A Conservative Disposition
SIR: There is little point in arguing with Dr Addison (LRB, 9 October) about the merits of Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England, which does not ‘shudder to a stop’ at the end of Volume Two as he supposes but leads naturally into Volume Three and, when supplemented by three further projected volumes, each with its own standpoint, method and content, will have made converging approaches to what I have evidently persuaded him is ‘one of the most important tasks an English historian could undertake’.
Dr Addison displays a manifest distaste for my political opinions and allows them to affect his judgment. But he totally misunderstands them. I am not ‘out of step’ with the Conservative Party, for which I shall vote at the next election and which I hope will win the next election handsomely. I do believe in some economists and, though I regard the ‘national interest’ as the best guide to foreign policy, am not an ‘authoritarian’, am not really a reactionary, and combine a Biffenite scepticism with a Thatcherite conviction. These were displayed best in Conservative Essays in 1978.
It is true that in writing about religion I have adopted Laudian, Tractarian and Anglican postures and analyses and have pointed them accusingly at the postures and analyses of modern secularism. I have done this, however, not as a method of self-disclosure (except about the distant past), but as a form of heuristic satire in order to remind historians and others of the exact nature of the far-reaching and fundamental conflict of religions which has been going on in England for the past century and a half. Only a naive reviewer could suppose that this juggling with public symbols and beliefs has done anything but conceal my present religious opinions.
Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England is not written in the manner of a conventional history and Dr Addison is right to suppose that I prefer the role of dogmatist to that of historian. But I know perfectly well what I am doing; I affirm the compatibility of the one role with the other, and I do not believe in these days that any serious historian will disagree.
Dr Addison concludes with the pronouncement that ‘all beliefs are myths,’ that ‘secular myths are necessary to secular societies,’ and that ‘liberalism and socialism are the most appropriate myths to us in the late 20th century.’ This is a deflationary pronouncement for which conservatives should be grateful. And if, as Dr Addison claims, it has been ‘brought home to him’ by ‘Cowling’s books’ then I am very pleased. Nothing is more conducive to a conservative disposition, with its twin poles of scepticism and conviction, than the disconcerting belief that beliefs have to be understood to be myths at the same time as they are believed in.
The Strange Death of Mehmet Shehu
SIR: Mysterious deaths are always popular, and it is certainly exciting to be told by Jon Halliday (LRB, 9 October) that the cause of Mehmet Shehu’s death in December 1981 was the discovery by the Albanian historian Arben Puto, working in the Public Record Office, that FO papers based on SOE reports had described Shehu as a ‘pro-British element’. This information, passed on to Enver Hoxha but not included in Puto’s book, had been enough ‘to detonate lethal suspicion in a chronically suspicious mind’. ‘The timing,’ Mr Halliday insists, ‘is crucial. Puto’s book appeared in 1981. Shehu died in December 1981. In January 1982 Hoxha published his first denunciation of Shehu, citing some official British documents, with more to come later that year.’ But if dates are so important – and they are – it is not good enough to be fobbed off with such vague statements as ‘British wartime archives were (partially) opened in the 1970s (30 years after the events),’ and once one becomes more specific, quite a different picture emerges. It was in fact only the English version of Arben Puto’s book that appeared in 1981. A German edition had already been published in 1980, in which the foreword is dated April 1976.
In his introduction Puto explains that in response to pressure from historians (among other things) an announcement had been made in the House in 1971 to the effect that the 30-year rule would be waived for the FO documents on the Second World War, and that he and a colleague arrived in London in summer 1972 two months after this came into operation. Consequently they were allowed to see, and to a large extent to photocopy, material covering the years down to the end of 1944. This liberal treatment, unimaginable in Tirana, clearly amazed the pair, but Mr Puto shrugs it off as a device to attract tourists! A preliminary report of their findings appeared in Nëntori, No 12 (1972) and Nos 1, 2 and 3 (1973). It follows from this that if Mr Halliday is right in thinking that Puto passed information concerning Shehu culled from FO archives to Enver Hoxha, this must have happened by autumn 1972. In which case the question obtrudes itself: why, despite his ‘chronically suspicious mind’, and the ‘lethal detonation’ which these documents set off, did Hoxha sit on them and take no further action for another nine years? I am afraid that the timing of Shehu’s death is still unexplained.
SIR: Jon Halliday’s suggestion that Mehmet Shehu was eliminated on the basis of casual innuendos gleaned from diplomatic gossip does less than justice to the cold, coherent patience characteristic of Enver Hoxha. As his own memoirs make clear, at the end of the war the status of Hoxha in the Albanian Communist Party was greatly at risk, despite his sonorous titles, from internal party rivalries, from the prestigious Communists returned from exile, and from the hostility of a Tito preparing to incorporate Albania in the Yugoslav Federation. From then on, Hoxha’s strategy was the Stalinist one of subjecting all state power to that of the Party, and all Party power to that of its Secretary-General himself. The successive eliminations of Titoists, rival theorists, personal enemies and would-be autonomous military leaders, finally left, as a potential alternative focus of power, the police and foreign policy complex still in the hands of his old partner and rival, Mehmet Shehu. So long as Hoxha was unambiguously in a position to exercise direct overall authority, this situation could and probably had to be accepted. But for some years Hoxha had been suffering from what the postmortem account called ‘an insult to the brain’, which has been taken to refer to Parkinsonism. In this context, the move to destroy Shehu has all the marks of a pre-emptive strike hastily mounted against the only man who was able, and seemingly ready, to assert his right to the succession. This reading tends to be confirmed by the odd fact that Shehu was not denounced as a ‘spy’ for several months after his death: until, that is, the ramifications of his so-called conspiracy could be elucidated, and his likely collaborators rendered harmless. Whether, given his disabilities, the initiative was taken by Hoxha in person, or, presumably with his approval, by a group of protégés and associates who felt themselves under threat, is a matter to which Jon Halliday doesn’t address himself.
Come here, Botham
SIR: Is Paul Foot going soft? His review of Keating’s book about Botham (LRB, 9 October) certainly illustrates his own point that once you have caught the cricket bug it eats away at your better judgment. It is not just the shifting balance between batting and bowling which makes cricket fascinating. It is also the fine balance between the team and the individual. Unlike tennis or golf, cricket is a team game. Unlike football or rugby, members of this team when batting or bowling perform individually. With the exception of Boycott, Botham has, more than any other cricketer of recent times, upset this fine balance. Viv Richards is both the finest batsman in the world and a working member of the West Indian team. He practices as regularly as his team-mates. He will even do duty as 12th man. Botham’s attitude to the mundane side of a cricketer’s working life is conspicuously different. Foot romanticises the all-rounder, but Hadlee has shown it is possible to be exciting without being selfish.
It is too easy to blame all Botham’s problems on the dinosaurs at Lords and the jackals of the popular press. As cricket belatedly emerges from its feudal phase, Botham is the game’s foremost example of the early merchant capitalist – historically necessary perhaps, but hardly the proletarian hero depicted by Foot. The big earners of modern English cricket have done little for their colleagues in the county game. Money rules, and Botham has made quite as much out of the popular press as they have out of him. His refusal to play in South Africa is admirable, but he is not the only Tory opposed to sporting links with South Africa – nor is he the only cricketer to refuse a large sum to play with apartheid. Almost certainly no one else has been offered a million pounds (is this figure really accurate?), but in the case of South Africa I can’t see the difference between 20 and 30 pieces of silver.
No one doubts that Botham has a big heart, and that it is often in the right place. He also has a big head, and too often doesn’t appear able to see the game for himself. He has been shamefully treated by sections of the press, but my sympathy for him disappears whenever I hear his belligerently self-righteous replies. He seems to believe that he should be exempt from the treatment that other gifted, media-blown sportsmen and women suffer.
Foot’s description of Keating as ‘the country’s top sports writer by a long distance’ also surprises me. Wasn’t it Keating who wrote in mitigation of Boycott and the other mercenaries? His writing is notoriously sexist and he seems to share, with Frank Richards as described by Orwell, the view that all foreign countries are intrinsically comic. Perhaps Foot feels that politics and sports writing shouldn’t be mixed. But on the game itself, Keating is not in the same league as his Guardian predecessor Arlott, or his colleagues Engel and Selvey. He cannot keep himself out of his writing. His accounts of cricket are always collapsed back into his own life in a way – unlike Arlott, for example – that does nothing to illuminate the game: we only learn about Keating. In this respect he has a good deal in common with Botham. And the overwriting noted by Foot is not peculiar to this book. Abuse of adjectives is the hallmark of Keating’s journalism.
University of Kent, Canterbury
Life of Melanie Klein
SIR: As the correspondence between Phyllis Grosskurth and Paul Seabright (Letters, 7 August) appeared at a time when no Trustee of the Melanie Klein Trust was in London, we could not respond to clarify the position. On our return we checked in the archives with the help of the archivist, Lesley Hall, after her letter to you was sent off but before it was published (Letters, 18 September). We found that the two texts, Paul Seabright’s 22 pages and Phyllis Grosskurth’s 30 pages, are in fact identical, but one is a retype (from those pre-photocopy days) on different paper with different spacing. The reference to ‘Hans’ on page 9 of Seabright’s copy which Grosskurth says is missing in her text is there at the bottom of page 11. It is true that on Grosskurth’s copy there are some comments by a Trustee. This is because some years ago, probably in connection with the publication of Melanie Klein’s Writings, we tried to edit the notes to make them suitable for publication. The sentence about Abraham was not ‘added’ by a Trustee but was a suggestion for its transfer from page 29 to 26. We have abandoned the project as impossible, but had we proceeded with it we would have made it quite clear that it was an edited text.
About the 48-page text: Melanie Klein in 1959 shortly before her death dictated a series of notes to her secretary on a number of different occasions, which she never put together and which were therefore very repetitive. The resulting 48-page manuscript is, as Phyllis Grosskurth describes, a rambling account, and the last 16 pages are mainly repetitions, sometimes verbatim, of earlier pages. We have therefore removed most of the last pages and removed some of the rambling repetitions from the body of the text. This is the text we lend to people to use as a reference, but the 48-page text is in the archives available to scholars. Grosskurth had access to it, but wisely chose to use the text we had made more readable. So there are not ‘many versions’ of the autobiographical notes. So far as we know, there is the original 48-page text and the slightly shortened and edited version of either 22 or 30 pages, those two being identical. There is no question of ‘sanitising’ or changing Mrs Klein’s notes, as both versions are easily available for inspection.
Chairman, Melanie Klein Trust, London NW8
SIR: Philip Larkin’s death at the end of last year was a deep grief to his family, his friends, to other poets and to librarian colleagues. But many who knew him only through his writings in both prose and verse also felt a keen sense of loss at his death and have written to his publisher, Hull University, the British Broadcasting Corporation, literary journals and newspapers to express their sorrow. It seems there is a widespread desire to establish a more permanent memorial and we are writing to announce the setting-up of a ‘Philip Larkin Memorial Appeal Fund’ to commemorate his life and work. We propose to establish a fund, the interest from which will be used for two main purposes: 1. to buy, or subvent the purchase of, modern literary manuscripts for the libraries of the United Kingdom and Ireland so that they can be preserved here and made available for future generations to study, and 2. to assist the University of Hull in its purpose of establishing a room in its library named for Philip Larkin and devoted to housing a collection of his books, papers and other materials with other similar rare and precious items already in the University’s collections. The day-to-day administration of the memorial fund will be taken over later by the Friends of the National Libraries, advised by persons representing the fund. The Charity Commission and the local authority have been consulted.
We hope this memorial appeal fund will be strongly supported by Philip Larkin’s friends, colleagues and readers. He himself did much to promote the preservation of literary manuscripts in the United Kingdom generally through his Chairmanship of the Arts Council’s National Manuscript Committee from 1972 until its final dissolution in 1984, and we believe the aims of the fund would have met with his approval. Gifts and donations of money should preferably be sent to Mr B.C. Bloomfield, The Secretary, Philip Larkin Memorial Appeal Fund, at 14 Store Street, London WC1E 7DG, or to the National Westminster Bank, Bloomsbury Branch, Philip Larkin Memorial Appeal Fund, Account No 36113050, PO Box 158, 214 High Holborn, London WC1V 7BX. All donations will be recorded. Those who wish to covenant their gifts over a period of years should write to the Secretary, and a form of covenant will then be sent. A leaflet giving details of the appeal and a tear-off slip for any gifts is available from the Secretary.
Kingsley Amis, Egremont, Ted Hughes, Andrew Motion, Patrick Neill, Wilberforce
SIR: Your memory (LRB, 9 October) has let you down. The Unionist politician in Real Lives was Gregory Campbell, not Peter Robinson. They have, it is true, some features in common.
I am grateful for the correction.
Editor, ‘London Review’