FROM THE PULPIT
A LEXANDER W AUGH
RAISE A GLASS
University) and Clair Wills (authority on Irish poetry), and, in the issues that followed, the Literary Reviewpublished the first printed ruminations of countless others who have since climbed to dizzying heights.
I TWASPRECISELY twenty years ago that I first got myself published – a book review that was printed in this magazine shortly after my father, the late lamented Auberon Waugh, became its editor in March 1986. Little did I realise then, as I sheepishly slipped him the script, over which I had sweated blood for two weeks in my Manchester student digs, that it would mark the start of a more or less continuous stream of book, record, concert, opera and television reviews that would somehow or other provide the main source of my income for the next two decades. ‘Nepotism!’ I hear the congregation cluck – ‘How unsavoury!’ Well, you may judge it as you wish. Personally I happen to believe that most kinds of nepotism are a force for the good, and in certain cases even a moral obligation. I am supported in this by Saul Bellow’s son, Adam, whose admirable treatise In Praise of Nepotism (Doubleday, 2003) cogently argues in favour of the sort of nepotism that my father proudly mastered to a fine art – not the sort by which bossy fathers force inadequate sons to take smart jobs that their sons don’t want and are unfit to execute, but a positive, laudable kind of nepotism in which sons, keen to please their fathers and sharing their fathers’ interests, actively seek careers within the parental sphere of influence. What could be better than that? Was it not precisely upon this kind of nepotism that all the greatest civilisations of our history were founded? In any case I was not the only one to benefit from my father’s largesse during his time as editor of the Literary Review. There were others who were not part of his family. These he called his ‘slaves’. From this here pulpit he preached, twenty years ago, in his second sermon as editor: Among the familiar list of distinguished contributors to this month’s magazine, readers may spot some names that are as yet unfamiliar. These contributors, who are either still at university or just down from it, have been appropriately nicknamed ‘slaves’. They are articulate young people of wit, originality and often some early academic distinction who are prepared to accept the miserable fees we pay at any rate until some richer publication spots their talents. Then I hope they will continue to write for us out of love. The ‘slave’ idea became an important part of the Literary Reviewethos during his editorship and continues to this day. In an early advertisement for the magazine Papa had written: ‘No doubt these SLAVES will emerge as the superstars of the future, but it is good to read them now before they are spoiled by the ghastly reviewing establishment.’ None of us can exactly be described as ‘superstars’ but my father would be proud to know how well the careers of so many of his ‘slaves’ have subsequently fared. In that first ‘slave’ issue to which I contributed appeared also for the first time the names of university students John Lanchester (now an important novelist), Nicholas Jenkins (Auden scholar and professor at Stanford
Private Eye, perhaps a little peeved that my father had resigned from his long-running Auberon Waugh’s Diaryin order to become editor of the Literary Review, responded with a parody of the Literary Review’s list of contributors: MR AUBERON WAUGH is the new editor of the Literary Review. LADY TERESA WAUGH is married to the editor of the Literary Review. MARMADUKE WAUGH is studying at Combe Florey primary school. His mother is a contributor to the Literary Review. FRANCESCA GUSSETT is someone the editor of the Literary Reviewmet on a train last week. KEVIN WAUGH is the brother of Marmaduke Waugh, the well-known contributor to the Literary Review. DEBBY FIGGIS is Kevin Waugh’s latest bird. SID GROZZER is a taxi driver who took the editor of the Literary Reviewto Paddington Station last night. But it is not just for sticking his neck out and printing our first wobbly-kneed efforts that I, and so many of his erstwhile ‘slaves’, remain indebted to him. To many he sent long and warm letters of advice concerning the intricate craft of reviewing. He encouraged even those whose submissions were not worthy of publication to have another bash, and only if they failed three times in a row would he write to them in the kindest way: ‘I fear that book reviewing appears not to be the path that Destiny has chosen for you.’ Many of his ideas about reviewing were handed down to him by his father Evelyn, a generous critic, who in turn took them from his father, Arthur Waugh. Arthur, who was for thirty years chief book critic of the Daily Telegraph, believed that no review should be a bad review, and that a critic’s negative opinions of a book were far less interesting than a considered description of what the author presumably had been setting out to achieve when he wrote it. Some of Papa’s advice seemed peculiar: ‘Always delete the first paragraph of your review before submitting it’ – surprising how often that ruse works. In general he encouraged his ‘slaves’ to be as positive as possible about the books they were sent. His advice was generously given and invariably helpful, and although not everyone agrees with all the strange opinions he put about over his forty years in journalism, I am comforted by the thought that in every corner of the English literary scene there is today at least one prominent player who, on this auspicious anniversary, will be more than happy to raise a glass to those two redeeming forces of his philosophy – nepotism and slavery.
LITERARY REVIEW March 2006