Liberties taken

June 28, 2002

I have always assumed that Sydney Smith's labour-saving principle - "I never read a book before reviewing it; it prejudices a man so" - is never adopted, but Peter Watson, in reviewing Isaiah Berlin's Liberty and Freedom and its Betrayal (Books, THES , June 21), has convinced me otherwise.

Watson takes me to task for spoiling Four Essays on Liberty - of which Liberty is an expanded edition - by adding Berlin's long introduction.

He might as well grumble that the Old Testament was racier before Genesis was spatchcocked in at the beginning. Not only does Berlin's first edition contain that introduction, but Liberty provides a full account of why and how it was written. The essay I did add to what has now become "Five essays on liberty" was "From hope and fear set free". Watson seemingly overlooked this.

Watson confuses the titles of the two volumes; describes the "Four Essays" as lectures although the first was not; has Berlin preparing his inaugural in 1959 although it was delivered in 1958; and reports me as saying Berlin feared he was writing platitudes, which I did not. I rest my case.

Henry Hardy
Wolfson College, Oxford

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