In my spare time, I collect significant encounters that never took place. Karl Marx and Charles Darwin were intended by a mutual friend to meet but the rendezvous did not occur. George Orwell waited for Albert Camus to keep an appointment in a café in St. Germain but gave up and slouched away. Almost as soon as he was exiled to Switzerland, Alexander Solzhenitsyn made a date to have lunch with Vladimir Nabokov, but apparently lost his nerve and failed the feast. On the day of the terrible stroke that pulled down his mental shutters for good, H.L. Mencken was due to break bread with Evelyn Waugh.
It would have been good to have (even from Alistair Cooke, who had proposed the introduction) an account of this aborted conversation between two Tories, two snobs, two racists, two masters of prose and humor and invective, two literary products of the vulgar industry of journalism. One was a self-caricaturing English type with a disdain for America and the other a snarling Anglophobe who believed that American English was a distinct language; one was a preposterously dogmatic Roman Catholic and the other a man who described himself as “a materialist’s materialist.” Both men had a surreptitious fancy for Fascism, but Fascists are by definition hard to internationalize, and it might be that their antagonisms would have outweighed their sympathies. Between those who are hardily cynical about human nature and those who profess a belief in original sin, there is no necessary agreement....
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