22 SEPTEMBER 1961, Page 27

Inside Stuff

View from the West. By Claud Cockburn. (Mac- Gibbon and Kee, 21s.) Scotsman's Return. By Hugh MacLennan. (Heinemann, 21s.) CLAtip COCKBURN is a born insider. 'Gnebbels in the only conversation I ever had *Ith him. .

• •

We took off through a fierce snowstorm for it Christmas party . . . with such animated and animating characters as Sean McBride, John

uston, the Woodrow Wyatts. . .

'Brendan Behan, in a black depression, was hiking to me once. . .

lie seems to know everyone, and to have been

Y,reitY near everywhere at the explosive or Illuminating moment. This could be irritating, lively tiresome, but Mr. Cockburn generally has uvelY and original things to report, and View from the West, his latest volume of auto- biography, is an immensely entertaining book. 1%l °▪ t, I'm afraid, as rich as In Time of Trouble, .put very good going all the same. Mr. Cockburn (k always refreshingly full of attack, he is ob- 4rvant, thoughtful and (a rare virtue, this) can *rite comically about Ireland without con- 4scension or a twinkle.

View from the West kicks off with an account ,,,`11 Mr. Cockburn's stay in an Irish hospital with sql and suspected cancer (sombre material hand- :iniely handled) and soon bounces here, there ' rerld everywhere. Mr. Cockburn is a one-man character For your twenty-one bob he gives you H-bomb sketches, a turn on the Irish, some '1-bontb reflections, hospital hints and jokes, a spill of insider's anecdotes and, to top the bill, a super, scarcely credible helping of his Fleet Street adventures. He returns again and again to his close association with Punch when Malcolm Muggeridge was editing the magazine. In those heady days, it seems, Mr. Muggeridge was wildly enthusiastic about a North American edition of Punch, to be published in Toronto. Claud Cockburn was chosen to edit this never- to-be edition, not only because he is an unde- niably brilliant journalist, but also because he is 'a kind of brother-in-law once removed of the (then) Governor-General, Vincent Massey.' What Muggeridge did not know was that when Massey was Canadian High Commissioner in London and The Week was suppressed by the Government, Mrs. Massey (according to Mr. -Cockburn), jealous of her social position and dreading a visit from him, 'used rather spec- tacularly to plead with members of the Govern- ment, or people she supposed to have influence with the Government, to have me arrested.'

Hugh MacLennan is an insider of a different order. Like it or not, he's the Canadian Estab- lishment's literary chap. The Masseys, I'm sure, would never have him tossed in the nick, and this is not meant to be disparaging. For Mr. MacLennan, a man of considerable influence, vast good will and integrity, has done much to ease the lot of the writer in Canada. I wish I liked his book of essays more. Scotsman's Return is charmingly old-fashioned (in a preface, Mr. MacLennan points to Lamb as his model), full of nostalgia for Oxford, the Highlands and rife with those anti-American prejudices which so disfigure Canadian intellectual life today. Mr. MacLennan is against Time, the big American smile, fast trains, frigidaires and TV. He is for nature, Montreal, October in Canada and a place in the sun for Canadian writers. Only in one essay, 'A Disquisition on Elmer,' did I find the humour and narrative skill which made his last novel, The Watch that Ends the Night, so compulsively readable. Elsewhere, I find Mr. MacLennan's essays considerate and calm, but unsurprising. Maybe the fault is mine. When- ever I come across a piece about the delights of chopping wood on a crisp autumn day in the country I am lost and in the presence of so foreign a sensibility. I wouldn't chop wood in the country as long as I was able to hire a yokel to do it for me.

With Richard Church the descent into the abyss of Arcadiana is just too much for me. In Calm October, Mr. Church gives us gentle pieces on book browsing, packing for a journey, sweet content, raking leaves and bread. He is forever quoting de la Mare and W. H. Davies. And more than anything, he reminds me of crocheted doilies, china figurines and those Scots school- masters in Montreal who used to ask us each September to write essays on What I Did On My Summer Vacation (mindful of our report cards, we used to write, 'we looked at the pretty trees and flowers and walked in the woods,' when, as a matter of fact, most of us had worked in fac- tories, pursued girls in dance halls and gone in for incidental shoplifting). Mr. Church misses candles (new-fangled electric lights aren't magi- cal), he is 'addicted to penmanship' (he writes, that is) and (so help me) a poem 'dew-drops' from his pen.

Sitting in silence, Waiting for things to happen! There's something in silence, Waiting for things to happen, That gathers drama.

Well, anyway, he's certainly not obscure. Mr.

Church doesn't—as he complains of most modern stuff—write 'unto a little clan.' Like the Reader's Digest itself, he has the common touch.