All Sound Christians
SIR: I enjoyed D.A.N. Jones’s article (LRB, 5 April) but I was unhappy with some of the ways in which he used the 17th century – and in particular Richard Baxter – as a milch-cow for 20th-century theological debate. To be specific: 1. ‘N.H. Keeble … was responsible for the excellent Everyman edition of Baxter’s autobiography in 1931.’ He wasn’t. J.M. Lloyd Thomas was. N.H. Keeble supplied a new introduction in 1974 to this Lloyd Thomas abridgment. I have argued previously in this journal (LRB, 21 July 1983) that both the Lloyd Thomas text, and the Sylvester edition from which it is taken, do a disservice to the original Baxter intent. 2. ‘Is it fair to call Baxter a “Puritan”?’ Is it fair to call anybody in the 17th century a ‘Puritan’? Certainly to define the word in a way that would exclude Baxter would be to drain the word of its last critical use. 3. Baxter doesn’t seem very ‘Puritan’ in being rude to Cromwell and polite to the Crown? Two answers here: a. there’s nothing distinctively ‘Puritan’, whatever Mr Jones may think, in being for Cromwell and against the King (otherwise what is he to make of Scottish Presbyterians?); b. Baxter, anyway, was both much more in favour of Cromwell, and hostile to the Crown, than his later doctored memoirs would indicate: the corrective here is provided by his private papers. 4. ‘His “pious journalism” about the class structure of the parties to the English Civil War is much used by modern historians: some of them treat him as respectfully as if he were Thucydides.’ But the point is that they shouldn’t: again I refer the reader to my review article in this journal last year. 5. ‘C.H. Sisson, too, finds Baxter’s idea of a Church too broad to be comprehended … To Sisson’s mind, the Pope’s visit was pretty painful – but the Archbishop asked for it, with his refusal to recognise that the C of E is just a national Church’ (Jones’s italics). Here is the supreme misreading of Baxter. It is not only that the Pope’s visit would have seemed far more outlandish to Baxter than it would to Sisson, but Baxter actually wrote a pamphlet in 1691 – one of his last works – admiringly entitled ‘Of National Churches’. It is indeed bad history to emphasise Baxter’s (sincere) ecumenical longings without putting them in the context of his national, anti-Catholic, apolcalyptic world view; which is why 20th-century transplants of 17th-century material just won’t work. Let Baxter then, not Jones, Sisson or Keeble, have the last word: ‘Therefore I judge that a Confederacy or Coalition with the Church of Rome, in any of these Sins, or in the very form of a Church headed by a pretended Universal Head or Sovereign, is to be abhorred by all sound Christians: And I am glad that this Kingdom is sworn against all Foreign Jurisdiction, Civil or Ecclesiastical; tho’ Union and Concord with all Foreign Churches must be as far kept as we are able, not partaking of their Sins’ (A Paraphrase on the New Testament).
University of Sussex
SIR: ‘There is no species of writing which requires the exercise of a finer sense of proportion, of a keener appreciation of the relative value of things and men, or of a deeper sense of literary responsibility.’ In quoting Edmund Gosse on the art of biography, Ann Thwaite gives to any reviewer a working standard for the assessment of her own book, Edmund Gosse: A Literary Landscape. I agree with your reviewer, J.I.M. Stewart, that it is an ‘admirable biography’ (LRB, 5 April), but then I had read the book before I read his review: from the review itself I could have got no clue as to what warranted the compliment. Reviewers for your paper aren’t short of words but when they are put to no better use than to summarise the book in question (at great length) I wonder what function they are supposed to perform – other than to save the reader the bother of going to the book itself.
What is admirable about Mrs Thwaite’s book is the skill with which she populates that literary landscape in which Gosse was so astonishingly dominant a figure. To a large degree she enables us to see how it was that a man of relatively modest intellectual gifts could earn the respect and affection of such a diversity of poets, novelists and statesmen. She makes us see how the amiability and the supressed capacity for friendship that enabled Gosse to survive his (in so many ways) preposterous upbringing also served him so well in the performance of an ‘office’ that, as T.S. Eliot remarked, did not survive him. Mrs Thwaite fully documents the shortcomings and failures but what stays in the mind is the stamina and enthusiasm of a man who (to take the most impressive example) single-handedly introduced the works of Ibsen to the English reading public. ‘You of all my friends in other countries, possess the deepest, truest, most poetical insight into what I mean by my work.’ So Ibsen wrote to Gosse. Gosse was then 23 years old.
Gosse’s ‘genius for knowing people’ was for a very large part of his life inseparable from his work as a mediator and a populariser of literature – relatively humble, even suspect functions, we may now think. However, at a time when – as Martin Dodsworth has said – English literature is running out of readers, when serious comment on literature is more and more felt to be the preserve of the university-based specialist, it is good to be presented with so full and well-composed a picture of a vanished literary culture. It is my complaint that no one reading J.I.M. Stewart’s review of Mrs Thwaite’s book would know why her ‘admirable biography’ was worth a moment’s attention.
University of Leicester
J.I.M. Stewart writes: Before I agreed on the telephone to a small curtailment of my review required through the exigencies of space, it concluded thus:
I am not confident that Mrs Thwaite has quite gauged the strength of these conflicting indignations in the mid-1920s. But she has done a great service in providing a full and judicious review, not only of Edmund Gosse’s career and personality, but also – as she very modestly says in her Introduction – of ‘matters concerning several generations of writers’. James Boswell put a similar achievement more rotundly: ‘… the whole exhibiting a view of literature and literary men in Great-Britain, for near half a century, during which he flourished’.
SIR: Jaynie Anderson is quite right to point out (Letters, 5 April) that I conflated the two Vischers, Friedrich Theodor and Robert, in my review of Edgar Wind’s volume of collected papers; and I apologise for my carelessness. But this mistake fortunately does not negate my claim that Wind’s review of Gombrich’s biography of Warburg was unduly tendentious. In his dissertation on Botticelli, Warburg did indeed cite both Vischers in his third footnote, in connection with the notion of Einfühlung (empathy). As Dr Anderson points out, it was Robert who focused on the term in aesthetic theory in 1873; and then in 1887 Friedrich Theodor, making explicit reference to Robert’s work, applied it to the interpretation of symbols. In his biography of Warburg, Gombrich discussed Warburg’s debt to Friedrich Theodor at some length, and also gave prominence to the concept of empathy. Since he was writing about Warburg rather than the Vischers there is no obvious reason why he should have explored the various usages of the term. Its origins, incidentally, are not as straightforward as Wind maintained: far from being a new coinage in the 1870s, as he claimed in the review, it can be found as early in 1843, in Friedrich Theodor’s Plan zu einer neuen Gliederung der Ästhetik. In taking Friedrich Theodor’s publication of 1887 as the key text, without mentioning his debt to Robert’s paper of 1873, Gombrich was of course following the precedent set by Wind himself in a lecture delivered at the Warburg Library during Warburg’s own lifetime, and reprinted in The Eloquence of Symbols.
My assumption that Wind himself selected the papers republished in this volume was based on some remarks in the editor’s preface: ‘Many years ago Edgar Wind had contemplated publishing a collection of his essays with the title The Eloquence of Symbols, but as he was always preoccupied with new research he never carried the project beyond its early phases … For many of the essays that Wind had chosen for republication he left offprints with annotations and revisions, as well as notes with references to further sources and more recent bibliography, and these have been incorporated when they seemed appropriate.’ In that preface the editor specifically indicates that Professor Lloyd-Jones had suggested the inclusion of Wind’s early essay on Plato: but readers will understand why I had supposed – wrongly, as it turns out – that otherwise the choice was Wind’s own.
Warburg Institute, University of London
SIR: In his interesting piece on ‘Aristotle and Women’ (LRB, 16 February), Jonathan Barnes writes: ‘“Dualise” is A.L. Peck’s ugly translation of the Greek verb epamphoterizein.’ Is there no limit to the Classicist’s willingness to advance the claims of his mystery? What ear could possibly be more offended by ‘dualise’ than by epamphoterizein? Or is this a learned joke?
Jonathan Barnes writes: No mystery and, alas, no joke. If Mr Darke uses epamphoterizein in his Greek prose, he may yet be as elegant as Plato; if he writes ‘dualise’ in English, he is a barbarian.
SIR: Probably Mr Shah has not expressed any regret to Mr A.J.P. Taylor for running him over because his insurance company would not allow such a thing. I always feel as I drive around and about that if a child runs into the road in front of me and I knock it down, and wrap it in car rugs and drive it to the hospital and over subsequent days constantly inquire as to how it is, and perhaps even give it a present, she, he, it would enable some thuggie in an insurance company to suggest that my behaviour amounted to an admission of blame or guilt, and if it went to court, some appalling barrister would be expected to make the same suggestion! That is why car drivers involved in accidents are advised to keep their mouths shut and act inhumanly.
Thames Ditton, Surrey
Paul de Man
SIR: I was very pleased to see Geoffrey Hartman’s splendid essay on Paul de Man appear in the London Review of Books (LRB, 15 March). Your readers may be interested to know about some titles of Paul de Man that have or will be appearing in the coming years: Rhetoric of Romanticism (Columbia University Press 1983), The Resistance to Theory (University of Minnesota Press 1984), Aesthetic Ideology (University of Minnesota Press). In addition the University of Minnesota Press will be publishing one or two volumes of de Man’s essays, including his very interesting journalistic essays from the Fifties and Sixties.
University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis
SIR: For A Feminist Companion to Literature in English (that is, to the literature of the English-speaking countries), we would welcome any newly uncovered or emended dates, attributions, or other matters of fact, in addition to the names and addresses of people writing works of feminist literary history or criticism. For the 18th century and earlier, please write to Isobel Grundy, English Department, Queen Mary College, London El 4NS; for the 19th century, to Virginia Blain, School of English, Macquarie University, North Ryde, NSW 2133; for the 20th century, to Patricia Clements, Department of English, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T6E 2E5.
SIR: I am seeking information on all aspects of Elbert Hubbard’s The Philistines: A Periodical of Protest (1895-1915), published in East Aurora, New York.
Gallaudet College, Washington, DC 20002