As I Please
Tribune, 7 July 1944
When the Caliph Omar destroyed the libraries of Alexandria he is supposed to have kept the public baths warm for eighteen days with burning manuscripts, and great numbers of tragedies by Euripides and others are said to have perished, quite irrevocably. I remember that when I read about this as a boy it simply filled me with enthusiastic approval. It was so many less words to look up in the dictionary that was how I saw it. For, though I am only forty-one, I am old enough to have been educated at a time when Latin and Greek were only escapable with great difficulty, while English was hardly regarded as a school subject at all. Classical education is going down the drain at last, but even now there must be far more adults who have been flogged through the entire extant works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Vergil, Horace and various other Latin and Greek authors than have read the English masterpieces of the eighteenth century. People pay lip service to Fielding and the rest of them, of course, but they dont read them, as you can discover by making a few inquiries among your friends. How many people have ever read Tom Jones, for instance? Not so many have even read the later books of Gullivers Travels. Robinson Crusoe has a sort of popularity in nursery versions, but the book as a whole is so little known that few people are even aware that the second part (the journey through Tartary) exists. Smollett, I imagine, is the least read of all. The central plot of Shaws play, Pygmalion, is lifted out of Peregrine Pickle, and I believe that no one has ever pointed this out in print, which suggests that few people can have read the book. But what is strangest of all is that Smollett, so far as I know, has never been boosted by the Scottish Nationalists, who are so careful to claim Byron for their own. Yet Smollett, besides being one of the best novelists the English-speaking races have produced, was a Scotsman, and proclaimed it openly at a time when being so was anything but helpful to ones career.
Life in the civilized world.
I see that Lord Winterton, writing in the Evening Standard,
speaks of the remarkable reticence (by no means entirely imposed by rule or
regulation) which Parliament and press alike have displayed in this war to avoid
endangering national security and adds that it has earned the admiration of
the civilized world.
No bribes, no threats, no penalties just a nod and a wink and the
thing is done. A well-known example was the business of the Abdication. Weeks before the
scandal officially broke, tens or hundreds of thousands of people had heard all about Mrs Simpson, and yet not a
word got into the press, not even into the Daily Worker, although the American and
European papers were having the time of their lives with the story. Yet I believe there
was no definite official ban: just an official request and a general agreement
that to break the news prematurely would not do. And I can think of other
instances of good news stories failing to see the light although there would have been no
penalty for printing them.
Here is a little problem sometimes used as an intelligence test.
Copyright The Estate of Eric Blair