Letter to Times Literary Supplement regarding the plight of Simon Kovesi
Times Literary Supplement
24 July, 2000
Sir, – With regard to the plight of Simon Kovesi, the young scholar facing legal action for allegedly having violated Eric Robinson’s “copyright” of John Clare’s poetry (Letters, July 14), I have some observations. The writers who alerted your readers to this controversy refer to Robinson as an “American historian,” suggesting it’s a Yank who has hijacked Clare’s contribution to Britain’s heritage. That is far from the truth. Eric Robinson was my colleague for more than twenty years in our history department, during which time his plangent Yorkshire vowels, and his undisguised skepticism of all things related to these shores, made his Englishness quite tediously evident.
Robinson had a knack for throwing our department into turmoil which contributed to the dethronement of ossified faculty, a development I supported. Ally though he was in some respects, however, I agreed with the consensus of other faculty members that his acerbic manner bespoke a sense of entitlement that his distinguished work on the history of industrialization, and even his celebrated Clare scholarship (lauded in these authoritative pages), did not quite justify. We wondered why it was that he edited Clare for two university presses, Manchester’s and Oxford’s, and speculated that his “copyright” – which we found bizarre both as a matter of law and of intellectual discourse, somewhat reminiscent of the Dead Sea scroll monopoly – may have required Oxford to assign him the second editorship. In short, he inspired awe and suspicion in equal measure. It perhaps does not bode well for Dr. Kovesi that Robinson was only able to secure tenure here via litigation.
William A. Percy III