Letters to an Editor – written by his contributor, A.J.P. Taylor, to Kingsley Martin of the ‘New Statesman’ at various times from 1951 to 1964
Many thanks for your letter. Far from resenting it, I appreciate very deeply the friendship that it implies. Of course the problem of writing for the Sunday Pic has exercised my mind. But I ask myself: ought I to be content with teaching ten or fifteen undergraduates in Magdalen, or even with writing for the fairly limited readers of the New Statesman and the Manchester Guardian? If Phil gives me the chance of addressing five million people, ought I to take fright at the shade of Joad and turn it down? It is a difficult job that takes me a long time to learn; and I daresay I shall make lots of mistakes before I get better. But I surely ought to try. For my own part, I’m content if once every two months or so I can get in a piece advocating a more independent foreign policy and appeasement with Russia, but especially with China.
I’ve written some lousy articles for the Sunday Pic, but curiously enough I don’t think my article on the drink laws one of them. I’m quite unashamed of it. I sincerely think that we should have the same liquor laws that they have in France – drink available to all at all times. I’d like to see a persistent campaign by the Left to prove that Socialists stand for liberty in personal matters – more drinking, more gambling, easier divorce, no identity cards, no passports, and so on. They all go together. If we protest when young people cannot go to Berlin, we ought to protest just as much when young people cannot go into a public house. Some people think Communism is poison, and some think drink is. They are both wrong. I wrote that piece not on Phil’s prompting, but because I am ashamed every time I go into a public house for a drink and have to tell my young sons (one of whom likes cider and wine, and the other does not) that they must stand outside in the rain.
As to my academic reputation, it has gone down the drain long ago; and it has done me more harm to write for the New Statesman than for the Sunday Pic, simply because academic people read the one and not the other. I’ve just been passed over for a Chair at Oxford in favour of a nonentity who has never written anything, not even academic. Hugh Trevor-Roper was passed over too, so I am in good company; and he was passed over for the same reason – he writes for the New Statesman.
You say that serious papers will want me less. But no serious paper wants me at all as a political writer. I haven’t written a leader for the Manchester Guardian since 1945; and I would not like to reckon when I last wrote anything for the first half of the New Statesman. You and the MG employ me as a reviewer because I am the best person to review the sort of books that you send me. Look at the Books in General I have just written for you on Tocqueville in America and ask yourself whether it is inferior to what I should have written before I had contact with the Sunday Pic. I certainly took a lot of trouble with it. I’ll make a bargain with you. If ever you can honestly say that my reviewing for the New Statesman is losing its quality, I’ll either change my style in the Sunday Pic or end my contract with Phil. All the same, thanks for the warning.
You are quite right about Aberdeen, and I was careless about him. I ought to have made his view clearer, and so incidentally ought Temperley at the end of his book on the Crimea. I think on the whole that I am right about Bright. He had a good case but made too much of it: rightly accusing the British government, leaning over backwards to excuse the Russian.
Chamberlain ought to have regretted what he did. But he didn’t. He was an obstinate and narrow-minded man who, when things went wrong, always put the blame on others – Baldwin, Hitler, anyone but himself. In my book on the origins of the Second World War, I slipped towards the same mistake as Bright, and gave the impression of excusing Hitler. I didn’t mean to. All I wanted to say was that he planned much less and improvised much more than people made out at the time. The accumulated evidence for his failure to prepare for war is staggering. He bluffed everyone, including himself. I shall try to make this clear some time in a new preface.
On your book, we now know more about how Palmerston briefed the press, often writing the leaders himself. He wasn’t merely supported by public opinion. He made the public opinion which supported him. Unfortunately I can’t remember where this can be found.