In response to:
Moonshine from the September 22, 1966 issue
To the Editors:
After reading D. P. Walker’s review of Kepler’s Dream in your September 22 issue, I filed it and had no idea of replying. But it does stick in my craw. Even a book editor is not cynical enough to accept such subjectivity, poor reasoning, and base ingratitude—not all of them together, at any rate.
Mr. Walker’s ill-tempered onslaught against Mr. Lear and the Press is unique among the many reviews we have received. The book has been favorably, and in some instances enthusiastically, noticed by Owen Gingerich, of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, writing in Isis; by F. P. Ricci of the Instituto de Fiscia “Guglielmo Marconi,” in the Bulletin Bibliographique; by D. W. Sciama in the Bulletin of the Institute of Physics; by K. L. Franklin, of the Hayden Planetarium, in Natural History; by Bernard Pagel, in Nature; by L. Marton, of the National Bureau of Standards, in Physics Today, and so forth and so on.
Now, Mr. Walker, sitting at the Warburg, alleges the mistranslation of two words (and I am not willing to concede them) and expresses his positive loathing of Mr. Lear’s crediting Kepler with “prescience” and, worse, omitting the full panoply of editor’s notes, which is admittedly a mortal sin among pedants. On the basis of his private passions and his little allegements, Mr. Walker not only assaults Mr. Lear but also infers that the standards of university presses are crumbling. He is moved to protest at the latter “even at the risk of appearing pedantic and unduly severe.” He, instead, appears to me to be a logical ignoramus who draws extravagant conclusions from slender premises. Before Mr. Lear’s book was approved for publication, I obtained expert opinions from an astro-physicist, a historian of science (who reads Latin I daresay quite as well as Mr. W.), and a geophysicist who has more than a tyro’s acquaintance with scientific method. Had I known Mr. W.’s book, The Decline of Hell: Seventeenth Century Discussions of Eternal Torment, I might well have consulted him on demonological points in the text. Granting this oversight, I insist that the University of California Press has honestly tried to maintain standards in this instance, and has succeeded in doing so.
But consider the authentic ill-will of Mr. Walker: Kepler’s Somnium remained unavailable in English from 1634 until our recent publication of Mr. Lear’s edition. The accredited savants have been disgracefully slothful, and still Mr. W. complains that there are not enough notes! I console myself with Patrick Moore’s commendation in The New York Times: “Congratulations should be extended to the publishers and to all who have taken part in the preparation of this book.” I say let Mr. Walker keep his Eternal Torment to himself, and leave Kepler, Lear, and the University of California Press in peace.
Robert Y. Zachary
University of California Press
D.P Walker replies:
I do not think this letter is worth an answer.
November 17, 1966