restricted access A Commentary (Oct 1929)
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746 ] A Commentary The Criterion: A Literary Review, 9 (Oct 1929) 1-6 Lord Brentford’s Apology In the Nineteenth Century for August is published a very interesting article by the late Conservative Home Secretary over his new name. It confirms the opinion that we have always held; that the late Sir William JoynsonHicks is a very honest, conscientious, public-spirited and bewildered man. The article is entitled “‘Censorship’ of Books.”1 As the inverted commas suggest, Lord Brentford reminds us of what we already knew, that there is no “censorship” of books in Britain. Lord Brentford answers, with perfect honesty and almost “disarming ingenuousness” some of his critics; he does notanswerthecriticisms,orrespondtotheproposals,madeinTheCriterion, of which we are sure he has never heard. It is for this reason that we venture to comment on his apology. Lord Brentford’s defence of his action in the case of The Well of Loneliness is conducted against those opponents whom it is easiest to attack; those who believe that the book is a “work of art.” It has therefore no force against the comments previously made in this review.2 We have held, throughout, the view that the question of whether a work is a “work of art” is a red herring. It wouldmeaninpracticethatweshouldbejudgedbypunditsofart(Berenson orDuveen?)3 orpunditsofliterarycriticisminsteadofbyMr.Mead–andwe had as soon deal with Mr. Mead.4 It is not a question of “art” but of public liberties. We should like to point out to Lord Brentford that we did not consider The Well of Loneliness to be a work of art, but merely a dull, badly written , hysterical book with an unpleasant strain of religiosity; and that judging it thus we still insisted that it should have been allowed to circulate. A large part of Lord Brentford’s defence may be summed up in the plaintivecry :“whatelseisaHomeSecretarytodo–intheactualcircumstances?”5 It is indeed very difficult to say what else a Home Secretary should do. A daily newspaper, or a Sunday newspaper informs its readers that a certain book, of which the vast majority would not otherwise have heard, is frightfully shocking. Its readers, no doubt, flock to be shocked. And the matter is “brought to the notice” of the Home Secretary. And a Home Secretary has [ 747 A Commentary (Oct) to think of the interests of the nation, and of the interests of his party, and so matters take their course. And the Home Secretary, being a Home Secretary, has no time to think what he, as an individual, thinks about it, or how his opinion, as an individual’s, weighs against that of other individuals who are distinguished not by being cabinet ministers but because of what they have done as individuals; he is in the unfortunate position of being a Home Secretary, as there have been, are and will be. It is interesting to note from Lord Brentford’s article that “the Home Secretary never moved against other than admittedly pornographic productions of his own volition” [209-10]. He admits that there are “pornographic productions” which even a Home Secretary can detect without prompting! and neither we nor anyone else has ever objected to his “movements ” against such. But there are apparently other productions, in the case of which the Home Secretary cannot move because he does not trust his own opinion, but only moves because he takes the opinion of the penny press, or of any busybody who chooses to protest, and finally of Mr. Mead. But the late Home Secretary has admitted that there are “admittedly” pornographic productions; which is what we have contended; so we suggest that Home Secretaries should confine themselves to “moving” against what is “admitted.” Lord Brentford concedes that “there is already a far greater freedom in literature now than there was when the Act of 1857 was passed” [210].6 But he fails to say whether this freedom is commendable or deplorable. It must be one or the other. If it is good, then perhaps a little more freedom would be better. If it is bad, then Lord Brentford ought to have the courage to say that we have too much freedom. He seems to say at this point; be patient, and before long you will be able to publish anything you like. We fear that Lord Brentford, like many other people, has ceased to be a human being – that is to say, has ceased to think independently – because he has been a Statesman. The views he has expressed in this article are...


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