THE RICHMOND LECTURE: its purpose and achievement (with a biographical note)

The Richmond Lecture: its purpose and achievement was originally published by Brynmill [1] and is reproduced here, with a biographical note by a friend and close associate of the late John Tasker, whose support for the project of making it accessible to a new generation of readers, including the onerous task of proof-reading, is gratefully acknowledged. The essay appears by kind consent of Paul Oakes on behalf of John Tasker’s literary estate. Special thanks are due to Ian Robinson, the founder of Byrnmill with the late David Sims, to whose efforts as a publisher everyone interested in F.R. Leavis is indebted. R.S.


      Biographical Note

F.R. Leavis rightly regarded his Richmond Lecture – Two Cultures? The Significance of C. P. Snow – as one of his most important pieces of writing. A careful reading of it shows it to be far from principally a demolition of Snow’s pretensions as scientist, novelist and cultural sage, but as demonstrating deep insight into the nature of great literary works – works of creative thought – and of language. John Tasker was one of those to recognise this importance. Readers may find the following preface on the author of interest.

John Tasker was born on 19th March 1936 and died suddenly on November 27th 2010 while walking near his home. He was unmarried. Born and brought up in the Northwich area of Cheshire, he retired there after an international teaching career. He was educated at Sir John Deane’s Grammar School and Manchester University, where he read English. After taking a Dip Ed he taught in a number of schools in the UK, in both state and private sectors, before working for universities in Indonesia, Pakistan, Libya and Saudi Arabia. He took a post graduate degree at the University of Hull.

By the 1970s, if not rather earlier, his long standing admiration for Leavis’s work resulted in his starting to collect Leavis letters and memorabilia. Many of these letters he meticulously transcribed and annotated in print for his own purpose and for the personal and scholarly interest of a few close friends and colleagues. He devoted many years of intensive work to this project, following up numerous references and asides in the letters and providing detailed explanatory annotations assiduously researched. In 1974 Chatto & Windus brought out his Letters in Criticism, his selection of letters from F. R. Leavis to the press covering the period 1932-1973, with an incisive introduction by Tasker. He stayed with the Leavises at least once in Cambridge and became Leavis’s most trusted confidante. A substantial collection of the latter’s many letters to Tasker are now (as he had wished them eventually to be) in the archive of Downing College.

Although he may have seemed to some a reclusive person, John Tasker had extensive global connections. When he died his brother was contacted with commiserations by many people from around the world, including Australia, India and New Zealand, who had been his pupils, friends and correspondents. He would often travel in the UK staying with people with whom he shared close interests, and he was himself very hospitable.  Among those whose friendship and support he greatly valued were people with deep seated and knowledgeable interest in Leavis’s work, including Charles Winder, Brian Worthington, David Matthews, Etain Todds, David Gerard, Maurice Kinch, Richard Stotesbury and latterly Chris Joyce whose strenuous and devoted efforts to keep Leavis’s work alive he enthusiastically endorsed (on the evidence of his published writings there is every reason to believe that he would not have welcomed the direction that The Leavis Society has taken, since its founder Dr Joyce stood down from its Chair).

Outside his close circles, he rarely spoke about politics but was known to be an admirer of Margaret Thatcher, an admiration that can possibly be traced to her Bruges speech. It could be inferred therefore that he held what would now be called a ‘Brexit’ position. But he had nothing of the parochial mentality attributed to so-called ‘Brexiteers’ by their political opponents. (He admired Leavis’s knowledge of literary works in other languages than English.) He was opposed to the Blair-led war in Iraq.

His library contained books on theology and religious subjects but although interested in such matters he was probably not a committed Christian.   He liked to visit churches and to listen to choral evensong and had a strong sense of traditional English culture and the English past. Many were greatly saddened by his death, which was also an immense loss to the field of Leavis studies.


 THE RICHMOND LECTURE: its purpose and achievement

           John Tasker

“The confusion of kinds is the inelegance of letters and the stultification of values.” In this clause of his critical persuasion, from the preface to The Awkward Age, Henry James was pointing out that, baffling though the want of mensurable criteria may be in matters of taste and standards, neither literature nor criticism can breathe in an atmosphere of promiscuous indifferentiation, and that art is ill-served by a refusal to discriminate in favour of the great. When the critic turns cloying publicist, when his function of disinterested appraisal is usurped by the billings and cooings and coming and goings of critic and writer, the aesthete, the dilettante and the go-getter all make their entrances. Matthew Arnold made the same point in “The Study of Poetry” when he said: “Charlatanism is for confusing or obliterating the distinctions between excellent and inferior.” In another place he insisted that “excellence is not common and abundant; on the contrary, as the Greek poet long ago said, excellence dwells amongst rocks hardly accessible, and a man must wear his heart out before he can reach her. Whoever talks of excellence as common and abundant, is on the way to lose all right standard of excellence. And when the right standard of excellence is lost, it is not likely that much of which is excellent will be produced.” [1]

Anyone who casts an objective eye over the critical reviews and organs of today must be struck by the deafening noises emitted therefrom, by the innumerable and ubiquitous voices, in fifty different sharps and flats, strident and coaxing but never convincing, which assure us, with much protesting, that excellence is common and abundant (at least in our time) and which insist, sometimes defiantly, sometimes in deep dudgeon, that fashion is taste, that poetastry is poetry, that geese are swans, and that our age is, writer for writer and genius for genius, as distinguished as any other. An objective eye must also forcibly register the quantity of this criticism, for mass produced criticastry has so boomed of late, and Grub Street proliferated by leaps and bounds, so as to resemble a gigantic factory line, or broiler house or computer. So that T.S. Eliot’s view in The Sacred Wood that Arnold “if he were our exact contemporary would find all his labour to perform again” is perfectly intelligible. What is more, performed again it has been by F.R. Leavis, and this time, it seems to me, to more abiding effect. Indefatigably, Leavis has insisted on the necessity for distinctions, on the importance of comparative evaluation, on the truth of Henry James’s maxim that “the confusion of kinds is the inelegance of letters and the stultification of values”. Against all the odds, and in the face of hostility, obloquy, misrepresentation and boycott, he has done all he can, or anybody could, to stimulate an intellectual conscience in the educated and a sense of professional responsibility among the critics. He has tried to bring home, so often and from so many avenues of promise, the fact which a reading public that adulterates the standard, which cedes ground to mediocre, which does not chafe at the second rate, will get what it has asked for; that a cultural atmosphere in which critical organs devote themselves to outblurbing the publishers and to rendering the vainest of authors hot around the collar, in which reputations are easy-come and easy-go, hire-purchased on the never never, is one that will crib and stunt the development of even genuine talent; and that Arnold’s warning that “when the right standard of excellence is lost, it is not likely that much of excellence will be produced” was not idle.

There is a whole chapter to be written on the idea of the reading public, its duties and responsibilities, in the criticism of F.R. Leavis. He has articulated, more than Arnold I think, how important it is for the artist himself to feel he has the appreciation and support of the reading public, and how essential is the work of the critical organs and reviews in building up this public, and in resisting the philistinism and the middlebrowism to which it can easily succumb, if not periodically educated and goaded, in an age of time-consuming distractions and publicity cultures:

One has only to read the Letters and the biographical data to have it brought home to one how much difference Ford’s English Review made to D.H. Lawrence. Of course it published him, tales and verse (it was there I first read him), But more than that, it provided a place where he could be proud to have published. For it assured him that there really was a living English literature, a responsive educated public, and a contemporary life of mature critical and creative thought. [2]

Tirelessly Leavis has condemned those factors which enervate a “responsive educated public”, has ironized the Mr Civilities of the literary coteries with their nepotal sympathies and reciprocating admirations, has checked critical climbing and the literary rat race, has stemmed the degeneration of critical appreciation into exsufflicate and glossy flattery. He has shown, with powerful particularity, how shoddy critical values, pushing as they do the opportunist and the careerist, oust the superior and the genuine, with the result that great artists like James and Conrad go unappreciated with incalculable effects on their art, while negligible writers are honoured as classics.

Of course the insistence on the importance of the critical climate can be taken to extreme lengths, like everything else. If taken beyond reason it will overlook the possibility of the individual genius surmounting the environmental and allied disadvantages. It is only part of the contemporary story; the inability of our writers to rise to the great writers of the past is a complex subject. I myself, at the present time, sense a certain exhaustion of language and experience by our literature, and exhaustion which must willy-nilly be reflected in the literary issue of our age; for languages do become exhausted in time by their literatures, just as overworked soil becomes perished and no longer capable of strong, healthy yield. No country can go on forever producing Shakespeares, George Eliots and D.H. Lawrences: think of the fate of Latin literature. The soil must at last know fallow periods of quiet replenishment (such as our fifteenth century). So that though Dr Leavis’s criticism of the modern welfare machinery which fabricates the trumpery reputations of writers and stultifies their progress can be accepted as far as he takes it himself, it cannot be accepted as the only factor involved.

From “the confusion of kinds”, the creation of synthetic celebrities, the macabre lionizing and the literary salesmanship whose efficiency oils the parts and keeps the racket going, there is great profit to be made and naturally the profiteers will find little to like or commend in the critic who repetitiously speaks the defamatory truth and will not keep his mouth shut. Over the outrageous history of Scrutiny a decent hush is ritually observed by the Powers that be, and Bertrand Russell’s recent statement in the last volume of his autobiography that “it is necessary to separate cultural matters from the Establishment” gives no-one food for thought. Though Dr Leavis has, over the last decade, received recognition of sorts, the Establishment, or pockets of it, still go in downright hatred of him; a pathological abhorrence persists; and each time he declines to pay homage to the latest ephemeral reputation, each time he profanes some venal superstition or desecrates a classic of our British Council or feathers the rump of a sacred cow, the old passions will recrudesce, the distemper intensify without prudence or thought, a state of neurosis be reached, and the disorder manifested in nothing more or less than this: they simply cannot leave him alone.

Consider as the most disgraceful example of all this the literary journal edited by C.B. Cox and A.E. Dyson, The Critical Quarterly. If you want to be fair to the editors take their tenth anniversary number, Word in the Desert, since they were rash enough to refer to it as something “special”. Then read (if you can – it is pretty indigestible), read and ponder. Note their preoccupation with books all hot from the press, and mark. Observe their references to Scrutiny. It will not be entirely a waste of good time.

Whereas at one time journalism aspired towards criticism, criticism now aspires towards journalism. Hence the obsession of our critical bureaucracy with contemporary literature, with keeping up with the cultural Joneses, exemplified to a degree by the Critical Quarterly. Critics of the old school were traditionally chary of judging living authors, and tiptoed gingerly, if at all, on the contemporary field. They were not over-anxious to make laughing stocks of themselves, or to become a shrieking motley to the view, and took some thought for the morrow. It was felt that that sort of thing was more properly the province of journalism than true criticism, for criticism had to see the work of art beyond contemporaneity, modernity and fashion, and this could not easily be done by the critic fed and formed and prejudiced by the values, fads and limitations of his own time. We have changed all that. Nowadays it is precisely contemporary literature that ambitious critics stalk, like clemmed cannibals on the prowl. Cultivating the fashionable and the avant-garde confers freedoms from odious and possibly ruinous comparisons with the past; ignorance is not at a discount in this field; while the machinery of criticism can be preserved in perpetual motion, for no sooner has one sun set than another is discovered on the horizon; there is always some new writer, the supply never runs dry, the stock is ever renewed; some fresh genius will turn up whom no critic has yet attempted or “done”, to be used and exploited (often a willing stooge) by the critic to enhance his own reputation for independent judgement, to obtain a qualification, to further a career, to satisfy an ambition and to keep a quarterly going. The world is a gratifying place for those who are willing to trim their critical sails to every passing fashion, every transient craze and in-art; they become personally known to, and respected by, other ambitious writers, poets, novelists and critics; professional advancement comes their way very early on; their names infiltrate the literary journals and leak through to the daily and weekly intellectual papers, to which they may ultimately be invited to contribute. How laudable it all seems, this printing and promoting of poems and sketches from novels in progress, how plausibly motivated this launching and assisting the “creative” and the “new”!

The distinction between criticism and journalism has virtually vanished in the Critical Quarterly. The two volumes under scrutiny are preceded by an apologia, the joint contribution of the two editors, to which the book’s title Word in the Desert is also given, though whether Word in the Desert is truly Word or really desert uncapitalized must remain an open question for the uncommitted reader. It is closed enough for the editors. What an exceedingly lofty opinion of themselves they have, what an insufferably overweening self-estimation! We are given to understand that just as there are prophets in Israel, so there are critics in England – Cox and Dyson, the inspired soothsayers of our time. They discount the notion of cultural declension altogether, pooh-pooh it with all the apparatus of conviction, but do so with such a miserable plod of naiveties, obviousnesses and banalities that the very case they are refuting is inexorably confirmed. Can this crude propaganda, this lazy, slipshod, slapdash Enid Blyton style possibly be typical of university intellectual standards today? If so, if this is the standard of teaching students receive, if this is the pap they are fed, no wonder they protest.

The two editors claim that the post-1930 period has been one of abundant great art, both within and without Great Britain – literature, literary criticism, painting, sculpture, and above all cinema (why not radio and TV?): on all their pronunciamentos flow easily and airily. They are all round “authorities”, cultural umpires at home and away, equally primed in the literary, plastic and cinematic arts, equally knowledgeable in native and foreign literatures. Anyone green enough to imagine inhibiting difficulties in evaluating the art of his own time (not to mention that of another country) will be quickly bereft of any such old-fashioned notions here. Cox and Dyson lay down the law with invincible and unselfconscious and unselfcritical self-confidence. Even so, beneath their breezy, trendy, groovy, doctrinaire pressurizings and swashbuckling sciamachy one senses a curious unease. There is a slightly touchy, slightly testy, slightly prickly defensive tension about them. Why should they feel it incumbent to end their statement of aims and aspirations with such a protective volte face as this: “But it would be foolish to replace cultural pessimism with a facile optimism, or…”? Can they be victimized by importunate misgivings and unsolicited doubts? How else to explain their morbid obsession with Scrutiny than as a compulsive reflex and therapy?

They cry that Leavis refuses to acknowledge the new. The new, of course, begs the whole question here, and in fact the attitude towards modern writing which they ascribe to him is much closer to that of C.P. Snow, J.B. Priestly and Malcolm Muggeridge, though Critical Quarterly is far too wary and spineless to point that out. It is not independent and pioneering, as Scrutiny was; it does not struggle against the drift of things, wages little contention, but is content to praise what will increase subscribers and to condemn what will bring no obloquy. Scrutiny is described as negative: a criticism its readers have seen before but cannot see enough of. Amongst many other things Scrutiny rediscovered Felix Holt and Daniel Deronda – a more positive achievement than any I can recall from The Critical Quarterly. A fury of middlebrowage, a frenzy of commitment to conventional taste which conventional dress used to excite fifty years back, a mere common or garden worldly wisdom, these lie behind a hospitality to contemporary writers and critics which knows no bounds, acknowledges no limits. I say “no limits” but that is not strictly true; there is just one case where its hospitality is not forthcoming and where its door is firmly shut: Scrutiny itself and the Leavises. Not for the Critical Quarterly to suggest that the Richmond Lecture might be a powerful contemporary work.

There is nothing in the writing of the rest of the contributors quite as bad as that of the editors. Nevertheless a terrible effort of will is required to carry one through for it is as dull and ponderous as it is possible to be, a Victorian Sunday penance, an appalling commentary on the university Eng. Lit. industry. Enthusiasm for literature is everywhere professed, everywhere claimed but nowhere generated; for the contributors have nothing to say which passionately needs to be said, no disinterested devotion to literature, but are merely agog to be off a-criticising and a-publishing. Criticism itself thus becomes a procrustean bed of bright ideas on which literature is denatured by the critic, to furnish an “interesting” and “original” thesis. Such a case is the errant interpretation of Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness (reminiscent of sub-critical distortions of The Turn of the Screw) which is here propounded with great seriousness (though originating from someone else). There are others.

The style of the book is equally atrocious, unspeakably at odds with the wondrous experiences that the critics believe they have known from literature and are presumably trying to communicate. One could quote some choice items of language wickedly ill-used and maltreated. How is it possible, one would dearly love to know, for men who have spent their lives studying in depth a rich and beautiful literature to be themselves incapable of penning a single sentence which is either distinguished or distinguishable? Swop the names of the contributors around as you like, only other contributors would notice, there is nothing else to show their work to be theirs. They quote insignificant and unimportant critical “authorities” – contemporaries of course – with the frequency of some neurotic tic; it is a positive mania and disease with them. Endlessly writers of whom one had never heard are pronounced famous, and propositions one had not hitherto met are referred to as well known. It is Beckmesserism inverted, cultural oneupmanship. In-names, in-talk, in-dialogue – the pages sny with them like horseflies on steaming turds. Camaraderie, bonhomie, solidarity: one searches in vain for the dissident voice, for a suspicion of nonconformity, for the faintest evidence of wit.

It is an intensely bureaucratic world, this, unaffected by life outside itself, insulated from the extra-mural world, drained, old, grey and utterly humourless, dominated by all its miserable insulations and enervations and pathologies and therapies. In it the criticism of modern literature, even of books mint from the publishers, has become a ghastly new pedantry, a critical vault in which authors become Jamesian victims, killed by uncomprehending gush, dead by the time the essay reached conclusion; which gives the Critical Quarterly as a whole the strong smell of a morgue, cluttered with corpses, and yet with a glut of instruments, surgeons and undertakers. Grave or rut? – the only difference is the depth.

Cox and Dyson write: “For those who respond properly to literature” (the egregious Cox and Dyson – who else?) “there is a pleasure in reading the comparatively small achievements of a minor poet.” The answer is that if we were bequeathed nine lives or one of a million years there would be good reason for this view, so good that it would not be necessary to assert it. But life is short and the quantity of major literature now so immense that those who read to live cannot possibly find time for the kind of second-rate writer (not minor – there is a difference) whose cause is upheld with such plausible logic. For those people, like the contributors to Word in the Desert, who appear to live to read, and to read to die, the case is, of course, upheld. One wonders whether they read in their sleep, so colossal is the literature with which frequented intimacy is claimed. Perhaps they write while they sleep too. It would explain quite a lot.

Some poems and a few character sketches from a Snow novel are included by way of illustrating the creative wealth of the present. The Snow extracts are sub-Maugham exercises, bedevilled by portentous, attention-calling, dictionary adjectives – recognizable at least. But what might the scientific equivalents of these sketches be? Cox and Dyson prudently refrain from speculating. Perhaps their science isn’t up to it. On the evidence of the poems the editors’ taste in poetry would appear to be very bad indeed. They appear to be the fag end of vers libre (and what an ironical influence Eliot can now be seen to have had: oh Milton!) and are full of self-conscious attitudes, self-conscious imagery and the self-conscious eroticism which is all the rage at present. How intolerably dated it will all be a few years hence! What a pawnbrokerish air the poems have even now: one is forever being reminded if some other (better) work. A particularly nasty piece by Larkin is included. One hopes that Cox and Dyson will prac-crit it soon. It should make a pretty appendix to their manual on the subject. The copyright the book lies in the hands of the editors; a supererogatory precaution for how can a book be plagiarized which cannot even be read?

Yet the Critical Quarterly is only one example of the breakdown of standards, of the wilful irresponsibility of our cultural bureaucracies. A literary coterie of indeterminate periphery and mobile edges, an insulated clique battening on publicity and the media, a dense, stupid, smug, tentacular cénacle, venial and crude, has filled the vacuum brought about by economic and social upheaval. The sun shines on them, the taxpayer has to fork out for them, publicity sells them, there is hay to be made. Woe betide him who in a few home truths tells them that their praise is grovelling sycophancy, that their mutual esteem is not disinterested, that their criticism comes out of computers, tins and cellophane packets.

But Leavis is a dangerous and formidable controversialist and there can be few who have retreated wholly unworsted from an exchange with him (as Mr Dyson himself will tell you). Scrutiny is packed with attempts to reassert, among the very débris of critical standards, their great importance. As a propagandist for criticism Leavis seems to me to have no equal. Over the years he has become well-known for his letters to the press, answering his critics, routing scoff and blighting jibe. The letters show what “the common pursuit of true judgement” means in practice: they endeavour through the interchange or interpretation and opinion to create a generally valid sense of the nature of the object, and through variable assessment, correction and criticism, to establish a common standard and value. Not only are they of great critical interest and value but a most original contribution to the letter form. I hope the reader’s interest has been aroused and that they will one day in the near future be collected and published. It is too bad that letters of enduring interest should remain in obscure holes and corners of back numbers along with those which provoked them. [3]

 All of which brings me to the celebrated Richmond Lecture for 1962, Two Cultures? The Significance of C.P. Snow, which infused a large dose of good red blood into the critical cadaver and breathed the kiss of life over its poor anaemic body. It caused an international sensation when it was first published in The Spectator and has been discussed far and wide ever since, from the educated press [4] to the gutter newspapers (Cassandra in the Daily Mirror), from the American Commentary to the Melbourne Critical Review, from Aldous Huxley’s essay Science and Literature to Roy Fuller’s Oxford Lecture “The Radical Skinhead”, from Christopher Isherwood’s novel A Single Man to the ICI magazine, from Stephen Spender and Edmund Wilson to Dr Bronowski (and of course to Malcolm Muggeridge, but that was perhaps inevitable). Everyone in fact has had his say. The Richmond Lecture was a riposte to Sir Charles Snow’s Rede Lecture The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution of a few years previous and of this lecture I now propose to give a brief account, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s of Dr Leavis’s critique.

Snow sees the educated world fractured into two hostile camps, literature and science respectively, separated from each other by a cloud of unknowing, the one uncaring of how the other lives, and acknowledging its existence, if at all, only by sticking out its tongue as far as it can. So far so good – perhaps. It is the promotion of the two faculties into independent “cultures” which first provokes doubt and gathers protest. This point however I shall defer for my own convenience for a moment and go on to what I take to be the purpose of the lecture. The ostensible theme was the need to unite these two cultures, to reverse or modify the compartmentalizing and fissiparous tendencies in education today, and to make science and arts graduates feel more at home in each other’s disciplines. So far so good again – perhaps. The objection is that the theme is what I say it is, i.e. ostensible: it is turned to a different account, used and exploited as a piece of raw propaganda on behalf of one culture at the expense of the other. The real purpose of the lecture was to advocate the expansion of technological specialization and to provide a rationale for the empire-building of scientific research in the universities. To this end it was necessary actually to discredit literary studies since scientific work was to be expanded to their detriment; and so Snow coupled his scientific chauvinism with a gratuitous and nasty attack on literature and the arts – this latter half screened by the liaison business of the two cultures, which itself was reduced to a farce. In this way he mischievously nullified what he set out to effect and, it follows, left the gulf he aimed to span immeasurably widened. The result of his lecture then was counter by far to the apparent intention. He both encouraged and underwrote the arrogance of the scientific attitude and did all he could to destroy the confidence of the educators and students in the humanities. When his message is boiled down and the pill (expand science in education) observed without its gilt (federate the two cultures), it turns out that to be little more than that it is the scientists who are the genuinely cultured of the earth and not the artists. While he finds little that is good to say of the value of a literary education, his judgement of the scientific world, in stark contrast, is glowing and even rosy. Search as hard as you can, high and low from top to bottom, you will find no discussion of the values (that shorthand phrase) of a literary education, however much his theme of the two complementary half-cultures, which have to be wedded, might seem to require one. The idea was already time-worn and threadbare when Snow took it up, being a revival, without any reference to it, of the debate on science and literature conducted by Matthew Arnold and T.H. Huxley in the latter half of the last century, with this difference, that neither Arnold nor Huxley took themselves for the new Leonardo. Snow, by implication, does. In a curtain-raiser to his lecture he lays down his credential as Supreme Arbiter between his two cultures: “By training I was a scientist: by vocation I was a writer.” His daily round was with the scientists, after which it was home, tea and relaxation with “literary colleagues” in the evening. “Moving regularly from one to the other and back”, he bridged the ocean between them like a Colossus. Who to reply, who to rebut, who even to murmur in the face of such an authority – both novelist of widespread renown and scientist who “was privileged to have a ringside view of one of the most creative periods in all physics”? Who to suggest that his odd identification of traditional culture with his own literary circle might be invalid? It took a critic who minces no words and pulls no punches to point out that Snow’s credentials have to scrutinized very carefully indeed, and that he is in his novels and the Rede Lecture a tinny and tenth-rate alloy of his two cultures, a spectral hallucination of his Renaissance Man artist-scientist ideal, and that if he unites anything of both worlds, it is the worst.

The portrait of culture number one, the literary, is as I have said largely pejorative. He does a great deal of somewhat jejune chunnering about its ingrained pessimism, the instinct of the artist to miss the silver lining and to look upon the gloomy side of things. Instead of placing the Golden Age in the future (as all sensible scientists do) the artist discovers it in the past, which statisticians and Plumb-line historians, whose business is with facts, figures and statistics, have proved to be sentimental moonshine. Instead of regarding the present as the Historical Apotheosis, the artist hankers after things past, incurably nostalgic and escapist. A golden age is, of course, one in which human nature has been eliminated, for it is human nature which destroys the possibility of one – a truth which applies whensoever and wheresoever and by whomsoever the dream ins conjured up, whether prospectively or retrospectively. It is a truth Snow tries to skirt around and dodge with his antithesis, made so famous by Dr Leavis, that “the individual condition is tragic, but there is social hope”. “Social hope”, alias social reform, is to produce, if suffered and chartered, and artistic pessimism defeated, a silver if not quite a golden age, vitiated only by the tragic inescapability of death. This the scientist in his optimism acknowledges. The artist in his selfish pessimism shuns social reform; he prefers to be self-indulgent and lazy and “lets the others go without a meal”. He would find the servant-orientated society of the past a seventh heaven; in the face of class-exploitation his natural instinct is that of the Levite: the Samaritan is to be found principally among the scientists.

 It is all so anserine! Nearly all the evils man is heir to are attributed in some way to the fascism, and to indulge in solemn mime, in petrified gestures of abhorrence: “Why must most writers take on opinions which would have been thought to be distinctly uncivilized and démodé at the time of the Plantagenets?” And again: “Nine out of ten of those who have dominated literary sensibility in our time – weren’t they not only politically silly but politically wicked? Didn’t the influence they all represent bring Auschwitz much nearer?” Snow had to confess that he did not have a leg to stand on when these sentiments were put to him by a scientist of distinction. But the corollary escapes him. He hasn’t a leg to stand on vis-à-vis the Two Cultures either: he has negated his own position. For if his indictment be true, there is no reason why anyone, let alone a scientist, should take a literary education seriously, and a Platonic call for its abolition would be more logical. He himself actually talks with pride and complacency of turning his back on the art, and applauds those non-scientists who “would have as little use – perhaps, since they knew more about it, even less use – for the recent literary culture as the scientists themselves. “ The “recent literary culture” includes T.S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce, E.M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, T.F. Powys and L.H. Myers (not to mention the war poets) among others. No use for it! Nor is any mention made of the kind of writer represented by Shaw, Wells, Russell, Joad and Orwell. Did they go singing and marching along the road to Dachau? Of course it is not unknown for writers to discredit what they purport to uphold and to intensify a friction they undertook to dissipate, but they do not fall over themselves backwards to advertise the fact.

Snow’s basic insinuation is that a vocational training in some technological specialism is as good an education any day as what has hitherto been known as a liberal education. If this insinuation is to be wormed in with ingratiating plausibility, it is important for him to establish some equivalence between science and literature. Hence the use of the word ‘culture’; applied to both, what can be the difference? He instances the inability of literary folk to describe the Second Law of Thermo-dynamics and contends that ignorance of this type is not different from ignorance of a Shakespearean drama. But is it really not? One draws up a speculative list in one’s mind: in one column the authors, in the other scientific definitions and formulae. What might the scientific equivalent of Lady Chatterley’s Lover be? Or an Agatha Christie thriller or a science fiction tale or, bizarre thought, Lord Snow’s own fictions? One could waste hours arguing and even rowing over specific equivalences and pairings. Actually if the inability to describe the Second Law of Thermo-dynamics has any literary equivalent at all, it is the inability to name the author of Hamlet. That is, it is a matter of mere information, and its natural habitat, if it has any, is the television quiz programme. The connection with culture is remote. But Snow is very free with reproaches of ignorance. He asserts that literary people dismiss scientists as “ignorant specialists, yet their own ignorance and their own specialization is just as startling.” He later says that pure scientists are “devastatingly ignorant of productive industry”. He never argues or proves his case that ignorance of the arts is equivalent to ignorance of the sciences. He just states it as axiomatic – are they not both cultures? The real ignorance is in the axiom, a truth which was brought home to him by the catastrophic denunciations of the Richmond Lecture.

Who in fact is being contrasted in Snow’s thesis of the cloven cultures? Is it the artist and the scientist or (a completely different thing after all) a student of literature and a scientist? At times he appears to be thinking of the former, at times of the latter; there are times when one cannot be sure because his of tendency to slip and slide from one to the other without being conscious of what he is doing. The general looseness of his thought is such that almost any kind of comparison could have been intended and it would be an unrewarding business to try to sort out what the author himself set aside. But so far as he does intend to compare a student of literature with a scientist one can only exclaim again how useless a comparison of unlike things has been demonstrated to be. It is specifically the artist he is criticizing when he asserts that (except for the Russians) they bring no scientific knowledge or interest into their work and therefore fail to understand the modern world. However when he makes his notorious sneer that “intellectuals, in particular literary intellectuals, are natural Luddites”, he seems to be thinking of the educated in general. Since the ignorant (why hesitate?) unfairness of this attack has been pretty well refuted by this time, I think, I only note it again as part of Snow’s campaign against literature and education in the humanities.

Such then is Snow’s delineation of the humanist achievement of England which, when he reminds himself, has for some unspecified reason, to be combined with the “scientific culture”. Actually his praise of the latter has no more sense or objectivity than his condemnation of the former; his advocacy of science is little more than crude salesmanship and public relations bluff, addressed to the converted and gullible. As always an essential disservice is done to the object of the adulation – it is made to look ridiculous. Scientists, he claims, are more concerned with the social life than most of us; they are morally “the soundest group of intellectuals we have”; in the realm of psychology “they have as much interest as any of us.” Why then can it matter that with their hundred haloes they should remain in Cimmerian ignorance of literary matters, or that they should put up a poor showing in crossword quotes and literary luncheon chat, or that they should not know the novels of C.P. Snow? Snow talks somewhat nebulously of self-impoverishment, however he hardly illuminates it at all, and this, as Dr Leavis pointed out in a passage which, though admirably trenchant, has been criticized for its style, he should have conceived as the raison d’être of his essay. The scientific culture, we are told, “contains a great deal of argument, usually much more rigorous, and almost always at a higher conceptual level, than literary persons’ arguments.” No evidence or argument is forthcoming. He states quite categorically that scientists are freer from racial feeling than the intellectual community at large, and are completely free from class-consciousness: among scientists “the breeze of equality hits you in the face” (though of course their salaries are appreciably higher than those of arts graduates, the “poor scholar” is not a feature of their culture, they accept peerages with alacrity and they send their sons to public schools). Science has a pitiful advocate in Snow: his misrepresentation of it is sad. For instance the attribution of optimism to scientists, which I have mentioned above, of an ardent consciousness of some sort of industrial arcadia round the next corner, seems to me wholly arbitrary and in any case does them little credit. The doom-ridden stories rife in science fiction (e.g. Arthur C Clarke’s If I Forget Thee O Earth…) subvert that faerie euphoria. There is no dearth of science fiction satires of the future if one really wants to see how many scientists look upon the gospel of “social hope”. Snow avers that scientists are more concerned with social reform, with humanitarian ideals and practice, than are artists. This statement will not stand a moment’s consideration. The bomb? Bacteriological and biological warfare? Pollution? The Space Race? Where is the moral component that he finds “right in the grain of science itself” in these notorious results of scientific work? Where is even the scientists’ sense of responsibility for the social uses and consequences of their discoveries?

Snow’s transparent purpose, his visible goal (as opposed that he assumed as camouflage) was simply the multiplication of technologists by our educational system. To this end everything else must be subordinated, teachers of the humanities intimidated, demoralized and cowed, and their work sabotaged. It is noticeable that on the only occasion when he is provoked to a criticism of the scientists, the technologists are exempted – it is the “pure scientists” who are attacked for being “devastatingly ignorant of productive industry”. More generally he asserts (and where is the fabled magnanimity here?) that “pure scientists have been by and large dim-witted about engineers and applied science.” When Harold Wilson made his crude and insensitive gibe about “dragging Britain kicking and screaming into the twentieth century”, he might have been, and probably was, echoing the Rede lecture. He certainly invited Snow into his government as Minister of Technology, [5] thus making him a power in the land at the highest level. It has not often been realized how much at odds with each other Snow’s real and ostensible purposes were, and that if there were any question of precedence between them, the multiplication of technologists would win hands down. Mr Michael Yudkin, himself a scientist, was one of the few who did. In his essay on the Rede lecture he prophesied the atrophy of the traditional culture which would follow the implementation of Snow’s educational prescriptions (the essay was later re-published with the Richmond lecture and contrasts interestingly with it).

It seems necessary, as it seems natural, for some people to feel they are living in a golden age, as it is for others to feel they have missed it. There have always been representatives of the types and, like the poor, they are still with us. What is new in the situation today is the militancy of those who feel they are living in the best of all worlds so far; or perhaps it would be a mite nearer to psychological truth to say they feel the best of all worlds is the one they are living in, and that an age distinguished by their presence must be something extraordinary and unprecedented. I suppose it is an understandable, if somewhat parochial, rearrangement of the scheme of things. If one does not quite transform one’s era into a golden age, it is at least a near miss. As for the past, nothing can exceed the pathological and fanatic fury with which they kick it and spit on it and denounce it and do it down. For this whole philosophy Dr Leavis has coined the memorable term “technologico-Benthamite” “technologico” because of the carte blanche given to change at any price and “Benthamite” because of the bureaucratic approach to human problems, which ignores human relationships if indocile and unamenable to the computer’s and the statistician’s requirements, and forever mistakes the wood for the trees. Snow’s Rede lecture was a raw and unconcessive propagation of the philosophy, a sounding-board for the pervasive and prevalent ethos wherein any degradation can be inflicted on the working classes in the name of “jam”. His animus is directed towards what he calls the “traditional culture”, never realizing that in attacking it he is attacking any possible basis for “social hope”, and that what he cannot forgive it for is precisely that which constitutes its value for a civilization in straits. It is he caveats, the warnings, the criticisms it urged on the dangers, the problems and the menaces of technological change (“Americanization”, “Westernization”, “cultural imperialism”, or whatever name it assumes), causes a disintegration of traditional social life, that the disintegration is followed by a vacuum, that the vacuum is filled by violence, vandalism, crime, neuroses, pornography, drug addiction and inexplicable sicknesses and social disorders, he does exactly what he says literary intellectuals do: he withdraws, blinkers his eyes, pretends it does not exist and informs those who see these things that they are “natural Luddites”. With importunate zeal he presses on the West the “total industrialization” of the undeveloped countries; without a qualm or misgiving, he informs the latter that they too, like England, must be dragged kicking and screaming into the twentieth century (by England among others!); while the moving pleas, or laments, for the traditions of those peoples in such books as Laurens van der Post’s The Lost World of the Kalahari or Wilfrid Thesiger’s Arabian Sands leave him composed and untouched. He cannot see that in the attitude of van de Post and Thesiger (and Leavis) there is a truly disinterested concern for the future of those peoples which has nothing to do with antiquarian pieties, sentimental nostalgia, or the longing of the Luddite to put the clock back. In comparison it is his own attitude which would catapult Oriental and even primitive and aboriginal peoples into the modern world without preparation or natural defence, which has to be convicted of callousness however much it window-dresses itself in the garb of charity, bounty and compassion.

Some criticism of the appropriation of the word “culture” for the theme of the Rede lecture has already been made. How important it was to have this word at his beck and call Dr Leavis makes abundantly clear. It has multiple meanings and contexts and shifting boundaries in between; it somehow seems to have retained its high prestige in spite of the philistine pressures against it – no doubt with some help from that anthropological world Snow capitalizes on; it can be surreptitiously manipulated and quietly moved from a licit to an illicit context; and it will impart an automatic prestige to semi-spurious nostrums and notions that would otherwise attract little attention. Snow gave it an uplift and a wholly disguising face-lift to scientific specialization by thus “culturalizing” it. What he did to the word, and it was to prove very harmful, virtually verbicide, was to reduce it to an academic discipline, a university subject, in this way debasing and denaturing it. It enabled both his disciples and critics to compound the folly by talking of three, four and more “cultures” when they meant little more than specialisms. The whole concept of a liberal education was impaired. Before he wrote the word conveyed a sense of general intellectual accomplishment; it represented what was exoteric and accessible to the layman in every branch of the republic of letters; it would certainly have included works like Russell’s The Impact of Science and Whitehead’s Science and the Modern World; this was what was meant by a liberal education; it certainly did not exclude study of the social and cultural consequences of the scientific revolution. Though the Rede lecture seemed to be sensibly redefining the idea of a liberal education for our time, it actually paltered with and destroyed it. Snow came along and said “No; true culture must contain an element of scientific specialism; indeed scientific specialism is a form of culture; you cannot call yourself cultured unless can talk to the higher mathematicians on an equal footing; you are not educated unless you understand the non-conservation of parity in depth.” It was preposterous (for even scientists are soon out of their depth without their own field) but not the less baneful for that.

Yet this mean and paltry piece of journalism became the acknowledged classic statement of the crisis in education. How was it possible? The answer, I am convinced, is Snow’s fantastic reputation as a novelist – which was the reason and justification for Leavis’s trouncing of it. Had the Rede lecture been written by an unknown figure I wonder if anyone, with the possible exception of Lord Snow, would have regarded it with awe and veneration. But here was a major living novelist, pamphleted, fêted and exported by the British Council, giving his well-considered views on the art of which he was a certified master, and letting the cat out of the bag about people whom the world had been hitherto deluded into considering cultured. An authority who had passed all his exams in creative writing with flying colours, whose word could hardly therefore be gainsaid by a layman, was informing a cultural world masochistically eager for the message (Snow’s literary world being rightly guilt-ridden about its privileges) that it was necessary to cut the presumption of literary people down to size, and that if the literary and the scientific worlds were to be compared by one intimate with both, it was the former which would show up badly in the comparison. The literary world was only too ready to beat its breast, wear sackcloth and ashes, mimic penitence and proclaim its determination to turn over a new leaf and take up science with a will. One did not hear of scientists following suit. The message had got through all right. The real nature of Snow’s animadversions on literature had to be dissected, and this Dr Leavis did in some famous passages in the Richmond lecture.

The fundamental case for the arts and the traditional culture (for Snow’s literary world there is no case at all) is that their world is the human world, the world of human relationships and values; this is their subject of study, their material; the world of science, on the other hand, at least the physical sciences, is the natural world. Whichever seems to you more important will determine your priorities in these matters. The toxic harm done by Snow, who blurred the distinction between the two whenever he could with his misuse of the word “culture”, was to sanctify an educational philosophy which had already got its priorities wrong. For years before the Rede lecture propaganda on behalf of the scientific subjects had had a debilitating effect on the morale of arts teachers. They had been treated as, and made to feel, the Cinderellas of the profession. The allocation of periods for painting and music in schools for instance had been pitiful. Any extra money there was went more often than not in allowances to attract science graduates. Arts subjects were tolerated: I can put it no higher than that. Tradition and sentimentality ordained their nominal continuance but they were essentially parasitic on the “productive” and “economic” subjects, and could in the last resort be well done without. They were not indispensable and could not be enlisted in the labour of dragging a reluctant Britain kicking and screaming into the twentieth century. Languages of course had a utilitarian value even in the technologico-Benthamite world, but the arts as such were strictly superfluous and if we were to speak our thoughts, a waste of time.

I vividly remember the atmosphere in school education then. It was suggested that the arts were soft options for mediocre boys. Any pupil worth his salt would choose to specialize in science subjects for money was to be minted there, the future was his for the making and he would always feel needed and wanted by society, Literature was for those who had not the brains for mathematics. Furthermore there was a glut of arts graduates in the universities; there were insufficient jobs for them; they had to take what came, usually teaching, so perpetuating the over-production. Snow himself makes this point with blunt satisfaction:

It is not only that the young scientists now feel that they are part of a culture on the rise while the other is in retreat. It is also, to be brutal, that the young scientists know that with an indifferent degree they’ll get a comfortable job, while their contemporaries in English or History will be lucky to ear 60 per cent as much.

“A culture” you notice again: “A culture on the rise”. The connection between culture and “jam” could hardly be clearer; such are the values of “culture” in the Rede lecture.

So far as teachers in the humanities were concerned the Rede lecture was more than an additional vicious kick and slap in the face; it was well-nigh the last straw. The environment in which they were working was in any case not particularly hospitable or propitious and the pressures against them already formidable. The confidence which had been sapped by society itself in so many ways was now to be broken by a novelist self-convicted of betraying the cause he should have defended and helped. The psychological effect on an already weakened morale was devastating. A major representative of the literary culture, a VIP in the corridors of power, one who had the ear of politicians, was telling them that there were too many of them, that society could do without a good many of them, that they were kicking against the pricks, and that what they represented was often anti-social, anti-humanitarian and paradoxically anti-humanitas. The sense of malaise and despair was intensified. I personally contracted out and went to teach in one of those underdeveloped countries not yet gripped by the social philosophy of the Rede lecture. There I was able to judge for myself the effects Snow’s “total industrialization” would have on the culture and happiness of the people and to see whether people in the industrialized countries were by and large noticeably happier or even healthier, taking account of the health of the mind, than those in the industrialized.

Who can say then that Dr Leavis’s critique of the Rede lecture, severe as it was, was uncalled-for or premature? On the contrary it was eminently seasonable and timely. What the arts stand for the modern world, in its sickness, is in desperate need of, whatever illusions to the contrary it may have, illusions fostered by Snow and others of his kidney. There is no possible substitute for it either in science or technology. The brainwashing and incessant sniping of the Rede lecture had to be challenged if the arts were to regain any sense of their vocation and place in the modern world, and any kind of morale was to be re-established among teachers of the humanities. The Richmond lecture had to be written. For Snow to turn round and whine, to preach bewildered innocence and preach the gospel of magnanimity, was simply adding insult to injury. I first read Leavis’s bombardment in the British Council library in Djakarta, wolfed and bolted it at a sitting, read it and re-read it there and then, amazed and astounded at the onward drive and relentless power of the attack. It was a long time before I could put it down, having learned half of it almost off by heart, and nearly danced about the room with it. The relief that I felt at knowing the Rede lecture had been dealt the treatment it had cried out to high heaven for was incommunicable. Over Snow I had no tears to shed, real or simulated. It seemed to me that he was reaping what he had sown.

The Richmond lecture was stupidly interpreted, by those who read it with insufficient attention, in a spirit of prejudging parti pris and with a compulsive itch to invent something they could then abuse, as an attack on science. Actually it was nothing of the kind and science only appears in the argument in so far as Snow’s design to expand scientific education, and the cheap popularizing of science, in brief the sociology of science, impinge on literary interests. The lecture was primarily an attack on Snow’s literary culture or literary establishment, on the intellectual world in which Snow’s reputation had been created, which was why the trahison des clercs which ensued was largely that of literary men. [ 6] What is the content, what the substance, what the standards of a culture in which Sir Charles Snow’s writings impress and are acclaimed? Leavis asks. How are these literary people, how are their scientific equivalents, cultured? In what does the culture of these two “cultures” reside? The implication is that those whom Snow would have us honour as cultured are in fact precisely those to whom the tribute institutes a lie. Consider the storm of abuse which broke over Leavis’s head when the Richmond lecture was first published in The Spectator. The Snow lobby rallied round their darling to a man, for an establishment always protects its own, and in protecting its own protects itself, [7] and there was a hue and cry of “Get Leavis!” They hooted and hissed and cat-called, they kicked and spat, they squirmed and writhed, they bit and scratched, they screamed and blubbered and yelped, they flew into hysterics, they burst blood vessels, they threw apoplectic fits, they called names (a Himmler, a General de Gaulle); all of course an unintended tribute to a lecture which had rocked the “cultural” establishment to its foundations, convulsed it to the core, and dynamited it to smithereens. One letter, from the novelist William Gerhardi, who later collaborated with Snow on a play, was such unbelievable raving rant and balderdash that it gave the impression of being penned under the influence. [8 ] But the letters did perform one great service; the blackguarding, choric howls of the Snow lobby did illuminate their culture; in vino veritas; this tormented sty of philistines impotently gnashing their stumps in some grubean underworld of letters behaved absolutely to the type when threatened, and their mentality is there for anybody to see and consider. [9 ]

The Richmond lecture was more widely read, I think, than any other comparable contemporary work. One heard of staff-rooms up in arms about it; passions ran very high in British Council offices (and no doubt elsewhere); quite by chance the assistant editor of a Pakistani Air Force journal whom I met in the Karachi-Rawalpindi express spoke to me of it with relish; a British Embassy official, in no was connected with the Eng. Lit. World, mentioned it in passing; and for Dr Leavis himself it burst the sluice-gates of his reputation. When readers of the Daily Express and the Daily Worker were informed about him, it could hardly be possible any longer for the Establishment to pretend that he did not exist. When the horse has bolted, what use to lock the stable? It is true that the lecture has been found much wanting by those who before it was published had committed themselves in print to a high opinion of Snow’s novels and intellect, and who naturally afterwards felt cruelly exposed and vulnerable. It lacks amenity is their chime, it is maladroit of address, its tone is a bad tone, an impermissible tone. My own view of the matter is diametrical: namely, that the only truly bad, the truly impermissible tone, is that of Sir Charles Snow himself, the tone with which brute materialism (“jam”) was said to show men at their noblest, the tone with which criticism of this philosophy was dismissed as little more than “screams of horror”, the tone with which the presence of the future in the bones of the scientists was crowed over, and, I am sorry to add, the tone which would in any shape or form condone these dismal anti-social and osteomantic superstitions. For only consider that one Rede lecture of the past was Matthew Arnold’s Literature and Science!

Whatever half-truths there may or may not be in Snow’s invective against the past, he is incontestably purblind about the way we live now. Strong economic argument against him is provided by J.K. Galbraith’s unconventional criticism of ever-rising economic growth at the expense of the quality of life in The Affluent Society. [10 ] But the intractable economic and environmental problems, the uneliminable social disorders and unrest that are the consequences of Snow’s “total industrialization” have become so alarmingly manifest that Leavis’s case against him is perforce being conceded more and more by the compulsion of events. It doesn’t need any economic theory, it needs only eyes to see and ears to hear (and there’s none so blind and deaf as those that won’t see and hear) to recognize that the drive of civilization in the West is not such as to produce a happy or contented people. Very much to his credit one of the few readers perceptive and open-minded enough to se what the Richmond lecture was all about when it was first published was “Peter Simple” (Daily Telegraph, March 13th, 1962) and I should like to quote what he wrote verbatim:

My mornings usually begin quietly. Seldom is a single cheer heard at my breakfast table, let alone round after round of prolonged cheering. Yet that is what happened last Friday.

The reason for my manic state? I was reading the text, published in the Spectator, of Dr F.R. Leavis’s lecture on “The Significance of C.P. Snow.”

This splendid polemic not only deflates, from several directions at one, a giant reputation of the day, but – a thing almost unheard of – raises a loud cry on behalf of humanity and civilization against the blind worship of technology. It should be reprinted in leaflet form, translated in every known language, and dropped in millions on every university in the world.

Sir Charles Snow, I understand, does not intend to make any reply. He may well feel that there is no need: that he is on the winning side anyhow. For there cannot be much doubt that for the moment at least the world is going the way he wants rather than the way Leavis wants.

Yet I would rather lose with Leavis than win with Snow.

Admirable sentiments all. It seemed marvellous at the time to find an almost lone voice [11] amid the obnoxious riff-raff of Snow’s friends-in-need stating what should have been obvious enough for anyone with the slightest pretension to culture or civilization or concern for England and its future. For the Richmond lecture is a buoyant defence of the sanity of art, persuasively contending that the true reformers of society are the artists, who, in changing general sensibility, pave the way, and render possible, subsequent social and political reform:

Really distinguished minds are themselves, of course, of their age; they are responsive at the deepest level to its peculiar strains and challenges: that is why they are able to be truly illuminating and prophetic and to influence the world positively and creatively. Snow’s relation to the age is of a different kind; it is characterized not by insight and spiritual energy, but by blindness, unconsciousness and automatism.

This is Dr Leavis’s answer (in brief) to Snow’s censure of our poets and novelists. As the last sentence of the quotation shows, it enabled Dr Leavis to turn the tables on Snow beautifully. If any writer is to be censured for the harm he has done to our civilization it is none other than C.P. Snow himself. And thus Leavis gets into his stride for the marvellous roasting and flaying that ensues.

Two Cultures? The Significance of C.P. Snow blazes a trail of unforgettable devastation, strewing the wreckage all along the way. It is Leavis’s most literary work (how absurd this creation-criticism divide can be!), a satirical masterpiece, and I think of it as a contemporary MacFlecknoe, a twentieth century addition to The Dunciad, in which the Shadwell-Theobald, who could only with eleven fat novels in sequence and an exceptionally foolish lecture achieve the notoriety of a BBC soap opera [12 ] and a bureaucratic classic, has been immortalized by thirty pages of concentrated satirical acid. It makes all the much-vaunted revival of satire – That Was The Week That Was, Private Eye, Muggeridge, Levin etc. – seem invertebrate and the hullabaloo surrounding it infantile. When Snow’s academy novels have been “superseded”, when the Rede lecture has been forgotten even by the Critical Quarterly, [13 ] Leavis’s slaughterous blood-bath will be as intensely enjoyed as ever it is today. The poor panoptic Argus was given a hundred black eyes, permanent ones, so Lord Snow can rest assured that he will not (to use his own expression) “be completely lost in the great anonymous sludge of history.” Leavis wipes the floor with the reputation of The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution to be contemporary though turning up trumps and a priceless statement of the modern dilemma. The propaganda of the British Council to the effect that the Lewis Eliot sequence had brought the English Novel up-to-date and with-it was flattened. The damage inflicted on these dual sterilities and enervations, these two monuments of Philistia to its most publicized apostle, was such that they proved to be Humpty Dumpties on matchsticks; their immense prestige plummeted overnight and ever since admirers and exegetes of the Rede lecture and the Lewis Eliot novels have been engaged in a vain, apologetic and defiant attempt to put the pieces together again; balm they have continued to pour into Lord Snow’s wounds, and lip-service they have gone on paying, though with an ever more and more hollow and futile and hopeless ring. If all this sounds unsparing, and Lord Snow and his underproppers feel hard done by, let them consider for a moment Gibbon’s most apposite words: “The Son of Arcadius, who was accustomed only to the voice of flattery, heard with astonishment the severe voice of truth.” [14 ]

The Richmond lecture showed what can be done by one man in the face of the massed resources of modern publicity, and against all the power and vested interests of our cultural bureaucracies, who as we have seen, will fight back, hit under the belt, discredit and slander wherever they can. It is a deeply serious response to Snow’s position and not at all the senseless diatribe and indulgence of the spleen which its detractors claimed. It wages a frontal attack on the philosophy of technologico-Benthamism and the adulation of that technological advance which Snow glorified in his Rede lecture. [15 ] In being creative criticism and its most creative and at its most critical, it seems an appropriate moment to bring this brief and inadequate account to its conclusion. Our debt of gratitude to Dr Leavis for incomparable services to English literature is immense and unpayable. Ultracrepidarian? – no, though fiercely maintaining an intransigent standard; his life’s work affording the clearest example of the cardinal difference between dogmatism, of which one cannot have too little, and conviction, its opposite, between convention and independence, repetition and originality. He has, moreover, though a matador who so often turns to gore the bull, and though employing a style which, eschewing concinnity as it frequently does, is a law to itself, lived to witness the capitulation of the world of ideas, and to see himself become more and more widely known and admired as incorruptible and a rarity. At one time, as I said before, it all seemed most unlikely. [16]

  1. Swansea, May 1972. The reader is warmly recommended to visit for a recent selection of Edgeways and Brynmill publications.
  2. See Arnold’s essay “Milton”, Essays in Criticism, Second Series.
  3. See Dr Leavis’s own “Note on the Critical Function” in F.R. Leavis: Some Aspects of his Work, edited by C.D. Narasimhiah and published by Rao and Raghaven, Prince of Wales Road, Mysore 4, India.
  4. The essays are catalogued along with the books, essays, reviews, prefaces and interpretations in F.R. Leavis: A Biographical Check List 1924-1964, compiled by D.F. McKenzie and M.P. Allum (Chatto).
  5. When Sir Charles Snow was invited to join the Labour government by the Prime Minister, the Guardian, describing it as a stimulating appointment, suggested that the Liberals find a peerage for Dr Leavis, “the literary critic who so sharply attacked Sir Charles”.
  6. In fact, Wilson gave the Ministry of Technology to Frank Cousins, who remained in post from 1964-66. Snow was parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Technology for the same period. (Editor)
  7. A point missed by the American critic, Professor Trilling, in Beyond Culture (Peregrine Books), with disastrous results for his interpretation of the Richmond lecture. Leavis is a far more protean author than Professor Trilling imagines. The Richmond lecture should be read in the American edition (Pantheon Books, New York) where Dr Leavis replies to the criticisms of Professor Trilling and Professor Richard Wolheim in a preface which Chatto and Windus have unfortunately not yet made available in England.
  8. Sir Bernard Miles, for example, who had produced plays adapted from Snow’s novels at the Mermaid theatre wrote offering him the theatre free for one evening to stage his reply. Sir Charles prudently declined.
  9. It is only fair to add that this may have been the letter referred to by Pamela Hansford Johnson (Lady Snow) in her novel The Survival of the Fittest as having been written “under divine dictation. ‘God’s not so gifted as that.’” (Penguin Books, p. 213). Lady Snow naturally cannot conceive of the episode in any terms but esprit de corps. The Survival of the Fittest, though not a good novel, does give a fascinating inside view of the Snow’s reaction to the Richmond lecture: it was clearly an earthquake for them. One of the characters in the novel, Porter Baynes, is a portrait, not of Dr Leavis for it bears no resemblance, but of the Snow-British Council image of him. The chapters dealing with Porter Baynes are full of interesting revelations. For instance, Edith Sitwell (Belphoebe), another character in the book, confesses her mortal fear of Dr Leavis just before her death.
  10. Professor Roy Fuller has given his impression of the letters written to The Spectator and elsewhere abusing and blackguarding Leavis in his interesting Oxford lecture “The Radical Skinhead”, (TLS February 5th, 1971).
  11. In his unpublished inaugural address to the Cheltenham Festival (1968) Dr Leavis described Galbraith as a “rogue economist”.
  12. Not quite a lone voice. The letters of Richard Rees and Canon C.E. Raven (The Spectator, April 6th 1962) should also be read. Canon C.E. Raven ended his letter thus: “Fellows of colleges are indeed pledged to education, religion, learning and research. Most of them are loyal to their obligation. Without some such obligation there can be no true culture. Sir Charles offers us only careerism. That is the case against him.”
  13. The Lewis Eliot saga has been recently serialized on the wireless in I forget how many episodes. It was continually referred to by the BBC announcers, without obvious embarrassment, as “this epic work”.
  14. In the Critical Quarterly Snow is banqueted and garlanded and he reciprocates by extolling the “liberality” of the editors. His own “liberality” is to be seen in the grovelling and fulsome praise he lavishes on all and sundry in his hebdomadal reviews in the Financial Times. For example he called Professor J.H. Plumb’s The Death of the Past “profound” and we cannot help recalling the way Plumb leapt to his friend’s defence at the time of the Richmond lecture. Is it all any more than the familiar case of “You scratch my back for me and I shall scratch yours for you. A fair exchange.”? Would Lord Snow have found the editors of the Critical Quarterly liberal, would he consider Professor Plumb’s book profound, if they had come out in support of the Richmond lecture?
  15. Decline and Fall, Everyman, Vol. 3, ch. xxxiv, p. 371.
  16. Consider Mr Wedgewood-Benn as a political power behind the commitment to technological progress, to “dragging Britain kicking and screaming into the twentieth century”. When asked on the wireless programme Any Questions? whether he considered that the mechanization of life was having any ill-effects on human beings, he replied with bland confidence that all talk of the standardization of people was a myth. To which a listener wittily replied that if technological advance continues at the present rate, in twenty years’ time the panel of a discussion programme such as Any Questions? will consist of four computers delivering to an audience of robots. L.P. Hartley’s novel Facial Justice is an interesting fable and forecast of mediocrity (beatification in Mr Hartley’s coinage) but it is no use telling the Wedgewood-Benns and the Snows; they are brick walls.
  17.    Dr Leavis has amplified points made in the Richmond lecture in the following lectures and addresses: (i) “Luddites? Or There is Only One Culture”, in Lectures in America (Chatto 1969); (ii) The Clark Lectures, English Literature In Our Time and The University (Chatto 1969). The chapter “Why Four Quartets Matters in a Technologico-Benthamite Civilization” and the appendix “Rilke on Vacuity” are specific replies to Snow’s indictment of modern literature; (iii) The address to the University of Wales at Gregynog: “English -Unrest and Continuity”, TLS, May 29th, 1969; (iv) the Bristol address: “Literarism versus Scientism: The Misconception and the Menace”, TLS, April 23rd, 1970; (v) the York address: “Pluralism, Compassion and Social Hope”, The Human World, No. 2, February 1971; (vi) “Elites, Oligarchies and an Educated Public”, The Human World, No. 4, August 1971 (the second address at York University).
  18. “Even the New Statesman – thirty years my enemy – is altering its mind. Yes, things have moved,” Dr Leavis admitted to Mr John Bourne. See “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”, The Guardian, April 8th, 1960.