High Treasons

MAY I make qualification to Stanley Weintraub's account of Anthony Blunt's spying activities in his review of Barrie Penrose and Simon Freeman's Conspiracy of Silence: The Secret Life of Anthony Blunt (Book World, July 12)? He points out rightly that all four miscreants -- Blunt, Maclean, Burgess, Philby -- were Cambridge men.

He then goes on to indict the Oxbridge mentality. This is to include Oxford along with Cambridge. But I do not know of a single Oxford man who was a spy alomg with that Cambridge lot.

What is the explanation?

Everybody has missed the fact that Oxford was much more political, and more politically sophisticated, than Cambridge. At Oxford we had a large, middle-of-the-road Labor Club to attract the young.

At Cambridge there was only a small rump, and so the door was left open for the communists to make their appeal. Also, clever young men like Blunt thought it more chic to be communists, instead of dull, steady Labor Party men as we were. And, of course, anything to resist Hitler appealed to them. I am not defending, but explaining, them. Prof. Weintraub is right to emphasize the influence of their senior at Cambridge, E.M. Forster the novelist, whom they all looked up to as a moral mentor! I always regarded that old milksop as a much overestimated writer, and I am glad to say that he had no influence at Oxford whatsoever.

I hope this will help to put the matter in the right historical perspective. A.L. Rowse All Souls College Oxford, England

STANLEY WEINTRAUB replies: A.L. Rowse is quite right that Cambridge deserves most of the dubious credit for the Soviet spies who permeated the British Establishment. What I was talking about was the ease with which Oxbridge intellectuals with a homosexual bent could fit into, and achieve a frisson by, another and parallel subterranean life. Oxford types sometimes worked covertly for the other side, like Rowse's friend T.E. Lawrence in the Sinai before 1914. "Untruthful! My nephew Algernon?" bellows Oscar Wilde's Lady Bracknell, "Impossible! He is an Oxonian."

CONGRATULATIONS to Penrose and Freeman for choosing to call their new biography of Anthony Blunt Conspiracy of Silence. It is evident that concepts of honor, in what used to be called the corridors of power in England, are intricately bound up with loyalty to class, as John Galsworthy pointed out in Loyalties 65 years ago, despite the devastating effect of such a refusal to speak on the country at large. That such loyalty was completely irrational was once made very clear to me. Long after the truth was known, I asked the late Kenneth Clark to tell me what he knew about the man who had succeeded him as surveyor of the king's pictures. His tart reply was, "Certainly not!" Meryle Secrest Rockville, Maryland

Hic Haec Hoc

IN HIS review of John Tytell's Ezra Pound: The Solitary Volcano (Book World, Sept. 6), Bruce Bawer displays impressive erudition by correctly using the Greek rhetorical term "pleonasm" for Tytell's redundant definite article in "the L'Action Franc aise" -- a display undercut by Bawer's own reference to "the hoi polloi" in the preceding paragraph. Hoi is the definite article in Greek as surely as la or le is in French.

All writers should tape to their clipping files Aesop's observation that the finer the borrowed feathers, the great the embarrassment they can cause. Elijah White Hamilton, Virginia

Cloak and Anger

HENRY BRANDON in his review of Spycatcher by Peter Wright (Book World, August 9) adopts a typically dismissive British Establishment position. He focuses on Wright's pension problems, and ultimate failure to identify unequivocally the suspected high-level Soviet agent, or "mole," in MI5, the British counterintelligence agency. But, Brandon ignores most of Wright's career as a dedicated counter-espionage agent, including technical innovations he made intercepting radio communications from Soviet agents.

Our system of Congressional oversight, which has been strengthened by the Iran-contra hearings, is far superior in a democracy than the British system of built-in coverup that the Official Secrets Act permits. Perfidy and incompetence flourish in a system in which secrecy and the cult of the elite prevail. Jack S. Cohen Bethesda, Maryland

HENRY BRANDON replies: I am not offended by the accusation of my having adopted "a typically dismissive British Establishment position" since I am also given credit for having focused on Mr. Wright's pension plan which I consider an implied criticism of his treatment by the Establishment. And as to my ignoring Mr. Wright's technical contributions to MI5, they are minor in comparison to the damage his revelations in Spycatcher have done to the organization.