Page 6, 13th July 1984

13th July 1984
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Page 6, 13th July 1984 — Contrasting lives, contrasting times

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Contrasting lives, contrasting times

Alias Papa: A Life of Fritz Schumacher by Barbara Wood (Jonathan Cape, £10.95) Nancy Milford: A Memoir by Harold Acton (Hamish Hamilton, £4.95) A Life of Contrasts by Diana Mosley (Hamish Hamilton, £4.95) All the Brave Promises by Mary Lee Settle (Pandora Press, £3.95) Two Halves of A Life by K F M Pole (Meresborough Books, 7 Station Road, Rainham, Gillingham, Kent, £5.95)

LIVES of economists are seldom interesting. The life of Fritz Schumacher, the author of Small Is Beautiful, is an exception. Born in Bonn in 1911, he first visited England in 1929, and was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford. In 1932 he went to study social conditions in America. An opponent of the Hitler regime, he left Germany and settled in England in 1937. Interned as an enemy alien in 1939, in 1942 he was given a post at the Oxford University Institute of Statistics. His rise to fame had begun.

In 1946 he was appointed to the British Control Commission in Germany; in 1949 he became Economic Adviser to the National Coal Board. He joined the Soil Association, becoming convinced of the harmfulness of modern methods of agriculture. He now began to develop his ideas on Alternate Technology and conservation. He died while on a visit to Switzerland in 1977.

This biography is written by his daughter, and part of its interest lies in her account of her father's philosophical and religious development. Among the thinkers who especially influenced him were Rudolf Steiner and G I Gurdjieff. In 1955 he went to Burma as economic adviser to the Burmese government; while there he was strongly influenced by Buddhist thought. In 1971 he was received into the Catholic Church.

Schumacher's economics are quasi-distributist, arrived at by an independent process of thought and adapted to change social conditions. So it seems strange that neither Belloc nor Chesterton, nor Eric Gill nor Fr Vincent McNabb are mentioned in this book. However, 1 have been told that Schumacher was familiar with these writers, but thought that they would not be understood today. A bad misjudgement, I would suggest.

There can be no doubt that Schumacher was one of the prophetic men of our time, and that his books, Small /S Beautiful and A Guide for the Perplexed ought to be read by as many people as possible. His biography deserves to be read too. The publishers are to be congratulated on the good quality of the printing and illustrations.

In Nancy Mitford and A Life of Contrasts we have new editions, in paperback, admirably printed in Finland, of two recent biographies. In his elegant and substantial memoir Sir Harold Acton happily has been able to draw on the many letters that he received from Nancy Mitford. There is truth in Newman's dictum that a man's biography is in his letters. This generation of the Mitford family must surely rank among "the refined'st wits of the age"; but I am not sure that their father, Lord Redesdale, does not qualify for inclusion too on account of his splendid dictum; "1 have only read one book in my life, and that is White Fang. It's so frightfully good I've never bothered to read another."

Many people imagine Nancy Mitford as a rather frivolous person because of her novels, not recognising the amount of hard work and self-discipline that went into their writing, nor the arduous research that lay behind her books on Louis XIV, Madame Pompadour, Voltaire, and Frederick the Great. She really earned the honours of CBE and the Legion d'Honneur that were conferred on her.

Sadly, she died, worn out by a cruel illness, in 1973, at the age of 69. Her sister Lady Mosley has said that her life "seems almost too sad to contemplate, despite great successes with the books". Sir Harold Acton comments: "Perhaps deep

below the surface her life was sad, but she had the courage to banish melancholy and all that was life-diminishing".

Benvenuto Cellini says that all men who have done anything of merit should write the tale of their own life. Lady Mosley has done many things of merit, such as, in the 1950s, editing the brilliant monthly review The European, and directing the admirable Euphorion publishing house. More recently she has written an excellent biography of the Duchess of Windsor.

Her life has been one of contrasts, notably in her experience of a life of varied interests, pursuits, and freedoms as contrasted with the horrors of a long prison sentence in Holloway Gaol, a building admitted by the present Government to be unfit for habitation, and now reprieved in one of Mrs Thatcher's "cuts". Worse still, Lady Mosley and her husband were imprisoned under an Act specially rushed through Parliament suspending Habeas Corpus thereby making possible imprisonment without trial. No charges were ever brought against them, and when they were eventually released there was no apology, and no compensation. All things considered, Lady Mosley's comments on all this must be considered restrained.

Her book is as witty and amusing as one would expect; all the same, it is a serious book that raises serious questions. And it has historical value in giving a more balanced view on much that has been written about her tragic and much-loved sister Unity, who had in abundance the qualities of fearlessness, generosity, independence, and total directness and honesty.

Lady Mosley is one of the few people to have known both Winston Churchill (her cousin) and Adolf Hitler, so that what she has to say about these two opponents is a good deal more illuminating than much that is contained in their official

biographies. I wish that someone would now give us her translation, which failed to secure publication in the 1950s, of Goethe's novel Die Wahlverwandtschaften, a "perfect book" that has never been available in English.

All the Brave Promises is a paperback reprint of a book first published in 1966. It is the story of an educated American girl of private means who chose to cross the submarine-infested Atlantic in 1942 to join, in the ranks, the WAAF, in which she served as a radio-telephone operator. In its way, this book is as good as T E Lawrence's book, The Mint, about the RAF. Her story is totally authentic, and in some ways shocking. The statement of a critic that this is one of the few really good ,books to come out of the second World War is amply justified. '

Finally, Two Halves of a Life by Dr Pole. He and his wife, Austrians of Jewish descent, converts to Catholicism, came to England in 1938. Kary Pole had had to give up his medical practice in Vienna, and to become again a medical student, in Edinburgh, before he could practise in this country. In 1940 he was interned in the Isle of Man. After his release he became a major in the Home Guard, while resuming his medical practice at Rainham, in Kent, where he also did valuable work as a police surgeon. His work for the Catholic Medical Guild, and his prominence in European and American congresses of Catholic doctors, led to his investiture as a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre.

Now retired, he holds the position of Honorary Consultant Surgeon to the Kent County Constabulary. At the age of 79 he has written a book of notable interest, not least because of what he tells us of his Benedictine affiliations — he is an oblate of Buckfast Abbey. This book needs an index, and has not got one; to some extent this is compensated for by the wealth of photographs of his family, his friends and colleagues, and former Abbots of Buckfast and Prinknash. An attractive book, well worth acquiring.

Brocard Sewell

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