Where Engels Fears to Tread

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17 February 2012

FROM OSCAR TO STALIN

“You wrote for the New Statesman? What did you write about?”

“Gramophone records”

“To sit on the fence is to stand on the wrong side of it – line him  up, Gollancz.”

“Yes, Commissar.”

This nugget, which still has political traction, is extracted from ‘Where Engels Fears to Tread’, a mock review of a non-existent book ‘From Oscar to Stalin’ by a fictitious author Christian de Clavering who progresses from Eton, Christ Church and the Café Royal to his ultimate destiny as a Communist  Party Commissar. The review is included in a collection of essays, ‘The Condemned Playground’ (1946) by the English literary luminary Cyril Connolly (1903-1974), who based de Clavering on his Eton and Oxford contemporary, the aesthete Brian Christian de Claiborne Howard (1905-1958). We have taken the liberty of changing Connolly’s “be” to “stand” on the grounds that it reads better – something of which Connolly would assuredly have approved were he still alive.  There’s not much he can do about it now, in any case.

In an interesting aside, of no particular relevance to today’s thought for the day, Wikipedia credits Brian Christian de Claiborne Howard with coining the remark “Anybody seen in a bus over the age of 30 has been a failure in life”, whereas these days the quip is almost always said (wrongly) to have originated with Margaret Thatcher, who was UK Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990. The remark is said to have come into wider parlance when used by Loelia, Duchess of Westminster, in her memoir ‘Grace and Favour’ (1961).

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