17 NOVEMBER 1961, Page 13


SIR,—It hardly seems possible, but there must be some sort of continuity between the man who wrote In Memory of W. B. Yeats and the smug, Bowdler- ised public figure who reviews Miss Anderson's Letters of Beethoven in last week's issue.

What happens to an Auden between the time of his writing with such inspired compassion on the subject of human frailty and attendant genius and now, when he constitutes himself as a sort of one-man Watch Committee, dedicated to protecting us from the grosser facts of life?

I ask in all sincerity, because the poet who could 'pardon' Kipling and Paul Claudel is certainly not the pontificating lay preacher who would rather his weaker brethren did not know that Beethoven was beastly to servants, neurotic concerning nephews.

Consider for a moment the attitudes of insipid self-righteousness and odious paternalism he assumes in the last paragraph of his review. No readers—except, one supposes, Mr. Auden and a few others of the predestined elect—can be trusted to have any but one of two reactions to these letters: either we will use them to justify our own failings, or we will be tempted into denigrating sublime art because of its origin in a sadly imperfect human being.

To ensure that we do not seize such an oppor- tunity for going astray, Mr. Auden would rather that 'three-quarters of this correspondence had been destroyed immediately,' and ends by equating Miss Anderson's marvellous and dedicated scholarship with keyhole journalism. • . . This, from the poet whose few, lethal words about the censor wore quoted by a whole generation of young debaters in support of the whole truth. I suppose there is no way in which such a charge of betrayal could reach Mr. Auden: he has become so impregnably a Saturday Evening Post cover of the Poet-Sage. It would be interesting, though, to hear him state just what he believes should be done with the surviving correspondence of those great extensions of the human spirit such as Beethoven. Should the less elevating passages be burnt by the public hangman, or would he prefer that they be kept under lock and key, like classic erotica, for the exclusive perusal of those, like himself, whose Cori aption has put on incorruption?