SIR: David Marquand (LRB, 1 July) agonises about Tony Crosland’s insistence that becoming Labour’s housing minister was immensely more important than joining Roy Jenkins’s ideological crusade for the EEC. He calls it a ‘personal and political tragedy’ and a ‘biographical puzzle’. Such an analysis is wholly misguided. The incident marked as much of a milestone in Tony Crosland’s political maturity as the hysterical reaction to it by Marquand and his friends was a measure of their own political immaturity.
I would not have written, however, had I not been riled by Marquand’s patronising attitude towards Susan Crosland. ‘I have the uneasy feeling that she would not understand the question’ – of the importance of supporting EEC membership v. being housing minister – ‘if it were put to her.’ Chapter after chapter of the book is eloquent testimony, not only of how well she understood the question, but of her conviction that Tony was right in shifting to the left and rejecting incipient Social Democracy. As an American, she understood that the guts of democracy is about listening to people rather than fawning after powerful patrons; her genuine love of Grimsby, her conversations with Dennis Skinner, her sheer amazed horror at the antics of the Jenkinsites – all bear witness to her intuitive understanding of the two options available to her husband and her certainty that he took the right one.
The final verdict on Tony Crosland’s political odyssey (and simultaneously on that of his reviewer on this occasion) was passed by the people. When both left Parliament together in 1977, the one through a tragic death and the other to a functionary’s post in Brussels, at a particularly difficult moment for the Labour Government, the electors of the comparatively marginal Grimsby returned a Labour MP, and those of the utterly safe Labour mining constituency of Ashfield, a Conservative one. I prefer the verdict of the electors of Grimsby to that of an ex-Labour, now Social Democratic, political academic, attempting to rewrite the history of a great man – a man who, but for his death, would have been leader of the Labour opposition today and a future Labour prime minister.
House of Commons
SIR: May I endorse Joseph Bristow’s remarks about the Methuen ‘New Accents’ series (Letters, 5 August)? The Government, as we all know, is doing its best to destroy the universities as centres of serious scholarship and learning: but for some time now publishers have also been lending a helping hand, with, I am afraid, the complicity of many academics as well. The proliferation of ‘series’, of ‘introductions to’ and ‘guides to’, is a disaster. University students who come out of school with less and less confidence in their own ability to nose out the good from the bad, the genuine from the meretricious, are easy victims. Here, they think, is the answer they need, this will tell them what such-and-such an ancient or modern master thought, what is going on in France, in linguistics etc. And students are not the only ones, unfortunately. I have ceased to count the number of times I have heard colleagues defend some ridiculous generalisation about ‘structuralism’ or Lévi-Strauss or Derrida with the remark: ‘Well, I don’t know about them, but that’s what Hawkes (or Fowler, or whoever) says they say.’
Books are as good as their authors, not as good as the title of the series in which they appear. Introductions to a subject need not in themselves be bad. J.A. Burrow’s recent introduction to Middle English literature, Medieval Writers and their Work, is superb. But it is much more difficult to write an introduction than to argue a particular thesis. You need to be so much on top of your material that you can find ways of asking genuinely fresh questions which are nevertheless absolutely central. Unfortunately, few of those who write about the French cultural scene today have the same combination of expertise and profound sympathy with their subject which characterises Burrow’s relation to the literature of Medieval England. The result is usually a trivialisation and banalisation which one might expect from a Sunday paper but which it is depressing to find in a book. Of course publishers want to make money, and if this is the best way to do it who can ask them to deny themselves in the name of culture or humanity or whatever. But academics are now well enough paid not to have to undertake this kind of hack-work, and we are still fortunate enough in England not to have been engulfed by the publish-or-perish syndrome. Academics, unlike hack-writers, should only write the books they really feel they want and need to write, and not take part in undermining their own profession by contributing to yet another series.
SIR: Clive James, in his excellent article about Christopher Brennan (LRB, 15 July), has not done justice to the article ‘On the Manuscripts of Aeschylus’ which Brennan published in the Journal of Philology for 1894. Mr James writes that ‘the only thing that came out of it was a mention, with qualified approval, in a footnote to Sidgwick’s edition of Aeschylus.’ Brennan gets an honourable mention in a work very much more important than Sidgwick’s edition, the immensely learned commentary on the Agamemnon published in 1950 by Eduard Fraenkel. Fraenkel (Vol. I, p.6) names Brennan as sharing with F. Heimsoeth and F. Blass the credit for having refuted the theory that the later manuscripts that contain the Agamemnon and the Eumenides are derived from the Medicean codex; and he gives Brennan credit for having noticed that V preserves an interesting variant at Agam. 137. It gives me pleasure to think that the author of this article was also capable of the poetic (and alcoholic) achievements which Mr James describes.
SIR: Professor Eysenck is becomingly modest in his description of his own work (Letters, 19 August). In books such as The Inequality of Man and Race, Intelligence and Education (quite apart from his more ‘popular’ contributions), he has made rather more of the research than merely to ‘review the evidence and suggest caution’. Laudably, of course, he has argued for ever-larger funding in this area. More problematically, he has not confined himself to what he admits is the ‘primitive method of quantitative assessment’. ‘All the evidence to date,’ he tells us, ‘suggests the strong and indeed overwhelming importance of genetic factors in producing the great variety of intellectual differences which we observe in our culture, and much of the difference observed between certain racial groups.’ ‘Biology sets an absolute barrier to egalitarianism in life as in sport,’ and ‘for all those who wish genuinely to restore to bright working-class children the best opportunities for an education appropriate to their talents the restoration of IQ tests to their rightful place seems the best, if not the only way.’ Two further points stem from any consideration of such statements. Professor Eysenck persistently uses a model of the history of physical science which is supposed to lend credence to the tools of his trade: history shows, he argues, that ‘the premature imposition of inappropriate criteria of perfection’ would be too harsh for the early state of psychology. Yet, at the same time, he also makes the boldest claims for the scope and status of any such psychological numerical model: ‘an underlying quantitative system of proof and deduction’ drawn from these ‘primitive’ methods can and must be the basis of all successful social policy. Because of these claims about policy, the scope of science, and the degree to which any science may be criticised and yet used, there are very strong connections between the statements in Eysenck’s texts on race, on IQ and on ESP. There is, therefore, much more to this work than Eysenck seems to want to concede. In 1971 he wrote that ‘the message has been lacerated, ruptured,… minced, pulverised and comminuted to suit the needs of the mass media.’ Eysenck’s critics may not be the only culprits here.
Imperial College of Science and Technology, London SW7
SIR: In his review of my book Crime in Wartime (LRB, 15 July) Mr Marshall-Andrews argues that I have not proved that crime increased during World War Two, and for proof he demands ‘clear factual evidence’. The only facts that can perform this function are criminal statistics, and these do not, as he suggests, invariably ‘demonstrate increases in delinquency and plummeting standards of honesty’. Nor have I ‘used’ them to do so. The statistics for some crimes – juvenile delinquency, drunkenness – show decreases; rises elsewhere – in black-marketeering, prostitution etc – are explained by greater police activity rather than by real changes. A careful reading of my book will reveal that it was often this factor which lay behind wartime ‘increases’ in crime, and that the ‘weighty lamentations’ of the bench and the press were consequently directed at illusions. The principal exception was larceny – here the rise was genuine – and as larceny accounted for 90 per cent of crime during the war, the overall total also rose: by nearly 60 per cent between 1939 and 1945. For other varieties of crime – pilfering, white-collar crime – statistics were not assembled, and it is therefore necessary to try to interpret the evidence we do have, which is mainly court reports. I do not state that pilfering increased, because this cannot be proved: what may have increased was the willingness of employers to prosecute offenders. Nor do I use single statistics in vacuo lest I fall into the same error as your reviewer. Two thousand ration books stolen in Birmingham in 1947 would perhaps reveal ‘exemplary restraint’ on the part of the population if this figure was the total: in fact, it is the number stolen by burglars and housebreakers, ‘ingenious’ and ‘adaptable’ thieves who knew the sale value of coupons on the black market. Finally, the slight decline in indictable crime in London between 1939 and 1943 might ‘disprove the premise on which the book is based’ if the population had been stable: unfortunately for Mr Marshall-Andrews’s thesis, the civilian population of London fell by some two million during the war so that for every thousand Londoners remaining there were two more indictable crimes in 1943 than in 1939, four more in 1944 and eight more in 1945.
SIR: A.J.P. Taylor’s remark (LRB, 5 August) that, ‘after all this talk of Soviet aggression, the territory included in the Soviet Union remains less than that ruled over by Czar Nicholas II before the Russian Revolution’ is what he himself would call ‘a yoke’. It is true that the Russian Empire lost much territory for a few years after the Revolution, but it is also true that it regained most of it and gained still more for many years after that, and that it was the only country which actually increased in size during the Second World War, so that it is now larger than ever before – indeed, much larger, if one counts the satellites which Taylor ignores. Net losses since 1917 are most of Finland and some of Poland; net gains since 1917 are Tannu Tuva, part of East Prussia and part of Sakhalin; and satellite gains since 1945 – Outer Mongolia already setting the pattern – are Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria and now Afghanistan. Some victim of aggression!
SIR: Melanie Phillips (LRB, 15 July) reports that Jeremy Seabrook emphasises in his latest book, Unemployment – as he has been doing for many years – that today’s unemployed suffer, as those of earlier days did not, from a sense of alienation from the consumer society. Ms Phillips blames the Government for its failure to reduce the number of unemployed.
How lovely to be able to blame a section of society for its ills! In the Thirties and, indeed, during the years of the Poor Laws, the Government blamed the unemployed for being too lazy to work. And now the self-righteous social services experts blame the Government for not solving the unemployment problem. Perhaps there are deeper roots. The real problem, surely, is how society should be organised so that every individual can have his place in it – thereby satisfying the human need to be needed – without being exploited. In the old days, workers were exploited. Nowadays, to protect workers against exploitation, opportunities to work are restricted. For example, schoolchildren are prohibited from learning carpentry and decoration by doing simple repairs to their own school buildings. There are also many prejudices, reinforced by the difficulties of moving home from one neighbourhood to another, against many forms of non-mechanised work that is available – garden maintenance, housework, upholstery, cabinet-making.
SIR: I am sorry Richard Altick (LRB, 5 August) did not like my biography of John Henry Newman. Others have pointed out that the book provides ‘an excellent summary for the general reader’ of Newman’s life, and that my final chapter is a tribute to Newman’s greatness as a writer. What Altick thinks platitudes, others do not; but then, as we all know, criticism is always a matter of opinion. On two factual points he is wrong. It is untrue to state that my references to the Monophysites and the Ultramontanes go unexplained. Page 67 explains briefly the Monophysite heresy, and the English Ultramontanes are defined on page 107 as ‘those who favoured the absolute authority of the Pope in matters of faith and discipline’. In my teaching experience, both of Oxford and University of Massachusetts students, Newman’s writings still have much to say to young minds of the Eighties. The Apologia and Idea of a University do not go ‘unredeemed by their rhetorical craft’. In the end, as most of us know, we must not take too much notice of what John Morley described to Hardy as ‘the fooleries of critics’, and read the books (including my own) for ourselves.
Pembroke College, Oxford
SIR: For use in a biography of Edward FitzGerald, translator of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, to be published jointly by Faber and Atheneum, I should like to ask your readers’ help in locating manuscripts, unpublished letters, pictures, or other biographical material, which I should use and return promptly.
Robert Bernard Martin
8 Walton Street, Oxford, OX1 2HG
SIR: Your readers may find it useful to note that Bertolt Brecht in America by James Lyon, reviewed in the 5-18 August issue, will be published by Methuen on 14 October and is no longer available in this country from Princeton University Press.
Methuen, London EC4
SIR: Your readers may be interested to learn that Edie by Jean Stein, co-edited with George Plimpton, so seductively described in his Diary by Ian Hamilton (LRB, 5 August), will be published here by Cape on 28 October.
Jonathan Cape, London WC1
For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.