This article is taken from the November 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.
High time to act
As an alumnus of Christ Church Oxford, I was heartened by Jonathan Aitken’s exposé of goings on at our common alma mater. Amusing though he made it sound, we should take serious account of what he describes. He probably understates the likely effect of all this on donations and bequests to the college.
An alumnus of my acquaintance writes to me from Jamaica (where he works for an education charity), “I don’t think I want to know more than I do already about the Percy saga. The sums spent on it would be not a shower but a tsunami of gold if used on education here in Jamaica.”
Or indeed, one might add, on real educational objectives in Britain rather than on shoals of lawyers and expensive PR firms bolstering already far too privileged positions, and ruining the reputation of the college they purport to serve.
Quite apart from the dons’ thoroughly inexplicable animus against Dean Percy, which Aitken most effectively castigates, the Charity Commission needs to consider its own reputation.
While it does seem that the Commission is at last beginning to get around to the possibility of acting on this case. Why has it taken so long? It is now well over two years since it “instructed” the college to initiate an independent review of its governance. Yet now the new Senior Censor glibly announces this cannot take place till the outcome of employment tribunals in 2023 are known. As Aitken most trenchantly asks — why?
The Commission must not delay any further. It is high time to act. The vast majority of the alumni and alumnae with whom I am in touch will applaud.
St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex
I found myself unable to read Irwin Stelzer’s article on COP26, due to my disbelief at his use of one of the most famous misquotes in history. It is simply false that Einstein ever said “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.
The quote was popularised when spoken by a character in Rita May Brown’s novel Sudden Death (1983), though it was also used in a US anti-drug pamphlet around the same time.
But the likely origin of the concept is essentially a misunderstanding of a chapter in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Visiting the Grand Academy, in Lagado, in Balnibarbi, Gulliver is astonished to witness numerous bizarre experiments, including one in which the object is to extract sunbeams from cucumbers. The experiments are repeated over and over, but the “insanity” lies in the nature of the experiments, not that they are being repeated. In fact, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, is basic science.
Matthew R Cheek
A saint maligned
Michael Bentley’s insistence that John Henry Newman’s conversion to Catholicism was an “apostasy” (“Sacred Cows”, October 2021) presupposes a quaintly Anglican-centric worldview.
Newman was in fact the greatest Christian thinker in the English-speaking world since the Reformation. His Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine of 1845 did for theology what Darwin was later to do for biology; and almost alone among Catholic or Anglican clerics he had no problem with the theory of evolution.
His Idea of a University has become an educational classic; and his autobiographical Apologia Pro Vita Sua was a best-seller which inspired further conversions to Catholicism (including the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins). Contrary to Professor Bentley’s claim of Newman’s lack of influence in nineteenth century England, The Times wrote at his death in 1890: “Whether Rome declares him a saint or not, he will be canonised in the thoughts of pious people of many creeds in England.”
Perhaps most strikingly, 50 years after his death, Newman’s writings on Conscience inspired the brave young German students of the White Rose movement to oppose Hitler. Professor Bentley’s sneering article shows a little mind sniping at a great one.
I made a stupid error in my article on the industrial correspondents (“Hard Labour”, October 2021). Somehow I claimed that Terry Duffy, the leader of the Engineering Union, fought at “Monte Carlo” during WW2. This would no doubt be an interesting addition to a fine war record. One imagines especially the capture of the roulette tables under heavy fire. But of course I meant to write “Monte Cassino”, a battle so severe that it was a sort of legend in my 1950s childhood.
I have no idea how I came to make this ludicrous blunder, but the fact that I did not spot it during several proofreads is a warning to us all that we too often see what we expect to see rather than what is there. I apologise to Terry Duffy’s shade, though I am fairly sure he would have been amused rather than offended.
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