[L. 95 | 102] 6 May 1964

I wrote a slightly astringent reply to Ananda,[1] and he has sent me a graceful recantation, admitting that he was tired and rather short of sleep when he wrote his earlier letter. I have sent off a reply to his reply, apologizing for anything excessive that I may have said; so I think we are all friends again. Though I do not see much likelihood of improvement, I do not want to give the impression that I am obstinately and neurotically refusing all offers of help. I don't at all want to go to Colombo, but if people are going to be upset if I refuse, then I am willing to agree (on the understanding, naturally, that I return here when treatment is finished).

Point Counter Point I have been through several times, but I should be quite happy to go through it once more. Perhaps you may be amused to hear how I first encountered the book. When I was eighteen, after leaving school but before going up to Cambridge, I went to Italy for six months to learn Italian and to 'broaden my mind', as they say. I went first to Florence, where I was a paying guest in a family. Two or three times a week I had tuition in Italian from a young Italian doctor in the city, and there were also two young ladies (about twenty-five, perhaps) who (separately) wanted me to give them practice in English conversation. (Whether they had designs on me, I really don't know—I was far too innocent. Dear me, yes! I blush to think of it.) Anyway, I remember the first session I had with one of the young ladies. I walked to her house in the hot sunshine and was admitted to her cool shady drawing-room. She motioned me to a seat beside her, and then explained that she had just bought Point Counter Point but had found it too difficult for her. Would I give her some help with it? She produced the book, and opened it in front of me at page one.... Now, if you will look at page one, the first paragraph,[2] you will see that, from a linguistic point of view, the passage offers considerable difficulties to a would-be translator with only three months' Italian at his command. It is not at all easy to put into Italian. But, far worse than that, the subject matter is hardly the sort of thing that an eighteen-year-old English schoolboy is accustomed to discuss with strange young ladies (indeed, with any young ladies at all). But I was committed, and I took the plunge. I explained that there was a worm; and I explained that the worm was growing... but where was the worm growing? That was the difficulty—the young lady wanted to know where the worm was growing, and I did not know the Italian word for the place where the worm was growing. What on earth was I to do—draw a picture? or point to the spot? I forget how I eventually explained the situation, but to my astonishment the young lady was not in the least embarrassed when I had made matters clear.... Yes, my six months in Italy certainly 'broadened my mind'.

I don't in the least object to the young boy saying 'Cheerio!'—he is very proud of his English, and probably has no idea at all of the meaning of the word. But it seemed so remarkably incongruous.

Editorial notes:

[95.1] Ananda: L. 117-118. [Back to text]

[95.2] the first paragraph: The correct reference is to the seventh paragraph. [Back to text]