19 APRIL 1963, Page 23

Staggering Along

BY JULIAN SYMONS THE line of dissent is what you might expect. That Edwardian grandfather was not a very nice chap perhaps, he was downright dictatorial at times, but no doubt about it he had a head on him. Father, a modern, rebelled of course, had a heart as big as a, railway station, no boring old ratiocination for him, he knew wrong when he saw it and he saw it almost everywhere. And the third generation, father's son? A promising lad undoubtedly, a chip off the older block one might be inclined to say, but with a streak of wildness in him too. Blotted his copybook rather when he was found the other day playing around with companions Grandfather would never have approved of. Had the decency not to use his own name, of course.. .

So far, and far enough no doubt, in the whim- sical vein. Mr. Edward Hyams has done a very good best with an impossible assignment. In 1958 he accepted a commission from the New Statesman to write the history of the paper.* Records were made available, money was given, he was to be free to say what he liked. This kind of freedom, though, is largely illusory, for Hyams was chosen because 'he seemed to em- body the right mixture of sympathy and detach- ment,' as John Freeman says. The sympathy is more apparent than the detachment, and how could it be otherwise? To imagine that a book so sponsored could be `independent' is a pecu- liarly New Statesman, or Kingsley Martin, idea. This history is written by a New Statesmanite, a little bit heretical, no doubt—but then it is the

of part

- a New Statesmanite to be a little bit


Grandfather was Clifford Sharp, the paper's editor from its foundation in 1913 until Kingsley Martin's appointment in 1930, and the hundred Pages dealing with this period (in which Mr. Hyam's personal feelings are very little involved) are of high excellence. Beatrice Webb called Sharp `a hard-minded conservative collectivist,' and the periodical he shaped was one marked by the belief that middle-class and upper-class Fabians had a social and historical function to fight for practical reform. Mr. Hyams writes with great insight of Sharp and of the Fabians who deplored his womanising and deprecated his drinking and yet were far-sighted enough to see that he was the right sort of editor for the paper they wanted to produce. He points the contrast, more effectively than I have ever seen it pointed before, between the sentimental liberal Radicalism of H. W. Massingham's Nation and the belief only in collectivism and drainage (the phrase is Leonard Woolf's) of the Paper Sharp edited. In the end the Nation was absorbed by its rival, but paradoxically the New Statesman as we know it, washing its hands every week with the soap of moral indignation and then holding them up to show how clean they are, is a paper much more Massingham than Sharp.

Mr. Hyams has an acute passage comparing Sharp with the paper's 'modern' father, Kingsley Martin. Sharp, he says, regarded the murder of Matteotti simply as what one would expect Of a Fascist dictator, 'whereas to Martin, while It might be what one would have expected, it THE NEW STATESMAN. THE HISTORY OF THE


FIRST FIFTY YEARS 1913-1963. By Edward Hyams.tLongmans, 35s.) , t NEW STATESMANSHIP. An Anthology. Selected by Edward Hyams. (Longrnans, 25s.) remained nevertheless incredible until it hap- pened, and then it was outrageous.' Throughout the Thirties Mr. Martin shared every week with his readers the torments of his conscience, a con- science almost totally divorced from any sense of reality. Did he believe in the Moscow Trials? Well, not quite, no, never really quite, but Mr. D. N. Pritt had been present and thought that they were fair, and Mr. Pritt was an honour- able man. Was Stalin a dictator, was the Ogpu an instrument of terror? Probably, yes, and that was regrettable, but still 'the Soviet Trial is undoubtedly very popular in the USSR,' and perhaps these things would change. If only Stalin could understand how much dictatorship dis- tressed. the Martinian conscience, surely he must mend his ways. In the meantime we must cer- tainly support the Communists as the truly moderate party in Spain, and as for those articles of George Orwell's talking about a Communist dictatorship there, well, the decision was an agonising one no doubt, but after all it seemed better not to print them. Mr. Hyams quotes from and says some kind things about my own book on the Thirties, but I find it very hard to understand how such an intelligent critic can say, in reference to Arthur Koestler's attack on the paper's policy during the period, that `the sin of Kingsley Martin and his colleagues' was that they attributed their own integrity to Communists who misled them. Not at all. They are accused of playing a game of make-believe in which dictators were liberal reformers in disguise, of using a different set of standards for the 'good' Soviet Union and the `bad' colonialist powers. Thus, much later, the paper could be- come frantic with indignation about Hola and Suez, yet Kingsley Martin could ask with mild facetiousness about the one and a half million people said to have been executed in China after Mao Tse-tung obtained power: 'Were these executions really necessary?' Is it surprising that, as Mr. Hyams says, `Many people found the tone of the paper intolerable'?

But it should be emphasised that many more found it congenial. If it is true that reality is the sum of our illusions, the illusions of Mr. Martin were almost precisely those of his readers. 'Mr. Hyams writes somewhere of Kingsley Martin's genius as an editor, and the word does not seem too strong. The anthology devised as

a companion to the history is very largely a tribute to him.t It contains an extraordinary number of what, in another paper, would be called scoops—a verbatim record of the Stalin- Wells conversations (1934), the remarkable article by J. B. Priestley which was the starting point of CND, and the contributions that fol- lowed from Bertrand Russell, Khrushchev and John Foster Dulles (l957-58)—these are two among many. Another editor might have tried to tone down the Stalin-Wells interchange which, as Bernard Shaw pointed out, showed Wells to such disadvantage, or to cut Mr. Priestley's long article. It is the measure of Kingsley Martin's genius that he did not do this. He knew that what appealed to him would strike a respon- sive chord in his readers, and he proved this in the most brilliant piece of informal highbrow journalism of his time, the `London Diary' which he started in 1931 and largely wrote for thirty 1,ears.

I have no space here to do more than recom- mend the anthology and to say that it is much more literary than political, and little space to discuss the arts end of the paper. Mr. Hyams analyses the division between the political and literary sides of the paper very well, but he is overstating the case a good deal when he says that its early literary editors were `constantly on the watch for new talents.' Taking a spot check on Prufrock (1917), Tarr (1918) and Auden's Poems (1930) I find that the two books of poems got a few contemptuous lines, and Tarr was un- reviewed.

All this is past history. The paper's literary side toughened as the political side became soft and this hardening process has continued. And Kingsley Martin, who had more than doubled the circulation between 1931 and 1939 and then much more than doubled it again between 1939 and 1960, has been replaced by John Freeman. The changes from the Martin era have been properly cautious but it does seem, as Mr. Hyams suggests, that Mr. Freeman is more Sharp than Martin and that the paper he pro- duces will be 'at once less "likeable" and less exasperating.' One can't imagine either Sharp or Martin, however, writing anonymously for the News of the World. It is a nice commentary on the New Statesman's position in our society that many people who were shocked that its editor could do such a thing were perfectly pre- pared to contemplate the possibility that he might be offered an important position in that conjectural next Labour Government. Such is the New Statesman: such is politics.