The Spectator

Feedback | 1 January 2005

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We are not evil

I am sorry that Steve (‘We are all Pagans now’, 18/25 December) believes that we Dominicans are evil. I expect he thinks that we are so awful because we are supposed to have run the Inquisition. Actually, there were many different ‘inquisitions’, some run by the Church and others by the State. Sometimes they did terrible things, and we Dominicans should repent of our part in their cruelty. But we did not generally run the inquisitions and were not even the order most involved. Witches should look back to the inquisitions almost with affection, since wherever they operated there was vastly less persecution of witches. They were one of the first courts to operate on the basis of the rigorous testing of the evidence and so opposed the mass hysteria that often led to the deaths of hundreds of witches where there was no inquisition, as in Scotland.

For example, Professor Diarmaid MacCullough, Professor of Church History at Oxford University, and not a Catholic, wrote of the Spanish Inquisitors that ‘they decided that evidence required for a satisfactory verdict of guilty was extremely difficult to obtain, and that in fact there was very little evidence for the widespread existence of witches, let alone active pacts with the Devil. They regarded even most confessions of witchcraft as delusions, to be treated with pastoral discipline, not death, and they generally disciplined colleagues who took extreme measures, much to the fury of various secular officials who wanted to forward persecution’ (The Reformation, p. 575).

Timothy Radcliffe

St Giles, Oxford

Critical error

Could somebody give Toby Young a reliable theatrical history, preferably one of mine? One minor example, taken at random from your otherwise superb Christmas double issue: ‘As far as I know,’ writes Young of his own solo show which mercifully I missed (though I could have made a small fortune accepting the number of Fleet Street offers I had to review it), ‘this is the first time a critic has appeared on the West End stage.’

As far as Young knows must be a distance measurable in millimetres, and this is not the first time I have had to point it out. Briefly, then, the late and much missed Kenneth Tynan got his first job on the London Evening Standard as a theatre critic by writing a savage letter to the editor objecting to a review by Beverly Baxter who (in the early 1950s) had accused Tynan of being ‘amateur’ while playing a minor role in a modern-dress Alec Guinness Hamlet.

In more recent times Joyce Grenfell, while radio critic of the Observer, made several starring appearances in the West End, and dare I add that I played at the Whitehall theatre in Spread a Little Happiness, a celebration of the late, great songwriter Vivian Ellis, which originally I had put together for the King’s Head. Other critics with playwriting credits include Jeremy Kingston (Signs of the Times) and Frank Marcus (The Killing of Sister George).

Sheridan Morley

London, SW11

Armenian genocide

I have long been an admirer of the work of Professor Norman Stone, so it was with disbelief that I noted his denial of the Armenian genocide (‘Vote Turkey this Christmas’, 18/25 December).

His contemptuous reference to ‘...the Armenians, who have been much better organised with their hard-luck stories’ is insulting, and demonstrates pretty poor taste. He goes on to say, ‘The Armenian diaspora can be especially tiresome, trying to make us believe that they had their very own Holocaust. In 1914 their leader, Boghos Nubar Pasha, was offered a place in the Turkish cabinet. Can you imagine Hitler making Chaim Weizmann the same offer?’ This is unworthy of a serious academic historian; what is more, the question he poses is irrelevant to the point of flippancy.

It would be an insult to Professor Stone’s scholarship to suggest that he remains unaware that between one and two million ethnic Armenians were slaughtered in Turkey during the first world war. They were either massacred in places where they had lived for centuries, or perished on forced marches to internal exile in the Syrian desert. The atrocity was directed and organised by the Ottoman government. Mustafa Kemal (Atat