SIR: Cole Porter wasn’t the only master of wit on the American musical stage. Readers of the London Review of Books might be interested to look at the lyries of E.Y. Harburg, who wrote the words to Finian’s Rainbow, The Wizard of Oz, Bloomer Girl and Jamaica, as well as providing Groucho with ‘Lydia the Tattoed Lady’.
Porter celebrated the good life, but Harburg’s satire had other more humanitarian ambitions. Like Porter, Harburg displayed an impish playfulness with the language and a gift for laughter. Take, for instance, ‘Napoleon’ from Jamaica:
Napoleon’s a pastry
Bismarck’s a herring
Alexander’s just a creme de cacao mixed with rum
And Hoover is a vacuum.
And, strange as it seems coming from Broadway in 1957, Harburg was warning audiences with his calypso:
Leave de atom alone.
Leave de atom alone.
Don’t get smart alecksy
Wid de galaxy
Leave de atom alone …
SIR: Peter Ackroyd’s novel on Oscar Wilde is a marvellous book and its speculations are remarkably close to fact – even that affair between Lords Drumlanrig and Rosebery, which your reviewer (LRB, 17 November 1983) suggests was ‘tantalisingly manufactured’. Actually, there were strong rumours at the time of Drumlanrig’s death that he had been Rosebery’s lover, that the death was suicide, and the scandal had been laboriously covered up. Whether the monstrous Queensberry knew or not, H. Montgomery Hyde reported letters in which the Marquis may have suggested at the very least that Rosebery ‘was having a bad effect on Francis’. And the Marquis did once, at Homburg, pursue the Lord Rosebery with a dog whip until the Prince of Wales was forced to intervene. Curiously, these stories are in sources which your reviewer must know (since he cites one): H. Montgomery Hyde’s The Love that Dared Not Speak its Name and The Trials of Oscar Wilde.
SIR: May I be allowed to point out to your readers that the protagonist of my recent novel Londoners is not, as your reviewer imagines (LRB, 22 December 1983), called Jake but Al.
SIR: The facile irony of ‘Jews could be forgiven …’ for not deducing Oswald Mosley’s anti-semitism from his pronouncement that Jews stink worse than oil (‘Dark Tom’, LRB, 1 December 1983) makes clear once again and despite the reviewer’s trumpeted anti-anti-semitism that ‘we’ are ‘us’ and ‘Jews’ are ‘them’.
SIR: Margaret Smith and I have replied to Park Honan’s allegations (Letters, 22 December 1983) in an article in the forthcoming number of Browning Society Notes entitled ‘Browning in Honanland: Some Comments on a recent “Review" of Volume I of the Oxford English Texts Edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Browning’. We were surprised that he should have been shown the article before publication, and are astonished that he should wish to draw your readers’ attention to it. His strange comment that I ‘imply’ that I am a ‘Childe Roland’ presumably refers to the motto of the article, lines 109-115 of that poem. We do not understand his reference to John Maynard.
Since Honan causes fresh confusion whenever he uses his typewriter, I am obliged to make two points. First, Sordello (to our treatment of which he seems to take exception) is not in Volume I of our edition, but in Volume II, which will be published during the spring. Secondly, his reference to ‘Jack’s textual notes’ obscures the fact that the textual editor of these two volumes is Margaret Smith. To anyone who knows her work on Charlotte Brontë this makes the statement that the textual part of our edition ignores ‘the standards of modern literary scholarship’ little short of astonishing – until, indeed, one realises that these standards are epitomised, for Honan, by the curiously involved and frequently unacceptable observations on textual matters in the prefatory matter of the ill-fated Ohio edition. We have been told of forthcoming reviews of our edition in the Modern Language Review, the Review of English Studies and Victorian Poetry, and others will no doubt appear in the appropriate journals. While we hope that the high opinion of our work already expressed by J.W. Harper in the Times Higher Education Supplement will be shared by other writers, we do not claim that our edition is irreproachable or wholly free from error. We look forward to studying careful and rational assessments of Volume I which will no doubt be characterised by the scholarship, the fair-mindedness and the normal courtesy so sadly absent from the communications of Park Honan.
Pembroke College, Cambridge
A.J. Ayer, described in the last issue as President of the Society for Applied Science, is President of the Society for Applied Philosophy. In the same issue, the last paragraph of D.G. Wright’s letter should have referred to the election of 1931, not 1831.
Editors, ‘London Review’