The great Roy Campbell heaped wonderful abuse on the nihilist left, though that’s hardly the only reason to treasure him.
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After many hair-raising adventures Campbell escaped from Toledo, and the war brought him back to England, where he enlisted, to see service in Africa. His contempt for the English literary establishment was amplified by witnessing their reluctance to fight the “fascists” with anything more risky than words. On the eve of the conflict with Hitler, Auden and Isherwood had fled to America, as had Benjamin Britten. Meanwhile, the communist traitors enjoyed their comfortable niches in the diplomatic service, working for the “red fascism” that—in Campbell’s eyes—was just as much a threat to their country as the national socialism of Hitler. Stephen Spender was comfortably installed in the civil service, and Louis MacNeice in the BBC. All Campbell could do by way of protest was to write fierce lampoons against the
…fat snuggery of Auden, Spender,
And others of the selfsame breed and gender,
Who hold by guile the fort of English letters
Against the final triumph of their betters…
By the end of the war, however, the Bloomsbury contingent and the fellow travelers had lost their monopoly power over British culture, and Campbell was for a while rehabilitated. He too was invited to broadcast for the BBC, where he became a passionate advocate of his favorite drinking companion, Dylan Thomas: advocacy that led to the latter’s immortal radio drama, Under Milk Wood. Campbell’s autobiography, Light on a Dark Horse, was published in 1950, along with a first volume of his Collected Poems, and a translation of the poems of St. John of the Cross, into which he put all his passionate Christian mysticism, and which has probably been Campbell’s most influential and best-loved work.
At the time of the crash that killed him, Campbell’s reputation stood as high as that of any other living poet. His rough diamond personality and irrepressible storytelling were greeted with amazement in the subdued literary world of postwar London. Although he continued to abuse the left establishment in none too subtle terms—once mounting the podium during a talk by Stephen Spender in order to punch this symbol of upper-class bolshevism on the nose—he was regarded in conservative circles as one of the most important literary figures of his day. To Evelyn Waugh, he was a “great beautiful simple sweet natured savage,” and to Laurie Lee “one of our last pre-technocratic big action poets who, like D’Annunzio and Byron, were not only the writers of exquisite lyrics but whose poetry was part of a physical engagement with life.” He was admired by T. S. Eliot, who published him, by the Sitwells, who idolized him, and by a whole range of writers and artists of a conservative or Catholic persuasion, from Father Martin D’Arcy and Wyndham Lewis to Charles Tomlinson and Augustus John.
Yet today, as Wikipedia reminds us, Campbell is almost forgotten. Few of his writings remain in print, and in British literary publications he is mentioned, if at all, only as the notorious poet who was on “the wrong side” in the Spanish Civil War—the war that was the last defining moment for the British intellectual. The literary London in which Campbell was so brilliant a star has vanished; so too has the manly and mystical Spain that he idealized and that formed his spiritual vision. Visiting Madrid two years ago I was astonished to witness a “gay pride” carnival, sponsored by the left-wing government and the trade unions, in which men in bikinis flaunted their sexuality at the cheering crowds of men, women, and children in the street. In the face of this obscene spectacle I could only regret the passing of Strachey’s “higher sodomy,” which, for all its subversive character, was the very opposite of a mass-market commodity. You would have to travel into the very depths of rural Spain today to find traces of the sweet piety and attachment to the soil that had moved and comforted the Campbells. Spain has been de-consecrated, just as England has.
It took a visitor from Africa, who had been raised among Zulus,
to recognize that the bolshevik nihil-ism that threatened Spain in
the 1930s was of a piece with the upper-class narcissism that
animated the English fellow travelers, and that they would suc-ceed
or fail together. The connection that Campbell im-mediately and
intuitively understood is confirmed by both England and Spain
today. Leftist orthodoxy and sybaritic sexuality both
the culture, and it remains as dangerous as it was in Campbell’s day to pour scorn on either.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?