22 FEBRUARY 1935, Page 20


[To the Editor of THE SPECTATOR.] SIR,—In your last number Mr. Graham Greene, reviewing Professor Pelham Edgar's Art of the Novel, states that at Oxford "the Professor of English Literature is a Member of the Book Society Committee." Why this should be con- sidered discreditable I need not inquire, for it is untrue. What is more important is the reviewer's assumption that it is the business of a school of English literature to criticize recent or contemporary work. He is doubtless entitled to hold this view, but not to take it for granted, since it is highly controversial. Most of us at Oxford, I believe, proceed on a premise which Mr. Greene seems to be unaware of, and which may be stated as follows : The function of education is to lift the individual out of the provincialism of his own place and time, to liberate him from the tyranny of the immediate, and so to make him more of a man simpliciter and less.of a man secundunt quid. • Hence, as a colleague once laughingly said to me, "a university aims at making a man as unlike his cousins as possible." For those whose minds tend to the abstract, this liberation is effected by philosophy, science, or mathematics ; for those of a more concrete tarn, by the various - forms of history. Among these, "English Language and Literature" mar claim to be the most concrete, studying, as it does, a thousami years, not of war and politics, but of human thought, senti- ment, and idiom. With the decay of classical studies, indeed, "English," thus conceived, bids fair to become the only discipline at our older Universities which still gives man a living acquaintance with civilizations, modes of expression, and basic assumptions other than his own. We believe that a school of English which adheres to these principles may do invaluable work ; by devoting itself to contemporary criticism it would merely abandon that work in order to enter an arena which is already as well supplied with

• combatants as any temperate spectator can desire.—Yours