On Robert Silvers

Andrew O’Hagan

When I was young it was possible to feel you’d made it as a writer simply by getting a phone call from one of four editors. When it came to ambition, very few of the writers I knew really gave a fuck about being in Who’s Who, being named an honorary fellow or having one of the queen’s gongs, or a million quid advance. What they wanted was for the phone to ring and for Bob Silvers to be on the line. One might have liked other editors more, might have felt they were better editors, but Silvers was a forcefield of the manners he maintained and the company he kept. Once you got used to him, he would call to describe a promising topic and exchange a line of gossip with you before ringing off in a hurry. ‘Let me know if there’s anything that can be done,’ he would say. I have a multitude of notes from Mr Silvers (it took me years to stop calling him that) but I find they are not in the filing cabinet with all the other letters and notes; they are in the books on my shelves. He had a knack of making you feel that the thing that might be done could only be done by you. ‘You may be so far ahead with Goldsmith that this book about Swift would not fit well,’ says the typewritten note in the last book he sent me, ‘but it might be mentioned. Goldsmith and Grub Street, then and now, does seem a subject in need of your comments.’

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