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Letters

Vol. 25 No. 10 · 22 May 2003

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After Saddam

In his report on ‘Saddamism after Saddam’ (LRB, 8 May), Charles Glass writes that ‘there are fears that the new Iraq may end up looking much like the old Iraq,’ with members of the Baath Party either clinging onto their old functions or reapppearing in new ones. Glass cites the example of the Soviet Union, whose old nomenklatura may now be numbered among ‘the tyrants and spivs of the succeeding capitalist order’. This may be deplorable but it’s also inevitable. Members of the Baath Party were patently among the more ambitious elements in Iraqi society, and would have been determined to get on under any regime, whether the fearsome model of Saddam Hussein or whatever rickety substitute for it the American military satraps eventually contrive to put in place. A degree of continuity beween the dead regime and the new one is anyway desirable, for how on earth is an entirely new administrative class to be recruited and trained overnight, merely so as to ensure that no Baathists survive in positions of authority? Glass might have alluded also to the example of postwar France – a country that truly was liberated in 1944-45 – where, as historians have belatedly acknowledged, many of those functionaries who had served the Vichy regime kept their jobs after democracy returned, for all the revulsion, real or opportunistic, that was felt against Vichy and all its works. How could it have been otherwise? Servants of regimes are servants of regimes, not ex officio ideological monsters. I only hope that the occupiers of Iraq know how to sort the Baathist sheep from the Baathist goats – I only hope indeed that they care sufficiently to do so.

Fenella Roberts
London N5

Charles Glass makes some very sharp points about who will run the post-Saddam Iraq. He might have added that Pete Townshend got there first with the song ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, which ends with the line: ‘Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.’ I wonder if Blair ever strums this song on his guitar?

Keith Flett
London N17

What Palmerston Knew

It appears to be the case that Charles Vaughan, the 19th-century headmaster of Harrow who resigned following an affair with one of the boys when the young John Addington Symonds was also a pupil there, did so not under pressure from the boy’s father, as E.S. Turner states (LRB, 17 April), but from Symonds’s. The boy had told Symonds, producing letters by Vaughan to prove it, and a year later Symonds, by then at Oxford, related the story to John Conington, Professor of Latin, who urged him to make it public. What Symonds did was tell his father, an eminent Bristol surgeon, who confronted Vaughan and demanded his resignation. It was again Symonds senior who, repeating his threat of exposure, made sure that Vaughan rejected the bishopric Palmerston offered him in 1863.

It throws an interesting light on the times that Palmerston knew perfectly well why Vaughan had resigned from Harrow, and so did the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Oxford. (Parallels with the current situation of the Catholic Church in the US and elsewhere are tempting.) On leaving Harrow, Vaughan became vicar of Doncaster and legendary in the Church of England for his seemingly incomprehensible refusal to accept high office. The New Age revivalist Sir George Trevelyan, himself an old Harrovian, was happy to quote Vaughan’s statement, ‘I was afraid of ambition,’ as the explanation.

The story isn’t new, but what is striking is that Conington and Symonds junior were in reality homosexual, yet conspired to expose a third, Vaughan, who had made a high-risk move to evade society’s taboos. John Chandos in Boys Together views Symonds as having been a jealous betrayer, relating the story in high places through envy that Vaughan had selected what J.R. Vincent in his review of Symonds’s memoirs (TLS, 20 July 1984) called ‘the house tart’ for his attentions rather than Symonds himself.

At the same time as Symonds was outing Vaughan to his father, he was himself conducting an intense, though apparently chaste, love affair with a 15-year-old Bristol choirboy, Willie Dyer. In what must for the recipient have been a bizarre conjunction of events, Symonds confessed his infatuation to his father, who ordered him to stop seeing the boy, an injunction Symonds didn’t wholly obey.

Father and son had co-operated over such matters before. Symonds junior had ‘entirely abandoned onanism’ at the age of 15, despite since the age of eight enjoying fantasies of naked sailors sexually abusing him and calling him their ‘dirty pig’. Symonds senior subsequently treated his son’s ‘nocturnal pollutions’ with a mixture of quinine and strychnine, of which Vincent commented: ‘This truly Gladstonian mixture of self-suppression and stimulation would unhinge any mind.’

After resigning his fellowship at Magdalen following allegations again involving choirboys, Symonds junior went on to become Victorian England’s only champion of gay rights, couching his views in scholarly, medical or Hellenistic terms. He married in 1864, but later persuaded his wife to accept a celibate relationship. Henry James, with uncharacteristic daring, based Mark Ambient in his story ‘The Author of Beltraffio’ (1884) on Symonds and his marital situation. Symonds and James met only once but they remained in correspondence. ‘It seemed to me the victims of a common passion should sometimes exchange a look,’ James wrote to him in 1884, ostensibly of Italy. ‘Perhaps I have divined the innermost cause of J.A.S’s discomfort,’ he wrote to Gosse about the story. ‘A post-card (in covert words) would relieve the suspense of the perhaps-already-too-indiscreet H.J.’

Bradley Winterton
Taipei

Pound and Frost

Richard Poirier (LRB, 3 April) says that Robert Frost moved to England in 1913; that he published his first book of poems in London ‘with Pound’s assistance’; and that the book was published ‘to considerable public acclaim’. In fact, Frost found and chose David Nutt as the publisher for A Boy’s Will on his own, shortly after his arrival in England in September 1912, several months before Pound learned that another American poet was now living in England. Copies of the book had just been delivered to the publisher on the day Frost and Pound met for the first time in March 1913, and they went together to the publisher’s London office so that Pound could get a review copy. A Boy’s Will, as Jay Parini notes in his Life of Robert Frost, ‘was not granted a resounding welcome in the world’. Pound’s review in Poetry, Harriet Monroe’s Chicago journal, was mixed in praise and condescension, but it was Frost’s first American notice, and in that way Pound played a role in Frost’s subsequent recognition as a poet.

Linda Hart
Malvern, Worcestershire

Hymenal

Surely the ‘blood upon the bed’ in Eliot’s ‘Ode’ is hymenal, rather than menstrual, as Richard Poirier has it (LRB, 3 April), and the distress which the bridegroom is attempting to evade with his ‘tonsorial tidying up’ is the result of a first experience of sexual intercourse. That the bride now appears as ‘succuba’, therefore, has more to do with her newly discovered sexual power than with menstruation, which after all is common to all women, including the frigid.

Sarah Whittall
Kendal, Cumbria

No a la guerra

I enjoyed John Sturrock’s ‘Short Cuts’ about bullshit and other matters (LRB, 17 April). Several months ago I moved to Spain. In current times I am glad to be out of England and living in a country where ‘No a la guerra’ stickers appear everywhere on cars. I can switch between English and Spanish TV channels. News coverage of the war on the latter seemed infinitely more fair, largely because it did not seem to depend on embedded reporters.

A week into the war, my husband became reacquainted with an old Iraqi friend who had previously run a chess café in London and had moved to Spain to open a restaurant. Over drinks at his home we had the unusual and interesting experience of viewing channels beamed in by satellite from every Arab country you can think of, from Libya to the UAE. The pictures were entirely different from what we were seeing on Western television; reality probably lies somewhere in between. Our friend was desperately seeking information on the welfare of his sisters and their families in Baghdad and could not understand why the Americans had felt it necessary to take out the phones and electric power. To this day he has been unable to get through to his family to find out if they are alive or dead. The oil is up and running. Contracts for rebuilding have been awarded to American companies, but Iraq’s heritage has been looted and no true account of the extent of civilian casualties has been given.

If you are as disturbed at all the bullshit as I am, may I suggest that you search on Google for Prescott Bush (the grandfather) to get an idea of the deals the family has been involved in.

Fiona Pitt-Kethley
Orihuela Costa, Spain

Not so Trivial

Martin Harries’s websmanship is duly acknowledged (Letters, 8 May): about 853,000 websites linking ‘tragedy’ to 11 September! I’ll wager that few if any of them propose a serious definition or theory of tragedy, first because so many of the dead are deemed to have been ordinary, hence those New York Times obituaries; and then because the ‘foreknowledge of death’ clause applies so unignorably to the hijackers themselves – the other side – whose claims to empathic understanding are unlikely to be pursued in English, although they could be, at least in the cause of comprehension. This does not mean that the deaths of 9/11 do not ‘deserve’ consideration as tragic (in the sense of more than just ‘terrible’), but that they are unlikely to get it. Of course it would be hubris indeed (in both of its usual senses) to claim that I am going to check all those sites, or that I could not be wrong.

David Simpson
University of California, Davis

Checkmates

Daniel Soar (LRB, 3 April) has Boris Spassky retiring and Viktor Korchnoi then dominating Soviet chess until Anatoly Karpov's emergence and Korchnoi's subsequent defection. However, Spassky didn't retire until long after Korchnoi's defection, which took place in 1976 in Amsterdam. Indeed, he played Korchnoi in a match in Belgrade – a match Soar mentions elsewhere in his piece – in 1977, and was still competing in World Championship qualifiers as late as 1982. Korchnoi didn't dominate Soviet chess at any stage. Karpov's rise took place immediately after Fischer defeated Spassky, culminating in a 1974 match in which he beat Korchnoi to become Fischer's official challenger (and subsequently World Champion by default). Soar also claims that Tigran Petrosian defected. He did not, though Igor Ivanov and many others certainly did; nor did Spassky, whose move to France was sanctioned by the Soviet authorities. Finally, the story of Frank Marshall saving up his innovation in the Ruy Lopez opening for ten years in order to use it on Capablanca, though a good one, is now, I believe, generally agreed to be false.

Justin Horton
London SW2

It should have

Ruth Franklin (LRB, 3 April) reviews a translation of Stefan Zweig’s Schachnovelle that ‘now appears as The Royal Game’. I have a copy of a paperback Compass Books edition, published by Viking Press in 1961, which includes a reprint of The Royal Game in the same B.W. Huebsch translation. Shouldn’t the review have said that it was a reissue?

Joseph Diamante
New York

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