Vol. 15 No. 19 · 7 October 1993

Search by issue:

Marriage of Souls

I remember saying to my old friend Helen Gardner long ago, perhaps while she was preparing her edition of Donne’s love poems (1965), that I was haunted by the possibility that Donne’s poem ‘The Anniversarie’ celebrated the ‘marriage of souls’, as Isaak Walton calls it, between Donne and John King. Helen said succinctly: ‘Forget it.’ But I didn’t forget it and, decades later, the interest recently shown by the LRB in the text of one of Donne’s lyrics emboldens me to outline the case for a new reading of another.

More precisely, it seems possible that ‘The Anniversarie’ celebrates the completion of the first year of a friendship that began in 1597-8, when John King became chaplain to the Lord Keeper Egerton and John Donne became Egerton’s secretary. When Walton calls this friendship ‘a marriage of souls’ in his life of Donne it is so apt a description of the subject of this poem that Walton might be covertly alluding to it. The part played by ‘bodies’ in this relationship is strikingly small. What will be lost in death will be ‘eyes’ and ‘eares’, the sight and speech of the loved one: ‘Oft fed with true oathes, and with sweet salt teares’. The language, though rather hectic by modern standards, is not more so than that used by the male friends Pyrocles and Musidorus in Sidney’s Arcadia, whose virtuous friendship allows one friend to kiss the other’s ‘weeping eyes’.

The love between the parties in ‘The Anniversarie’ will continue the same or be increased ‘when bodies to their graves, soules from their graves remove’. Are the bodies the graves of the souls? The desire to be buried together, ‘Two graves must hide thine and my corse/If one might, death were no divorce,’ reminds one that at this period male friends might with public approval desire not to be divided in death: for instance, in Caius College Chapel the tomb of Thomas Legge (d. 1607) bears an inscription commemorating his friendship with Stephen Perse, Junxit amor vivos sic jungat terra sepultos (‘love joined them living and so may the same earth link them in their graves’). But John King in 1598-9 was a married man, unlike those necessarily celibate fellows of colleges, and other considerations would enter in. Death was no divorce to Saul and Jonathan who were ‘lovely and pleasant in their lives and in their death they were not divided,’ as Donne no doubt recalls.

The concept of a love that might continue in heaven just as it was on earth is strikingly echoed by Cowley in his lines on David and Jonathan, fifty years later, in Davideis Bk II: ‘O ye blest Ones whose love on earth became/So pure that still in Heaven ‘tis but the same’. This for me a little confirms the notion that Donne, too, had been alluding to a David and Jonathan type friendship. Cowley may or may not have had ‘The Anniversarie’ in mind.

It is manifestly untrue that Donne could conceive of no virtuous love between man and woman outside matrimony (and matrimony is ruled out by ‘Two graves’ etc). But it must at least be granted that there is nothing to mark the person addressed in ‘The Anniversarie’ as female. Perhaps indeed there is a hint to the contrary in ‘Here upon earth, we’are Kings.’ A woman can be called a ‘Prince’, as Elizabeth often was, or a monarch, or a sovereign. It is at least extremely unusual for her to be called a ‘King’. It may seem on a hasty reading as though Donne does call his love a ‘King’ in ‘The Sunne Rising’:

Aske for those Kings whom thou saw’st yesterday,
And thou shalt heare, All here in one bed lay.

But a more attentive reading shows that all these Kings are Donne himself: the lady has previously become ‘both the’India’s of spice and Myne’. The division of roles is clear in the next verse: ‘She’ is all States, and all Princes, I.’

I suggest that the starting point of ‘The Anniversarie’ was King’s surname; as one would expect, much punned upon at the time. Fuller tells us that James I was wont to call John King ‘the King of Preachers’. There is no need to labour the point that Donne liked such puns: and there is ample evidence that he habitually punned on the name of John King. In a letter of 1613 Donne refers to dining ‘at the King’s side at Pauls’, meaning ‘in the quarters of John King’. He carries on the pun in the same letter by calling Mrs King’s relations ‘the Queens kindred’.

The first line, it seems to me, is made more intelligible if the allusion to Kings and their favourites is to John King and his beloved friend John Donne. The scorn of court which Helen Gardner finds in it seems inappropriate. There may be a hint of playfulness but ‘All Kings, and all their favorites’ need involve no satirical fling, particularly in the reign of a queen. ‘Favorite’ here might have merely the sense of ‘person beloved’ as defined in Johnson’s Dictionary.

Donne of course often introduces the word ‘King’ into other love poems: but ‘The Anniversarie’ is, I believe, the only poem in which the notion of regality is sustained throughout. The pun is not slavishly adhered to, the roles of King and subject are interchangeable, but the notion of ‘reigning’ predominates. Like kings, the two are wished long life (vivat Rex), they are to love ‘nobly’, they have a reign by which the years are dated.

I should agree with C.S. Lewis, though he of course did not see the poem as I do, that it is a poem of delighted love. The rather unregenerate hint that in heaven the two will not be quite so happy because others will be as happy as they are at least marks the poet’s total content and zest for living.

Although John King did not remain long in the service of Egerton, he continued to be important in Donne’s life. It was King, then Bishop of London, who in 1615 ordained Donne deacon and priest. The Bishop died in 1621 and was buried in St Paul’s. On Easter Day 1630, preaching in St Paul’s, Donne speaks of ‘a love … that will melt one’s bowels if he do but passe over or passe by the grave of his dead friend’.

E.E. Duncan-Jones

The Anniversarie

All Kings, and all their favorites,
All glory’ of honors, beauties, wits,
The Sun it selfe, which makes times, as they passe,
Is elder by a yeare, now, than it was
When thou and I first one another saw:
All other things, to their destruction draw,
Only our love hath no decay;
This, no to morrow hath, nor yesterday,
Running it never runs from us away,
But truly keepes his first, last, everlasting day.

Two graves must hide thine and my corse,
If one might, death were no divorce.
Alas, as well as other Princes, wee,
(Who Prince enough in one another bee,)
Must leave at last in death, these eyes, and eares,
Oft fed with true oathes, and with sweet salt teares;
But soules where nothing dwells but love
(All other thoughts being inmates) then shall prove
This, or a love increased there above,
When bodies to their graves, soules from their graves remove.

And then wee shall be throughly blest,
But wee no more, than all the rest.
Here upon earth, we’are Kings, and none but wee
Can be such Kings, nor of such subjects bee;
Who is so safe as wee? where none can doe
Treason to us, except one of us two.
True and false feares let us refraine,
Let us love nobly, and live, and adde againe
Yeares and yeares unto yeares, till we attaine
To write threescore: this is the second of our raigne.

Whose justice?

In the week that David Cooper died, after a long, painful and unsuccessful struggle to clear his name, I read Stephen Sedley’s comments on the Court of Appeal with bewilderment and frustration (LRB, 23 September). While Sedley rightly criticises aspects of the seriously deficient Runciman Report on criminal justice, he suggests that the Court of Appeal retains some credibility: ‘It is worth reflecting for a moment that, albeit the reference back to the Court of Appeal has in most cases been preceded by a public campaign, it has in each successful case been the Court of Appeal that has finally acknowledged the injustice.’

Should any legitimate claim for the Court’s merits be based on the self-selecting category of ‘successful cases’? David Cooper’s was an unsuccessful case. He went to prison with Michael McMahon for the 1969 Luton Post Office Murder. Ludovic Kennedy has described the evidence against the two as ‘wicked beyond belief’, depending as it did on a proven liar and criminal and a policeman later jailed for corruption. The Court of Appeal had two opportunities to put matters right, in 1975 and 1977. Instead, in the words of Cooper’s lawyer, the Court ‘ignored, marginalised, contradicted and distorted more than twenty compelling areas of evidence that had surfaced since his conviction’. Eventually, and most unusually, the Home Secretary had to step in, override the Court and free the men, though without clearing their names.

Another ‘unsuccessful case’ about which the Court of Appeal should hang its head in shame is that of the Carl Bridgewater defendants (for whom Sedley has appeared). When Lord Lane, the former Lord Chief Justice, reviewed the case in 1981 he went through the sophistry familiar from Cooper and McMahon and so many other hearings, and upheld the convictions without even allowing a full hearing. On that occasion, the Court, as it has so often done in the past and continues to do today, behaved as though it were the jury, a role for which it has no authority.

I do not accept Sedley’s argument that the Court’s tendency to adhere ‘to the principles of justice’ has ‘found itself cheered on to victory in the Court of Appeal’ in miscarriage of justice cases. On the contrary, the Court has repeatedly proved itself an obstacle to justice: the innocent men and women released after years of incarceration were liberated not because of but in spite of the Court. In these ‘successful cases’ the Court of Appeal gave way only after its collective arm was twisted up its unyielding back. I therefore see nothing paradoxical in the passage Sedley quotes from my article on the Guildford Four in the LRB of 24 June.

The truth is that even in the ‘successful cases’ the Court has shown marked reluctance to believe appellants’ claims. In 1977 the Court rejected the Guildford Four’s application for leave to appeal, though the judges had the benefit of hearing from the real bombers. In January 1988 Lord Lane turned down the appeal of the Birmingham Six in scathing terms after a lengthy hearing in which defence lawyers adduced evidence of police wrong-doing and scientific incompetence. In his judgment, Lane said that the more he listened to the evidence, the more he became convinced the Six were guilty. That the Six were eventually freed owes nothing to the Court of Appeal, beyond the formalities, and everything to the men themselves, their lawyers, families and supporters. Let it not be forgotten that the Court’s ‘profound need … for the public respect’ that ‘visible adherence to the principles of justice’ commands took 14 years to manifest itself in the case of the Guildford Four; 16 in the Birmingham case; 17 in that of Judith Ward. When the need for public respect became unendurable the Court of Appeal did not ‘acknowledge the injustice’, as Sedley states. On the contrary. When Lord Lane freed the Guildford Four he did so with ill-grace, uttering not one word of apology and referring only to ‘this unhappy matter’.

Lord Taylor has now replaced Lord Lane as Lord Chief Justice. Is this a good thing? Taylor was one of the counsel for the prosecution in the trial of Judith Ward, whose conviction was largely due to the failure of the police, the prosecution and the DPP to disclose evidence helpful to the defence. Then there is the Stefan Kiszko case, to which Sedley also refers. True, the Court of Appeal freed Kiszko – after many years in prison – but the evidence used to quash his conviction had been available at the time of the trial. It was not heard because it was withheld from the defence and the jury. Lord Taylor prosecuted Kiszko.

Since taking over from Lane, Taylor has managed to reverse the progressive decision on compulsory disclosure of evidence in the Ward case by his recent ruling in Rowe and others (the so-called M25 Case). As a result of Taylor’s ruling, the prosecution can now go to court – in the defence’s absence – to apply for evidence to be withheld from the defendants and their lawyers. As so many miscarriage of justice cases have arisen precisely because of non-disclosure, Taylor’s decision can only be regarded as dangerous.

Ronan Bennett
London E8

Small Fish

In Frank Kermode’s review of Lord Goodman’s memoirs (LRB, 9 September) there is no mention of this unusual solicitor’s work on behalf of his unimportant clients – inevitably, as Lord Goodman, in his book, is concerned with bigger affairs. I had two experiences with him. The first was when he was acting on behalf of a wealthy client against me. His letters were so friendly that I sensed he was quite pleased when the case was dropped owing to the plaintiff’s death. The second case was when Gollancz were about to publish Ludovic Kennedy’s The Trial of Stephen Ward. The author was convinced a serious miscarriage of justice had been perpetrated. It was the rule at Gollancz that every book (even cook books) had to be read for libel and this one certainly needed legal advice. Fearing that the usual Gollancz solicitor would be very busy with his blue pencil, I persuaded Victor Gollancz to let me consult Arnold Goodman, as he then was. Within three days he telephoned me at nine o’clock in the morning to say: ‘Of course your book is highly libellous. You are libelling a judge. He’ll take no action. Go ahead!’ How many solicitors would have given this kind of sage buccaneer advice? I think Lord Goodman enjoys helping lesser mortals quite as much as the great ones.

James MacGibbon
Manningtree, Essex

Greater Croatia

Attila Hoare’s assertion (Letters, 9 September) that Serbia was a fascist state led by a ‘Nazi quisling’ during the Second World War is incorrect. Serbia was under German occupation for most of the war. The Serbs defied Hitler in March 1941 by refusing to accept the Tripartite Pact. Many Serbs marched through Belgrade shouting ‘Better death than the Pact.’ Soon after, Hitler launched Operation Punishment and invaded Serbia. Nazi bombers reduced Belgrade to rubble.

By contrast, the Nazis were greeted with flowers as they marched into Croatia. Hitler rewarded the Croats with an enlarged state that included most of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Croat Ustashe regime immediately set about exterminating its Serbian and Jewish population. Croatia became one of Hitler’s staunchest allies. Three Croat divisions (the 369th, 373rd and 392nd) fought alongside the Nazis on the Russian front.

A rump Serbia was established by Hitler after much of its territory was annexed to Hungary, Croatia, Bulgaria and Albania. The puppet government of Milan Nedich was installed in Serbia to handle local administration. Although a servant of the Germans, Nedich was not a ‘Nazi quisling’. The extermination of Jews in Serbia was carried out almost entirely by the German Army. It was Harald Turner, chief of the civilian branch of the German command in occupied Serbia, who proclaimed Serbia cleansed of Jews.

George Tintor
London EC2

Identicals are identical

Either Colin McGinn’s account (LRB, 19 August) of Donald Davidson’s theory of ‘anomalous monism’ is seriously deficient or Davidson’s theory is based on a misunderstanding of what it means to say that one thing is identical to another, a mistake that, perhaps, leads him to commit a gross logical blunder. As recounted by McGinn, Davidson’s ‘master stroke’ is to claim that 1. ‘every mental-event token is identical with some physical-event token in the brain;’ but 2. ‘mental-event types are not identical with physical-event types, nor are they reducible to them.’ The logical mistake is in asserting both 1. and 2. Whatever can be said of a particular thing can equally be said of any item identical to it. (A rose by any other name is still a rose.)

Take two of Smith’s mental-event tokens that are thoughts of milk. According to Davidson’s first claim, these mental-event tokens are identical with physical-event tokens in Smith’s brain. If this is so, then it follows by the logical principle of ‘identity substitution’ (Quinc calls it the ‘substitutivity of identity’) that if the Iwo mental-event tokens are of a given mental-event type, then so are the two corresponding physical-event tokens, because, in speaking of the mental-event tokens, one of necessity speaks of the corresponding physical-event tokens. (I cannot assert, say, that Sam Clemens was an interesting humorist without making the same claim about Mark Twain.) It also follows, of course, that if the mental-event tokens are identical with brain physical-event tokens, then those physical-event tokens are identical with the given mental-event tokens, and thus that if the former are of a given physical-event type, So are the latter, (I cannot assert that Mark Twain was an interesting humorist without making the same claim about Sam Clemens.) So Davidson’s theory of anomalous monism fails to get off the ground (not that much philosophical good would be done if it did, as critical remarks in McGinn’s article indicate).

Davidson’s theory cannot be saved by appealing to the fact that, to quote McGinn, ‘distinct particular dated events can fall under the same general description, and one and the same particular event can fall under many descriptions.’ It’s true that Smith’s two milk thoughts fall under the type thoughts-of-milk, as well as several other mental-event types, and that, for example, her thought of milk at time t1 falls under the types thoughts-of-milk, Smith’s-thoughts and thoughts-at time tl, as well as others. But if Smith’s thoughts of milk are identical with brain physical events, then those physical events also fall under the type thoughts-of-milk etc, and her brain physical event at time t1 under thoughts of milk, Smith’s thoughts, thoughts-at-time-t1 etc. Similarly, Smith’s two thoughts of milk will exemplify many physical-event types.

Note also that the theory of anomalous monism cannot be saved by way of the speculation that mental events identical except with respect to space and time, let’s call them quasi-identical, may each be identical with physical events that differ in other ways – for instance, as to which sorts of brain neurons fire. Consider, for example, the idea that two quasi-identical thoughts Smith has of milk, one at t1 and the other at t2, might be identical with brain physical-events that are not quasi-identical to each other. A Davidson devotee might argue that in such a case, the mental-event type to which only the two quasi-identical milk thoughts belong would not be identical with any physical-event type of which only the two relevant physical events are members, thus giving the theory of anomalous monism some running room.

The trouble, as before, is that this sort of reasoning fails to take account of what it means for items to be identical (let’s not worry about quasi-identity). If the two quasi-identical mental events fall under a given type, then, since they are by hypothesis identical to the two non-quasi-identical physical events, so do these physical events. This is, of course, another way of saying that if the two mental-events are not even quasi-identical, then, on pain of logical contradiction, the said mental events cannot be identical to the said physical events. Anyone who accepts Davidson’s theory identifying mental events with brain physical events must reject his idea that ‘no systematic relation between mental and physical discourse is entailed by this identity of events’, for mental discourse will be physical discourse, and certain physical discourse will be mental discourse. (Mark Twain discourse is Sam Clemens discourse.) Identicals are identical.

It’s interesting to note that confusion as to the nature of identity and/or the principle of identity substitution is by no means restricted to the case at hand. A similar mistake is made, for example, by those who argue that the principle of identity substitution often fails in so called indirect, or intentional, contexts, as though that sort of failure has to do with some special feature of the identity substitution principle (or of the alleged intentional contexts?) rather than with plain old equivocation. Every valid inference rule, after all, is larded with the proviso that its use has to be restricted to unequivocal uses of language. But I digress.

Howard Kahane
Mill Valley, California

Where is he now?

I was touched to read the letter (Letters, 9 September) from Freddy Hurdis-Jones, my contemporary at Arnold House School. To be remembered by a person whom one last saw in 1934 is certainly a compliment. It’s true that my father, Ernest Jones, wanted me to adopt the surname of Beddoe-Jones (not Beddow-Jones); but I never liked the idea and after leaving school I stuck to my name of Mervyn Jones.

Hurdis-Jones makes a good guess in suggesting that my father sent me to Bedales or Dartington. Actually it was Abbotsholme, another progressive school popular with the intelligentsia of the Thirties. I became a writer and Hurdis-Jones may perhaps have heard of me, as I’ve published 30 books, mostly novels. I have just completed a biography of Michael Foot. If my old friend wishes to get in touch with me, he could write c/o my publisher, Victor Gollancz.

Mervyn Jones
London NW1


I enjoyed Michael Wood’s sympathetic account of Clint Eastwood’s work (LRB, 9 September). However, when he came to deal with Unforgiven, inaccuracies crept in, which tended to simplify and misrepresent that film’s concerns. Take, for example, when William Munny, Ned and the Schofield Kid catch up with the cowhands. Wood writes: ‘Ned won’t shoot … Munny himself is still not much of a shot, even with a rifle, but he does manage to wing one man, and finally to wound him enough to make him die.’ But, to start with, Ned does shoot, bringing down the cowhand’s horse and breaking his leg. The cowhand then begins to drag himself into cover, crying out fearfully to his friends. Ned won’t shoot in this yet-colder blood; Munny, however, takes his rifle. Only, never having been good with a rifle (as he tells us), he misses once, but hits the boy the second time – in the gut. It’s a slow, vocal and frightened death. Is the lesson to be drawn here that ‘these are assassins, not heroes’? They’re certainly not heroes, but they’re also not assassins. Ned certainly isn’t an assassin (at least not any more), and the Kid will soon learn that he isn’t. At the risk of ‘overthinking’ the film, the Kid’s short-sightedness is a good symbol for his inability to see what killing entails until he gets up close.

Unforgiven, in fact, argues consistently and eloquently against stereotypes. Instead of assassins and heroes it has men (in this example), some of whom can kill and some of whom can’t. And, pace Wood, killing isn’t easy, except in its mechanics. Killing is sickening and hard, and if you can do it, it never goes away. Munny is ‘unforgiven’ not because others haven’t forgiven him (though they haven’t), but because he is unable to forgive or forget himself.

Yet he keeps on killing. The Kid, seeking to justify his killing of a man, says hopefully: ‘I guess he had it comin’.’ Munny replies: ‘We all have it comin’, kid.’ Wood likes this, ‘because it says both that we all die and that we all deserve to die.’ Quite so, but the line is spoken as a rebuke, a ‘so what if we all have it comin’?’ Munny’s point is that people deserve more than just their deserts. Or, to put it another way, nobody deserves to die thirstily, as a young man, with their gut split open under the sun and behind a rock. Munny knows this, but he is still willing to kill, as killing is, for him, easier money than pig-rearing. (Might William Munny be meant to suggest bill money?)

The final shoot-out emphasises this divorce between knowledge and action. It is not confusedly tacked-on, but is rather a culmination. It concludes the strand of the film’s argument about killing which is carried on through the use of weapons (a strand which Wood’s inaccuracies blur). Munny does not, as Wood says, ‘mow’ down the sheriff and ‘most of the other people in the saloon’. Rather, he calmly shoots the saloon manager with one barrel of his shotgun, and then aims at the sheriff. The shotgun misfires, but Munny doesn’t panic. Others have already started firing, but they’re panicking and missing. Munny doesn’t have skill (did he ever?) but killing doesn’t excite him. So Munny, though incompetent with pistols, poor with rifles and unlucky with shotguns, slowly kills five men who have drawn on him. It is an incredible feat, so we are told, but we realise that it is also beyond the pale. Munny rides off as something other than human, but to his children. It is an intolerable contradiction. Unforgivable. Unforgiven.

John Lee

The British Library will survive

Everyone shares Etrenne Lymbery’s passionate desire (Letters, 9 September) to continue using the beautiful Round Reading Room in Bloomsbury but a significant proportion of readers has long realised that it is impractical and romantic. It would undermine three of the basic aims of the new library: to preserve the priceless collection under ideal conditions, to increase efficient service and keep down running costs. Since rare books cannot be shuffled between venues, her plan would mean keeping open the North Library, the Reading Room and St Pancras, trebling security and administrative staff, a prohibitive multiplication of costs.

The recent complications in seating and delivery are not the result of lowering the age of admission. It has always been possible to waive the age restriction where access can be justified. None the less Lymbery does have a point about the dangers of overcrowding. It is the projected policy of the new library to admit undergraduates backed up by evidence of need. Clearly there is a case for this but the danger of seats being overwhelmed is obvious. One injustice remains. While the BL allows students to use the Library free of charge, university libraries are now charging BL readers (extravagantly in some cases) for reciprocal facilities.

Vincent Brome
London WC1

Voice of America

A word was somehow omitted in my review in the last issue of the LRB (LRB, 23 September). The praise by DuBois for the female reformers who went to the South after the Civil War should conclude: ‘they did their work well. In that first year they taught one hundred thousand souls and more.’ In my review, that has been reduced to a meagre ‘one hundred’. Out of respect for those brave and maligned women, I feel I must draw attention to this correction.

Tony Tanner
King’s College, Cambridge

Fiction Wanted

In 1995 Faber will publish First Fictions 12, the next in a long-standing showcase for new fiction. Prose writers who have never before appeared in book form are invited to submit up to three short stories (with a stamped, addressed envelope) no later than 31 March 1994.

Nicholas Pearson
Faber and Faber

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences