Vol. 43 No. 17 · 9 September 2021

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Getting Away with It

John Lanchester omits one important example of cheating in sport which has reached epidemic proportions over the years (LRB, 29 July). I refer to leg before wicket decisions in village and club cricket matches where independent umpires are not used. The majority of club and village teams have to provide both umpires when their team is batting, and there is an unwritten rule in these games that appeals for lbw by the fielding side will be unsuccessful. Most teams apply this ‘rule’ to an almost farcical degree. The batsman is hit on the pads in front of the stumps and there is an enthusiastic and loud appeal. After some reflection the umpire shakes his head, the bowler inquires politely as to his reasoning, the umpire tells a barefaced lie with all due seriousness, there are wry smiles all round, and play resumes.

I accompanied my son to his club’s games every weekend for several years and was eventually asked to umpire. As a seasoned and once serious cricketer who is quite unable to cheat, I was compelled to give several lbw decisions and in doing so created panic and alarm. ‘That’s what happens when you ask a real cricketer to umpire,’ I was told, as if my actions had upset the alignment of the planet. Following this short-lived and uncomfortable experience, I was able to continue watching my son play cricket from the comfort and safety of my car, parked under an oak tree some distance away from the pavilion.

Michael Howlett
Hay-on-Wye, Powys

John Lanchester’s piece called to mind one of the most famous examples of, if not exactly cheating in chess, then shameless bluffing. In 1959 the 16-year-old wunderkind Bobby Fischer was in the final playoffs to decide the candidate to take on the world champion. In one game with Mikhail Tal, Fischer had Tal on the ropes and prepared a move that would have secured at least a draw. He wrote the move down on his scoresheet before playing, only to see Tal smile broadly at him. Spooked, Fischer thought he had overlooked something, chose a different move, and lost. Today, in face to face chess, writing down moves on scoresheets before playing is prohibited.

Paul Griseri
La Genétouze, France


Ange Mlinko writes that Adrienne Rich’s ‘early poems were published, at her father’s instigation, when she was six’ (LRB, 15 July). Ariadne, a Play in Three Acts and Poems was issued in 1939 and contained work Rich produced between the ages of six and ten. Her father arranged the publication as a tenth birthday present. Another volume printed when she was sixteen was rumoured to exist too. I found a copy of Ariadne in a second-hand shop in Baltimore in the late 1970s and asked Rich to sign the volume before a reading at Towson State College. I can barely convey her surprise. She had denied the existence of these early books for years, most notably to Auden’s bibliographer Edward Mendelson.

Charles Seluzicki
Portland, Oregon

After Culloden

Neal Ascherson is right that William Roy’s Military Survey of Scotland, conducted in the aftermath of the 1745 uprising, is ‘safe somewhere in the British Library’: it resides at Maps K.Top.48.25-1.a-f (LRB, 12 August). It is also true that, thanks to the effective subjugation of the Highland insurgency, the survey wasn’t needed for its original military purpose, but Ascherson’s remark that ‘nobody ever used it’ is a bit misleading. Far from being obscure artefacts, these pioneering maps are a valuable historical and genealogical resource. It was many decades before the Ordnance Survey, which Roy founded, returned to make comprehensive maps of Scotland. Now digitised and geo-referenced, Roy’s survey is freely available online from the National Library of Scotland. Despite the limited technology available to him, digital overlays show that his team’s cartography bears direct comparison with the latest satellite and lidar imagery.

Colin Munro

Neal Ascherson asks how it was possible that, after risking her life to help Bonnie Prince Charlie escape after Culloden, Flora MacDonald could some years later fight for King George III against the Americans seeking independence. I don’t think the answer is too difficult to find. After her arrest and confinement for nearly a year in a messenger-at-arms’s house in London awaiting trial, as Jacobite prisoners were being executed on a daily basis, MacDonald was amnestied on 4 July 1747. She returned to Scotland to learn of the wholesale arson, murder, rape and pillage that had been visited on the Highlands and Islands after the battle. She would have been well aware of the consequences of rebellion against the crown.

Shortly after she and her family emigrated to North Carolina in 1774, the American War of Independence broke out. Both the American Patriots, as they were called, and the British vied for the support of the warrior Highlander settlers. But Flora and her husband, Captain Allan MacDonald, knowing that the wages of treason were death and destruction, opted to fight for the crown. They were roundly defeated at the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge, and Allan and his son were captured.

Seán Damer

Alone of Its Kind

Patricia Lockwood laments the ‘superficiality’ of the ‘mass dissemination’ of Marian Engels’s Bear on its publication in 1976 (LRB, 12 August). In fact the novel received the Governor General’s Award, Canada’s highest literary prize, which for an openly pornographic tale of bear-on-woman sex was pretty good going. Bear, Lockwood writes, is ‘alone of its kind’, but what is its kind? Engels’s masterpiece drew on Indigenous legends about marriages between women and bears. But the novel also belongs to another tradition, particularly resonant, perhaps, in our lonely times: the age-old depiction of female solitaries as unrestrainedly carnal, unleashed from masculine control into illicit passions. Like many of her antecedents, Lou, Engels’s heroine, is visited by the devil, but unlike Eve or witches or other diabolic wantons, she experiences ursine sex as redemptive: a purification of body and soul.

Barbara Taylor
Queen Mary University of London

One French City

In her piece about Arles, a city on a very small hill in the southern Rhone valley, Lydia Davis mentions an old photograph depicting a sheep turning back to look at its flock (LRB, 12 August). Sheep are as central to Arles as its many named winds. In a passage on transhumance and nomadism in early modern Europe in The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II (1949), Fernand Braudel explains:

Arles in the 16th century, and possibly for four or five centuries previously, was the capital of large-scale summer transhumance, controlling the flocks of the Camargue and especially of the Crau [hills to the east of the city], sending them every year along the routes of the Durance valley to the high pastures of the Oisans, the Dévoluy, the Vercors, and even to the Maurienne and Tarentaise. This was a real ‘peasant capital’: it was where the ‘capitalists’ lived – the top sheep farmers were still known by that name in recent times – and it was where notaries drew up and registered contracts.

The transhumance carries on, although the sheep of the Camargue are now more usually ferried to upland pastures by lorry. Some flocks are still driven on by shepherds and dogs, and I have seen them in the fields east and west of Apt in the spring, heading for the higher ground. In the vast unenclosed prairie lands north of Banon, on the slopes of the Alps of Haute Provence, flocks of sheep are protected by dogs trained to see off foxes and rustlers, and to scare lone walkers from their paths. Meanwhile, the capitalists of Arles tend not to have the same interest in sheep as they did five hundred years ago.

Inigo Thomas
London NW1

Lydia Davis tells us of St Caesarius (c.470-543 AD) at Arles but doesn’t mention the Synod or Council of Arles in 314 AD, whose record in textually variable recensions of the Acta Concilii Arelatensis gives the first direct reference to British bishops, three of whom attended (two of them from York) together with a number of lesser clergy. This is the clearest evidence of the significance of Arles then as a centre of Western Christianity, already widespread even though Constantine had legalised freedom of worship only the year before by the Edict of Milan.

Peter Fox
Husthwaite, North Yorkshire

Anglo-Catholic Radicals

Alison Light is correct to describe Anglo-Catholicism as ‘ritualistic’ – it is very much the ‘smells and bells’ wing of the Church of England – but it isn’t accurate to claim that it is the ‘most conservative’ form of Anglicanism (LRB, 29 July). It has long contained a radical political tradition. One prominent Anglo-Catholic was Conrad Noel, the ‘Red Vicar of Thaxted’, who in the 1910s caused a stir when he raised the red flag in his church in rural Essex. Reg Groves and Stewart Purkis, two prominent members of the first Trotskyist organisation in Britain, the Balham Group, were lifelong Anglo-Catholics; and more recently there was Kenneth Leech, the campaigner against racism and homelessness.

Paul Flewers
London N1

I disdain this pen

Joanne O’Leary, writing about Emily Dickinson’s early editors, mentions that Mabel Loomis Todd (who was also the longtime lover of Emily’s brother, Austin) took it upon herself to ‘eliminate evidence of Emily’s bond with her sister-in-law’ – Austin’s wife, Susan (LRB, 3 June). A letter of 1852 from Emily to Susan sheds some light on the nat­ure of that bond: 

Susie, will you indeed come home next Satur­day, and be my own again, and kiss me . . . I hope for you so much, and feel so eager for you, feel that I cannot wait, feel that now I must have you – that the expectation once more to see your face again, makes me feel hot and feverish, and my heart beats so fast . . . my darling, so near I seem to you, that I disdain this pen, and wait for a warmer language.

O’Leary analyses the impact of Mabel’s editorial efforts on the meaning of Emily Dickinson’s poems – changing articles from ‘a’ to ‘the’, and the quandaries of punct­uation – but doesn’t address the quest­ion of how a poem’s meaning might 
be changed by expunging its dedication to another woman. Whether or not Julie Dobrow, whose book O’Leary is reviewing, addresses Emily and Susan’s relationship, compelling evidence about it has been available for decades, from Lillian Faderman’s 1977 article for the Massachus­etts Review to Ellen Louise Hart and Martha Nell Smith’s book Open Me Carefully (1998).

Angela Wheeler and Katherine Davis
Amherst, Massachusetts

What Dionysius Did

In his otherwise exemplary profile of the sixth-century Roman author and administrator Cassiodorus, Michael Kulikowski repeats the time-worn error that Cassiodorus’s contemporary Dionysius Exiguus ‘invented the anno domini reckoning’ (LRB, 12 August). He did not. In 525, at the behest of papal officials, dissatisfied with the Easter table produced in 457 by the Gallican mathematician Victorius of Aquitaine, which was in use throughout the Western (Latin) Church, Dionysius created a new table based on the principles underlying the one used by the Alexandrian (Greek) Church, which was due to expire in what we call 531 AD. Dionysius’s innovation was the decision to date the years of his table ‘from the Incarnation of our Lord’, unlike his Alexandrian predecessors, who designated theirs according to the regnal years of the emperor Diocletian. Not wishing to preserve the memory of that persecutor of Christians, Dionysius inaugurated the AD era in his table, which began in 532 AD, but he had no intention of doing away with the existing practice of reckoning by consulates or indictions (Roman fifteen-year periods of tax collection). And although the handy rules for calculation (argumenta) that he added to his tables did use the current Incarnation date of 525 as their annus praesens, he did not use that system in his covering letter to Roman officials, which he dated by consul, indiction, and place in the decemnovenal and lunar cycles.

Dionysius, therefore, did not invent the AD method of reckoning; neither did he popularise it. That honour is usually given to the Venerable Bede, who (wrongly) equated Dionysius’s Incarnation year with 1 AD and who, in his Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum of 731, gives (almost) all his dates from the Incarnation. (The exceptions are what we would call BC dates: anno ante incarnationem.) Sometimes credited with having invented AD reckoning himself, Bede was not the first man to use it, or even the first Englishman. He may, however, have invented BC reckoning. But that is a story for another day.

Dáibhí Ó Cróinín
Craughwell, County Galway


James Meek remarks in passing that an earlier failure of the shipyard in Campbelltown was caused by ‘too many fishermen chasing too few fish’ (LRB, 15 July). This is the claim made by governments and corporate interests when they wish to enclose the commons, privatise fish quotas and concentrate ownership of the stock, thereby marginalising the more traditional small-boat fishing carried out by local people. I experienced this aggressive agenda first-hand in the early 1990s as a fisher in Nova Scotia.

Raymond Rogers
Little Harbour, Nova Scotia

I wish James Meek had come further up the road when he was researching his article about the toxic and unrecorded side effects of wind turbine development. In east Sutherland he could have witnessed the overwhelming, life-inhibiting presence of these giant industrial turbines on our beautiful hills. The structures, which one local protest group calls ‘Rings of Steel’, aren’t just environmentally damaging but are reorganising a way of life as surely as the Clearances of the 19th century did. Certainly, the will of a few to make a lot of money at the expense of local communities reflects that period. Who wants to live under giant white turbines? Nobody. It’s something else people aren’t talking about when they talk about this so-called renewable form of energy.

Kirsty Gunn
Rogart, Sutherland

A Breakthrough

Josephine Quinn writes about the William Pars watercolours in the recent show at the Soane Museum (LRB, 12 August). They get sadly little exposure, although this does at least mean that they are well preserved, having been in boxes ever since the Society of Dilettanti transferred them to the British Museum in 1800. But it isn’t correct to say that this is first time they have been shown in public.

In 1971 the British Museum published an abridged edition, by Edith Clay, of Richard Chandler’s entertaining journal of the expedition to Asia Minor that he led on behalf of the Dilettanti, on which Pars was the artist and Nicholas Revett the architect. (Chandler was an epigrapher and concentrated on the inscriptions.) I contributed an essay on Pars and his work. Shortly after the book appeared I organised an exhibition, mounted jointly by the museum’s departments of prints and drawings and of Greek and Roman antiquities, including all the watercolours and many of the very beautiful drawings that Pars made of the sculptures found in the various sites the team visited. (There is only one of these in the Soane show.) That exhibition had a printed catalogue, which was a rare thing in those days. I remember the keeper of my department thumbing through it and exclaiming: ‘My dear, this is a breakthrough!’ Not long before he had been in the habit of writing lists of exhibits in his own elaborate longhand. So, primitive as it was, my catalogue was a pioneering effort, and all our shows had catalogues thereafter.

Andrew Wilton
Chislehurst, Greater London

Just give us the numbers

Gary Younge informs us that ‘in fourteen Baltimore neighbourhoods, life expectancy is lower than in North Korea’ (LRB, 29 July). Life expectancy at birth in North Korea is 72.1 years, which is entirely average in both global and Asian terms. Next time just give us the numbers.

Tom Farrell


Colm Tóibín quotes a poem from 1917 by Pessoa, ‘To Sensual Pleasure’, which ends: ‘My life’s joy and incense: that I refused/all indulgence in routine love affairs’ (LRB, 12 August). That same year C.P. Cavafy wrote a poem with the same title ending with the same lines (in Keeley and Sherrard’s translation). Has Tóibín discovered that ‘C.P. Cavafy’ was another of Pessoa’s heteronyms? I think we should be told.

Peter Mackridge

Where does the bus stop?

By chance I read Andrew O’Hagan’s description of the 88 London bus route just after rereading Iris Murdoch’s Under the Net, in which the narrator gets on the 88, takes ‘the front seat on top’ and looks down on ‘the crowds in Oxford Street’ (LRB, 29 July). He then gets off at Oxford Circus and makes his way to Rathbone Place (quite a few stops after Oxford Circus, I’d have thought). Nowadays the 88 doesn’t go along Oxford Street at all: did it do so in the 1950s or was Murdoch’s knowledge of London not as good as it seems?

J.R.S. Davies

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