14 JUNE 1940, Page 14


Stx,—Someone should protest against all comments of the kind which Mr. Derek Verschoyle made last week in criticising -Mr. Louis MacNeice. The heading was " Another Lost Leader," the review said " Mr. MacNeice has followed Mr. Auden in the Sight to America." • I do not defend Mr. MacNeice's poems. Trivial some of them may be ; but so are many of our thoughts—even Mr. Verschoyle's thoughts—in war-time. I could also say that Mr. MacNeice was pursuing his profession as much as we in England are pursuing ours, that Mr. MacNeice is a Southern Irishman, that if he were teaching in London or Oxford he would still be reserved at present, just as active journalists are reserved.

But there is a much broader, less personal question. When Cezanne received calling-up papers in 1870 he moved from Aix to the next town. If he had been alive now and an Englishman he might (if he had been a more timely painter) have been care- fully preserved by selection as a war artist and told to go and record A.R.P. work in Buckinghamshire. If he had been a poet, Mr. Verschoyle, it seems, would want him to search for a descending bomb, wangle into the M.O.I., or join the Press department of the fighting forces.

It simply is not our business, even in this war, beyond which the Great Affinities will still remain the Great Affinities (we still read Euripides, after all), to inquire whether an artist is in England or Boston, or Heaven or Hell. Our only business with artists is with the effect of their best work and the extent to which their power for humanity may improve It is not—how elementary it seems to have to state this—the business of poets at any time to " lead mankind towards the future or else keep their mouths shut." We have just been celebrating Thomas Hardy, and Hardy, said that the poet's job was to record seeinings, impressions, as well as he could. Hardy was not a radiant or rallying leader of mankind into the future. He was a crisis poet who gave us some pretty sharp intimations of what was coming. This war, in the nature of history, was starting up in Hardy's life- time ; it was, in fact, already there. So I suppose Mr. Verschoyle would have ordered Hardy to shut his trap and hand everything over to Disraeli, Lord Salisbury and Lloyd George? Keeping sane in this numbing and total calamity of war is not easy ; but when I read such things as Mr. Verschoyle wrote last week—and as others have written elsewhere—I wonder how sincerely we hold to the human decencies. I am reminded, not of the fight against Mein Kampf and Dachau, but of Goering feeling for his revolver when he hears the word culture.—Yours faithfully, GEOFFREY GRIGSON.