23 DECEMBER 1960, Page 11


SIR,—Mr. Newton thinks that when I feel alarm at the presumption I seem to see among teachers and students of English, I am afraid only of a bogey of my own devising; Mr. Hough tells me I'm not alarmed enough, that I don't know the half of it. Your readers must decide which of them is right, or whether the fact of their disagreement doesn't sug- gest that the truth is somewhere in between them.

Mr. Newton insists on naming names. I am quite

ready to 'descend to personalities' when the situation calls for it. 1 don't think this situation does. It seems hard on Mr. David Holbrook that he should be singled out; and I must point out that he is Mr. Newton's whipping-boy, not mine. There is even less reason for bringing in the name of Dr. Leavis; after all, Ire wasn't a witness in the Lady Chatterley trial. In short, I was pointing to a general malaise, not attacking individuals without naming them.

I agree with Mr. Hough that the spectacle I tried to regard gravely is from other points of. view extremely comical. A man too big for his boots cuts a ridiculous figure; but he can also be dangerous— which is not a laughing matter. In the same way your readers may be grateful to Mr. Newton for his. information about the magazine Delta, and yet sec something comical in Cambridge's solemn con- viction that the details of its parochial squabbles arc of consuming interest to the world at large.

Mr. Hough asks, 'Is there no literature written in French or Italian or Greek or Russian?' Of course, of course. And to the Italian, the study of Italian, to the Russian, the study of Russian niust be embar- rassing as the study of English is embarrassing for us, embarrassing because we don't sec where it can stop.

Mr. Newton asks, 'What serious function can a humanities study have if it is not ultimately the study of "how to live"?' Much virtue in that `ulti- mately.' The great writers may teach people how to live. Our more modest role is to make those writers easy of access; no more than that, and that is hard enough.--Yours faithfully,