three pairs of lovers with space

PEDERAST BY ANGUS STEWART

 

Angus John Mackintosh Stewart (1936-98) was a British writer and photographer easily best known for his acclaimed Greek love novel Sandel (1968), reviewed here. Some of his later true-life experiences were recounted in Tangier: A Writer's Notebook, 1961-74.

Sandel was in fact also very much autobiographically inspired.  The true story behind it had been briefly recounted seven years earlier as part of the essay reproduced here, "Pederast" an autobiographical sketch of himself as a lover of boys. This Stewart wrote pseudonymously as "John Davis", and contributed as Chapter 6 (pp. 78-95) of Underdogs: Eighteen Victims of Society, edited and introduced by Philip Toynbee (London, 1961), Toynbee having solicited "underdog confessions" in a letter to some newspapers.

 

For I am every dead thing,
In whom love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness:
He ruin’d me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death; things which are not.
                                                                               John Donne

If I have got to uncurl my toes I had better say, ‘Can I kiss Johnathan’s mum?’ There, it’s done: compression of toes by painful association. Newton’s law of opposite and equal reaction has already contrived to relax them. I can write. But Johnathan’s mum, Sylvia, was far more than the recipient of this mumbled and circumspect inanity. She was the first adult woman I’d really known, and as such I endeavoured to explain my real self to her; it was a test-case for sympathy. My indul­gence was facilitated by the aura I had conceived, and flaunted, about this woman and her son as Madonna and Child. For not only was she the first woman I had really known, but John­athan was the first creature I had seen as someone’s child, as opposed to either the globe-eyed infants whom, in my capacity as prep schoolmaster, I regarded with distaste and tenderness as inevitable ‘embryology’, or the boys who are, who can be, a highly specialized animal, whose uniqueness I shall hope to demonstrate.

The occasion of my shame, and my quote-line, was of my own engineering. The east-coast prep school, like many others, maintained sleepy holiday economy with a skeletal staff, and dispossessed black boys looking oddly incongruous in Harrods flared flannel shorts and powder-pink sock-tops, their powder- pink belts weighted with gigantic knives which were con­cessions to holiday captivity. Sylvia was ‘holiday matron’; a last-minute emergency model, divorced and just returned from the tropics, she gave the impression of having stepped out of an Indian army mess on ladies night all oddly hot and hungry with her sabre-slash mouth still awash with pink gin. Her exotic sophistication confused my nineteen years, but was not in­compatible with the Madonna conception, which time, anyway, was to prove little more than a face-saving device. One night I got strangely built up on words, the effect was precisely like alcohol, talking as only a foolish young man may about Art, Love and Beauty, capitalized, and being in effect no more than an oblique, heightened though wary exposition of self. An act; but one so passionately played that she misinterpreted its intent. I was too intoxicated by my own lyric to panic when she re­signedly proposed the wretched youth’s seduction. We ascended a clock-tower, while I took such possession of her meaningless wood arm as I supposed was expected of me. She wiped my face with the sabre-slash and my person with her body. Cold and disinterested as if I’d just clambered out of an arctic pond, I was anxious only to flee, whilst somehow maintaining face. And so, ‘Can I kiss Johnathan’s mum?’ How after all could I molest a virgin mother. Bored and floppy, rather than angry, she stroked my hair, ‘Poor John!’

I awaited reprisals with a fevered apprehension which was constantly on the defensive, and shooting at shadows. Shove ha’penny. ‘John, you play with Sylvia.’ ‘We’ve tried,’ I said, hoping by means of the plural pronoun to baffle any rumour by implying some failure on her part as well as mine. And then the reprisals, with an apparent idleness that covered a deadly precision. After a film with a boy star, in a car full of my regular colleagues, ‘Oh, wasn’t he pretty!’, accompanied by a public smear from the sabre-slash. A cigarette offered to a non- smoker in my presence, ‘John doesn’t have any vices? So, fine; any ordinary day. But this happened to be the day[1] the Wolfenden Report was published, and the popular papers that littered the staff-room all carried the word vice in one context or another as their headline. Most priceless, though, was the picture of myself. We idly turned over some newly arrived B.B.C. wall charts portraying the evolution of man. The penultimate picture was of a rather bewildered ape with a reluctant cognition dawning in its eyes. Perhaps it had just bitten the apple and didn’t like the taste much, but the point was the caption, Near Man. Yes, of course, dear, cruelly insulted Sylvia ‘knew some near men’.

Angus Stewart

Strangely perhaps my association with Sylvia was not a traumatic experience in my life. I mention her as the first person whose hostility I aroused by openly, if obliquely, owning to the fact that I love boys. It is for her then, whom I was unable to involve in the hot struggle of her hopes in the dust of that tower, as much as for those with less cause to be angered, that this apology is written. I am neither convict nor practitioner, and so do not propose justification of homosexual acts involving small boys. I would simply present the facts concerning my own affections and desires, and suggest that they are neither vicious nor diseased in an attempt to demon­strate something of the quiet and reality of a predicament where there is seldom any audible truth. Pomp? Maybe. And this raises another introductory reservation. As the most mis­represented type of homosexual I live not only constantly reflected in the trick-mirror of my own self-conscious sense, but also with the knowledge, equally ever present, that what I love, and so value infinitely, is to many other people either unutterably disgusting or absurd. Consequently much of my dealing with the world is conducted, as it were, in an ante­chamber of the mind. I do not easily admit of alienation. When I must, as this article demands, my instinct is to retreat up an Olympus of fantasy there to forge words, endless words, in the terrible machinery of wildness and hurl them with Jovian pride at your hypocritical heads. . . . Again, if I am to baffle pride behind anonymity, and endeavour to sketch ‘what it is like to love the boy impossible’, the difficulty is still not ended. Some people may, in sincerity, be unable to believe that you can love a boy: ‘I mean, an educated bloke? That stands rounds and plays darts?’ To them I can only answer rhetorically. Where would you begin were I to suddenly let my jaw sag incredulously through two inches of space and say, ‘Yes, but why do you like girls?’ It is exactly the same question. And whether you leered and said, ‘Curves!’, or drew yourself up­right and said, ‘Young man, St Paul . . .’ my answer must be only as confused, and as inadequate, as yours.

My observations here are general and current: I am not concerned at all with the phenomena of my own adolescence. However, an autobiographical note of sexual development is imperative both as dispelling charges of effeminacy, insanity, etc., as may well arise where few conceptions of homosexuality are accurate, and also in the interest of the truth I am seeking here.

Stewart's public school, Bryanston School in Dorset, 1963

Yes, I loved a girl when twelve: a wide-eyed child in a yellow dance frock who still wanders in the shadows of my peripheral vision. Before the annual ball when I would see her I scraped my spots with the scalpel I used for making model aircraft. Then, naturally, my sex and my love were as the poles apart. No, I was not seduced at my public school,school,[2] nor (to crying regret) did I have any sexual connection with other boys there. I entertained myself; secretly borrowed certain articles of clothing from younger boys who were pretty. When seventeen I fell in love with a beautiful boy of thirteen. In a second, at a glance, some chemical change took place in my brain that four years were to prove irreparable. The incomparable power and beauty of this love turned inwards: I left school early solely because I was unable to sustain its terror. My passion ran on, and we met many times, whilst, uncannily, he defied puberty till well past sixteen: he accepted only kisses, and then with anger or reluctance. I then learnt of my boy’s having spent a bewildered week-end in a middle-aged man’s bed in London: scream liar if you will, but this had paternal sanction. Mysteriously the shock to myself was delayed until I saw the man in question when, having the guts to kill neither him nor myself, something popped in my head and for some time I became a psychiatric out-patient. Adolescence is only another word for melodrama. No grudge now. ... A rugger injury rejected me for National Service. (For the cartoonist of the homosexual, I am a county sprint champion.) I taught for two years at a prep school. Sense ebbed and flowed fairly secure from the terror of love I never wanted to experience again. One or two beauties of twelve or thereabouts sat (dressed) on my (dressed) knee. Ashamed only of secrecy I drearily changed my underclothes. Such performance sounds callous: it was not. Am now twenty-four, and at what I must describe as ‘one of our oldest universities’[3]: a youthful but boy-less place.

‘You deny carnal knowledge, then?’

‘In grey England, your honour.’

‘You’ve assaulted innocent foreign children?’

‘He just clambered in, your honour. They do sometimes. I couldn’t refuse—he was a Count. He had a silver wire on his teeth. When I felt his smile spreading over my lips in the dark­ness I licked the wire. He was like one of those bears that breathe. But I was ashamed.’

‘Ah!’

‘I was ashamed because holding the naked breathing I felt secure for the first time in my life; because I couldn’t do any­thing else but cry.’

André Gide, French, openly boysexual Nobel laureate

Of the few articles about homosexuality that appear in the press, and which are as often as not followed by eager corres­pondence peremptorily declared closed by editorial footnote, many fail to define their terms and so read rather like a des­cription of arithmetic without any numerical consideration. It is further surprising that one can read the several thousand pages of the complete Havelock Ellis without discovering any simple statement that there are three distinct types of homosexual. Of such unscientific definitions as have been formulated that of the novelist Gide is, I think, best. ‘I call a pederast the man who, as the word indicates, falls in love with young boys. I call a sodomite the man whose desire is addressed to mature men. I call an invert the man who assumes the role of a woman and desires to be possessed.’ It can I think safely be said that the existence of these different types of homosexual, and the con­tempt with which they regard each other, has done quite as much to misrepresent themselves in the regard of ‘normal’ persons as has the canon of convention. M. Gide goes on to describe this. ‘The difference amongst them is such that they experience a profound disgust for one another, a disgust accompanied by a reprobation that in no way yields to that which you (heterosexuals) fiercely show toward all three.’ (Journals. English edition 1948, p. 246).

It is tempting to follow M. Gide further, however it must here suffice to say that he goes on to depict pederasty as natural, and the other two only as deserving of moral and social censure.

If these definitions be accepted as true (though in this subject no response is calculable) it will be understood that scout­master jokes are alien to the sodomite; that to the pederast the loose term ‘homosexual’, with its most usual suggestion of adult males, must cause more pain by far than the eruption of very large black men at a Little Rock ladies’ tea-party. These facts simply are not known.

Photo by Henry Grant in The Boy: A Photographic Essay

Instances of the hatred rampant between these types might be multiplied indefinitely, but is outside my purpose here. One example I may cite. In a recent, and wholly sincere book, a young man convicted of adult homosexuality expresses horror at the pederast. No one, however, might read the book without at once remarking a certain irony, for whilst the man in question speaks of desiring to be possessed when a boy, and was later convicted for (allegedly) being possessed as a man, he condemns men who ‘chase’ boys. How, one might ask, can the man who wants to be possessed like a boy legitimately deny his lover the real thing. I don’t want to pursue this further. I raise it only because the explanation of this hatred is simple and vitally important. The love of all homosexuals is, precisely as that of heterosexuals, a thing infinitely personal and infi­nitely beautiful. Can one then wonder at their being reluctant to have it compared with anything, let alone a phenomenon receiving perhaps even more public condemnation than their own particular love ?

Inevitably the censure of society, as much as of the sodomite and the invert, falls most heavily upon the pederast. This is understandable if unjust. The reason for it may be simplified as threefold. 1. Small boys are innocent. 2. They must not be diverted in, or from, their natural development. 3. Most of us associate the dawn of sexual awareness with some disturbance and unhappiness, greater or less, and from this we want to keep our children as long as may be.

This is society’s argument against the pederast. I will not contest it as I want only to present such persons’ loves and desires as unvicious. Their acts, and possible consequences of their acts, inevitably involve morality and psychology and precise definition of circumstance beyond any present pre­sumption of mine. However in an age when the denial of God is repeated, even encouraged, upon the West End stage, morality must, logically at least, reside between the brackets of hurt, whose definition would seem here to rest with the scientist.—Incidentally he does not believe, Mam, that my occasional hug, my awed look, at your twelve or thirteen-year- old will ‘pervert him for life’. Nor, quite honestly, do I. But the facts of such odd desires in a grown man. . .

The truth here is best built upon the obvious. At some stage of adolescence the vast majority of healthy males experience at least passing sensuality for younger boys. No one, I think, will deny that a young boy may be lineally, plastically beautiful; many, however, only hide from themselves that he is desirable. Oddly the boy knows it, and may supplement the effect in­stinctively, often to an astonishing degree. Many parents neither know, nor believe this. Just how often it is the master who nearly seduces the boy, and just how often it is the boy (yes, nice, like yours) who nearly seduces the master, only someone who has taught at a prep school can tell you. Incident­ally, the statement that Nero was not a god resulted in the claimant being eaten by lions. Digestion did not invalidate the fact: Nero was not a god.

Photo by Henry Grant in The Boy: A Photographic Essay

It would be idle to attempt a definition of the sexually attractive. If we take the criterion of pretty as a basis, may not further definition best be said to rest with the attitude and consequent deportment of the object? Look at the boy: probably you don’t know what one is. Physically he is beauti­ful; technically he is ‘sexually undifferentiated’. How does he behave ? But first let it be remembered that we are not question­ing the normality of that behaviour, or suggesting that any advantage be taken of it. The first technical and physical mani­festation of puberty, if uninitiated by himself or others occurs spontaneously. Before, and for a long time afterwards, his attitude is well summed-up by the caption of a photograph of a much younger child I recently saw which was, ‘When I grow up will I be a girl or a boy?’ The feeling is of course entirely unformulated; but just how strong it is I shall shortly illustrate. It might be as well to remark here that this may often be a time of extreme physical beauty: the boy has lost the prominent tummy and seeming outsize head of childhood, but not yet gained the unbalanced proportions of adolescence: he appears to be in a timeless drift. This, I think, is a commonly observed fact whose formulation does not pre-suppose prejudice. This is the period of curious animal games (so well concealed from parents that many do not believe them): tumbling games of Coastguards and Smugglers, when the latter will conceal the contraband down the front of their shorts in the hope of ruthless search. Like all young animals he enjoys all physical contacts, but he is, too, constantly seeking to draw affection from whatever quarter he can.

My conception of love (in so far as I have practised it with a boy) does not involve his crude excitation. Nor, obviously, does the boy invite the familiarity of his master as he does his fellows. But he does, or rather may invite it nevertheless, and then with a subtlety which is the more devastating in its circuitous approach, its tenderness and bewilderment. This is when the animal is dangerous: this, simply, where you fall in love.

Photo by Derek Blew

I can demonstrate the animal only fractionally; but as typical. Of some five subtle assaults upon myself during two years’ teaching there was one which I did not automatically endeavour to discourage. Initially I was unable to do so from sheer fascination, innocent, and akin to bird-watching. Later I fell in love. Tony[4] was just thirteen and bore himself with a superb, solitary aloofness that completely disdained law and order. He commenced his courtship of myself I know not why, though probably as a result of a smile, and in the added knowledge that I was but an amateur pedagogue of twenty-one about to go up to the university. He was a weedy kid in many ways, a snob-boy through and through with two furry black hunting helmets. He skied all winter and sat in the Mediterranean all summer, and was solid gold in aspect as well as circumstance. In addition he was ravishingly beautiful. However my point here is the approach of this child. To Tony all the instincts of the ‘femme fatale’ were first nature, and seemed to flow from deep inside him. By turns I suffered cruelty, the soft-pedallings of retreat, streaks of an astonishing tenderness (quite years, I would have thought, beyond his age), and shattering tantrums of bitchiness. The whole was made the more compelling by a precision of timing that concealed all this from my colleagues, and I followed, limp captive.—It can doubtless be said that I encouraged the undifferentiated animal in a secret game and that my imagination supplied the rest. I do not think so. What I do know is that compared to Tony’s technique Sylvia’s was that of a frigid child; so much vestigial coeleocanth. Tony was no prudish boy. One of his more engaging habits was to hurl himself on to my knee whenever he found me in a chair. Once established he would snuggle down, and being Tony, would take and give a running commentary on the rate and signifi­cance of my pulse. I buried my nose hopelessly in his hair. Home.

At the moment I live in a virtually boy-less environment: a barren place made tolerable by my own, often silly, invention. I have Tony to write to, sparingly as one must; to worry about, for somewhere he is out of my control curiously following his young animal senses: somehow, though, I’ve learnt to hide myself a little from jealousy, as a result of the seduction of the boy who ruled my adolescence. I have some 150 photos of Tony, and some of other boys, But above all I have time to think; albeit in circles. I am now in the unattached and, as it were, self-sufficient state in which presumably I am expected to live for good. The first part of my article sought to demon­strate what a boy is, and to suggest that it is possible to fall in love with him, precisely as, and with the same emotions with which one falls in love with a girl. In this second part I shall try to list some of the effects which a virtual proscription of my emotions has upon me at the present time, and also such effects as result from the impossibility of consummation, and are so relevant in any environment.

Photo by Henry Grant in The Boy: A Photographic Essay

The chief effect, obviously, must spring from the knowledge that what you love the majority of society considers wrong. In practice this condemnation is of no account at all. When you or I move a smile or a hand in love we simply do not stop to consider its significance within Whitehall or the diocese of Canterbury. At other times this ever present censure works very differently. The results of this trapped nervous energy, its turmoil, might be listed indefinitely. Perhaps it is sufficient to offer only the confused indecision, embarrassment and resul­tant chaos in a normally competent journalist. All my succeed­ing paragraphs will be concerned with the results of this mental inversion, and enforced furtiveness. I raise and worship my gods in fantasy where you can never despoil or discredit them. How dare you say what I shall love and what I shall not love!

In face of real criminal proceedings retreat is no less inevit­able; identification no less impossible. The other day I cut, from one of the top person’s gargantuan Sunday tomes as it happens, a judge’s summing-up of some wretched man’s con­viction. In addition to publicly expressing the hope (surely irregular?) that parents might get him into their ‘own hands’ and deal with him ‘as they thought he deserved’, the (ad­mittedly extreme) offence was dismissed with the redundancy that only hatred engenders, ‘This is filthy, disgusting, immoral, and beastly behaviour’, etc. How do I reconcile another’s reprimand such as this with my own affection, which is love, nothing less, and whose beauty I cannot deny and remain human? What intellectual compromise do I evolve where integrity, or if you like perverse pride, forbids that I should make any divorce between an owned and ownable tenderness for boys and its acknowledgment as a basically sexual pheno­menon ?

I have the utmost respect for those few good, usually elderly, schoolmasters who have been able to sublimate their affection for boys into a selfless concern at once for the plain as the pretty, and into much else besides. I would regard them more highly were one of them once to own to a secret though un­conditional passion for little Y. way back in ’33.

I could not deny J, A, C, or T. if you came round with a pistol tomorrow. You may say, ‘Homos always flaunt them­selves like that; that’s why they wear yellow bowties and giggle ecstatic soprano’. No, mine is the empirical romantic belief in the insoluble link between beauty and truth. I may flaunt beliefs badly, with incredible stupidity as on the night when I was disgraced before Sylvia, but the human instinct to seek identification with another through self-revelation cannot be hidden for long. I cannot present a false face to a friend. And the struggle is absurd because all I must say is, ‘Sometimes I fall in love with boys about thirteen. See?’ Usually I take a coward obliqueness, and say, ‘I can understand a bloke falling in love with a boy’. It is enough.

Christ Church, Stewart's college at Oxford

Since the fiasco with Sylvia my defence of the faith has tended to silence. In fact I have only been involved in two clashes up here. One was an argument with a venerable don who likes undergraduates. Men! I patted his white hair because I was drunk and called him a sad gardener of over-blown roses. When a boy goes to seed his bloom withers. The other occasion was when a neighbour, a youth of eighteen straight from school for whom I had no particular liking, happened to come into my room. I imagine he had previously overheard some conversation of mine with a friend, for he suddenly stopped before a photo of Tony on my mantelpiece, and with a compulsion that would have astounded even Pavlov said, ‘God! Are you really as queer as that?’ Indulging what I after­wards realized to have been a lifelong curiosity, though quite on impulse, I let out one of those punches you see in westerns —but missed. Tony, needless to say, remained. What I could not rid from my mind was the hatred of a tone that was utterly convincing in its sincerity.

Choirboys. Oxbridge (now I’ve contributed to that dreadful term) swarms with them. I’ve adopted ours as a strange cor­porate love, not because a few of them sing in candlelight, but because they represent an emotional focus or orientation whose development, like any elaborate fantasy, has little logical basis, and that largely inexpressible. Because, if it be an indication of sanity or otherwise, their grey flannel suits do not contain ten per cent of nylon, and they march about in a woollen crocodile which is a terrible soft silver in the sunshine. Because they are there. Because, carried off a rugger field with a broken collar-bone in my first term the last thing I heard before dropping into unconsciousness was one of those who happened to be watching say to his companion, soiling a tiny top person intonation, ‘That bloody man’s killed one of our men!’ I was not killed. In fact I was subsequently told that I had passed out with an idiotic grin on my face. Our men. And I offer this particular reminiscence in full awareness of its adolescent flavour. Crudely, where one cannot bed the object of one’s choice one is liable to all manner of hyper-aesthesia, where sentimentality, even mawkishness, has both a real and respectable place sometimes. Whether there is an ultimate choice between premature senility and residence in Istanbul I cannot say. Meanwhile I regard these boys with numbed awe. They are the outward manifestation at least of a freak emotional security, and their every aspect is loved because inextricably familiar. I will certainly write to The Times should that drab and greasy god Terylene ever come amongst them.

Incidentally, if you are one of those people who occasionally make jokes of the choirboy-scoutmaster variety this surely reflects only one thing: a sinister aspect of your own semi-­unconscious which you daren’t face. Some spotty little excitement way back, probably.

Christ Church Cathedral Choir, Oxford

A circumscribed sexuality inevitably exaggerates erotic fantasy, channels energy into extraordinarily trivial obsessions, and produces all manner of hyper-sensitivity. I can suggest only a fraction of such phenomena, and must refuse to invoke the power of sexual desire, though less out of deference for your sensibilities than because I am not prepared to break myself in the attempt. Of desire I will only say that I have vomited physically, in the street with shame and confusion, simply at the sight of a boy. That sometimes, as when once I saw Palestrina, a technicolor child at our choir school whom I have raised in loneliness on to a remote pedestal, I have had to retire to bed with a dose of barbiturates of a proportion more usually- administered to wild stallions about to be transported by air. Palestrina, sartorially a walking advertisement for Daniel Neal’s, with some eight woolly grey suits, seemingly for ever new, appeared on this occasion to have had a four-ounce bottle of ink emptied over the front of his clothes. In addition his nose was bleeding, but neither disturbed the pride and midget self-assurance of his customary progression up the road, his forgotten satchel bumping rhythmically against his flank. .. . But no demonstration of desire. It must suffice to list a few of the phenomena that result from its bafflement. They will be jumbled. One may not, alas, detach one’s own mind and dissect it dispassionately at a remove.

Whether he owns to it or not a man’s behaviour, and his thought, are constantly determined by his subjective conception of what other people may be thinking about him. In my case this psychological law sometimes has the effect of making me regard boys as teddy-bears; as small warm animals, and of hiding from myself the sex which lies beneath the sentiment. It is as if I wanted you to say, ‘He thinks of his boys as teddy- bears: we can accept him’. One comes to live in this world; a world of softly clothed dolls. If one is lucky enough to emerge from it, meet a real boy, the artificiality which is usually so compelling falls away: one’s puppets, my Palestrina and others, become suddenly paper-thin and about as colour­less. To meet with reality is to emerge like a prisoner from a dark cell and walk for a moment in the sunshine; to be suffused in a forgotten warmth, and filled with unspeakable tenderness. So I saw Tony again after nearly two years.—Only afterwards does one begin to face the futility of retaining the object of love. Then one returns to the darkness, to the fantasy and the arti­ficiality. Odd skills and consolations.

Photo by Henry Grant in The Boy: A Photographic Essay

I can pick out the word ‘boy’ from an encyclopaedia page in one second flat. I have a dialogue-ear of demoniac persistence whose development I attribute largely to boy, a nonsense- rhyming machine which it is he again who gleefully flicks into motion. I have a passion for boy photography; a bastard art, but an art nevertheless, and one with all art’s agonies. I am prey to knitting-pattern boys and advertisement boys; to Palestrina and his pages Vittoria and little Nasco, who are projections of reality, and also to boys who are solely my own creations. There is no end to incidental sublimation.

Privation produces secret cults, and cults have their mysteries. I imagine it is for this reason, as much as because any man endeavours to define the uniqueness of his love, that I am obsessed with exact terminology. To me a boy is an animal completely different from either a child or a youth. I should like to go further and say that boy is a word rightly applicable only to the statistically inevitable three per cent of beauties in any given collection of males between the ages of eleven and fifteen. Again, if you want to hurt me, you have in your condescension only to refer to the bricklayer’s mate as a ‘boy’. Should you wish to anger me beyond endurance, just call a real boy ‘handsome’ where you mean either ‘pretty’ or ‘beautiful’. I’ll writhe all right then. There is one curious respect in which the pederast has an advantage over the heterosexual. His mind may more readily be pure. Since the mass media do not pros­titute the object of his love twenty-four hours a day; since no one pastes brown boys in one-piece bikinis in tube trains and there are no strip-boys in 'Reveille, he is as free of the more dubious erotic inheritance as the prelapsarian Adam. Quite what would be my reaction to Palestrina performing the ‘two lip test’ nightly on telly, Nasco being repeatedly tumbled on to Cinemascope beds and so on, I don’t know. Probably I should need to be carried about on a litter in a state of total exhaustion. The thought, anyway, is a profitless and dangerously obsessive one. Like wondering how long the rods of candy are before they are chopped up into mint lumps. But what does this prove ? Assuming that you are not incited to promiscuity, and are a better man than I should be in your place, then what is all this synthetic erotica for ? Is it a necessary insurance against impotence ? Are you unable to maintain heterosexual direction without it? You are naked lovers with a licence. Your love, though, is often farther from nature than mine. I wonder, when you do find real union, as sometimes you must, doesn’t the existence of this dreary propaganda machinery pinken your ears just a little? Or can you comfortably accommodate the cinema hoarding and yellow Sunday papers in bed with your wife ? I have an excuse for a pin-up mentality, as and when I may want it. You have none.

This university is a boy-less place. There hasn’t been a boy here since 1700 or thereabouts. Consequently my present life is sometimes a mockery anticipation of old age, and there descends a deep spiritual loneliness which social concourse serves only to emphasize. There have been freak consolations, as when once, by a quite extraordinary coincidence, I tumbled out of a doorway to bowl over no less than Palestrina. It was on its way to its trumpet lesson. The trumpet fell out of the box with an indignant clang. Feeling foolish, and after a furtive glance at the empty street, I straightened its cap and whisked a finger down its nose. It dropped its eyelids, peach blossom came out of the sky, and I set course for the barbiturate jar. Now I slink past the crocodile, for once afterwards it smiled and waved with more warmth than summer. But mostly, like the old man, my mind is thronged with hollow voices and the myriad, technicolor pools of past memory. David, with the light on his hair, his features drawn, waxed facets like a Ribston pippin, lips of the cliché chiselled. Peter, with tight round buttocks like a cleft champagne cork, eyes blue as Omo and skin like a strawberry-ice, whose habit it was to wiggle out of his shorts at bed-time without undoing so much as the snake-clasp of his belt. The voice of white Tony at tennis, his lips sprung wide, playing with myself in no single sense. Bawls over the net, ‘You’ll never beat us!’ Then aside, with the smile that broke Troy, ‘We’re a bound pair’. Schoolgirl remark striking another schoolgirl’s heart, maybe. Dedication of another half-bottle of whisky. Yes Tony, perhaps the only boy who could call a master he’d singled out for destruction by his Christian name and leave the staff-room in the headmaster’s presence by walking two steps over a sofa simply because he felt like it. Hot memories that tauten the stomach or the breast. Palestrina again, the wind plucking idly at the hem of his shorts at the number eight bus stop, his head cocked sideways, his teeth bared breathing puzzlement into the rain; or after his fight his intolerable newness in the agony of scragged disarray. —The old man dribbles on to his page. But then he has little left to him but fantasy, and glimpses of Palestrina—silver glass child in the roar of the black traffic.

My love-letters are like any other man’s. Only I carbon them, both because sometimes they have to be ends in themselves and also because they might at any moment prove vital to a solicitor. I mean mine. Rules go to their writing, some of which impose absurd technical problems. Words must be monosyllabic, sentences limited to ten words, and the whole never longer than four-hundred words. Sentiments must be equally simple, and with allusions to only such things as one may mutually share, yes, with a child, Their object? Simply to draw a grubby card, or half-page of blotchy inconsequence, for the reliquary in scarlet ribbon: to discover whether the boy is all right; to say I’m still there. The whole problem is sometimes heart-breaking because, obviously, the boy to whom I write has moved into a new and baffling school, and is still an animal whose sole concern is with his immediate environment. Parents who don’t get letters on Monday mornings from small sons at boarding school know the cruelty of this lore. Nevertheless a letter occasionally comes (though in my case I’ve known a broken hip, total immobilization and boredom necessary to effect its despatch). When it does spiritual restitution is astonishing. Nothing can blanket the sun. But all the waiting.

Photo by Derek Blew

Whatever philosophy one may evolve one cannot repeatedly engage and break the higher emotions without some conse­quence. Boys such as Tony, whose beauty alone is not readily found in the plural, are not often dropped at one’s feet. To find, far more be accepted and even loved by such a creature, only to have him wrested from one, may jar the system intolerably. Parting, though, is only human destiny. It’s when the process has been repeated not once but several times that there is a danger of an unutterable despair. In my place one must not think in terms of the permanent physical possession which is the mistaken ambition of love. Of loss, too, one must not think at all.

I have endeavoured to show that men can, and do, fall in love with young boys, and suggested that this phenomenon is not vicious, if only by virtue of the tenderness inherent in so many such relationships. Further, I have instanced a few of the effects which both actual and imagined oppression have wrought in myself. I have no intention of soliciting for either the approval or indulgence of an active pederasty involving crude physical excitation. I would however plead the attraction of pederasty as a phenomenon that is both human and very far from diseased. Lastly, I would demand that it is no sane peg for jokes. It is disgusting, though true, that many people regard the dismissal and subsequent ruin of a schoolmaster, curate or whatever, as exceedingly funny. Often, incidentally, an ill-timed caress, or even a rumour is enough. Few of these jesters reflect that this may well be the double of the man, and the identical love (nothing less) that taught their grubby selves the multiplication table and won them scholarships, to ignore God knows what other ministrations in their bloodiest years. For how long can you deny responsible and intelligent recognition of a phenomenon inherent, albeit minutely, and probably disguised, in all of us. And even if your own un­conscious desires are buried beyond reproach are you so selfish, such a gaping puppet of conditioned-reflex, as to believe that there can be no other love but yours ?

For my own fear, I am afraid not so much of any likelihood of ruin as of myself. The human sense of isolation should need no explication here. My fear, like any other’s, is only that when it matters I may fail to find the sympathetic identification without which no man can last long. Were I to shut you in a black box and ceaselessly decry what you value most, then I suggest that something in your head might go pop. I don’t intend to enter any black box. I remain free; but a lead-boot man that gropes the extension of his arms for a star.

Finally, I am afraid lest deprivation, or imagined deprivation, should harden me against my fellow men. Bloodiness I can, and will, meet with bloodiness. God forbid, though, that I should turn my back on any human failing, as some others have turned, and presumably will continue to turn their backs on mine. But is any love a failing?

 

[1] 4 September 1957.

[2] Bryanston School in Dorset.

[3] Oxford.

[4] From the description that follows, it is clear that this Tony is the inspiration for Antony “Tony” Sandel, the eponym of Stewart’s novel Sandel.  The main discrepancies between the true and fictional stories are that Stewart was twenty-one, while David Rogers, his fictional counterpart, was nineteen and already at university when he met Tony.