In response to:
The Apotheosis of John F. Kennedy from the January 28, 1965 issue
To the Editors:
The piece on Kennedyana is a fine tonic; and like most tonics, its contents should not be subjected to close analysis. But one small ingredient is a little too sour for me.
There never was any danger “of liberals being shocked by the operations of Kennedy Senior’s apparat” according to Mr. Muggeridge: “They never let out even a tiny squeak.” There is no point now in filling the columns of the NYR with old copy from The New Republic. But Malcolm, old man, we squeaked.
Malcolm Muggeridge replies:
I have naturally been interested by the varied response to my observations on the Kennedy legend, ranging between charming thank-you letters to decidedly vituperative ones. It is significant that none of them, for or against, puts up any sort of case for the books about the late President with which I was dealing. With the single exception of Of Poetry and Power, these were assumed by one and all to be contemptible, and the objection is not that I ridiculed them, but that I should have been given the job rather than some more knowledgeable and nicer-mannered American. I take this a little hard. As I mentioned in my piece, I had been hoping that some American writer would rise up in his wrath and sweep the whole lot out of the window. None as far as I know has, and remember that some of these books were first published quite a time ago.
I only wish one or other of your correspondents, feeling as strongly as they do about the odious character of the books in question, and knowing so much more about the subject than I, had taken on the task of disinfecting the Kennedy legend. Who more suitable, for instance, than the Emeritus Professor of the Social Sciences at Chicago University? It would have let me off. One charge, however, does seem excessive—that my “smeary essay…is an easy way for the tasteless and unprincipled to turn a fast buck.” You New York Review editors will, I am sure, permit me to observe that, much as I admire your magazine, and great as is my pleasure in writing in it, there are faster and more bucks to be turned elsewhere.
The list of contributors to Of Poetry and Power mentioned by Mr. Sanford do not awe me as much as they do him. In fact, they don’t awe me at all, knowing them, as I do, to be capable on public occasions of writing as silly verse as any Poet Laureate. I did read President Kennedy’s speech on the relation between Poetry and Power, and deliberately refrained from pointing out that it contains as many bromides and banalities as any prize essay at a girl’s school on the same subject. As for Walt Whitman (and, oh God, I hope you never send me a book about him to review)—that old queen, announcing his readiness to impregnate the women of America! That preposterous old humbug with his pickled butterfly on a ring for photographic purposes, and George Sand drag!
To Mr. Straight I owe an apology. I bet The New Republic squeaked, but I just didn’t happen to hear it.
March 11, 1965