PN Review Print and Online Poetry Magazine
Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
Mark FordLetters And So It Goes
Letters from Young Mr Grace
(aka John Ashbery)

(PN Review 239)
Kei Millerthe Fat Black Woman
In Praise of the Fat Black Woman & Volume

(PN Review 241)
Henry Kingon Toby Martinez de las Rivas
(PN Review 244)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Next Issue John McAuliffe poems and conversation Charles Dobzynski translated by Marilyn Hacker Maya C. Popa in conversation with Caroline Bird Richard Gwyn With Lowry in Cuernavaca Jane Draycott Four Poems
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
PNR 250 Poetry Archive Banner
Monthly Carcanet Books
PN Review Blog
Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to

This item is taken from PN Review 16, Volume 7 Number 2, November - December 1980.

Reports & Letters
Dr Michael Weaver, Reader in American Literature, Oxford University, tbe last Chairman of the Photography Sub-Committee of the Arts Council, writes:

On 29 November last a telephone call told me that the Telegraph had announced that the Photography Sub-Committee of the Arts Council of Great Britain had been axed. As its Chairman I was both outraged and incredulous. A few days later I received an apology from the Secretary-General-the Art Director would explain the new arrangements. But I wrote instead to the Vice-Chairman of the Arts Council. It was the Report of his Working Party which had prompted the Council to axe the sub-committee. It had promised a 'careful review' before any action was to be taken. The Vice-Chairman had retired from office but replied that I should have been heard on the matter. But a week later the Secretary-General, far from offering a hearing, blandly suggested I should re-read the Report. It signals 'firm direction from the top', the need for 'a discernible authority structure', and the prevention of the 'steady diffusion of authority and control away from the Council' (Organisation and Procedures, 1979, free from 105 Piccadilly, London W1V 0AU).

But on the morning of 23 January I was heard by the Secretariat. The case I put on behalf of the sub-committee was this:

1. Photography is a medium concerned not only with fine art but with the community at large-with society.

2. It is at a stage of historical development different from fine art, and requires other kinds of expertise.

3. The sub-committee was the only semi-public forum for photography in the country. The Scottish Arts Council and the Regional Arts Associations looked to it for policy guidance.

That afternoon I put it to the Art Panel, which unanimously recommended the reinstatement of the sub-committee to Council. Council met a few days later but deferred its decision until it had the Panel's minutes.

On 27 February the Council met again, and the Chairman issued a statement. The decision to axe the sub-committee had been upheld for two reasons. First, photography was in a position no different from opera and jazz. But so far as I know no significant protest had been made by their sub-committees. Second, to reverse the decision over photography would make the Council reconsider other changes made as a result of implementing the Report. This pusillanimity indicates the state of the Council's own morale. A cant-word in current use at the Arts Council is 'presentational'. It is a euphemism for face-saving or image-protecting. The Council has been worried about its image for some time-about not letting itself in for public criticism by supporting performance art and community art. It is now devolving community arts to the Regional Arts Associations. Photography was more vulnerable than it realised by taking on social aspects of the medium. On the other hand, the Artists' Films sub-committee has been spared because it supports the use of film by artists. The key-word is 'artist'. But does anyone believe that the films of Léger, Man Ray and Peter Gidal have the value of the photographs of Atget, Bill Brandt, and Tony Ray-Jones? The fact is that photography has been down-graded at the Arts Council.

Photography at the Arts Council has one Photography Officer and a tenth of the Art budget-£300,000. Over the few years of its existence the sub-committee had assumed a quasi-executive role. It had developed policy in direct relation to the allocation of funds, partly to protect the officer from the telephone lobby, and partly to protect the medium from his predilections. He valued this functional relationship with an effective sub-committee when he presented its decisions to Art Panel via the Art Finance Committee (now defunct). To understand what an irritant a strong sub-committee would be you have to know Raymond Williams's article on the Arts Council (Political Quarterly, Spring 1979), which ought to be required reading for anyone dealing with that body. Democracy is denied by the Arts Council not only because it repudiates the idea of elected membership but because it denies any representative character to its appointees. In our sub-committee we had tacitly overcome this. Our people, two-thirds of whom are well-known photographers, represented fine art photography, photo-journalism, and community photography as well as liberalism, socialism, and feminism. Only I, as an academic proponent of photography, fell into Professor Williams's 'vaguer category of "persons of experience and goodwill" '. The Art officers used to say our meetings were among the most interesting they attended. 'Bewildered consensus', as Professor Williams diagnoses the tone of the Arts Council, was absent from our monthly meetings. There was fierce but not ungenerous debate. By quasi-democratic methods a chain of communication was kept open across the non-commercial photographic world.

Now three members of the Art Panel will speak for photography four times a year. They are forbidden to meet as a group as this would constitute a quasi-committee. The Panel will advise the officers of the Council on policy only. Detailed decisions will be made by the officers, reported to Panel for information, and not normally discussed. The latest Information Bulletin (30 March 1980, p. 1) states that the Council 'has decided to delegate to the Secretary-General and Directors the responsibility for the day-to-day administration and management of the Council's business within the framework of policy advised by Panels and Committees and agreed by the Council.' The officers now control the decision-making process completely. In a year's time the Council will review the situation: 'Let us see how it works.'

Michael Schmidt writes:

The Scottish Arts Council Report 1979 tells us it is a time of crisis: 'Caught between unavoidable increases in costs and the Government's desire to control public expenditure, all the many and varied artistic achievements of the last two decades are seriously threatened.' There is a third threat. It comes from the SAC itself. In dispensing what it calls on page 21 of its report 'the annual arts cake', of which, out of 1000 applicants, 820 received a slice in 1979, this bureaucratic Marie Antoinette is aware in every sentence she utters just how much power she has over the arts. If her head rolls, theatres, orchestras, galleries, dance companies, magazines would all feel the wound. Among 'the artistic achievements of the last two decades', evidently what has not been achieved is the independence of any of the arts, rather an increasing dependence on the cake-maker. She feels safe, even smug; she grows arrogant.

But she is such a bourgeois Marie! Her obsession with Art Finance is pathological; but like her predecessor, she is deficient in discrimination, her human tact is nugatory. She is a bureaucracy answerable only to herself, so corsetted with her procedures as to be insensitive to the consequences of many of her actions. She may soon come a cropper. There are serious St Justs who understand her position (as Sir Roy Shaw put it, a Quango-with a six million pound cake in her larder), her advisory monopoly among local authorities, her PR exercises, her financial bias. The reluctance critics feel before her is the reluctance of dependence: she could control her clients, and most Scottish artists or arts institutions are beholden to her. Those artists and members of the general public who believe that public institutions of this sort should be publicly (i.e., visibly) answerable and that an Arts Council which actually hinders artistic work deserves the chop, or at least an inquiry into its procedures, might be forgiven for not lifting their hats to the lady.

Carcanet Press has, in a small way, been an SAC client in the past. After several years of smooth relations, I travelled north in 1977 to meet Lord Balfour, SAC Chairman. We seemed to share a number of views on issues as diverse as Community Arts and the vulnerability of Arts Councils to artistic and ideological pressure groups. I did not realise then that the vulnerability of the SAC was inherent.

On that same visit to Scotland I went to Stonypath, Lanarkshire, to see the famous garden and gallery of Ian Hamilton Finlay's work. There I met the poet. Subsequently we entered into correspondence. It was about the time of the Serpentine exhibition of his work. I was able to follow the Press Council ruling in the Spectator case in which Finlay, without the assistance of the promoters of the exhibition (SAC, Arts Council of Great Britain, etc.) who were unwilling to defend fact on behalf of their client, secured a judgement of importance to all artists and critics, concerning the factual accountability of critics. I followed the Scottish Arts Council's subsequent estrangement from Mr Finlay.

Naive immigrant that I was, I could not believe that a Britisb bureaucracy could act as the SAC was acting in this case. An arts institution was handling an artist in such a way as to make it impossible for him to create. The story is a long and complex one and cannot be told here. I then familiarized myself with the earlier Fulcrum affair (from both sides) which involved a far wider range of bureaucratic peculiarities. What worried me, well beyond the facts of Mr Finlay's case, was the principle of conduct of public bodies. My own Kafkaesque experience began. I decided to try to make sense of it all.

On 28 November 1978 I wrote to Lord Balfour and put the case to him. Was this not a matter quite as serious as those external threats we had discussed? In return for this letter I received a long, civil and contradictory phone-call from Lord Balfour. We planned to meet in January, but then he had to be abroad. In March of 1979 I wrote to him again. At the same time I wrote to Miss Judith Hart, Mr Finlay's MP. She did not reply. I wrote to the SAC solicitor and received a reply from-Mr 'Sandy' Dunbar, the SAC director, saying, 'I do not know that there is anything to discuss,' and adding, 'It is clear that Mr Finlay is playing games with the Council.' He asked if I had any suggestions for resolving the difficulties, and I made a suggestion which would have cost Mr Dunbar's Council three postage stamps, three sheets of writing paper, and the acknowledgement that certain specific errors had been made. I received in reply-silence. On 30 May I wrote again to Lord Balfour. In reply, a letter dated 31 May from-Mr Dunbar, repeating the earlier errors of fact, contradicting what Lord Balfour had originally told me on the phone, and ignoring my simple suggestion for ending the affair. I was dumbfounded: it was like talking to a perverted answering machine. I delayed my reply for almost a month, half-expecting a change of tone or heart from the SAC. On 25 June I wrote to Mr Dunbar again, in strong terms, pointing out that I was being subjected to the same casuistical, cat-and-mouse treatment that had been used on Mr Finlay. On 26 June I received a reply from-Lord Balfour, agreeing that a meeting would be a good idea. We arranged to meet at Manchester's Ringway Airport when Lord Balfour was in transit to Chester: he could spare me an hour. Unfortunately his plans changed. Our meeting did not take place then, and after a few more letters the SAC again 'closed my file', as they might have put it, having avoided substantive discussion by trading off letters, by contradictions, insinuations and that marvellous bureaucratic tool, the 'letter for the file'. There is also the 'telephone call' device, in which statements made cannot later be adduced in evidence.

The treatment I received from the SAC revealed a lack of defined principle in that organisation, a failure to understand the human and cultural consequences of actions taken for expediency's sake and not for the sake of truth, a scorn for simple fact and definition, and an inability to acknowledge errors. In an arts bureaucracy, as in any bureaucracy, such failures and attitudes destroy the objectives of the institution and of those who serve in it and benefit from it. The SAC is part of the crisis in the Scottish Arts World not because it has insufficient finance but because it has insufficient judgement and conscience. I believe an impartial inquiry into its treatment of my own case and, more importantly, Mr Finlay's, as symptoms of its procedures, would benefit the institution, its officers and clients.

If such an inquiry does not take place, how will the autocratic tendencies of this Fairy Godmother of the Arts be checked? I would willingly lend my files to such an inquiry. I would suggest the best body to undertake it would be the Consumer Protection Department. Would the SAC be willing to cooperate? It would have to acquiesce soon. Already Lord Balfour has retired, and 'Sandy' Dunbar is nearing the end of his reign. Best to ask questions when those who have the answers are still, even if in some remote and intangible way, answerable.


Dear Sir: I cannot accept the Rev. Kenneth Mason's assertion (Letters, PNR 14) that the hermeneutical, or interpretative, task in the use of the Book of Common Prayer and the Authorised Version of the Bible would be unnecessary and a waste of time although I am not surprised that many ministers would consider it so as they regard their ministry as being social or even political.

The interpretation of the Scriptures is the basis of our Faith embodied in Christ Himself.

The use of language other than the vernacular has not deterred Christians in the past from teaching the illiterate their religion any more than it has the Hindus or the Jews but to do so the teacher has to be well-versed in the language himself.

The abandonment of the use of the BCP and the AV in our Theological Colleges has inevitably produced a generation of clergy unable to tackle the task.

Shoreham, Sussex

Dear Sir: The new liturgies discriminate against the illiterate and against those of us who, though literate, find it difficult to fill in tax returns and other bureaucratic forms with pleasure or much accuracy. With 1662, heard in the same form Sunday after Sunday, the words explained during catechism and therefore understood and felt with the force at once of memory and of presence, one dispensed with the book and worshipped by heart. Similarly, the old hymnal hardly needed to be opened: the words were there, the music drew them forth.

Today, variations are so numerous, the will of the celebrant so dominant in forming our worship, in instructing us how to address God, where to turn in our little booklets, not to kneel when we would, not to stand when we would, not to say what we know, that only those blessed with the right sort of education (and this must include the right sort of sentiments-social, cultural, spiritual) can follow. Those of us who seek sinew in the language in which we speak to God, and who seek communion with our fellow men through a shared liturgy, reject the new versions not because they are new but because they put the church back to a time when the priest had what we of the reformed faiths took to be an unnatural authority. It is odd how progressive measures, especially in the Church of England, are invariably so retrograde. Still, I suppose the old addage holds: when in Canterbury, do as the Romans.

A more cynical explanation would be that publishers, aware of the perils of a liturgy which was so much a part of the congregations that celebrated it that they no longer needed (what some of their ancestors had probably never had) prayer-books, decided to provide a variable liturgy which no one could ever master, thus guaranteeing a market for their books which would last as long as people could stomach such aleatoric matter.

Weymouth, Dorset

Dear Sir: When I read that you were planning Crisis for Cranmer and King James, I confess my heart sank. 'Shades of The Human World,' I thought, and was not surprised to see Ian Robinson among the contributors. My initial objection to the idea of such an issue arose not because I'm an unbeliever of a pretty extreme kind, but simply because I am unable to accept that the Church-the organisation and structure of Christian practise-is important any more. If it is important, it is only to a small minority, which is not the same minority as the minority to whom literature is important. The people who run the Church obviously do their best and many of them must suspect that its present ineffectiveness is precisely because its forms of worship have been so firmly kept as a cultural reservoir. They're probably wrong-to my mind it is more likely that no one wants to hear what the Church has to say, having heard it all before, so that the words used to say it don't matter-but at least the question is still open. I found the articles in PNR 13 disappointing in that they all begged the question, which is (plainly put): Does the Church communicate better in modern English, or not? I have a lot of sympathy with the reverend gentleman who stood up in Synod and said, We are not to be dictated to by a bunch of academics and retired colonels who never go to Church anyway. At the same time I can't help remembering a graffito I saw many years ago at Cambridge, when '60s euphoria was still upon us. It said 'God uses Vox Amplifiers-and underneath, in Another Hand, was written: 'Not much of a recommendation-no one hears him.' I don't suppose the author(s) had the present debate in mind, since it had not then really got warm; but the metaphor holds.

Well, instead of this discussion, we had again all the same attacks on the NEB and Series I, II, III et seq.,-as dreary as what they attack. Impatiently the reader says: yes, yes, we know all that and who wants to be reminded that the whole thing was written by a committee apparently made up of union officials and civil servants meeting in a nissen hut somewhere off the North Circular? To say that the mere title of PNR 13 begs the question is not to deny that there is a crisis for Cranmer and King James, which are passing out of daily use. But the undeniable cultural value and literary status of these books doesn't thereby make them the best instruments of worship. All the arguments in PNR 13 seemed to rest on the assumption of that value: not that the conceptual content of the Bible and the BCP was good to have within one, but that familiarity with Cranmer and King James was desirable culturally. But surely the logical consequence of this argument is precisely the opposite of the tendency of the Petition: the best way to maintain Cranmer and King James as texts of central, live importance obviously would be to remove them as rapidly as possible from the messy forums and battlegrounds of religion and insert them honestly into Literature? In any case, what does one say to (say) an Indian or Vietnamese child growing up in this country and becoming rooted into his adoptive cultural and literary traditions? He needs access to Cranmer and King James, as PNR 13 rather repetitively argued, in order to have proper access to the literature. And that access tends, I think, to be denied by people to whom Cranmer and King James are primarily live religious texts. A dose of sanity is needed here: du calme, messieurs, du calme.

To my mind the effective disappearance of Latin from schools is a cultural disaster of much greater magnitude. At least Cranmer and King James are (as your contributors pointed out) directly available without translation, in a way that even Chaucer is not. For myself I regret I was taught Latin so unimaginatively that most of its beauties remained lost to me, but at least I was taught it, and so came to know something of what to many of our great writers has been a cultural fact at least as important as Cranmer and King James. Also (though it is not now fashionable to say so) I do think that the study of Latin helps one to write English-but I suppose the study of any literature, native or foreign, helps with that if one can master it.

London WC 2


(The correspondent takes as his text PNR 1 and 14 editorials.)
Dear Sir:

You're cross with 'gay': how queer, another story
To suit your bent, against the odds, with 'tory'.
If that has life in it, I think you'll see
The other frolics through the NED
As rake, beggar and whore: if you were I
Then we'd be quits in rage to misapply:
I smiling gaily while I stroke my chum
As you shout warnings of a world struck dumb.

Athens, Greece

Graham Martin writes:

I would guess that the late F. W. Bateson, whose pupil I was lucky enough to be, called himself 'Freddy' because his given names ('Frederick Wilse') left only the unpromising alternatives of 'Frederick' or 'Fred' and that an equally simple explanation can be offered for the fact that he was widely known as 'Freddy'. He had absolutely no side; he liked people; with the not surprising result that he made many friends. So the Wodehousian connotation of affectionate contempt remarked upon by Donald Davie in his eloquent tribute to Bateson's memory (PNR 15) seems to me fanciful. Certainly, his surprising public manner was, to a degree, adopted but the model was surely nothing to do with Wodehouse characters. It lay closer to reality, that of 'eccentric Oxford don', with causes not far to seek. He was a most warmhearted and kindly man, and at the same time, intensely wary of express feeling. After three years of pupillage, I sensed I had his good (or not bad) opinion as my tutor, but it was an amazing and happy surprise to find that he had some personal liking for me, signalled by the occasion when, as a sort of after-thought to my first visit to his home, he invited me to call him 'Freddy' (at a time, it's now necessary to add, when accession to the first name of somebody older than you meant a good deal). That embarrassed, quirky, wriggling and darting manner emerged from this tug between warmth and shyness, and in the public sphere was exacerbated by a further tension. He liked controversy; he was determined to be listened to in his field, and with good reason; and learned as he was, he had a scholar's enthusiasm for bringing his knowledge to the attention of those who lacked it. Yet he was neither quarrelsome, nor malicious, and those who were made him very uncomfortable. Eliot writes some-where of 'the braggadocio of the mild-mannered man at his typewriter'. Well, Freddy had no braggadocio, but where in print he could be forcibly direct and articulate, face-to-face (especially face-to-face with the indifferent or hostile) it was another story. The public manner Davie describes developed, I should think, as a consequence.

I elaborate on the point because it does the Oxford English School of his day too much justice to propose that it was Bateson's manner that cost him place and formal recognition. He was cleverer, more widely read, and intellectually more of his time than most. And (fatal virtue) he was disinterested, thinking it more important to be right, than to please, or to get on. He had an Arnoldian zeal for securing currency for the best ideas which, thirty years ago in literary studies, meant the New Criticism. The Sacred Wood, Practical Criticism, Seven Types, these were the works he would put in one's way. He saw his role in Oxford less as an advanced outpost of Leavisian criticism, than as providing a radical correction of what he judged to be its deficiencies. Bateson's ideal of 'the scholar-critic', someone both knowledgeable about the social and historical determinations of literary works, and capable of sensitive analysis of their intrinsic structures and relative worth, has of course become familiar, not least through his practice and influence. But in Oxford during the '50s, the realisation of this ideal entailed a dual attack-both upon the interests vested in a narrower conception of literary scholarship, valid in its own way but stultifying in its intellectual provinciality, and also upon the dominant role of scholars of Old and Middle English working to a conception of language whose limitations had as much as half-a-century earlier provided Saussure with his point of departure. A smoother more politically adroit man than Bateson might have been less shabbily treated; I doubt if he would have been more successful. It was, at any rate, not his manner that caused the real offence, but his matter.

I don't remember Bateson as 'anti-American', and would be exceedingly surprised if he had been. American scholars gave him his earliest recognition, and some of his happiest professional years were spent at Pennsylvania State University where, originally invited as a result of the impact of Essays in Criticism, he was greatly admired and liked, and to which he returned several times. The experience ('good for the ego' as, with a creaky grin, he once remarked to me) had a striking effect on his public style. I recall a British Council Summer School in Oxford in the '50s, doing the legwork for him as Director of the School, and writhing with the kind of embarrassment you feel for some loved member of your family struggling unhappily with a public role, as he laboured with the task of telling members of the school where they could get extra blankets. A decade later, attending a public lecture he gave at Pennsylvania State University, I had similar, as it turned out, pointless, fears. He had by this time suffered a good deal of illness on whose account he carried about a small flask of brandy. Wandering somewhat vaguely across the platform, he made it to the lectern, put down his lecture notes, and then on a side table, placed with careful deliberation the brandy and a small glass. Attentive silence from the audience. Distinguished lecturer pours himself a drink, takes a short swallow, performs a brief mime of appreciation, and (with impeccable timing) turns to the audience with 'I need to take my-eh-eh-medicine-eh-regularly.' The trick recurred during the (brilliant) lecture, used to counter-point witticisms in the text, or to punctuate the more complex pieces of argument. Who was this accomplished actor? I was soon asking myself, for acting it was: gesture, voice, timing were not exactly what I'd associated with his earlier public manner. But he felt at home; he played to the occasion; and very funny it was. Indeed, the chuckling and giggling which, as Davie remembers, were a striking part of Bateson's public persona, were only in part nervous mannerism. There was very little he couldn't find amusing, given the mood, partly in Voltairean ridicule of the solemn and the pretentious; but partly too in a deeper love of the contradictory and the absurd. The last time I met him, he was physically frail from a period of severe, near-fatal illness, but when I began enthusiastically to expound some ideas from Barthes' S/Z he couldn't contain himself for explosive laughter, repeating the terminology ('proairetic code', and so forth) as if it were the index of a splendid madness, invented for a modern Laputa.

His attitude to T. S. Eliot was curious. The (early) criticism he admired enormously, but of the poetry, only the satiric quatrain poems. The Waste Land he considered an exercise in the 'hysterical sublime'. For the religious impulse in Eliot's later poetry he had no sympathy, dismissing Four Quartets as clear evidence of a steady degeneration in poetic style. He used to tell a story about a visit to an Oxford undergraduate literary society of his own day by both Eliot and Graves. Eliot arrived from London, impeccably dressed for the City, hair smooth and sleek, world-weary, coldly and inflexibly polite. Graves, by contrast, who kept a small shop in a village near Oxford, was countrified, shaggy, outgoing and enthusiastic. I suspect a strong preference for Graves' type of personality, together with a settled antipathy to the puritan seriousness which Eliot adopted towards his own experience, underlay Bateson's view of Eliot's poetry. For the strange fact is that though he admired the New Criticism and owed much to Arnold, evaluative discussions of literary works weren't Bateson's strong suit (as he later came to agree). He had distinct and forceful critical views, but he rarely carried a discussion of value to any depth. Of course, he thought Literature a good thing (I remember him saying that he considered his tutorial job was to humanize the products of the English public school) but it wasn't always easy to see what it meant to him. Not long after I graduated, he let me read the typescript of his then just-completed book on Wordsworth. Fresh from an immersion in Freud and struggling (with limited success) against Freud's reductive account of art and literature, I sensed a comparable logic in Bateson's analysis of the sources of Wordsworth's poetry and challenged him to explain why, if Wordsworth's good poetry was valuable, it was important to connect it with his repressed love for his sister? The discussion got nowhere. I expect I was stubbornly and bluntly self-opinionated, as only a postgraduate student can be. Freddy just turned the issue aside, as too simple-minded to spend time on. Perhaps Freudianism only attracted him in that context as a way of blowing the gaffe on high-minded reverence for the Sage of Grasmere. Yet it also provided evidence that great poetry was written out of the obscurer depths of human feeling, and that was very important to him. In some part of his mind, though perhaps not expressly, he made moral judgements about 'the man', and saw 'the work' as, with whatever complications, an expression of its creator. Countering my enthusiasm for Pope, he would say that I hadn't spent as many months as he had editing the Horatian Satires, discovering what kind of man Pope really was. As to Yeats, he could never forget having heard the great man, in the Oxford Union, going on about fairies and spirits. Such memories of the (ham) actor obscured the whole of the poetry.

Perhaps in the end, he was really a scholar with high critical intelligence, rather than 'the scholar-critic' of his ideal. Davie has mentioned the story of his publicly teasing Americans for their failure to understand English literature properly. The cause lay, I think, in his view that American scholars didn't know enough. Being American, they got things wrong, misread tone, didn't grasp the socio-cultural coding, and so forth. His public, or written, put-downs of American scholarship on this count no doubt expressed an English sense of possessing insider's familiarity, but there was also a learned man's legitimate pleasure in bringing his superior knowledge to bear. Ignorance to some scholars is so hateful, that those it afflicts can scarcely be excused of wickedness. But Bateson never blamed people for not knowing what they ought to know. He both enjoyed enlightening them and had a rather comic self-awareness of his pleasure in doing so.

I never had much political talk with him, and none as an undergraduate. Once, trying to worm out his views on 'what is to be done?', he just said, 'cultivate your garden, that's all you can be sure of.' His Socialism was of that un-theorized kind of the man who hates class-division, remediable poverty, cultural deprivation, institutionalised privilege and injustice, sentiments logically inclining him to support the political forces that promised to set these faults to right. Davie speaks of his 'doctrinaire egalitarianism', but Bateson wasn't 'doctrinaire' anything. Eliot once said of James that he had 'a mind so fine that no idea could violate it', and though Bateson wouldn't have been flattered by a comparison with James (not a writer he admired, quite apart from the lamentable fact that he wrote novels, which Bateson more than once objected to en bloc as 'too long'), he had a comparable reluctance to entertain general ideas. Johnson, in an unexpected image, praises an eighteenth-century poet as being 'alamp that spent its oil in blazing'. Bateson didn't blaze. He was singularly free from the passion we call ideological. But his convictions, as much feelings as ideas, burned steadily, and the world seems to me colder for his passing.

Perhaps his intellectual modesty is the note to end on. I was grumbling to him once about aspects of a well-known book of criticism by a contemporary, in the graceless way one does about books from which one has learned immensely. 'But he doesn't really follow the points through,' I complained, 'and just look at Chapter Z, that really won't do!' Freddy replied, 'Well-um-eh, eh,-yes,' (hesitantly, then with a rush), 'but as a critic he's streets ahead of you and me, isn't he?' (chuckle). Nor did he include himself simply as a kind way of putting my un-grateful niggling into perspective. It was a kind way, but he meant it. The book was Articulate Energy by Donald Davie.


Dear Sir: If you run some sort of shuttle service between Manchester and Tennessee, why not slip into Fourth Man? I offer this simply as an alternative to the point of view suggested by your Tennessean editor in PNR 15-he should know that, like the wiser members of this Government, I too was educated at Eton; and that I have, for nearly sixty years, enjoyed the same forename as the late F. W. Bateson. I have never, alas, been a member of the Drones' Club!

   The Fourth Man

Suffer, old Blunt, the insult and abuse
Of righteous men, untaught to sympathise
With alien loyalties, or covert use
Of Cambridge as a nursery for spies.
What do they know of passion that conspires
To disjoin nature; the insidious guile
Of treason and unmentionable desires?
Such discord Art alone can reconcile.

When three absconded, you, their go-between
Were questioned, turned around and duly shriven;
Through that same art gave service to the Queen
For which she honoured you, your sins forgiven.
But fate at last unveiled her double face
And let the gossips loose; their prying hands
Have forced the lock and rifled that safe place
Where secrets lay, but now dishonour stands.

Elstead, Surrey

This item is taken from PN Review 16, Volume 7 Number 2, November - December 1980.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to
Searching, please wait... animated waiting image