Reno Odlin


...And Friend

The Pleasure of Their Company by Alister Kershaw. University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia, 1986. xv + 199 pp. Hardbound, no price listed.

After the War, Graham Sutherland was commissioned to paint a portrait of Sir Winston Churchill. Nothing we knew of Sutherland's previous output - in which, characteristically, wisps of pigmented nebulosity coagulate toward something almost recognizable, in rather the way a skillet of scrambled eggs sets could have prepared us for what was arguably the greatest portrait in the history of English painting. (I speak as one thoroughly aware of the achievements of Wyndham Lewis, and of Hans Holbein the Younger as well.)

I have just now, in fact, been looking at a photograph of the painting. If the Brits wanted a portrait exemplifying the traits which saw them through the Battle of Britain, they got it. (According to legend, the photographer Yousouf Karsh secured a comparable effect by the simple expedient of snatching away Churchill's cigar just before pressing his shutter release.)

Churchill's reaction was predictable: "It makes me look like a half-wit, which I ain't." The painting, presented to Sir Winston, was hidden away in the basement at Charters, where one fine day, after the hero's death, Lady Churchill took a match and burnt it up.

At least she was direct about it. And she was destroying what was after all, in the narrowly technical sense, her property.

* * *

When Cromwell's campaign in Ireland ended, the living population of that island had been reduced to some 500,000 souls. That too had at least the merit of directness.

Two hundred years later, more or less, Benjamin jowett wrote: "I have always felt a certain horror of political economists since I heard one of them say that he feared the famine of 1848 in Ireland would not kill more than a million people, and that would scarcely be enough to do much good."

* * *

Like many another, I encountered Alister Kershaw's name first in the Dedicatory Letter to Richard Aldington's marvelous Lawrence of Arabia: A Biographical Enquiry (London: Collins, 1955). It was Kershaw - a young poet who had come bounding up out of Australia in 1947 with, it seems, a measureless capacity for enjoyment - who in an unlucky hour urged Aldington to take up the Life of that most ballyhoo'd of all England's War Heroes.

Aldington always did his home-work: in the course of this most remorseless investigation, the Boy Scout's Rôle Model was irrefutably stripped of all legendary attributes, and revealed for what, in the end, he was: a self-promoting, poisonous little pansy, the bastard brat of an Anglo-Irish Baronet, with a gift for projecting illusions and a certain coy modesty about his most incredibly inflated boasts. The list of his dupes was long, and their names distinguished: Basil Liddell-Hart and Churchill himself, of course, and all those Garnetts, and a rather large number of highly-placed Public Officials. Oh, yes, and Robert Graves. All had invested significant portions of their own reputations in maintaining the Lawrence Legend; all stood to look like total fools if the truth were made known.

"Poor devil - he committed accuracy!" said Pound of a historian relegated to obscurity by the progressivists. Kershaw's book tells us at last the true story of what was done to Aldington:

Lawrence of Arabia's reputation, when 
looked at dispassionately, proved to be 
very largely - oh, very largely 
indeed - based on the hero's own stories 
and these were as preposterous as the
wildest of Roy's gasconading yarns although 
not nearly as amusing.  Talk about putting 
the fox among the chickens!  If Richard was
right, if Lawrence was only a gifted con 
man and his exploits just Falstafflan 
inventions, where did that leave the 
authors ... of all those adoring works 
dedicated to the greater glory of the 
Prince of Meccaé In the middle 
of nowhere looking like bloody fools, 
that's where.  Something had to be done 
and fast.  And something was done, fast.
Under the generalship of Liddell Hart, 
Our Military Correspondent on The Times 
or some other wretched paper, the battle 
plans were drawn up, drawn up before 
Richard's book had ever appeared but when 
the news had already leaked out that it 
blew the gaff on Lawrence.  Hart himself 
(a friend of Lawrence's and author of one 
of the innumerable glutinous hagiographies) 
would review it in such-and-such a rag; 
Graves (another friend and author of yet 
another wide-eyed "biography") would review 
it in the weekly so-and-so; Kennington 
(another friend and editor of Lawrence's 
Letters), and various other of Lawrence's 
chums would have their say in the remaining 
newspapers and reviews.  Senescent Sir 
Winston (for whom Lawrence was one of the 
greatest Englishmen who ever lived) had, 
through in intermediary, provided Richard 
with some information which, although Sir 
Winston didn't realize it, helped to 
demonstrate Lawrence's awe-inspiring mendacity.
Now Liddell Hart - "the Capting," as Richard 
sardonically baptized him - instructed the old 
gentleman to recant, which he obediently did.
Say what you like about the Capting's military 
genius, there's no denying his skill as a 
planner of cabals and boycotts.  In due 
course, Richard's book was "reviewed," if 
that's the word, exclusively by Hart's 
disinterested witnesses.  At his behest 
(with Sir Winston, Mr. Graves, old Uncle Dave 
Garnett and all backing him up), the servile 
English Press proceeded to denigrate, insult 
and misrepresent Richard on every possible 
occasion.  It still does.  Magna est Veritas et praevalebit.  Not if the Liddell Harts have 
their way, it won't.
. . . Hart and his pals, stung by the 
revelation of their own idiotic credulity, 
did everything they could (which was plenty) to
exacerbate the public's resentment.  Even 
Lawrence's aged mother was trotted out 
("Just think how she must feel") in order to
emphasize the callous traducer's lack of decent 
sentiments.  There were calls for the appointment 
of a Royal Commission (presumably with a view to 
having Richard sent to the Tower), there was some 
Edwardian huffing and puffing about horsewhips.  
Were questions asked in the House of Commons?  
I can't remember, but it wouldn't have been 
Publishers, of course, are selflessly devoted 
to literature.  But the poor brutes have a 
living to make like the rest of us.  They
can't be blamed for not wanting to publish 
an author when they know his books will either 
be violently abused in the press or totally 
ignored and when the general public has been 
brainwashed into thinking that he is a 
combination of Jack the Ripper and Heinrich 
Himmler.  Almost overnight, then, the whole 
of Richard's works were allowed to go out of 
print and it was made clear that he would be 
wasting his time writing anything else.  He 
had never had any income except the royalties 
from his books.  Now he had nothing whatever.
While the exultant Capting drank himself into 
a crapulous stupor in the London clubs, while 
Graves relaxed from his efforts in the comfort 
of his Majorcan villa, while Sir Winston lolled 
dopily on the yacht of a Levantine parvenu, 
Richard was forced to leave Lavandou, to settle 
with [his daughter] Catherine in a pension in 
Montpellier and survive as best he could.  But 
for [Geoffrey] Dutton, the English novelist 
Bryher and one or two others, he might very 
easily not have survived at all.
. . . This was Richard's first experience of 
real poverty, but his stoicism was admirable.
With that curious naivet6 which was one of 
his most endearing characteristics, he was 
honestly puzzled that he had provoked such 
an uproar just by telling the truth, but he 
spoke of Hart and the other members of the 
lynch mob without rancour....

Not a very pretty picture, is it? = There most certainly is a genuine English Tradition, and it has nothing whatever to do with Fair Play. What they learn in their Public Schools is sodomy, and Bandar-Log solidarity, and hatred of all that which walks upright and alone:

The school consisted of about six hundred 
boys. The chief interests were games and 
romantic friendships.  Schoo-l-work was 
despised by everyone; the scholars, of whom 
there were about fifty in the school at any 
given time, were not concentrated in a single 
dormitory-house as at Winchester, but divided 
among ten.  They were known as "pro's," and 
unless they were good at games and willing to 
pretend that they hated work as much as or more
than the non-scholars, and ready whenever 
called on to help these with their work, they 
usually had a bad time.1
The sight of a mud-caked Christian Gentleman 
tearing down a field hugging a dirty ball, 
and a dozen dirty Christians, as gentle as 
himself, at his heels, seemed to him entirely 
as it should be.  Did it not harden muscle: 
and did it not add hardiness to a Christian 
Gentleman's moral uprightness?  In the School 
chapel the C.G. in question would learn to 
smite people hip and thigh, and to exact an 
eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.  The 
canes of the prefects, as well as those of the 
masters, would harden this Christian 
Gentleman-in-the-making in other ways; and 
fagging toughen the little rat who was to 
become a Christian Gentleman, and teach him 
the beauties of Authority.  His learning to 
fear his redoubtable headmaster would be great 
practice for fearing God2

But we are publishing very near what once (before 1755) was Acadia, and probably need no such reminders.

Other favours Kershaw confers on us include the restoration of Roy Campbell from the moping incompetent, booze-fighter, and shabby liar portrayed in Peter Alexander's Roy Campbell: A Critical Biography (Oxford University Press, 1982):

Roy's stories, even the ones that were 
hardest to swallow, usually had some basis 
in reality.  I don't know (and I don't suppose 
anyone else does) whether, as he claimed, he 
once caught a wild boar in a sardine net; I don't
know whether, as he also claimed, he held his 
wife by the heels out of a high window in order 
to show her, right from the beginning of their 
marriage, who was going to be the boss.  But I 
do know, to give just one instance, that he really 
was, as once again he claimed, a famous bullfighter
in Provence: I know because, when I introduced him 
to some fishermen friends of mine in the South of 
France, they had obviously never heard of the great
poet Roy Campbell whereas they were fairly bowled 
over when they understood that this was the great
razeteur Roy Campbell.  They had seen him in the 
bullring at Arles a dozen times before the war, 
they could remember in detail his outstanding 
exploits, they begged for the honour of paying 
for his drinks, and my stock soared high as one 
who was a copain of Roy Campbell.
Besides, how much of his stories was true, 
or whether there was any truth in any of them, 
is not of the slightest importance.  They were 
comic masterpieces, a glorious enrichment for 
everyone who has the privilege of hearing them,
they were filled with stupendous imagery ("Man,
that bloody bull came at me like a galloping 
graveyard"), and they were recounted with 
incomparable gusto.  To this day, it is 
impossible for two or more of Roy's friends to 
meet without one of them sooner or later saying,
"Do you remember that story of Roy's about ... ?"
and instantaneously it is as if he were in 
the room, delighting us again with some 
astonishing tale made all the more entertaining 
by his unabashed South African accent.

That is how friends ought to be remembered, and Mr Kershaw does as much for ten old friends now under the sod - friends little known today, or, if known, execrated for their failure in life to kowtow to the Gods of the Day: Adrian Lawlor, P.R. Stephensen, Roy Campbell, Henry Williamson, Richard Aldington, Serge Berkaloff, George Gribble, Rachel Annand Taylor, Louis Marandon and Sir Oswald Mosley. Odd men out the lot of them - except "Banabhard" Taylor, of course (odd Woman outl), who ought to be better remembered if only for the vigour of her remark about D.H. Lawrence:

"There was something touching about him in 
his youth.  He was so" (that ominous pause 
again) "so sweetly unaware of how quite 
exceptionally tedious he was.  It's to be 
regretted, I feel, that genius and a minimum 
of social grace never go together."

The book has been a long time reaching us from the Antipodes. It had a tough reception in Australia, apparently because it was disrespectful toward certain entrenched Left-Wing dogmas:

I had never gone along with the 
mystico-arithmetical belief in Number as 
Beauty, Number as Wisdom, the principle that 
six was just half as good again as four and 
twelve twice as good as six.  Anyway, even if 
one had been sold on the merits of the wretched 
system, one was sick to death of hearing 
everyone constantly yammering about it.  You 
could execrate communism (not too much) or 
(God knows) fascism, you could say what you 
liked about Catholicism or Protestantism or 
Freemasonry, tinkers, tailors, soldiers, 
sailors - but just lay a finger on democracy 
and all hell broke loose.  You could hardly 
breathe because of all the incense perpetually 
being burned to the glory of democracy.

and too respectful toward the friends he was writing about, and that may have slowed its passage. Thou shalt not remember Sir Oswald Mosley with affection, neither shalt thou call him by his nick-name ("Kit," if you care):

On the day war was declared, he had 
published a message to his followers, calling 
on them "to do nothing to injure our country, 
or to help any other power".  That was when 
the British communists were being vociferous 
about the wickedness of the "imperalist war".
So who was arrested?  Mosley, of course; and 
for what is known as good measure, Lady Mosley 
with him.  Their three-month-old baby was given 
the benefit of the doubt.

(One wonders what all those bureaucrats at EC headquarters in Strasbourg would think if they found out they were but enacting a perverted version of Mosley's dream of the Fifties: "Europe a Nation! ")

Nobody will ever claim this raffish, conversational, hastysounding prose - but it cannot possibly have been written as hastily as it seems! - as a masterpiece of English Composition; but a contribution to the history of our time it most assuredly is, one not to be overlooked by anyone who seeks to understand what has really been going on - and a deeply and continuously entertaining one at that. If I haven't got that much across, I have quoted all this, in vain.

1. Robert Graves on pre-WWI Charter house,Good-Bye to All that Cape, 1929.

2. Wyndham Lewis on Arnold's Rugby, Self Condemned, Methuen, 1954.