Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 44: The first cut is a set-piece.

Monday 31st August, 1959, 9.0 p.m.

Rentreé des classes to-morrow. I did manage to get a day out, after all. Did the Great Missenden trek very successfully except for the last leg, where building-up has obscured Fieldfare’s tracks [Fieldfare was the pen-name for an Evening News columnist who wrote guides to walks in rural areas of the Home Counties].

More or less resigned to the 6¼% now; my revised calculation shows that I only lose about 4/- a week, I think, on the 5½% offered by the Temperance. I ought to hope that rates of interest on advances, including advances by local authorities, come down generally; but my human nature being what it is — and I doubt if it’s much worse than the average run of human nature —  I find myself hoping that Building Society rates will go up (the rate of the Friern Barnet U.D.C’s advance to me will remain constant).

Also, meno male, I succeeded in getting off a short story for the J.C. [Jewish Chronicle]. I am not at all sure, this time, whether it will even get printed (I would have been surprised had my “What is a Jew” effort not been printed, at least). Lacking imagination, I was forced to write up a chapter of biography —  the story is called “Service at a Circumcision.” It is a more or less straight account of the Briss — for fictional purposes I made it take place during term, at 1 p.m. (The historical event took place at 2 p.m. while I was on holiday). I have no plot-making ability, so I knew that whatever I wrote would have to be a set-piece description. Even so, I failed to rise to the heights of my theme, which was the awful responsibility of bringing a child into the world. I know I lost no sleep about the fate that might befall you, P.I., [Philip Israel] and that I am doing nothing to try to make the world safe for you to live in. That doesn’t mean, of course, my boy, that I don’t pray ( I can’t pray to anyone, unfortunately, but there’s nothing can be done about that now, but I do “pray that”) that you will have a long, happy life. I confess that my motives in begetting you were not entirely pure and lofty, but very few people, I venture to assert, do have children from wholly pure and lofty motives. Please believe me, though, – I don’t know what to say. I love you? But that raises again the question of whether I am capable of love. I don’t know. Admittedly you give me great happiness, now, when you’re seven months old, and I think you’re happy, too, for by far the greater part of the time. I suppose I want to have a built-in guarantee of your happiness. Forgive this pitiful meandering, Philip. Und das hat dichten wollen!  Nothing would give me greater pleasure than for you to show me up. But then, again, I suppose I mustn’t set too great hopes on you. Mustn’t drive you into making up for my failures. Be healthy, be reasonably successful – I think you have a reasonably happy disposition anyway. I think your old man has, too, really; but, without wishing to make too much of a song and dance, he rather had it taken out of him in his early, formative years – up to 20 – and I hope this won’t happen to you.

Saw Clark of Thames & Hudson today. Handed him completed typescript of God’s Wilderness, though I haven’t had B.R.‘s [Professor Beno Rothenberg] corrections back yet. He sounded me out about translating two other books by B.R. I suppose I ought to have said I would want 4 guineas a thou.; instead I just said I would need till September 30th 1960 to do a book equivalent to God’s Wilderness. But perhaps, in spite of my seemingly monopolistic position, I wouldn’t be able to get more. I think T. & H.’s reaction to an attempt by me to exploit my position might have been to say: thus far and no farther. B.R. told me they gave him £100 advance fee to retain the option over each book he wrote; but even so, they might have decided not to send good money after bad, or for 4 guineas a thou, say, they might have been able to get David Patterson [scholar of Modern Hebrew literature]. Or, if I were in their place, I would put an advt. in the J.C. – unusual, but then it’s unusual not to have translators on tap. And I’m pretty sure an advt. in the J.C. would produce some reasonable translators, even if Clark had to sub their text more heavily than he does mine.

Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 43: Frantic for Finchley

Tuesday 18th August, 1959 – 9.45 p.m.

Not so easy, this aequam memento business [“Remember when life’s path is steep to keep your mind even.” Horace]. The negotiations for the house worrying enough when Cruse, my solicitor’s Managing Clerk, slipped in a new blow in a letter I had from him this morning – he would have thought I could borrow cheaper than 6¼%, the rate of interest on an advance of £2,700 granted me by the Friern Barnet U.D.C. – I thought myself lucky to get it. Somehow it had not occurred to me to apply to a Building Society for an advance. I wrote sounding them in April, but their attitude appeared so unforthcoming that I decided I would borrow (as Sam [his brother] did nine years or so ago) from the local authority. The Temperance Permanent Building Society advances @ 5½%, however, and a calculation shows that the difference between interest at 6¼% and 5½% on £2,700 over twenty years, allowing for income-tax allowance on the interest is about 5/- a week, or about £250 over the 20 years. After a depressing day in which Cruse 1) advised trying to get a loan from a building society, 2) said he would see what he could get, I eventually told him to go ahead on the basis of the status quo.

To add to my depression I tried to work  up a short story for the J.C. competition, found that I was unable to “mask” the characters in it, and that even if the “hero” who I am pretty sure, if he is alive, reads the J.C. — though he may be dead, for all I know, I hope not — did not sue me for libel, the publication of the story would have been unkind to him. And, you may not believe it, H.L., [Baudelaire’s hypocrite lecteur] I do not want to hurt people.

Have been like death warmed up all day – vivid trope, what, H.L.? — taking it out of E., [Edith Witriol, nee Katz] who has been the good-wife lightning-conductor. However, in fairness, sometimes the roles are reversed.

“Aunt Debby” [Deborah Coltonoff, Edith’s father’s sister] round, a great help to E., I glum all the time. Fed up, f — d up, and I wish we were already installed in the new place in Finchley.

Had intended “getting away from it all” to-day; will try again to-morrow.