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Letters

Vol. 6 No. 6 · 5 April 1984

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Two Minds

SIR: Now that the editors of Edgar Wind’s writings (reviewed by Charles Hope in your last issue) have lifted the anonymity of his review in the Times Literary Supplement of my biography of Aby Warburg (London, 1970), I should like to make known the letter he wrote to me in response to my sending him an offprint of the memorial lecture I had given at Hamburg University on the centenary of Warburg’s birth. The letter from 27 Belsyre Court, Oxford is dated 2 December and reads:

My dear Gombrich,

Thank you very much for your kindness in sending me your beautiful speech on Warburg. It is a most moving document, true and close to the original, and at the same time distinguished by a feeling of distance. Warburg would have been particularly pleased that, without diminishing in the least the pathos of his history, you succeeded in saving him and yourself by a sense of humour. The remark about Böecklin and Anton von Werner is as delightful and comical as it is pertinent – a genuine ‘period piece’.

Also the Kreuzlingen episode is handled with exemplary clarity and lightness of touch. What you say about the Warburg archive makes me hope that one day you will give us a comprehensive history, including the relationship of Warburg to Binswanger, which you alone would be able to elucidate.

It must have been quite a gruelling experience in Hamburg, with so many ghosts around. The very thought of Carl Georg Heise, particularly suitable for a ghost, might put one off (not to speak of la famille); but in reading the lecture one has the feeling that you swam very safely, and that alone is a great achievement and a cause for warm congratulations.

With best wishes and kindest regards,

Yours,
Edgar Wind

It so happens that an English version of my centenary lecture is about to be published by the Phaidon Press in a volume entitled Tributes. Anyone interested will therefore be able to judge whether my interpretation of Warburg’s life and thought, an interpretation so highly praised by Wind, differs from the one in the book he found it his duty to drag through the mud.

E.H. Gombrich
London NW3

SIR: I write to correct a confusion created by Dr Charles Hope in his review of my edition of the first volume of the late Professor Edgar Wind’s papers, The Eloquence of Symbols, with a biographical memoir by Professor Hugh Lloyd-Jones. In his discussion of Wind’s review of Sir Ernst Gombrich’s biography of Warburg, originally published anonymously in the Times Literary Supplement, Dr Hope writes: ‘If one were not assured by Professor Lloyd-Jones that this was written “as a matter of duty", it would be hard to avoid the conclusion that Wind was here motivated by personal animus. Why else should he have claimed, for example, that “no account at all" was taken of the influence on Warburg of the aesthetics of Friedrich Robert Vischer [sic], when Gombrich devoted four pages to this very subject? Whatever his motives, the inclusion of this piece at least shows the severe standards by which he expected to be judged.’ Sir Ernst Gombrich does, indeed, devote four pages to a discussion of the aesthetics of Friedrich Theodor Vischer and his paper ‘Das Symbol’. However, in his review of Gombrich’s biography, Wind drew attention to the importance of the theory of Einfühlung (empathy) for Warburg’s thought, which was brought to bear on aesthetic theory by Robert Vischer – not mentioned by Gombrich – in his revolutionary treatise, Uber das Optische Formgefühl (1873). Warburg himself acknowledged his debt to both the Vischers in the preface to his very first publication, the now legendary dissertation on Botticelli (1893). These two important German aestheticians, Friedrich Theodor Vischer and Robert Vischer, are mentioned separately on page 27, note 16, as well as in the index, of The Eloquence of Symbols. Dr Hope has conflated father and son into one person.

Jaynie Anderson
Wolfson College. Oxford

‘Tom and Viv’

SIR: I am interested that Ian Hamilton (LRB, 15 March) barely survived the first act. Even if the play had been less awful than it appears to have been from this and other reviews, it is outrageous that a great writer barely twenty years dead should be impersonated by an actor on the stage. As I.A. Richards wrote in notes he made for a talk on Eliot in the year Eliot died: ‘In talking of a writer we have known – and to those to whom he has mattered – how can we speak without feeling that he himself is by far the most important part of the audience?’ He thought it would be an excellent thing if this ‘sense of presence’ could become ‘a universal rule in criticism’ and would help ‘with the two main occupational diseases of what is too often a belittling trade; I mean our impudence and our vanity.’ But he rebuked himself for referring to that ‘unhappy side of criticism in talking of one who was so much the reverse of petty: generous and forbearing beyond easy belief’. It is one thing to see a play on the subject of Browning’s marriage. Although a spectator might well feel, ‘This isn’t how I imagine Browning,’ playwright and spectator are on the same footing, both have exercised their imaginations to construct an image of Browning based on their reading of his poems and letters and on contemporary records. It is quite another thing to present what must appear a travesty of someone so many still living knew, loved and honoured, based on what seems a very inadequate knowledge of the mass of material freely available.

Ian Hamilton referred to Peter Redgrove’s letter to the TLS (17 February). His second letter to the TLS (9 March), replying to criticisms of his first from Philip Edwards and C.H. Sisson, declared that it is because we respond to a poem’s power that we need to know all that we can find out about the source of its power in the poet’s private life. It is unfortunate for his argument that he uses Shakespeare to justify his ‘right to know’ any and every detail of Eliot’s tragic first marriage. He ignores the fact that Shakespeare lived before the days of ‘investigative journalism’ and inquiries with ‘no holds barred’ dignified by the name of research. Nobody when Shakespeare died took an interest in Shakespeare’s will and called on his widow to ask why he left her his ‘second-best bed’, or interviewed noble lords about the life of ‘the player Shakespeare’, or asked questions about his personal life and habits from fellow actors or persons with whom he had lodged in London. Shakespeare’s ‘sexual distress’ is established, or not established, by reading his works. The facts that are clearly established about his life could be written by a neat writer on two sides of a postcard. Some may feel that to discover the source of Shakespeare’s dramatic power in a ‘chronic sexual dilemma’ tells us more about our age than it does about Shakespeare. And the height of absurdity is reached when Shakespeare is paralleled with Blake, Baudelaire, Rilke and Sylvia Plath.

May I finally protest against the continued attacks on Mrs Valerie Eliot, and the failure of Mr Hastings to make any apology for mis-statements or mistaken assumptions that she has calmly and with dignity refuted. If the author of Tom and Viv, or his ‘research assistant’, had made proper use of the papers in the Berg Collection and the papers Vivien left to the Bodleian, there would have been no difficulty in identifying the poem Mr Hastings was sent and he could have found its date by looking it up in Lyndall Gordon’s Eliot’s Early Years. It was sent to Conrad Aiken in a letter dated ‘Marburg. 25 July 1914’, before Eliot went to Oxford and was introduced to Vivien. An earlier complaint about the difficulty of getting photographs of Vivien showed ignorance of the fact that six different ones can be found in books by Lyndall Gordon, Robert Sencourt and T.S. Matthews, and that enlarged prints of five snapshots of her, not yet reproduced, have been in the Bodleian since 1980 with Vivien’s papers. I know from experience how generous Mrs Eliot has been to scholars, old and young, from all over the world, whose typescripts she has read carefully to correct or supplement information given in them, and how this self-imposed scholarly duty has interfered with her work on her husband’s letters. Within the limits imposed on her by the codicil to her husband’s will and his expressed wish that she should edit his letters, I know of no scholar, who has done his homework, to whom she has not been generous of her time in reading work submitted to her and in granting interviews and answering questions.

Helen Gardner
Eynsham, Oxford

Working for Britain

SIR: Mr George Walden’s rather fawning apologia for Ernest Bevin, for which Professor Bullock’s biography served as an excuse (LRB, 2 February), makes a number of dubious assertions. One in particular should not pass unchallenged. Mr Walden makes much of an alleged lack of prejudice against Bevin’s working-class origins: ‘Nobody dreamt of disapproving of him, and the idea of patronising a man like Bevin did not arise.’ He cannot resist adding, ‘Only the Russians, with their old-world, Marxist preconceptions, found him not quite the thing: “Eden is a gentleman, Bevin is not," said the thoroughly ungentlemanly Molotov.’ A nice point scored against that ‘unappetising’, ‘exceedingly unpleasant customer’, Molotov? Before Mr Walden savours his witticism for too long, one must point out that similar views were shared by those very new-world, un-Marxist allies in Washington. After the Potsdam conference, President Truman returned to the the White House, where he told aides that ‘Stalin and Molotov may be rough men but they know the common courtesies; Bevin was entirely lacking in all of them, a boor’ (cited in Daniel Yergin, Sheltered Peace, page 434). One wonders what the Old Boys of the Foreign Office actually said about Bevin in the privacy of their clubs. But they could scarcely sneer at his foreign policy, which was theirs. That, presumably, is what Mr Walden, former diplomat and current Conservative MP, means when he writes that ‘Bevin was working for Britain.’

Reginald Whitaker
Department of Political Science, Carleton University, Ottawa

Jewish Sheep

Edward Said
Columbia University, New York

Brecht’s New Age

SlR: Among the extraordinary pronouncements about Brecht made by your reviewer, Margot Heinemann (LRB, 1 March) one is outstandingly perverse. Discussing his reactions to what she calls ‘the protests and violent demonstrations’ of June 1953, she concludes that ‘the whole record … increases one’s respect for Brecht’s political insight and for the stance he was taking towards both political and cultural authorities.’ The paragraph that precedes this verdict is extremely misleading. Brecht did not start to plan a play about Hans Garbe after the rising: he’d already begun to plan it in 1951. ‘The crisis,’ she writes disingenuously, ‘signalled not only danger but positive hope, if the Party was determined to correct its mistakes.’ She must know – and Brecht certainly knew – that the party was not determined to do any such thing, and Brecht was not telling the truth when he wrote in his letter of 23 June to Neues Deutschland: ‘It was obvious that the intervention of the Soviet troops was in no way directed against the workers’ demonstrations.’ He cannot have believed that the gunners in the Soviet tanks had aimed away from the workers in the Leipzigerstrasse who were throwing stones at the police. Sixteen people were killed. Genuine working-class grievances, writes Margot Heinemann, were recognised by Brecht as being ‘exploited by the old Nazi and Western capitalist forces and forcibly repressed by the Russian Army’. The implication is that the exploitation came before the repression. The rising was crushed on the day it started, so the old Nazis and capitalists would have had to work pretty quickly. And how could Brecht, who wasn’t there, be certain that the Russian gunners had fired only at Nazis and capitalists they recognised? And did Brecht really believe that ‘for several hours, until the intervention of the occupying forces, Berlin stood on the verge of a third world war’? Besides, if Margot Heinemann wants to defend Brecht’s stance, how does she explain his own subsequent guilt-feelings, evidenced, for instance, by the depressed entry he made in his diary on 20 August? ‘The 17 June has alienated the whole of existence.’

Ronald Hayman
London NW3

Margot Heinemann writes: Ronald Hayman describes as ‘extraordinary’ my statement that for Brecht the crisis of June 1953 in Berlin signalled not only danger but positive hope. If Brecht really believed what he said about the 17 June demonstrations, he asks, how do I ‘explain his own subsequent guilt-feelings, evidenced, for instance, by the depressed entry he made in his diary on 20 August?’ I ‘explain’ by referring to the whole diary entry for that date, not just the first sentence taken by Hayman in isolation (and misinterpreted at that, for, given the sense in which Brecht uses the term ‘alienation’, the sentence means that everything has to be looked at in a new light, nothing can be taken for granted). The entry as a whole shows that while shocked and distressed he was also hopeful, perhaps too hopeful. Here is what he wrote: since it is not my bona fides but Brecht’s that is mainly under attack I print it in full.

The 17 June has alienated the whole of existence. In all their lack of direction and pitiable helplessness, the workers’ demonstrations still show that here is the rising class. It is not the petty-bourgeois who act, but the workers. Their slogans are confused and feeble, fed in by the class enemy, and no sort of power to organise is shown, no councils are set up, no plan is formed. And yet here we had the class in front of us, in its most depraved state, but still the class. Everything depended on fully evaluating this first encounter. It was contact. It did not come as an embrace, but as a blow with the fist, but all the same it was contact. The party had to be scared, but it did not need to despair. After the whole historical development, it could not hope anyway for the spontaneous agreement of the working class. There were tasks which in some circumstances, in the actual circumstances, it had to carry through without agreement, indeed against the resistance of the working class. But now, in the form of trouble, came the great opportunity to win the workers. Therefore I did not feel the 17 June as purely negative [my italics]. At the moment when I saw the proletariat – nothing will induce me to alter that word in a sly or soothing way – once more handed over to the class enemy, the capitalism of the fascist era which is again growing stronger, I also saw the only force that could deal with it.

Like it or not, this is what Brecht thought; and, as I said, the analysis deserves respect, if not agreement. The grievances in his view came from the workers, the slogans from the old Nazi forces already active before 17 June. Anyone who fails to understand that events may sometimes contain contradictory elements – for instance, that a demonstration may be both a response to genuine grievances and a neo-fascist provocation – cannot understand much about recent political history. Once again Hayman is grounding an argument on a single sentence lifted out of context, which is the kind of thing that in my view makes his book unreliable. Contradictory situations give rise to contradictory feelings: often no outcome can be seen as wholly and simply good. For instance, Brecht certainly wanted the military defeat of Hitler and Nazi Germany: yet in face of the ruins of Berlin and Augsburg his poetry expresses shame, pain and an exile’s sense of guilt – as in the fine poem ‘Die Vaterstadt, me find’ ich sie doch?’. So too the end of the war, sealed by the bomb on Hiroshima, meant not only victory but foreboding. These complexities are not just personal to Brecht: he faced them and tried to do what he could to change the contradictory world in which ‘guilt feelings’ are inevitable.

When I said that the ‘whole record’ as stated by Willett increased one’s respect for Brecht’s insight and the political stand he was taking towards the authorities, I had in mind, not just his actions at the time of the demonstrations, but the more critical, exploratory tone of his subsequent writings and his campaign against the control of the arts by stuffy bureaucrats. He had meant for some time to write about the shock-worker Garbe, as Hayman says, but it was of course only after the June events that he planned to shape the material into a Lehrstück ‘with a whole Act about 17 June’ – so I don’t see what Hayman’s point is.

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