Two good friends and lively letter writers, Vol. IV

The Lyttelton/Hart-Davis Letters: Correspondence of George Lyttelton and Rupert Hart-Davis, edited and introduced by Rupert Hart-Davis. Vol. IV: 1959. Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers. 186 pp. $16.95. Here they are again, those lively letter writers whose delightful correspondence is now being shared by so many enthralled readers.

In this, the fourth of the six volumes of the Lyttelton/Hart-Davis letters, it is 1959 and Rupert Hart-Davis is still a busy London publisher, still engaged in the monumental task of sorting out and editing his vast collection of Oscar Wilde's letters. George Lyttelton continues to enjoy a happy retirement in the Suffolk countryside with his wife, Pamela, and is kept busy as an external examiner with Britain's General Certificate of Education, a series of exams taken by pupils who are about to leave school throughout the Commonwealth nations as well as in the United Kingdom.

Lyttelton and Hart-Davis continue their practice of free and frank exchanges, building upon the quantum leap in ease and intimacy that was so notable in the preceding volume. Yet, it must be said that at times they seem to be working a little too hard at maintaining this intimacy, so that occasionally their efforts seem a bit forced. Both men are rather harried during much of this year, Hart-Davis through enormous pressure of work and Lyttelton through being buried under a huge load of exam papers, which he must mark despite his increasing distaste for the way they are phrased and for the criteria by which they are to be judged. A resolute lover of beauty and a devotee of aestheticism in literature, Lyttelton was out of step with his more fact-oriented and utilitarian examiner-colleagues and was understandably irritable at this time. Both Lyttelton and Hart-Davis, however, always show a marked courtliness toward each other, one of the many facets of this correspondence that makes it such a pleasure to read.

As usual, the range of topics discussed is wide, from food to literary gossip, from cricket to literature itself. The election of 1959 stirs little passion, although both men are Conservatives. But the quality of journals such as the New Statesman and The Spectator, the articles in the latest edition of the Dictionary of National Biography, and even the only possible brand of ginger biscuits can call forth strong feelings. For example, Lyttelton to Hart-Davis: ``I hope you agree the ginger biscuits must be Huntley & Palmer's. They are Medes and Persians at my table and always have been. (No, I re-read and see that yours are home-made. That is all right, provided you give no encouragement to imposters like McVitie & Price.)'' And there is wisdom, too, found among the anecdotes and literary quotations swapped with so light a touch by these two friends.

Readers who enjoyed the first three volumes will again find solid satisfaction in this latest and will, no doubt, be eager for the remaining two. Those who have not yet got to know these two charming gents now have four volumes to read, and once having done so, will find themselves considerably enriched by the gusto that is the hallmark of this remarkable correspondence.

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