“Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit,” wrote Oscar Wilde, “touch it and the bloom is gone.”
I thought of this when I read a letter from Niall Clugston of Parramatta published in The Sydney Morning Herald (30/10).
On Andrew Stevenson’s observation that Sir Robert Menzies wrote a shorter autobiography than John Howard’s because he had never met his Peter Costello, Mr. Clugston wrote:
But Menzies did have an arch-rival, Richard Casey, who struggled to replace him for decades.
Menzies bought Casey off with diplomatic postings, a British peerage and finally the governor-generalship. For all his faults, no one could accuse Menzies of lacking a sense of decorum and gravitas.
By comparison, John Howard is a mean-spirited, pedestrian bore.
Ah, ignorance. I suppose it is too much to expect that the Herald letters editor would know this is absolute tosh. (There is not much point telling the Herald; a recent personal experience persuades me the Herald won't even publish letters correcting factual errors by their columnists.)
…myth about Lord Casey…
The facts are that Sir Robert produced not one, but two volumes of reminiscences, Afternoon Light in 1967 and The Measure of the Years in 1970.
Moreover Mr. Clugston is repeating a myth invented by Philip Adams in The Weekend Australian of 22 July 2006.
My letter on this was published in that paper on 5-6 August, 2006, without the words in brackets which were in the version submitted:
[To support his interminable attacks on the Prime Minister and Governor-General,] Phillip Adams (23/7 and 31/1), says Sir Robert Menzies chose Richard Casey as Governor-General because he saw him as a rival.
This is pure invention.
Not so much because Casey, defeated by Holt in the first ballot for the deputy leadership in 1956, was never a serious challenger, nor because he wasn’t Menzies first choice. (That was war hero Admiral Sir John Collins, who declined.)
The reason was Casey had been out of politics for five years.
To have an Australian Prime Minister based in the British House of Lords, while constitutionally permissible for a short period until he found a seat here, was politically impossible.
Mr Adams seems to have put up a fight with the editor to stop the publication of my letter.
Unsuccessful in this, he wrote to me accusing me of reacting with “characteristic pomposity” to what was a piece of satire.
This missed the point. My critique was not about his satire, it was that he had twice seriously misrepresented the facts.
Saying there is “nothing sillier than a pedant” who makes mistakes, Mr. Adams pointed out that I had left out one of the letters 'l' from his Christian name. I had, and I apologised for that.