Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 21: Supercalorieflagellisticexhibitiondocious

Wednesday, 4th June 1958 – 9.15am

3rd day of diet – at least one has had sufficient will-power to persevere thus far. I shall probably be able to get down to 13 stone, the problem would be to avoid slipping back. I think the answer might be to get a bathroom weighing machine – if and when funds permit – get down to x lb; and immediately my weight rises beyond x+7lb. ( x+5lb.?) go on a 2-day banana-and-milk diet. “Moderation” all the time I find myself unable to observe.

John Calder wrote asking me for specimens of my translating as they had a book on Janáček for translation. The book, I gather, is not much longer than Brod’s, but more technical. I suppose I ought to try to do it if they give me the job, but I face the prospect with no great enthusiasm. It would mean practically no time for myself and Edith – in that order, because I wouldn’t complain if I didn’t devote enough time to myself, not that Edith really “complains” either, but, well darling – if you read this, please let me explain – and there is the galling feeling that all the work I have done on Brod’s book would be completely wasted. Perhaps not completely though. I sent Calder the MS of the Brod study; perhaps that might be the decisive factor in their decision to entrust the work to me (awful English, I know, but not pleonastic; how should it be re-written?).

All these irons in the fire, nothing seems to come from them. Janson-Smith wrote, in answer to my request for news of my translation of Brod’s Cicero, that Elek had “reluctantly returned” the TS after 6 months because they were unable to find an American publisher to “share the cost of translation.” I’d asked for 2 gns. a thou, Lionel Kochan had previously written to me that they seldom paid more than 1½ gns a thou – I’m prepared to “let down my trousers”, as they say in Yiddish and let ’em have the 100M TS for 75 gns. (I don’t know whether die Hosen nachlassen exists in this sense in German – anyway I suppose it would be die Hosen herablassen. The idiom is coarse, but is the one that instinctively comes to mind. I suppose the idea is: you try to avoid taking down your trousers – I was going to write until you get to the toilet, but if you have to (have to accept the best bargain you can make), then you have no alternative but to “let down your trousers” – but it strikes me the idea is simply: you try to preserve your dignity and keep your trousers up by asking the price you want (2 gn), but if you’re forced to reveal the essential weakness of your position, then you must do so (stand revealed in all the shame of let-down trousers) in order to get the cash. I wonder if I could take this up with Bithell, from whom I have a letter to answer.

This rather unscholarly (flagellate yourself, boy, you can take it) philological excursus leaves me with time for only the bare record: lunched with Paul Hulton & Edith, visited Hazor exhibition at B.M. – Madeleine Blumstein was doing the conducted tour. With characteristic gaucherie I beat a hasty retreat when I saw her as for the life of me I couldn’t remember her name. Edith, strangely (?) enough remembered it – she thought I had had a sudden urge to perform a natural function – and told it to me when she came out to see what had become of me. I must say I thought it was quite a feat to talk for fifty minutes without notes, even allowing for the fact that the exhibits formed points d’appui. Edith surprised at the “deference” I showed Madeleine – silly girl.

Later heard Rabbi Maybaum talking on Franz Rosenzweig. I went chiefly, almost wholly, with the idea of putting another iron in the fire. I had gathered that a group of people were trying to float a translation of R’s works. Maybaum good: a yekke who knows his philosophy, and only a slight accent. Moreover, he remembered my “splendid” humorous articles. His thesis: agnosticism or humanism > Hitlerism could have plenty of holes picked in it (then why didn’t I pick them; politely, elegantly, devastatingly, instead of babbling inconsequentially in the discussion?) but he produced some good phrases from Kant: “the starry heavens above me and the (? ? moral law, I think,) within me” – I’d heard that one before – and ” God is a thought within me.”

Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 20: Tribute to Zalkind Stalbow

Tuesday 27th May 1958 – 11am

On holiday. Yesterday (Whit Monday) Richard [Stern] and Joyce and Merton [Sandler] to tea. Edith and I busy-busy preparing for the distinguished guests, but we had a lie-in in the morning. I made the rain a pretext for not going to shool. Anyway, we had been on the Sunday morning (1st day Shavuot). Richard is working for 3 months at Cambridge, Merton delivered his paper at Dublin – only I seem to be destined to a life sentence in the Camden Road and its environs. Still, at this particular moment of time one mustn’t complain: one is fit ( no boils, no pruritus, no headache, no cold), one is rested (one got up at 8.35 am, nearly an hour after Edith, who went to work as usual; she likes the late night, or rather, early-morning, shmoozing-cuddling and, unlike me, is quite undeterred by the prospect of an early reveille for the following day’s work), there is no noise apart from the muted roar of traffic which, unlike piano-tinkling and wireless noises, does not drive me up the wall. One is conscious, true, of one’s failure, which it is now too late to redeem, but – oh hell! I used to kid myself I was a “lord of language” and find I can’t express the simplest thoughts. Worse, I have no thoughts.

Rebellion in Lebanon, France on the verge of civil war, the London bus strike in its fourth week, the Editor of the Jewish Chronicle hopes to use my Maftir article in due course (it was submitted to him in September, was man nicht alles erleben muss), I sent off recently my translation of an excerpt from a Hebrew book by one “Fuchu” to Commentary – will they accept. I thought the excerpt genuinely humorous, “universally” humorous, not parochially humorous – and “universal” humour is something I have not yet found in Hebrew writing.

Went to meeting with Edith, organised by “Barcai” [the Zionist society of Cricklewood and Willesden] in honour of Zalkind Stalbow’s 80th birthday. He’s a remarkable man: squat, sturdy, a furrier in London, a citriculturist in Rechovot, a Hebraist, an epikoires, [‘heretic’] a chess-player, a walker – his walk of 30 miles or so in 2 days with the armed forces and the Gadna to Jerusalem was publicised – with embroidery, his son Geoffrey told me – in the J.C. Leon Simon [English Zionist leader] spoke. I liked his story of the rabbi who was asked why there were two Yekum Purkonns in the Shabbes service. “In case one got lost,” said the rabbi. “Then why only one Mi-she-beyrach?” “Well, there were two at first, and one did get lost.”

The reference to Mi-she-beyrach arose from the chairman’s saying that before Mr Stalbow spoke he would call on Mr Landman (who spoke very well) to give a sort of Mi-she-beyrach. The guest speaker was one Grayson, a Conservative M.P. who apparently had walked from London to Brighton once. He ad libbed at a not particularly high level and gave a more or less straight Conservative pep talk.

Have got out Brian Glanville’s much discussed (by our people) The Bankrupts. He has his finger right on the pulse of Golders Green Jewry. The writing is undistinguished, but readable. I gather he’s only 25 and as well as having written 3 novels previously is an authority on soccer.