LRB Cover

Send letters to:

The Editor
London Review of Books
28 Little Russell Street
London WC1A 2HN
letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and work and home telephone numbers.

Letters


Puritan Neuroses

SIR: I have no quarrel with Blair Worden’s assessment of my book The Puritan Moment as ‘honourably flawed’ (LRB, 19 April), especially since he found it ‘enjoyably provocative’. But his claim that ‘Puritanism was not a social religion’ would have startled those numerous contemporaries who vilified the godly as ‘busy controllers’, and who danced for joy at the Restoration, around resurrected Maypoles. Puritans expected such hostility, and recorded the gibes and insults of the ‘profane multitude’ with vengeful relish. For instance:

Those who are so precise
that they will have no Christmas pies,
it were good the crows
should pluck out their eyes.

Sir Toby Belch would have cried Amen.

I not only agree with Mr Worden that the Puritans’ ‘primary aim’ was to save souls, I said it myself. But there are many ways to save a soul, with diverse implications for life on earth. The social thrust of Puritan ‘vocationalism’, for example, is rather different from that of Franciscan mendicancy. Worden implies that to recognise the autonomy of religion is to abandon social interpretation. Perhaps our dispute is merely verbal, but I think it worth insisting that human action is not less ‘social’ for being governed by supra-rational premises and directed toward apocalyptic ends. Consider Khomeini. (Or Ronald Reagan.)

‘Just how was it,’ Mr Worden asks, ‘that Puritan ministers, who for decades had threatened sinners with hell-fire, were able to rally and direct the looting mobs of drunken weavers?’ I wondered about that too, which is why I wrote the book. I concluded, or so I thought, that there was something fortuitous, after all, about my ‘Puritan Moment’. It resulted from the conjuncture of temporal disasters – natural, economic and military – with obnoxious innovations in religion and politics, which smacked of apostasy from the Protestant national myth. Providentialist doctrine enabled the Puritan preachers to convince a disparate body of people, including weavers both drunk and sober, that Catholics and Laudians, by provoking God’s wrath, were to blame for everything. This is not to deny that there were urgent secular objections to royal policy: merely to question whether purely secular grievances could alone have fired a Great Rebellion. A religion that thus helps to bring down a monarchy is quite ‘social’ enough for me. Incidentally, readers eager to be enjoyably provoked but reluctant to pay £30.60 for the pleasures of a Moment may note that the hardcover edition is out of print anyway. The paperback will appear shortly.

William Hunt
St Lawrence University, Canton, New York

Blair Worden writes: It is absurd of Mr Hunt to attribute to me a ‘claim that “Puritanism was not a social religion.” ’ I hope he has not so shamelessly ignored the contexts of the passages from historical documents which he quotes in his book.


Trouble at the Met

SIR: In his first criticism of my review of McNee’s Law Professor Punch is literally correct (Letters, 7 June). Lord Mountbatten did not mention the name of the previous Commissioner (Sir Robert Mark), but he is reported to have ‘looked across at Mark’, while saying: ‘I got him his job, you know.’ There could have been no point in that remark unless it was intended as a hint that history might repeat itself at the next appointment: but perhaps I should have made it clear that no actual promise of support was given.

The ‘Obscene Publications Squad’ does not appear in the book’s index, nor can I find it mentioned anywhere by name in the text. What is clear is that McNee thought his own committee’s investigations into corruption were much more effective than those of the Countryman inquiry.

My reference to the courage of the Police was based on the story of Police Constable Lock.

Re the PSI reports, this is a matter of opinion. They contain some serious criticisms of Police action, but I do not find in them justification for wholesale condemnation of the London Police. My review did, however, end with details of a grave case of improper conduct by the Police, which, as I observed, may or may not have been exceptional. Professor Punch is entitled to his opinion and I am to mine.

Barbara Wootton
Dorking, Surrey


Dante and Auden

SIR: I bow to Mr Ansen’s good memory (Letters, 7 June) for things in Auden which I should have remembered myself. But I stand by the comment to which he takes exception. However much Auden may have invoked Dante, Dante does not get into his verse. For one thing, it is never dignified. Few English poets are less like Dante, it seems to me.

John Bayley
St Catherine’s College, Oxford


Jewish Sheep

SIR: Professor Said refers readers to Lenni Brenner’s Zionism in the Age of the Dictators for evidence that ‘Shamir’s Stern Gang treated with the Nazis’ (LRB, 16 February). It is not disputed that Jewish Zionists negotiated with the Nazis in efforts to arrange the emigration of Jews from Nazi-occupied Europe. Those who suggest this was criminal collaboration with the Nazis unwittingly imply that extermination of the Jews was preferable to their emigration to Palestine. Brenner’s allegations concerning the Stern Gang were based, both in his book and in the Journal of Palestine Studies, on an anonymous (unsigned) document, the original of which is not available for inspection by historians and forensic experts. To give credibility to his allegation that the rescuing of European Jewry ‘was secondary to the Zionist leaders’, Brenner in his book deleted from the text of the ‘document’ the paragraph which stated: ‘The liberation of the Jewish people once and for all is the objective.’

Daniel Gruenberg
Hampton Hill, Middlesex

SIR: I come from places where the English is most foul and the mutton is most fresh, so I should ask you to forgive my language. While passing through London I bought your paper – a most pleasant experience. But it seems your readers have been exposed lately to a lot of sheep dip (which is the Arabic-Jewish equivalent to hogwash) concerning sheep-Arabs-Jews. It seems one of your readers has been asking for ‘data’ and I wonder if Professor Said, Mr Shenker or Mr Parker (the one asking for ‘data’) would know an Awassi from a local English sheep and what they would do with said sheep-growing data.

First, an aside: what is called by the previous writers the ‘Israel Association of Sheepraisers’ includes goats in many cases: in Israel only Jews will in general grow only sheep. Arabs in the north will grow sheep and goats and in the south will grow goats only – a very interesting breed of highly-adapted desert goat. So much for the goats.

Now for the politics. Arab and Jewish herders are first of all herders and then, if at all, politicians. Arabs, Jews, Scots, Welsh, Bretons – people of the land – will join all kinds of association only if they can get something for it. In Israel, Arabs have joined – and play a major role in – the tobacco-growers’ association and the olive-growers’ association; they also participate in fruit and vegetable associations. There they get (as they should) their money back from the system. Arabs and, for that matter, many clever Jews refuse to join the IAS because registration means taxation. For the last four thousand years, shepherds in the Near East have been fighting the taxman: those sheep lists from Knossos in Crete are nothing but a record of how the Bronze Age taxman living in a Bronze Age palace was trying to screw the hut-living shepherd. And the fight still goes on. By law, all sheep and goats in Israel have to be slaughtered in a government-supervised place: but not even 20 per cent of the sheep and goats have the dubious honour of going to their last resting-place (the shawarma spit) through these official channels, because there they would meet the income-tax man and the VAT man and the land-tax man and, worst of all, some over-educated Jewish or Arab vet who will declare them (what an insult) unfit for human consumption. Politics have nothing to do with shepherds joining or not joining the IAS: the normal shepherd’s ancient and well-justified fear of registration is the basis of it.

These shepherds, by surviving and prevailing in the land, have done more towards achieving the common human Arab-Jewish goals than all the hypocritical outsiders. In the end, there will be peace between us Palestinian Arabs and Jews in much the same way that your England now is the product of Celts, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Normans and Indians and Blacks. This will of course irritate Professor Said, the university man, and Mr Parker, who would like to see justice done, even if in the end it will mean – God forbid, if only for the sake of the sheep – the quick justice of radioactive desert. If the people jointly beat the taxman they will also beat these advisers, surely.

This reminds me of a story. Many years ago, there was a Jewish shepherd boy and an Arab shepherd boy. Now the Arab boy was a much better shepherd in every way, but what impressed the Jewish boy most was that the Arab boy had succeeded in training his ewes: every time they saw the Arab boy coming they would stand in line, almost like soldiers, with their backs to him and lift their tails in the air in a most peculiar way. So the Jewish boy asked the Arab boy to show him how he could train his Jewish ewes to perform the same trick, and the Arab boy said: ‘No problem, it is a joy to teach this trick and a great joy to learn this trick.’ And so the Arab and the Jewish boy were training their sheep together and a great joy it was for all: Arab, Jew, man and beast. But then Lawrence of Arabia came and he looked on the Arab boy and liked him and he told him that he would teach him some better trick and so Lawrence of Arabia took the boy and enlisted him in the Arab Legion and the rest is modern Middle East history.

By the way, what is Professor Said teaching his Jewish colleagues in the university? Are his teachings as conducive to peace as the above? If Mr Parker is interested in sheep-growing in Palestine-Israel he can write to me at 26 Kaplonski Street. Will you, Mr Parker, or are you interested in shawarma only? I am also interested in human and sheep rights.

Baruch Rosen
Pitah-Tikwa, Israel


Carriers

SIR: You published recently a poem of Brian Oxley’s (LRB, 5 April) in which gay men are dehumanised by metonymy into ‘AIDS carriers’. In asserting that ‘the yellow-brick road’ has been ‘abandoned to tank-battles and AIDS carriers’ Mr Oxley alludes to the popularity among gay men of MGM’s The Wizard of Oz, and implies that they live, these irresponsible lepers, in a Wizard of Oz world of unreality. I presume that you were unaware of the scurrility involved in his words when you vetted them for publication, and hope that it is unnecessary to remind you that from rhetoric of this sort Auschwitz is ‘only a bus-ride away’.

Angus Macdonald
Thunder Bay, Ontario

Brian Oxley writes: It goes against the grain to defend or explain one of my own pieces of verse. I write as well and as clearly as I can. After that, judgment and interpretation belong to the reader. However, on the basis of a misunderstanding, Mr Macdonald suggests that I am anti-gay and fascist, and this requires an answer. The poem has no special reference to gays. I used AIDS as a new and frightening venereal disease poisoning the dream of untrammelled sexuality. I would apologise to gays who took this to refer specifically to them. It is news to me that The Wizard of Oz is specially popular among gay men. The context makes clear that I am writing about the naive mythology of the Sixties. The yellow brick road stands for the various shortcuts to paradise on offer in those days, particularly that of travel to the mystic East. The overland route is now closed by trouble in the Lebanon, Iran and Afghanistan. In many cases, what lies over the rainbow has been horribly degraded. More Westerners now head for the brothels of Bangkok than the ashrams of India, and return with herpes rather than enlightenment. The rhetoric in question is not mine but that of the Beatles, Timothy Leary, the Charismatic Movement, and others. The poem says their dreams were delusions, which I find very sad.

The reference to Auschwitz is uncalled for. Here, if you like, is an abuse of language – in the use of the name as a war cry by groups whose position is very different from that of the victims of the Nazis. As a response to the poem it is far too serious. In the politics of language, unremitting seriousness is oppressive. There has to be room in poetry for bad taste, playfulness, scurrility, if poetry is to be liberated and liberating.


Tennyson Manuscripts

SIR: We are currently preparing an edition of facsimiles of all known poetical manuscripts by Alfred Tennyson. The edition will include every extant manuscript in Tennyson’s own hand together with all such documents (MSS in other hands, proofs, ‘trial’ editions, prose drafts, etc) as record significant stages of composition. We should be grateful for information on the whereabouts of manuscript and related material in addition to that held at the Tennyson Research Centre, Lincoln; Trinity College, Cambridge; Harvard University Libraries; and other major known repositories (details of unrecorded private collections would be especially welcome). The edition, to be titled The Tennyson Archive, will be published by Garland Publishing Inc., New York.

Christopher Ricks, Aidan Day
Christ’s College, Cambridge CB2 3BU


Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle

SIR: On its first publication in 1979 you reviewed Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle: Conversations recorded by Friedrich Waismann, edited by Brian McGuiness. It may now be of interest to your readers to know that this book will be published in paperback on 25 May at £6.50. Klaus Doerner’s Madmen and the Bourgeoisie, which you reviewed in 1981, will be published in paperback on 17 May 1984 at £6.95.

Joss Marsh
Basil Blackwell, Oxford