Vol. 16 No. 24 · 22 December 1994

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Poisoned Fruit

I believe that W.G. Runciman (LRB, 10 November) has misunderstood why, reviewing the Report of his Royal Commission on Criminal Justice in the LRB (LRB, 23 September 1993), I offered support for the minority view on what he calls the fruit of the poisoned tree. This is the problem of what is to be done by the courts when a case comes before them in which the prosecution has been guilty of malpractice at one stage or another, a problem which he now dismisses with a simple illustration: a policeman thumps the accused in a vain attempt to extract a confession – should the whole prosecution be stopped?

Of course, as he says, if evidence has been improperly obtained, the courts have adequate powers to knock it out, and the prosecution must then stand or (if it is a critical piece of evidence) fall without it. But my argument is not, as Garry Runciman suggests, that in such cases the whole prosecution should instead automatically fall as a kind of penalty for playing offside whether the attempt to secure evidence by oppression has succeeded or – as in his example – failed. It is that there can be forms of malpractice which are not manifested in elements of evidence at all but without which the prosecution could not have been brought. In the face of these the power to exclude improperly obtained evidence has no bearing.

The case I mentioned in my review of the Report, that of a man who alleged that he had been kidnapped by the South African authorities in order to be handed over to the jurisdiction of the English courts, had at that stage been decided on principle by the House of Lords upon its assumed facts. The court has now heard the evidence and has established the factuality of the allegations. There is nothing that the court of trial could have done on the basis of them to exclude any evidence, for the malpractice lay not in the obtaining of evidence but in the means by which the accused had been brought before the courts of this country. The critical point in the House of Lords’ reasoning was that there was a simple choice: either to let the prosecution go ahead on what was perfectly admissible evidence, or to hold that, since there could have been no prosecution in the first place but for the unconstitutional acts of the authorities, the legal system would not endorse such acts by allowing the prosecution to proceed at all.

This is a limited doctrine, perhaps more limited than the minority’s position, but it is the one I support. Thus where, as in Garry Runciman’s illustration, the malpractice has not infected the prosecution, there is no poisoned fruit. Where pieces of fruit are poisoned, they can, as he suggests, be discarded. But in the rare case where the tree itself is poisoned, the Commission’s minority now has the support of the House of Lords in proposing that the only principled option is to cut the tree down.

Stephen Sedley
Royal Courts of Justice

Misplaced Grievances

Paul Foot appears to have used the occasion of Alex Brummer and Roger Cowe’s Hanson: A Biography primarily as a pretext for expounding his own ideological views, at times in extremely emotive prose, rather than as a review of the book (LRB, 10 November). He refers to the coal strike at certain of Peabody’s operations, talking of Peabody’s conduct in particularly disparaging terms. Anyone who read the US newspaper reports at the time, or even reads the book itself on this topic, would realise that his comments would have been more accurate, and his review a more honest reflection of the book’s contents, if they had been rather directed to the union’s tactics in this dispute. This example is simply one of a number that proliferate throughout this article. As an organisation funded through the public purse, we would have expected you and your editorial team to exercise a certain degree of control over the content of the reviews, rather than allowing them to be used as a mouthpiece for an individual’s misplaced grievances.

Graham Dransfield
Legal Director, Hanson

Thank the Milk Snatcher

A full account of Iain Macleod’s life, reviewed in these pages by R.W. Johnson (LRB, 8 December), should perhaps mention an event of 1970 which was crucial to the survival of the then-infant Open University. It was common knowledge that if Macleod had survived only another 24 hours the project would have been scrapped because of Macleod’s personal animus against Harold Wilson, the formal originator of the idea of the Open University. We 1969 appointees of the University all received panic letters from the Secretary warning us that our newly-won jobs might disappear. In the event, Mrs Thatcher’s choice of the Open University, as against a range of other educational projects, ensured our survival.

Brian Stone
London W8


Hugo Young’s review of Colm Tóibín’s Sign of the Cross (LRB, 24 November) makes it sound as if Tóibín should have been more precise in his account of the Bishop of Zhytomir. His Church is not exactly Roman Catholic but rather Greek Catholic or Uniate – owing allegiance to the Pope, but in most other respects indistinguishable from the Orthodox Church. It was created by the Poles and the Habsburgs and is naturally strongest in Western Ukraine, the area ruled first by the latter, then by the former until 1939 – if Tóibín had seen the religious life of Lviv, as the city is called in contemporary Ukraine, he would have had a very different tale to tell. Uniates did play a major role in the movement towards Ukrainian independence, and thus in the downfall of the Soviet Union. Kiev, however, was the wrong place to look.

Tim Burford

Glorifying Prussia

Since I grew up in West Germany after the Wall had been built and the East was to remain an intangible presence to most members of my generation, I tended to identify the GDR with some sort of Prussian continuity. Nevertheless, we had little interest in nostalgic reconstructions because these ran counter to the liberal ideology that prevailed in both secondary and higher education. This way of thinking has, however, declined since Helmut Kohl came to power in 1982. Books like Prussia: The Perversion of an Idea reviewed by David Blackbourn (LRB, 24 November) amply demonstrate that those historians who glorify Prussia and propose a relativist view of history have returned to the forefront. MacDonogh’s one book in English, alas, is matched by an increasing output in German. It is a consolation to read David Blackbourn’s harshly critical review.

Jörg Rademacher


In response to Stuart Silverman’s request (Letters, 8 December) for further discussion of Iain Sinclair’s title Radon Daughters, I spy a nod to American poet Stephen Rodefer, whose anarcho-baroque style of the early Eighties anticipates Sinclair’s ornamental lexis. The final section of Rodefer’s Four Lectures (1982), ‘Plastic Sutures’, contains the lines:

If it’s not your house, it’s your subway. Ghoul
candies by Rodney Ripps.
Radon daughter. The woman checking out her
hickey in the reflection of Cartier’s window.

Jenny Turner in her review (LRB, 6 October) suggests that ‘Sinclair’s Undark is based at some level on the aura … of Cambridge real-life J.H. Prynne.’ J.H. Prynne is quoted on the cover of Rodefer’s Four Lectures: ‘terrific, in the top Heliogabalus class. Sweat ran out of my ears and still does, a sheer delirium.’ The Cambridge connection also suits for Sinclair and Rodefer – both having read at recent CCCPs (Cambridge Conference of Contemporary Poetry). Any more bites?

Peter Brown
London N21

Kettle of Fish

Calling me a Fourth Former, and wondering whether I know my Aristotle from my elbow, is not going to help Frank Kermode’s problems in sorting out metaphor from simile, nor mine with his misattributions (Letters, 10 November). I didn’t say that Raine never uses metaphor. I didn’t say that metaphor is easy to define or analyse, nor did I say that there are no problematic or borderline cases.

What I said was that most of the ‘conceits’ Kermode praised in History: The Home Movie, and called up Aristotle in lustral approbation of, were actually similes, not metaphors. I also said, and still think, that in most cases, in most texts, there is a clear and obvious difference between the two. Kermode’s example of the ‘nervous moth of light’ is a good case in point. Where’s the classificatory difficulty? It’s a metaphor. ‘Fixed, like houseflies/feeding on filth’, the Raine lines that led Kermode on to Aristotle and ‘17th-century concettisti’, is a simile. An elaborated one, to be sure, but still different in kind, surely, from ‘morning’s minion’, or ‘Young beauties force your love, and that’s a rape’ (Donne, ‘Elegy 9, The Autumnal’), or ‘From under a freighter/I watched a man sawing a woman in half’ (Muldoon, ‘Duffy’s Circus’).

Some are masters of metaphor, some aren’t. Shakespeare is, famously, dense with it (as per Aristotle, with whom Kermode seems to think I disagree). Peter Redgrove, to take a more recent example, runneth over with the stuff. John Ashbery buzzes the window in it. Craig Raine, on the other hand, is dense with simile, as all commentators and reviewers have noted, some with annoyance.

I’ve not looked up the Areopagite to see if I can call him in aid but it seems to me that, contrary to Kermode’s assertion, metaphor is ‘necessarily grander than simile’. It’s harder to do (well), easier to fall flat on your face (few will pick a quarrel with a ‘like’ because it’s so tentative and elastic). Metaphor is harder because it’s more complex, more bold, more intense, more creationist, more God Almighty to say (and convince the reader that) ‘A is B’ than ‘A is (in some manner) like B.’ Metaphor incarnates, makes something new. Simile leaves things as they were, no matter how wonderful the bridges it ‘farfetchedly’ calls up to get the troops from one word to the next.

Of course ‘resemblance’ is, in some sense, common to both; but there all resemblance ends. T.S. Eliot’s fog that ‘rubs its back upon the window-panes’ would not have the resonance it does if propounded as a simile, nor would the ‘pair of ragged claws/Scuttling across the floors of silent seas’, and nor would ‘No! I am not Prince Hamlet.’ Compare and contrast with the simile (strange, wonderful, even mesmeric) in the opening lines of ‘Prufrock’: ‘When the evening is spread out against the sky/Like a patient etherised upon a table’. The fog is swallowed up in the cat, the ‘I’ in the crab’s scuttle, the nay-saying not-Hamlet in his opposite. The evening and the comatose patient, on the other hand, remain separate (though linked) entities.

Dare I propose the dinosaur word ‘organic’ to hint at what lives and moves inside successful metaphor? It works, when it works, because it is felt and seen to be natural, proper, fitting, constitutive, alive; not a prosthesis or a flying buttress but a working limb, a load-bearing wall.

William Scammell
Aspatria, Cumbria


In the old days of the New Statesman weekend competition, we elicited this entry. I forget whether we ran it or not, but I can remember that it went like this:

Un jeune matelot à Marseille
A rencontré une fille sur le quai
Elle murmure ‘Ah chéri,’
Dit-il, ‘Pas sur ta vie!
Je regrette – comme Paris – je suis gai.’

Christopher Hitchens
Washington DC

I quote from a letter by Gerald Long (Letters, 8 December) on the subject of limericks: ‘Another favourite of mine which I have never seen recorded plays on a familiar name:

There was a young girl of Pretoria
Who was raped by Sir Gerald du Maurier
Jack Hylton, Jack Payne,
Then Sir Gerald again
And the band of the Waldorf Astoria.

People should be content with such amusements.’ Am I the only person who doesn’t find it particularly amusing that this should be one of Gerald Long’s favourite limericks?

Helen Tookey

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