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Letters

Vol. 2 No. 22 · 20 November 1980

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Grateful Student

SIR: As a ‘grateful student’ of Lionel Trilling’s, who took part in his famed Romanticism seminar, after which he directed my PhD thesis Coleridge, and became an unfailing friend, I should like to suggest that some shifts of emphasis are called for in Marilyn Butler’s excellent article on the ‘three honest men’. Wilson, Trilling and Leavis (LRB, 16 October).

It may be that the ‘BBC Talks’ context in which the review was conducted was misleading: but Trilling was never a journalist, even ‘of a very elevated kind’ (as Wilson was). It is true that he was at the head of a New York literary scene which was not academic: but what was so phenomenal about this was that he did it from a position inside the university. It would be quite wrong to imagine that this position meant nothing to him or others: in the early 1930s Trilling had little expectation, as a Jew, of being given a professorship at Columbia. He was at least as much an outsider as Leavis. But he never allowed this to define him; if he was the finest teacher I have ever known (and none came near him), it was because he spoke always as an individual drawing deeply on his own resources. Nor did he wish to imply that the resources were merely his own: they were bred of long immersion in and contemplation of our common concern, literature, in its widest sense.

It is not the case that Trilling is ‘most important for his heterogeneous essays of the 1950s’, in The Liberal Imagination and The Opposing Self. His reputation rests on his book Matthew Arnold, a work of scholarship in the best sense and still the finest single book on Arnold, conveying fully his insight into Arnold’s vital concern for the relationship of literature with a life critically examined in the light of the public good in the long term. It was to his conception of Arnold’s idea and practice that he was quietly but passionately devoted, and it is this that informed his public life and his essays.

His style was indeed lucid, as Mrs Butler says, but it was a lucidity that has nothing in common with the fluency of a journalist; he laboured at his lucidity, he laboured to bring clarity into his most inward and subtle responses. If he succeeded in being lucid, it was finally as a by-product of his unceasing efforts to understand and to achieve what he called ‘sincerity and authenticity’. That the context in which he speaks of this, in his book of that title, is among others that of Rousseau’s Confessions may convey an inkling of how far from the surface lucidity lay for him.

The book which we as his students came to know most intimately was Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy. How complex a lesson he had taught I came to know in trying to convey it to students in Berkeley in the days of the ‘Free Speech Movement’. And here one must also gloss the words quoted from Norman Podhoretz relating to Trilling’s politics. Podhoretz is, of course, a highly biased witness. He belongs to that group whose response to the events of ’68 was to become disillusioned with their own liberalism, convinced that it was a sham, because when the chips were down they had sided with the police. Their subsequent conservative fulminations are expressive of their sense of embracing what they nevertheless continue to experience as a betrayal of what they had once believed themselves to be. Podhoretz has become one of the most aggressive and exacerbated spokesmen for this ‘special branch’ of the ‘new Right’. This was never Trilling’s case; he was and he remained a liberal (in the English sense) to the last.

I think you would find, if it were a matter of counting heads, that the grateful students and unfailing friends of Lionel Trilling are at least as many and as illustrious as Leavis’s disciples, and that they are as mindful of the lesson of the master, though they would shun the word ‘disciple’.

Elinor Shaffer
University of East Anglia

Marilyn Butler writes: It sounds from the tone of her letter as if Mrs Shaffer thinks we are in disagreement, but this is hardly so. Trilling’s essays of the 1950s seem to me as Arnoldian as his earlier book on Arnold, and it is widely believed that they were more influential. The book by Philip French under review presented a ‘mosaic’ of opinions of Trilling, including those of Norman Podhoretz: it was Irving Howe, not Podhoretz, whom I quoted suggesting that Trilling’s was ‘a conservative version of liberalism’. I neither stated nor implied that Trilling was a journalist, though I should have had no qualms about doing so, had he in fact happened to be one in the investigative sense of that word. Like Edmund Wilson, I think that journalists have some intellectual advantages over academics: they can be less professionally bound to their institutions, and they are certainly less emotionally bound to their teachers. When I praised Trilling’s style for its lucidity. I too took the word to mean that he put hard effort into ordering ideas that were originally far from clear. ‘Fluency’ has such different connotations that I am puzzled at its appearance in Mrs Shaffer’s letter. Has Trilling been accused of this? Not in Philip French’s radio script, and not by me.

Translating Frege

SIR: In his review of the third edition of our Translations from the Philosophical Writings of Gottlob Frege (LRB, 18 September), Michael Dummett states: ‘The translation remains the same, save for the rendering of certain of Frege’s technical terms.’ Collation of the second and third editions would have shown very quickly that many small but significant changes were made, for the sake of clarity and accuracy, apart from the new renderings of Frege’s terminology.

A few years ago a committee sat in Oxford to consider the way of rendering Frege’s terminology and to draw up a glossary. We were glad to have Dummett on this committee, and its recommendations mainly had his personal approval: in particular, he approved rendering the verb bedeuten and its derivatives by the verb ‘to mean’ and its derivatives. These renderings of terms were used, as Dummett fails to mention, in the translation of Frege’s Nachlass by my Leeds colleagues White and Long; it was natural that Black and I should follow suit when the second edition of our volume was exhausted.

When Black and I originally chose our renderings for bedeuten and its derivatives, which are quite untechnical in their ordinary German uses, we aimed at giving correspondingly untechnical English renderings. We could not then foresee that during the next quarter-century ‘reference’ would become widely used in philosophy and linguistic theory as a key word in doctrines widely different from Frege’s. Since this did happen, we held that continued use of ‘reference’ to render Frege’s Bedeutung was inexcusably misleading, and fell into line with the White-Long translation. A misleading rendering should not be perpetuated because of current philosophical fashion.

Dummett suggests that when reconsidering which works of Frege ought to go in our selection, Max Black and I were moved by thoughts of whether, when a given work has been translated elsewhere, this was in a volume published by Blackwells or by some other publisher. This suggestion is of course quite unfounded.

Peter Geach
University of Leeds

SIR: Professor Dummett pointed out the need for a volume of English translations of Frege’s articles which ‘if not quite as comprehensive as Kleine Schriften, at least contains everything of major importance’. He and your readers may like to know that we have commissioned Brian McGuinness to edit a translation of Angellelli’s edition of Kleine Schriften which we will publish in 1982.

David Martin
Managing Director, Basil Blackwell, Oxford

Michael Dummett writes: In the prefatory note to the third edition of their translations from Frege, Professors Geach and Black say that, in addition to their new renderings of the quasi-technical terms, they have made ‘a few other changes’. In Professor Geach’s letter of complaint, these have now become ‘many small but significant changes’. I regret that, in reviewing the volume, I overlooked the remark in the note. I compared a few sample pages with the second edition, and found no changes other than those recorded in the glossary; since reading Professor Geach’s letter, I have compared another few sample pages, and have found just one stylistic change, small indeed, an improvement probably, but hardly very significant. Probably the estimate of their number in the prefatory note was more accurate. Possibly Professor Geach’s annoyance at my oversight might have been mitigated had he recalled that, for a review of the first edition, I checked the whole translation, sentence by sentence, against the German originals, a labour which resulted in many substantial improvements, there acknowledged, in the second edition. Professor Geach read my review carelessly if he took me as alluding to uses of the word ‘reference’ in non-Fregean senses. Rather, I remarked that as the result of Geach and Black’s adoption of it as their rendering of Frege’s term Bedeutung in the first edition of their volume, it has, for decades, been the standard equivalent of that term in English-language discussions of Frege. I personally regret the choice they made, and, in an encyclopedia article, used ‘meaning’ instead: but I won no converts to this emendation, and concluded that ‘reference’ could no longer be dislodged. As Professor Geach observes, I concurred in the use of ‘meaning’ for the translation of Frege’s posthumous papers, regarding it as the word that ought to have been used from the outset. That did not commit me to believing it right to make the same replacement in the celebrated Geach/Black volume, which, in present circumstances, represents a popular selection rather than a scholarly edition, and, in its original version, was the source of the now standard rendering ‘reference’. There is, in this third edition, no mention of this fact, only a disparaging comment on the use of ‘reference’ to translate Bedeutung. Students who know the translation only from the new edition may well be puzzled by the occurrence of the word ‘reference’ in the literature, and will certainly be unable to guess its origin. It is excellent news that Blackwell intends to issue a translation of the Kleine Schriften. I am sorry that Professor Geach takes offence at the suggestion that he was influenced by his publisher, but am at a loss to know what other relevant differences he saw between the Geach/Stoothoff volume, on the one hand, and those of Bynum and Furth, on the other.

Luttrell’s Cravat

SIR: Your reviewer is mistaken in saying (LRB, 16 October) that Luttrell, the famous wit of Holland House, left nothing in print. The best of his published poems, Advice to Julia (1820), was at once despatched by John Murray to Byron then in Ravenna; Byron, thought it ‘very good indeed’. Eleven years later Macaulay describes it to his sister Hannah as ‘neat, lively, piquant, and showing the most consummate knowledge of fashionable life’. It is still readable, just. Julia, Charles’s mistress, must leave her lover time for all the other pursuits of a young man about town.

All is unprofitable, flat
And stale, without a smart CRAVAT
Muslined enough to hold its starch
The last key-stone of Fashion’s arch …

Luttrell’s talk must have been better.

E.E. Duncan-Junes
Cambridge

Shelley in Season

SIR: Richard Holmes remarks in his review of Paul Dawson’s book on Shelley’s politics (LRB, 16 October) that ‘Dawson suggests an intriguing new source’ for Shelley’s famous phrase about ‘unacknowledged legislators’ in ‘Godwin’s Life of Geoffrey Chaucer (1804)’. This may be intriguing, but is not new. It is 34 years since George Woodcock remarked in his biography of Godwin that the phrase ‘was lifted almost word for word from The Life of Chaucer’ (which was published in 1803), and 33 years since the publication of the Shelleys’ Journal showed that Shelley read the book in 1815. Similar considerations apply to several other novelties Holmes discovers in Dawson.

Nicolas Walter
Harrow, Middlesex

Waving Galbraith

SIR: I cannot pretend to be an economist, and even less a sociologist. But I do run a small business and can call upon my experience of the ‘market’ to note the flaws in David Marquand’s review of Professor Galbraith’s Annals of an Abiding Liberal (LRB, 3 July). Galbraith does not advocate, so far as I have read him, an incomes policy. He advocates what in 1900 would have been called an ‘anti-trust’ policy. He wishes restraints on the incomes of the largest unions and the prices of the largest companies. Since this would limit the power of two minority groups who have become somewhat big in their britches (and at the same time let some of the steam out of inflation), I cannot see why Professor Marquand objects. It has not been tried. A universal policy has been tried. It has predictably failed.

But because waving Galbraith’s books didn’t work fifteen years ago, perhaps it would be better to reread them (or read them). They have a large element of scepticism and common sense, and some humour – a needed emetic in ‘these trying days’.

Gabriel Austin
New York

‘New Grove’

SIR: In his review of Percy Young’s biography of Sir George Grove (LRB, 16 October) Professor Denis Arnold quotes remarks, as by members of the New Grove staff, in disparagement of the German music encyclopedia Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. I should like to make it clear that no such remarks have been made with my knowledge or my approval. Ten years’ work on the new dictionary have only increased our respect for the monumental achievement represented by MGG, with whose staff we enjoy the most cordial relations. As to Professor Arnold’s other comments on the New Grove, judgment may perhaps best be deferred until the dictionary’s publication this winter.

Stanley Sadie
Editor, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, London WC2

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