Navy League in the year 1910, ’ and, speaking of the time of Dickens, ‘It was an age of enormous families, pretentious meals and inconvenient houses, when the slavey drudging fourteen hours a day in the basement kitchen was something too normal to be noticed. And given the fact of servitude, the feudal relationship is the only tolerable one. ’
Nominally there is no place to-day for a writer of such independence: he is completely insufferable to every kind of popular clique or mass-opinion. Yet perhaps the most interesting thing about him at the moment is his assured and rising popularity. Is it because intellectual vigour is so rare in a generation of yes-men that no one can ignore a man who has truly made his mind ‘a thoroughfare for all thoughts and not a select party’?1
R. H. (Robert Herring), Life and Letters Today
June 1940, pp. 312-15
Robert Herring, editor of Life and Letters Today and of works by Goldsmith and Sheridan; poet and film critic.
George Orwell has the historical sense, which puts all in its place, and if he puts poets in their place, those who are honest will not resent it. They will see where they belong, from what tradition comes the trend they have joined or engendered and what tradition that is creating—they will take time out to think, and both the time and the thinking are what so many need.
Orwell does not fall into the trap of trying to say the last word about, in the first instance, Dickens; he adds his own clarifying quota to what has previously been written. Seeing him finally as the ‘product of his age’ he suggests—forcibly—that for all his attacking of institutions,
1 From Keats’s letter of 17 September 1819.