, he has become recently, in your columns and in the Listener, shrill, ever more assertive, and now simply silly. His review of the first volume of Stravinsky’s Selected Correspondence, and of Paul Griffiths’s book on The Rake’s Progress, is especially painful reading. He begins with an idiotic remark: ‘the greater the genius the less there is of a causal connection between his life and his art.’ Of course there is always a causal connection, otherwise it wouldn’t be ‘his’ art. What Keller presumably means is that the causal connection is not a simple or straightforward one. But does anyone any longer think that it is? In Beethoven’s case, which Keller cites, he no doubt became ‘the communicator of profound, unmixed joy’ partly because of his own wretchedness. Causal connections are often rather complicated – a good deal more so even than in Beethoven’s case – in art as elsewhere.

Proceeding with no evident logic, Keller tells us that the answer to ‘whether Stravinsky the man is worth knowing about’ is ‘an unqualified no, unless one is childish enough to enjoy the coincidence, within one and the same mind, of supernormal art and moral subnormality’. But one’s attitude to that coincidence, if it exists in Stravinsky’s mind, may be one of unchildish fascination with what was in fact an exceptionally complex personality, as anyone who reads Robert Craft’s great book Stravinsky: The Chronicle of a Friendship should know. Nothing Keller quotes or refers to suggests to me that Stravinsky was morally subnormal, though the mixture in his character of generosity and meanness, warmth and chill, affection and vindictiveness – the specific mixture of these and many other qualities – is certainly remarkable. So, I find, is his capacity for expressing his views on music and musicians, and those views themselves, including his views on The Rake, as set down in Paul Griffiths’s book: Keller dismisses these as ‘exceptionally vapid’, but I know I’m not alone in finding that piece of writing exceptionally moving.

Stravinsky the man and writer of prose – the greatest English prose of our time, I think – having been given no shrift by Keller, he moves on to a paean to Auden’s musical perceptions, and refers to a day spent with him ‘discussing music all along’ as one of ‘my life’s weightiest days’. An hour out of that day was broadcast on Radio 3, and it was full of remarks like the one Keller quotes from Auden for our admiration: ‘No good opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible.’ The man who found ‘the homosexual triangle Mark-Melot-Tristan’ the centre of interest in Wagner’s masterpiece and summed up Wagner’s total achievement as the presentation, done with ‘consummate skill’, of ‘a series of underbred neurotics’ is lauded by Keller over the contributor to the supreme series of dialogues with Craft which Keller has high-handedly dismissed elsewhere.

The other major music review in the same number also warrants some comments. On Willi Schuh’s Richard Strauss: A Chronicle of the Early Years, Nicholas Spice remarks: ‘It was certain to be an important book. It deserved to be a great one.’ What does that mean? At any rate, Spice wants an explanation of Strauss’s capacity to write serene music as his world crumbled about him. Further trouble with causal connections. But what of Metamorphosen, Strauss’s lament for German culture, conveniently unmentioned by Spice? And what more natural than that so civilised (in a limited sense) a spirit should take refuge, by and large, in escapist works? Before venturing his explanation, Spice finds that ‘it’s worth dwelling a little on the reasons the purists hate Strauss.’ I’m not clear whether I’m a purist, since I don’t know what the word means in this context: but I have a fairly strong distaste for much Strauss, because of the in verse relationship in his music between its quality and its pretensions to depth and sublimity. It’s not in the least a matter of Strauss being ‘not sufficiently political’, nor is it to be attributed to the need for ‘an inexorable drive forward’ in musical history, but of his spiritual vulgarity. If one accepts, as all the evidence suggests, that Strauss was an homme moyen sensuel, then Spice needn’t furrow his brow. ‘The fear and tearfulness that hover in the eyes of so many of the portraits’ are for me non-existent. I see only blankness. Spice professes to discern ‘Strauss unaccommodated’ in what he calls ‘the Emperor’s long area in Act Two, Scene Two of Die Frau ohne Schatten’. All I can find is Strauss carrying on, as so often, in the hope that an evocation – such as Wagner could achieve in a couple of bars – of anguish and tornness would eventually emerge. It couldn’t, if you were Strauss. When he is effective, as he is not in Frau, it is by his impact on the nerves, as in Elektra, where the sheer unremitting din finally has one quailing. Spice should rest content with the Four Last Songs, in which Strauss showed, with all his incomparable technical resources, how someone virtually incapable of deep feeling could calmly accept the imminence of death, as undisturbed by the prospect of oblivion as he had been by almost everything else, and for once not trying to fake. Why conjure up complexities and torments for someone who was so enviably free of them?

Michael Tanner
Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

Concern for Israel

SIR: Jeff Weintraub’s attack on me (Letters, 10 January) is so blunderingly abusive that I have had as much difficulty in finding a coherent line of criticism to answer as he claims to have had in responding to my article. In the first place, he misrepresents the essential point in my argument about the instability of Middle East regimes. I did not blame Israel exclusively, having made it clear that it was a consequence of the area’s Islamic-Ottoman background. I did argue – and repeat – that Begin and Sharon’s policies add to this inherent instability by encouraging sectarian conflict. Secondly, Mr Weintraub misrepresents my view of the consequences of such deliberate destabilisation. I am not asking him to believe that the religious militancy affecting the whole area is of Israel’s making, merely that Begin’s policies are contributing to this fanatical upsurge. Jewish messianic fundamentalism has its mirror-image in Islamic fundamentalism. Both movements are inimical to the ideals of the secular national state.

Finally, Mr Weintraub claims that Arab refusal to recognise Israel’s right to exist is the ‘central reality’ of the conflict. What of Israel’s repeated refusal to recognise the rights of the Palestinians, its illegal annexation of parts of the occupied territories (including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights) and its policy (which long pre-dates the coming to power of Begin’s ‘demagogic and militarist’ government) of expropriating Arab water and land and planting Jewish settlements? Are these simple consequences of Arab non-recognition (or punishments for it, perhaps, like the blowing-up of villages), or has Arab non-recognition been a consequence of Israel’s refusal to implement UN resolutions concerning Palestinian rights and territory in 1948, 1967 and 1973 and so on?

Rightly or wrongly, the Arab states except Egypt have not seen why they should recognise any a priori right of Israel to exist until the dispute over territory has been settled: no state in the world exists by right, independently of the territory it occupies. The indication that recognition would be forthcoming in the event of an Israeli withdrawal is implicit in UN Resolutions 242 and 338, accepted by Egypt, Jordan and later by Syria, and more recently in the declaration by the Arab League governments at Fez.

Malise Ruthven
London SW9

Jesus and Cain

SIR: I only wish to make three comments on Mr Maccoby’s angry letter (Letters, 10 January).

Because Hebrew originally survived only as a written language, the modern pronunciation being reconstructed according to decidedly arbitrary phonological equations – as is the case with the modern pronunciation of other classical languages – Maccoby, like many Hebrew scholars, makes the curious assumption that if two names are spelled differently in Hebrew they must be unrelated phonologically. This is a complete fallacy, as can readily be seen in any telephone directory, where, for example, my own name is arbitrarily transcribed as Leech or Leach or Leitch.

I did not suggest that Maccoby had borrowed the idea that the Cain and Abel story is about human sacrifice from myself. I simply said that, as compared with Bachofen, it was relatively modern and that I agreed with it.

The ‘attentive reader’ will not be able to see that Maccoby’s acquaintance with anthropological/psychoanalytic theories of sacrifice extends to about 1930 rather than 1885. On the contrary, as his letter shows, my review gave a very accurate indication of both the argument and the scholarly quality of his book.

Edmund Leach

Cain’s Cuba

SIR: Who is Pedro Perez, and why is he saying these ludicrous things about me? He claims he knew me as Cain but I swear I don’t know him from Adam. His letter (Letters, 30 December 1982) I do recognise, though. It’s the typical production of the apparatchik: a massive missive made in Moscow, that Mecca of the political meccano. This letter is, in fact, a lie a line. I don’t have the time, nor LRB the space, to answer it now. Pity. You see, I enjoy detecting the hidden Goebbels in every party political broadcast. However, I can’t help wondering what Señor Perez is doing so far from the socialist sun, living in this conservative, capitalist cesspool, this septic isle, this England?

I never ‘attacked’ Graham Greene as he claims (Letters, 10 January). I merely quoted from his paean to Fidel Castro (which still remains without disavowal from the novelist) to illustrate how some British writers, whatever their reasons or motives, have consistently misinformed the British public on the Cuban issue – and have never recanted. I also commented on Greene’s baffling (at least to me) admiration for a cruel and ruthless tyrant. He’s right, though, about who introduced whom at Plaza de la Catedral that Havana night in 1959 when they were shooting Greene’s screenplay. I introduced Fidel Castro to Carol Reed. I also introduced him to Alec Guinness, and even to Noel Coward. I had to. I was the only Cuban official there who had any English. I must have confused them with each other and all of them with Graham Greene. But I have an excuse for that embarrassing gaffe. You see, for me then, all Englishmen looked alike.

I never kept tabs on Greene’s trips to Panama or on his flight routes. True, Torrijos was not my cup of tea when he was alive and playing host to writers who love strongmen. General Torrijos is dead now, so I’ll leave him to heaven. Cuba is more than somebody else’s facts. She is my constant concern. But Greene, like many modern writers, confuses facts with truth. He of all people should know that the Gospels are revealed truth – but are they fact? Moreover, he seems to believe that dates are facts. Is the year Jesus was born faith or fact? For a doubting Catholic, Greene reveals himself to be as factual as a materialist.

In fact (I beg your pardon), Mr Greene really objects only to two dates of mine, but it makes it seem as if my article, like an oasis palm-tree, were full of dates. As a matter of fact (bis), he takes exception to one single date: when he last visited Cuba and met Fidel Castro. Immediately after, he wrote his lyrical account of his visit with the Elusive Leader. Greene has never, not even now, had trouble with Castro’s cant – or with his own conscience. At that time, 1966, this dissembling dictator had remained in office for seven long years – without ever being elected, not even in a Mexican-fashion election. The aftermath of Castro’s seizure of power was thousands of ‘enemies of the Revolution’ shot by firing-squad, and tens of thousands running for cover into exile. Censorship was not selective: it was rampant, blind and total. There were only two newspapers left then from the ten or twelve being published in Havana in 1959. One of those newspapers was the Cuban Pravda, called Granma (the one Greene mentions cutely in his story as ‘the daily paper with what seems to be an odd nursery title’), and large labour camps for homosexuals only (Castro’s convertibles) were already blooming like flowers all over that island Greene crisscrossed from west to east on a bus. But I suspect that Mr Green would call all this a fairy-tale.

A writer of fiction asks me, who was writing about politics and poetry, to have my facts right. Curiouser still, Greene does not mention my quotes from his fictive piece in which he calls Cuba a pleasure-capital (sic) under Batista. But it is true that Mr Greene never said that Haydée Santamaria died in the assault on Moncada Barracks. Instead the man who gave us Our Man in Havana (set, I suppose, in a pleasure-country) concocts yet another ‘Cuban’ fiction about some mean and evil (but bungling) ‘assassins’, who tail Heroine Haydée’s car to kill her – what else? Their ploy was that once she was dead and about to be buried, foreign agents (who else?) could kill Castro, a revolutionary Romeo, come to kneel at the martyr’s tomb in grief.

The above looks as if lifted from a Costa-Gavras Greek tract: Z or Oedipus Tyrannus. It is – in fact – the plot of a John Huston melodrama: the oldie We were strangers, set in Havana during the Machado dictatorship of the Thirties. The bloody truth is that Haydée Santamaria (I know this for a fact), disillusioned with Castro and the nasty regime she helped to establish in Cuba, shot herself through the mouth with a .45 Colt pistol. Fictional counter-revolutionary assassins didn’t kill her. Castro did. That’s a fact.

G. Cabrera Infante
London SW7

Goddesses and Girls

SIR: Nicholas Penny (LRB, 2 December 1982) quotes approvingly Charles Hope’s belief that Titian’s paintings of a reclining nude female (not, for him, Venus, but a mortal) with a musician ‘simply show a man attempting to win the favours of a woman through the power of music’. This would be fine if the women were clothed, but they are nude, yet neither hostile nor encouraging to the men. The notion that ‘a moral woman’ in the 16th or any other century would voluntarily get undressed and recline on a bed in front of an amorous man, yet, after having done so, need both the allurements of music and the urgings of Cupid to pursue the encounter to its logical conclusion, seems to me as bizarre as any of the ‘odd claims’ made about Titian’s Venuses which Hope and Penny like to mock. I cannot see how the women’s comfortable nudity can be reconciled with their indifference unless either that nudity indicates they are Venuses, or the paintings are not the naturalistic narratives Hope and Penny claim, but allegories.

Mary Rogers
University of Bristol

Nicholas Penny writes: I cannot see why ‘indifference’ in these circumstances should be considered more appropriate for Venus than for a mortal woman. The goddess did not consort with men in order to be bored by them. But Titian’s women are not indifferent: they are captivated by the music. The power of music to unlock hearts is a common theme in the sonnets and songs of Titian’s period, and that this is the subject of Titian’s paintings is also suggested (as Hope points out) by the presence of Cupid, who usually prompts the passions of mortals rather than those of his mother. Neither Hope nor I ever claimed that these highly poetical (but also earthy, uncomplicated and erotic) narrative paintings were ‘naturalistic’, or shed any light on what really happened in the Renaissance bedroom. What did happen there, however, was surely less bleakly mechanical than Mary Rogers allows. Many who have undressed and prepared themselves for a ‘logical’ conclusion are still not filled with desire.

Faculty at War

SIR: In his gauche and hysterical attempt to sum up the controversy which my review of Re-Reading English provoked, Peter Widdowson accuses me of being ‘probably’ an SDP supporter (Letters, 30 December 1982). If Dr Widdowson bothered to read any of the more opinionated essays which I’ve published in the London Review of Books and other ‘Establishment’ journals, he might realise how improbable such an accusation is. Unfortunately, Widdowson and his colleagues occupy a closed ‘space’ of grievance and paranoia which prevents them from understanding the complexity of the culture they belong to. Widdowson complains, for example, that the Times Higher Educational Supplement ignored Re-Reading English and cites this as evidence of Establishment conspiracy. I happen to know that a socialist friend of Widdowson’s considered reviewing it for the THES but decided not to on the grounds that a. the book is no good and b. he knew Widdowson.

One of the major symptoms of the present crisis is the manner in which the word ‘reading’ has become a self-conscious term – critics like Widdowson now observe themselves reading in a curiously onanistic manner and they appear to derive a sexual excitement from the mysterious act of ‘decoding’ signs. For example, in his hilarious introduction to Image-Music-Text Stephen Heath agonises about how to communicate this pleasure:

The American translation of Le Plaisir du texte (The Pleasures of the Text, New York 1975) uses the word ‘bliss’ for jouissance; the success of this is dubious, however, since not only does ‘bliss’ lack an effective verbal form (to render the French jouir), it also brings with it connotations of religious and social contentment (‘heavenly bliss,’ ‘blissfully happy’) which damagingly weaken the force of the original French term. I have no real answer to the problem and have resorted to a series of words which in different contexts can contain at least some of that force: ‘thrill’ (easily verbalised with ‘to thrill’, more physical and potentially sexual, than ‘bliss’), ‘climatic pleasure’, ‘come’ and ‘coming’ (the exact sexual translation of jouir, jouissance), ‘dissipation’ (somewhat too moral in its judgment but able to render the loss, the fragmentation, emphasised by Barthes in jouissance).

This strikes me as belonging to a footnote in a new Dunciad, and Heath’s subsequent elucidation is no less absurd:

Contrary to signification, signifiance cannot be reduced, therefore, to communication, representation, expression: it places the subject (of writer, reader) in the text not as a projection … but as a ‘loss’, a ‘disappearance’. Hence its identification with the pleasure of jouissance: the text becomes erotic through signifiance (no need, that is, for the text to represent erotic ‘scenes’).

In this type of terminal analysis, textual criticism becomes a peculiarly masculine species of pornography in which the ‘professional’ critic is the lonely voyeur of his own sensations. Such critics – men who fuck texts – believe that literary works ought to be given an ‘egalitarian’ treatment and this means that any text is as ‘interesting’ as the next.

Recently, a colleague of mine who follows the Widdowson line suggested that the majority of students ‘now prefer Dallas to Daniel Deronda’ and he argued that in drawing up a new English syllabus this democratic preference ought to be catered for. All over the country students are now being victimised by this attitude to literary studies (at Lewes Technical College, for example, they are informed that Crossroads is part of ‘modern literature’). It seems to me that it is one thing to oppose social inequality (which I do) and quite another to believe that some works of art are better than others. However, I know that among teachers of English. Widdowson’s supporters are now in the majority – by force of numbers, if by nothing else, they must surely triumph.

Tom Paulin
University of Nottingham

E.H. Carr

SIR: My half-brother and I have both read the review of the works of our father, the late E.H. Carr, by Norman Stone in this week’s edition of your journal (LRB, 10 January). We are neither of us competent to comment on the merits of the criticism in that article on our father’s work, but we both have knowledge of E.H. Carr’s early life and upbringing, as well as the period during which we were still both at home. The passages in the review which deal with our father’s personal life contain many defamatory untruths. I propose to bring to your notice only two of them.

Our father was never farmed out. He spent his childhood and school years in the family home of which the spinster aunt formed part, for more than twenty years, where indeed I met her. The fact that she was not poor when she died could easily have been verified. Equally untrue is the reference to a wife dying of terminal cancer. Our mother suffered from cancer which was cured ten years before the marriage broke up. She lived a further 15 years and died of pneumonia. There was no recurrence of cancer. We are appalled that a historian, in writing of a colleague lately dead, should publish defamatory untruths which he could have researched. He has caused distress to the family.

Rachel Kelly
Hinckley, Leicestershire

Norman Stone writes: I am sorry that my version of Carr’s first divorce was inaccurate and glad that the correction has been made.

Sex Achievements

SIR: Why does A.J.P. Taylor in his Diary (LRB, 2 December 1982) describe Palmerston’s ‘sex achievements’ as ‘prodigious’? ‘Once or often twice a day’ is surely not prodigious for a man, and is certainly nothing special for a woman. Anyway, shouldn’t achievements in this area be measured by quality rather than quantity, by pleasure rather than performance? It would be interesting to know what was thought by his partners, as by those of Don Juan, Casanova, and so on. What did they find ‘outstanding’ or ‘commonplace’? How sad to have sex degraded in this way.

Jean Raison
London N19