Michael Mason (LRB, 1 September) describes my life of Francis Place as a ‘considerable achievement’, but he laments ‘possibilities not explored’. Place’s life touches on so many aspects of early 19th-century Britain that several decades could be devoted to his biography, and I was mindful of the example of Chester New, who spent thirty years on the first part of his life of Henry Brougham, and then died before he could write part two. I therefore concentrated on these aspects where I thought that I had something new to say, such as the Westminster Committee, the Reform Bill and birth control, and only the last of these comes within Mr Mason’s field of interest.
He also charges that I stick too closely to the Place papers, and cites failure to mention the story that James Mill entrusted John Stuart’s political education to Place. I did not refer to this because it comes from a late and unreliable source (George Jacob Holyoake), and it seems unlikely in view of James Mill’s own expertise in the subject and his snobbish attitude to Place. I probably did not spell out sufficiently my view that class created a barrier between Place and the rest of the Utilitarian circle, Bentham excepted. The Place papers are the only available source for many episodes in his life, but as Mr Mason indicates (in commenting on my treatment of major issues such as the Reform Bill), I did look extensively at other material in assessing Place’s role.
Another criticism is that I have not listed Place’s writings. I did list Place’s book and pamphlets, but a bibliography of his journalism would have been a major project in view of his enormous output, and it would have lengthened a book which at 303 pages already exceeded the publisher’s preferred limit. Mr Mason further objects to my citing published material by its location in the Place papers, but these have been published on microfilm, whereas runs, of obscure journals are often hard to find. I mention the book’s 303 pages because the number of pages is shown as 206 at the head of the review: the publisher decided on a very high price, and 206 pages makes it sound even worse than it is.
Michael Mason claims that historians have found traces of Francis Place the radical ‘scattered and faint’, apart from the archive under his name in the British Museum. But it is far from a faint and scattered impression and knowledge of the man and his wonderfully cunning career on the left of English politics during the Reform period that we get from Graham Wallas’s Life, which was reprinted several times more than half a century ago. Apparently that work is not ‘scholarly’ by Mr Mason’s criteria, since he calls Dudley Miles’s new book ‘the first scholarly life of Place’. But Wallas’s book was quite thorough, detailed and intelligent enough to give me some of my clearest impressions of what was going on inside the class struggles of that time when the incandescent constituency politics of Westminster were bringing radicalism onto the central stage of democracy for the first time, and again when Place was dreaming up his endearingly bold strategy of ‘Go for gold’ to press through the first Reform Bill.
Michael Mason’s review of new books on Francis Place and London’s radical underworld in the first half of the 19th century raises a number of interesting points, not all of which are satisfactorily answered. First, on the role of Francis Place. He was someone who sought to influence behind the scenes, and was therefore rarely to the fore in the public prints: but he was equally someone who left a very large archive, and whose role, for this reason, may be overestimated. Certainly Mason seems to feel that Place’s view on respectability should be taken, almost, as a benchmark against which to measure more wayward elements. Secondly, on the question of respectability itself. Here Mason does see the difficulty in imputing the artisanal view of respectability propounded by Place, which may, or may not, have been held by the developing working class. The point that should be made is that while Place may have hoped that his view of respectability might win out in radical working-class circles, as perhaps it did, to a degree, after 1848, in such circles the concept had quite a different context and rather different ends. For example, radicals fought a long battle to have their own halls and meeting-rooms separate from the public house. Why? Because they thought temperance the solution to their ills? In a few cases, maybe, but more frequently for the very basic reason that drunks could not effect political organisation.
Finally, on the question of the relationship beteen pornography and radicalism. There seem to be two traditions, one leading from Place, to birth control and feminism, which lasted into this century. The other tied in with the fact that being unrespectable radicals might handle all kinds of disreputable material, political or otherwise. But what, may one ask, did the female radicals of the period, covered so well in Barbara Taylor’s Eve and the New Jerusalem, think of all this? If McCalman tells us, Mason makes no mention of it. Either way, it seems rather important that someone should tell us.
I was interested to see, in Peter Gay’s biography of Freud, reviewed in the LRB by J.P. Stern (LRB, 4 August), that Freud corresponded with Hendrik de Man, the rogue Belgian recently retrieved from obscurity by the news of his nephew Paul de Man’s early political delinquencies. (Gay describes de elder de Man as ‘the maverick Flemish Socialist’.) The correspondence with Freud had to do, it seems, with the ‘extra-medical applications of psychoanalysis’ and the bearing they might have on ‘the mental orientation of humanity’. I can see why Freud in his megalomania would have been interested in the matter – one thing Gay makes clear is how he tended to get bored with mere healing. No doubt many scholarly inquiries will have been set in train by the ructions over Paul de Man’s anti-semitic leanings: perhaps one of these will concern itself with the question of what his more obviously anti-semitic uncle hoped to gain, ideologically speaking, by entering into a correspondence with the author of the ‘Jewish science’.
Nicholas Penny and your readers might be amused to learn that the foundry-worker’s advice to Picasso on patination of bronzes (LRB, 1 September) is identical to that of Braque, who told the poet and translator Jonathan Griffin: je les ai ensevelis dans le jardin et je pisse bien dessus.
Mozart and Freud
Peter Gay (Letters, 1 September) alleges I am not ‘a close reader’, but what am I to make either of his account of my letter (Letters, 4 August) or of his own article (LRB, 7 July)? It is still remarkably hard not to read his footnote as an attempt to correct Landon’s scholarship. It does not read as if it was ‘ill-written’ but it does carry – given his present elucidation – an aberrant meaning. The point that Landon is unoriginal in many places – something which, contrary to Gay, I did address in my letter – remains very weak. Landon was writing a biographical study, not introducing a compilation of newly-discovered documents.
Gay now insists that he did know that Wolfgang Hildesheimer was not a professional musicologist, and that he never said he was. If I may quote: ‘Unlike Wolfgang Hildesheimer … she [Brophy] writes less as a professional musicologist than as a philosophical theatre critic.’ Because the grammar is somewhat clumsy in this sentence I was at pains to point out in my letter that Hildesheimer’s book is not a work of professional musicology either – something which Gay does not in his response take issue with.
I never suggested that Gay praised Alan Tyson ‘because he is a distinguished scholar of Freud’. I merely speculated that the fact that Tyson was incidentally a Freud scholar may have governed what I still believe to be the highly eccentric choice of Gay as a reviewer of books about Mozart. I should also like to emphasise – a perhaps accidental implication of Gay’s letter – that I did not say anything pejorative concerning Tyson’s book.